This blog contains affiliate links and sponsored ads. Purchasing from these links helps support HoJo's Teaching Adventures and allows me to offer more freebies and content for you. For more information, please see my full disclosure policy here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Our Students Needs Hands-on Time with Manipulatives!

Our Students Needs Hands-on Time with Manipulatives!

Break out those manipulatives!
Now that the majority of the states have adopted and implemented the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics, we have been promised that there will be less concepts to teach while having more time to teach a concept in depth so that children can develop these deep understandings of the concepts.  Ok.  Hmmm.  Yeah.  So now what?  Is this the reality in your classroom?  Do you really spend more time deeply developing understanding of number concepts? Multiplication? Area? Regrouping? Not I, said the third grade teacher!  Instead…and I speak for myself…we have been given a math curriculum that does indeed cover less concepts, but has many more lessons to teach which barely fit into a pacing guide that would do the Inquisition proud.

Now, carefully read the following:

“A page of abstract symbols, no matter how carefully designed or simplified, cannot involve the student's senses in the way actual materials can. Symbols are not the concept. They are only a representation of the concept and as such are abstractions describing something which is not visible to the student. Materials allow the child to manipulate objects to gain a full understanding of the concepts behind the abstract symbols. Understanding a concept, as opposed to memorizing it, allows the child to construct meaning. Meaning makes concepts useful to the child. Memorizing as a main teaching tool is only useful in training parrots.”

These words come directly from the Center for Innovation in Education.  The center was founded by Mary and Bob Baratta-Lorton, the developers of the Mathematics Their Way and Mathematics a Way of Thinking curricula and resources.  I was trained in Math Their Way, way, way back in the 90s.  Much of the educational philosophy of the program was based on Jean Piaget’s ground breaking work on children’s cognitive development.  I was so excited to implement a way of teaching math that made not only sense to me, but to my students.  

Though I now teach third grade, back in the 90s I had taught 1st grade for 7 years.  Most of those years I used the Math Their Way curriculum.  For those unfamiliar with Math Their Way, it is a program that uses everyday materials and classroom manipulatives to build conceptual understanding before moving to abstract symbols and problem solving.  There are 3 levels of teaching:  concrete or concept, connecting and then symbolic level.  When teaching a new concept about 50-70% of the time was spent on the concrete or concept level. Another 30% was spent on the connecting level and the remainder on the symbolic level. 

Student working at the concrete level.
My fondest memories of those first graders were watching them rotate through stations using manipulatives and materials to find combinations that would add up to a certain number.  They spent many, many weeks using unifix cubes, beans, buttons, lids, plastic jewels and many other such items.  I remember working one on one or in small groups at each station with children and teaching them to now record their combinations by adding symbols to their pictures, which is the connecting level in Math Their Way.   Once the students could connect their creations to symbols, it was now time to introduce the workbook and start doing some basic arithmetic.  You would not believe how fast those first graders could add!  They already had internalized all the combinations in addition.  Subtraction was also easier to teach, because from their point of view, it was just the other number that was missing that made up the combination.

Now fast forward to 2014, the CCSS,  and how to incorporate the Piagetian philosophy of teaching and the use of manipulatives.  Of course, I am also required to use the district adopted Go Math mathematics program which has a pacing guide that has most of the teachers stressed out.  I’ve tried to marry the two with some success.  Recently, we have gone through 2 chapters of multiplication.  The first chapter dealt mostly with the concept of multiplication.  In this chapter, I spent about 60% of the math period (which runs for about 70 minutes) having the students
use manipulatives to solve problems relating to multiplication.  I used the foam tiles or link cubes that were supplied with the Go Math program to teach equal groups, arrays, Commutative Property of Multiplication, and lots of multiplication related vocabulary.  You can read my blog entries about this process here.  But what I would like to emphasize is that if I had followed the Go Math teacher’s manual, the students would only have been drawing equal groups, drawing arrays and just memorized
Student working at the connecting level.
multiplication.  Worse, I could have used their online interactive math book that uses cute characters to virtually explain the concepts.  The difference in learning with an actual object in your hand that you can manipulate, rotate, group, stack, move around, count, etc., is 100 times more powerful than just drawing it or watching a cute bunny do it on the screen.  So many times our students do NOT interact with their environment because they are too busy manipulating virtual reality on a video game, or iPad app, or on the computer. 

