problem solving steps and skills

Woo hoo it's Friday!! Nope, that just doesn't have the same ring in the summer : )

Today I wanted to share with you how we tackled math problem solving last year. When looking at data and setting school and divisional goals for our students last fall we all agreed that students continue to have difficulty attacking and solving word problems. They often do not understand the question, are hesitant to begin or choose a strategy and then do not explain their answer fully. I think these might be problems that a lot of people face.

We also noted that the problem seemed to get bigger as students moved through the grades - the problems become more complex, more independence is expected and more explaining your thinking was demanded!

As a primary division we decided that we needed to help build skills that could be applied to any problem to help our students become more confident and independent problem solvers. We wanted to use common language and common steps so that the students became comfortable with the process and expectations.

We looked around for some guidance with this - okay we googled and looked at Pinterest and what we found was a lot of strategies for picking apart a question (circle, highlight, keywords etc.) but nothing that really fit our needs. We talked about what essential skills we wanted our students to leave our class with, played around with wording and developed our own acronym to help students move through the problem solving steps. Here is what we came up with:

steps for solving math problems

This acronym helped shape and guide our instruction around problem solving and provides a great reference tools during lessons and while students are working.

My favorite way get students thinking about problem solving is with picture books. I love to use this book, Anything is Possible by Giulia Belloni:

After reading the story we make an anchor chart retelling the events from the story:

Then we apply the lessons we learned from the book to math problem solving and created this anchor chart:

This is when I talk to the students about how amazing problem solving is!!! How it lights our brains up with activity, it is like someone lit a FUSE in our brains. We are thinking about the problem, possible strategies, possible tools, who could we work with on the problem. Also when we try solving problems we make mistakes - which is AWESOME - since making a mistake makes your brain twice as smart!! That's right first your brain has to realize that a mistake was made then it has to work to figure out how to fix the mistake - BOOM - you just learned twice as much.

I use the poster as a starting off point for our bulletin board.

Next I introduce the F.U.S.E acronym. After that we take it one letter at a time. I break each letter down into smaller steps and we work on the skill as a class, in small groups, with a partner and finally independently.

From the main poster we add the steps, we work on sample problems together and I add a reminder to the board.

It took about 6 weeks to teach all of the steps. We usually dedicated one or two math classes a week to problem solving lessons. What I like about using an acronym is that students had a quick reference tools about what they needed to be doing and prompts on how to do it. It also helped us set success criteria and make checklists at the end of a lesson.

Another thing I like about this system is it allowed us to focus on different skills - we did not always go through all of the steps - sometimes we just focused on understanding the problem and retelling it in our own words. Other times we focussed on selecting strategies, sharing our strategies and discussing which strategies were effective and efficient. We spent A LOT of time on explaining our thinking and proving our answers. In Grade 1 most of this learning was done through conferences, partner work and group sharing.

Whenever we worked on a problem we used the letters to keep us on track:

Here we have gone through the first two steps and part of the third step together as a class. I projected the problem. We did the F part together - after reading the problem we highlighted important numbers and words. Then students told me what they knew about the problem for the letter U - I recorded their ideas around the problem - what we knew and what we needed to figure out. I gave them time to think of a math tool they could use to show their thinking and a starting off point. They shared their idea with a partner and then I took ideas for our letter S. As we work through a letter I put the letter up so we identify the work we are doing with the acronym. I also post a picture of the tools students say may be helpful. After this students went to work on the problem, independently or with a partner. We gathered together to share our answers, explain our thinking and work to prove our answers are correct.

You can check out the materials I used in this pack on TPT. It includes a PDF file of the FUSE poster, a b&w version of the poster, large letters and explanations of the step as an alternative to the poster, all the materials needed to create a bulletin board reference tool, sample problems to use with your class, an interactive note for students, a student checklist and more.

I hope that these ideas may be helpful in your classroom as way to help your students gain confidence in their ability to work through problems.