In order to effectively incorporate the use of manipulatives into lessons, I made the following compromises or changes:

  • Use the same manipulatives (such as the foam tiles).  If you change to a new manipulative, the students will want to play with it first taking away valuable instructional time.  
  • When introducing a manipulative for the first time, you really do need a 10-15 minute block for the students just to “play” with the manipulative and get it out of their system.
  • Make handing out the manipulatives easy.  Make a baggy for each child to store the manipulative.  Makes for easy clean up and quick storage
  • Assign manipulative monitors to scan the floors for missing tiles or other manipulatives.
  • Once students were done with the manipulatives, I did not assign full pages of work from the workbook.  Instead I chose about 8 problems with a mix of the arithmetic and related problem solving.  You will know if they got it or not with just those 8 problems.  Doing this means you don’t need 20-30 minutes of independent work time, maybe just 10.  That gives you more time to use the manipulatives.
  • In one lesson, I started with the concrete (students exploring and using the manipulatives to solve math related problems), to the connecting level (this is the part in which I guided the students to add symbols and words to their work with the manipulatives) and ended with the abstract level (students work independently in their workbook).
  • I did NOT use the manipulatives to actually teach a concept.  Instead I presented the students with a problem to solve using the manipulatives.  Most of us are familiar with the gradual release of responsibility model (I do, we do, you do).  I have reversed that to You do, You all do, We do.  You can read more about this on my blog entry for the Japanese Lesson Study mode
This child has a deeper understanding of multiplication.
End in the end I am happy with what I am doing because I am seeing great results with my students.  I truly believe that they have developed deeper understandings about what multiplication is and is not.  I believe that as teachers we need be given the opportunities to use methods that match a child’s cognitive abilities related to age.  If we want the CCSS to succeed, we need to push for more hands-on time and less paper and pencil tasks.  If we want the CCSS to succeed, we need to invite administrators and decision makers into our classrooms so they can see the hands-on learning in person.

Thank you for reading my guest blog entry.  I have been an educator for almost 30 years in the public school system in California. I have served as a mentor teacher, Bilingual Resource Teacher and Literacy Coach. I have taught adults at the university level. I have been teaching third grade for the past 10 years. I have never stopped learning how to improve my teaching. I have in grades 1 - 4, though mostly in third. I have been a staff developer as well as, teaching university graduate students.  You can contact me or follow me directly here:


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Song Titles Game

What song am I referring to if I tell you to "embellish the corridors"?
Why "Deck the Halls" of course! 

Do you love little play on words, some new vocabulary, or brain teasers?
Then this fun activity is for you!

This activity is all over the internet, but I've compiled it in one place for you. Now you can print it off to share with your students or colleagues.
(Please let me know the original owner if you can! I've searched high and low to no avail...)

Click here or on the picture below to download your free copy!

Happy Holidays! Happy playing!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My Favorite Things Blog Hop & HUGE Giveaway!!

The great Laura of Where the Magic Happens Daily hooked a bunch of us up with this great blog hop! Over 50 bloggers have joined together to give away one of our favorite things. SWEET!

But first - we want to share some of our favorite things with you! 

So - without further ado...

You can purchase my Winter Compound Magic Square Puzzles HERE
{Remember this product is only 50% off from 12/7/2014 through 12/14/2014!}

Want to see all the great items that are 50% off this week? Type in #myfavoritethings2014 via Teachers Pay Teachers or simply click here!

I am giving away one bottle of Young Living Peppermint Essential Oil! You can read more about this great oil and its many uses by clicking here
{It's #4 in Prize Pack 6!}

Keep scrolling down to see all the other great items you can win! The rafflecopter to enter is below, as are links to all the other bloggers participating! Happy Holidays, everyone! =)


Because we value our followers and wanted to treat you to our favorite things Oprah style, we have put together the best giveaway of the season! My bloggy friends and I welcome you to the best, biggest, most cheerful event of the season:

7 winners for 7 prize packs!

Come and enter the giveaway and check out my bloggy friends' favorite things:

What's one of your favorite things?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December's Top Pins {Pic 3 Linky Party!}

It's that time of year again! Time to keep students engaged throughout the last few weeks of school, while still trying to get quality learning in. And - as nearly anyone reading this right now knows - that can be TOUGH!

That's why Lisa from PAWSitively Teaching and The Inspired Owl at the Inspired Owl's Corner came up with this great linky party idea! Each blogger who links up is asked to share three great pins (not products) that can be used in the classroom. 

I've chosen to share three non-academic activities that I've used successfully with students in grades K-6. Yes, I have truly done these with each and every elementary grade level. Obviously the amount of prep on my end has varied depending on the students in front of me - but they've all been a HUGE success each year!

{Yes, I realize in a previous paragraph I wrote about getting the academics in, and I truly feel that's important. BUT - I also realize how much work my students have put in at this point in the year and I do my best to get in some "play" as well. Besides, we need to get some parent gifts made! :) }

So read on to see a little bit about each of the three pins I'm sharing. And simply click on the picture to be taken directly to the pin!


The pin above is a favorite gag gift of mine! It's a fun Christmas coal saying. Each year I let the students take 3-5 pieces home, and then we give them out to the rest of the teachers in the school as a gag gift. (I've found it best to attach the list of ingredients on the back of the tag, as some people don't realize these truly are edible!)

#2 make a great parent Christmas gift! My Kindergarten students were able to complete these in less than two hours, while my sixth graders needed just 45 minutes (with some touch up time the next day). They've always been very well received by the parents as well!

I suggest holding off on #3 until later in the last week before the break - no need to give them a sugar rush too early in the week! Also, keep in mind any allergies you may have in your classroom. These are a truly fun way to make gingerbread houses! The older students can just be given supplies and told to have at it (one of mine made a two-level house one year!) while the little kiddos may need the houses built for them to be more successful.


Now I recommend you keep enjoying the linky party to see what other fabulous holiday ideas are out there!

Image Map

Now go link up and join the fun!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cyber Monday Sale! {Dec. 1 & 2, 2014}

CYBER MONDAY is coming!

If you're like me, you bought all your Christmas presents during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday (or maybe you're a procrastinator and haven't bought anything yet). 

But - did you buy all the teaching materials you need to keep your classroom running smoothly from now through winter break? 
(We have 15 days left, but who's counting?)

NOW is the time to stock up! Use promo code TPTCYBER to get 10% off everything in my store (and many other sellers' stores). Many of us already discount our items 20% off, so you'll get up to 28% savings! WOOHOO! :)

Now - go stock up! There are lots of great teaching ideas on TpT that will make the next few weeks of holiday craziness even easier on you!

Have fun!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fun Christmas Coal Saying - FREE Printable!

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays to celebrate in the classroom! By this time of year, the students are getting sick of being in school - so why not take a little breather? Yes, we still need to ensure that quality learning is taking place, but there's still time for a little fun!

Click here or on the picture above to download your FREE printable coal saying!

The recipe for this is super simple! 

1/4 cup butter
10.5 ounce bag mini marshmallows
1/8 tsp. black icing color
4 cups rice cereal

If you're like me, you're going to struggle finding black icing.
Here's a link!

You can read more about this recipe here or check out my other Christmas blog posts by clicking here!

Make sure to head over to Classroom Freebies to see the many great freebies listed at Manic Monday this week!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Merry almost-Christmas, friends!

Image Map

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Students Missing School - Part 2: Alternate Assignments

Throughout my teaching career, I've had parents and guardians approach me to ask what their child can do when they have to miss a day (or more) of school. Here is the second part of a two part series on how I handle students missing school. You can read the first post here

I often assign the students a writing journal to complete during their vacation. I've had many parents thank me for this because it becomes a wonderful keepsake of the trip that the parents can treasure for years to come. Plus - several parents have told me it's MUCH easier to ask a child to write about something they just did and are excited about than to write about some boring "stuffy" school topic. I realize there may be an assignment they simply have to do to get all of the standards covered, but I have found journaling to be a suitable replacement for many of the days the child is gone.

Is it absolutely necessary for the child to read from the basal during the week/s they are gone? Many times I've asked the parent to ensure they take enough reading material with that the child is able to keep themselves busy reading. This also gives parents a great excuse to get their child to read for 20-30+ minutes of time while in the car/train/plane. With the technology available today, it's easy to get several books on an ipad or kindle in seconds! Even simply reading the road map, brochures for the next place you're visiting, or other vacation relevant materials can be a great change of pace! {Ask the student to keep a reading log if you're concerned about how much reading they will actually do. I've got a freebie here that you can use!}

Depending on the age of the student, even math can be done without being in the classroom. One mother and I worked out a deal where their son helped work out the finances of the entire trip. He kept track down to the penny of how much everything cost. Yes, he still had to do some of the school math work to ensure he wasn't behind his peers or missing important skills - but he gained a great deal from this new real-world experience that I can't replicate as well in the classroom. 

Mapping skills can be a great way to get some social studies in. Students can guide the family using maps, plot out the various ways to destinations before the trip even starts, or learn historical information to present to the class on their return. 

I've even seen students do science projects while absent from school. Sometimes they track various plants and animals they see on their trip. These can be presented to the class upon returning OR students can create some type of report or display. I've also seen students dissect seashells, mussels, and clams. Oftentimes, these dissections are videotaped or photographs are taken and then these are shared with the class. 

I'm sure you all have plenty of other great ideas for students who are going to be missing school. Feel free to share them in the comments below. Or - maybe you're against students being able to do alternate activities while gone. Why do you feel this way? I'd love to hear various professional opinions!