Happy Monday!!! While I love Sunday nights in the summer - with no last minute frenzy of household chores and planning I do not love Mondays so much - they sometimes feel like the day that signals summer is passing, another week is starting and we are getting closer to the craziness that is BTS.

Over the last week I have moved myself away from the "I am resting, recharging and relaxing" mode that I entered about 15 minutes after the last day of school. I started to pick up things for the classroom, looked at planning for the new year, started a professional text and organized the massive pile of resources that still live in my basement from my move last summer.

In this new mode I made a few things, so I am linking up with Tara at 4th Grade Frolics for her linky.....

First up a teaching planner (okay I printed it and organized it into my binder, but it still counts)!! It is from Tina's Teaching Treasures, you can find it here. This is my first time EVER using a real planner. I usually just use a daily/weekly template and print and photocopy as needed. But not this year, this year I have the whole planner ready to go and it is only July. I used the "Trust Tina" option for July 2015-2016 and then a few extra pages.

I printed the entire planner and three hole punched it, I considered getting it coil bound but since this is my first time doing this I thought it would be best to have options of moving it around in my binder. The binder cover is from the pack I purchased from Megan (check it out here) and I just made a binder spine. I used a few binder tab dividers to separate the months. I also moved the monthly calendar so it is right in front of the weekly planning pages.
 I love the layout of the weekly planner with room for notes on the side and bottom.

 This is the year at a glance page. Notice how the boxes match so beautifully with my Flair pens!! I printed out extra copies of this page and will be using them to do year overviews of subjects - like what genres and units I plan to attack that month, any read alouds I need to get ready, craft ideas and special celebrations or projects. The one I started is for our school spirit activities.

I love that I have a calendar for the summer months too and I LOVE this note paper. I can not wait to attend a meeting so I can use it!!

I am very excited about my planner, again, if you want to check it out just click on the button below.

I made myself a nice little label for this notebook. I bought it at a dollar store and love the rainbow edging - really it is the little things.

I will be attending my first blogger/seller get together this Wednesday and needed to have something super cute to take notes with. I saw the ones my friend Joanne, at Head Over Heels for Teaching, made for the Vegas conference and had to steal her idea (one of my fav past times!!). 

I bought the print to the edge circle labels, because I have wanted to try them forever. I inserted my TPT button, hit print and done. I love that the labels are glossy - so fancy!! I just have to figure out what I want to use the rest of them for!

I made labels for my class tool bins and garbage cans. Last year I focussed on having my students identify the tools we use to help us learn. I gave each student a red "tool box" to hold their tools in their desks. When I was at DollarTree I noticed they had the supply caddies in red and the garbage cans too. Sooooo I am switching some of my containers to red - the ones I want to clearly identify as holding tools for learning (ok, so I am still crazy and math tools will still be housed in blue tool bins!!)

At another dollar store I found these blackboard labels and a chalk marker.

 I had planned on make and taping labels to the bins but thought I would give this a try. The chalk marker is holding up, I am worried about the stickiness of the labels as they are removable. If they don't hold I will be making my own labels.

As mentioned above each of my students has a red tool box to hold key items in their desk (pencil, expo marker, eraser pad for expo marker, highlighter etc). Last year I tool all of my baskets and spray painted them red......then I saw dollar stores were carrying red baskets....I am slowly replacing mine as I find them (and can sneak them into the house!!!). This year I decided to make labels for each students basket to really hit home that they are toolboxes for learning.

Here is what they look like so far....

I was just playing with the placement of the words and clipart (needed to move both over a bit). I love the look with the ribbon, but thought I would love the thin ribbon but now want to use a thicker ribbon - good thing it is not expensive!! I will also laminate them. You could also just tape them on the baskets too.

You can grab a copy here if you would like these tags. You could add text for each student's name or print, laminate and add names with an expo marker.

I also made a tag for my toolbox. I have one of these lovely rolling drawer systems at the front of my class to hold tools that I use or take out during lessons (can you tell I can't get into my class, sorry for not having pics). Only in my frenzy I spray painted it red as well.

 I made a sign for that too.

You can grab a copy here, There are a few different options as well as one you can add your own text too. You could save them as a picture and then insert them into a new ppt to make different size tags or labels.

Okay this is it for me - off to check out my to do list - well after reading a few MMI blog posts of course

I can't believe I am typing this but I am.....I am linking up with Jivey today for her linky, What I'm Wearing Wednesday!!!

 Why am I so surprised, a few reasons:

1. I am a plus size gal.
2. I hate shopping for clothes (see above).
3. I hate having my picture taken (see above).
4. I am a horrible blogger with good intentions to blog!!

Despite reasons 1-3, I do enjoy reading about people's stitch fix deliveries and seeing pictures of what people are wearing and how they are accessorising, I guess I am just weird that way : )

So, I am linking up today, to show you what I have been wearing....sort of : )

One of our favorite summer activities is heading to the beach. We love Lake Huron and try to get there as often as possible. This summer I needed some new swimwear. I picked up this new tank and I love it.

It is "waist slimming". Now I am not saying it is a miracle worker but see this scrunching.....

it really does work. It helps create a nice silhouette. The scrunching also helps the top stay down in the water!

Unfortunately I wore it with my skirt-like bottom. I usually love this bottom as it helps to hide a little more upper thigh (see number one above!)......but see this slit.....

well when you are sitting on your beach chair, talking to one of your best friends, who is also a teacher, who you haven't seen since March.....well you end up with some wonky tan/burn lines. Yes I ended up with a large triangle of summer color on ONE thigh.

So on our trip to the beach this week I will be wearing this suit....

I love it because it looks like a two piece suit with a tank and bottom but it is one piece - so no floating top!! I was worried about the stripes, getting too stretched (see number one above) or making me look wide but it is a pretty flattering fit. Also, it poofs a bit at the stomach to make it look like a tank - so I can totally blame any stomach poofiness on the suit : )

After our trip to the beach I spent 3 days wearing this t-shirt, while my car wore this sign.

The t-shirt was a boxy, unisex, unflattering shirt....but it meant that I was a volunteer at a music festival!! This was my first time volunteering and I LOVED it.

My first duties were at the "Breaking Zombies" event with live music and a zombie walk. I did not get to be a zombie but I did get to see a wide range of zombies, some people went all out. I am a fan of people watching and a zombie walk is a great place to do it. If your city ever hosts a zombie walk I highly recommend attending. Here are a few pics of the zombies (I guess I should say they are graphic, but you all know it is just make-up and not real zombies, but just in case, I guess they are graphic).

The next day I was a "runner" at the music fest. If you know me or read point number one above, you know I am not a runner. I am a walker or on this day I was a driver. I got to go backstage to the production area, where all the trailers are and all the behind the scenes people work. It was really cool to see what happens behind the scene at a rock show. My first duty, doing a food run!! I was given the VIP parking pass seen above, $500 cash (in five dollar bills) and sent to pick up a fast food order for the production staff. I picked up a $351.00 food order at Harveys. Very rock star lifestyle : )

The next day was the big concert. I scanned tickets and wristbanded people. Another great opportunity to people watch. But the highlight, watching Jane's Addiction and Soundgarden. I am 42 years old and started university in 1991, the year Grunge hit the music scene big time. So these are bands that were the soundtrack to my university years....a great time of my life. We got pretty close to the stage.....

unfortunately Chris Cornell did not spot me in the crowd and ask me to join the tour....but it was a great show nonetheless.

Here are two highlights from the show

Now, there has been a lot of talk on social media lately about finding your tribe, so I am looking for my tribe #fortysomething plussize teacher re-living her youth
Any takers.....or is it a party of one.

So if you made it this far, be sure to check out Jivey's post and linky for some real fashion ideas!!

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