LearnStorm 2015

Last Saturday, some of our students had an incredible opportunity to attend Kahn Academy's LearnStorm 2015 on the Google Campus.

Riding a Google Double Decker Bus
While the bus ride was the beginning of the day, the journey began much earlier.  My teammate, Jen, wanted our students to learn to code.  Problem was, she didn't know how to code either.

Luckily, she found Khan Academy and a buzz spread through campus.  When the Bay Area LearnStorm challenge popped up, the focus switched to using Khan Academy to Learn Math.  During Intervention (Surf Lessons) students began exclaiming, "Oh.  I did this in Khan!"  When students come to me for Surf Lessons, they know that once they have met the success criteria and proven they understand the concept, they can return to attending specials the next day with their class.  Suddenly, students began to ask if they could stay an extra day or the rest of the week and work on Math through Khan Academy.  They could go to PE or Art, but they were choosing to stay and learn math.

Our top five students were chosen based on Khan data.  What I loved was seeing that most of our top students were kids I'd seen in Intervention. They weren't the kids that always get 100%.  They were kids that made it to the top for our school in Khan through perseverance and determination.  It was also pretty awesome, in my opinion, that 4 out of 5 were girls.

Each team had a leaders from Google or Khan,
15 kids ranging from 3rd to High School,
and a couple teachers.

What surprised me the most though was their level of apprehension.  Some students needed to be talked into attending.  This trek to the Google Campus which was about 1.5 hours away was one of the biggest trips they'd ever been on.  We we arrived, there were lines by last name for students to check in.

I pointed out the correct line to the 5th grade boy that came with us.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  "You want me to get in that line?! By myself?!!?"  I stayed with him in the line hoping he'd be OK as I noticed each of our students had a different color shirt which meant they were all in different teams.

Sal Khan Kicking Off the Event
After a few moments of gathering into teams with like colored shirts and meeting our team leads, the announcers came out to pump up the crowd.  Sal Khan came out and told the kids how amazing it was for them to make it to this event.  Only 300 students out of 73,000 made it to the finals.

The first activity was a Rock, Paper, Scissors Challenge.  Everyone was to turn to someone near them and play.  The person who won would then look for a new person to challenge while the person they defeated would become their cheering section.  Eventually it was down to just two players and huge cheering sections.

This would be a quick easy classroom activity if you were looking for a fun little break.

Our team leader introduces challenges.

We walked down to another of the Google parks.  Our team leader began to explain the challenges and the schedules.  It was a lot of information.  Our leader had a ton of energy and personality and the kids all stared at her in silence.  There were many activities to choose from when were at our stations and the kids would quietly choose one and work.

One of the things that I noticed all day was that there were three hundred kids on this field and it was near silent most of the time.   The teacher in me wanted to step in and play some ice breaker games.  Get the kids to know each other.  Pair them up.  I could see that the silence wasn't just respect and concentration.  They didn't know each other and they were shy academic kids.  But this was after all a competition and there was limited time.  The high schoolers ended up talking to one another, but most of the other kids wanted to work alone.

Wandering Avatar

When the kids were first excited about using Khan Academy to learn math, I thought maybe it had games.  It is just math problems.  How did they get the kids to love it?  I think a big part is the avatars.  During LearnStorm, there were people dressed up as some of the avatars and we earned points for group photos with them.

Two high school students work together to solve word problems.
There were three types of challenges.  There was an individual math test, challenges that a small group would head off to do, and challenges that could be completed at our home base.

The home base challenges included things like tanrams, sudoku puzzles, and riddles.  I loved one of the simplest challenges which was encouraging a growth mindset about the power of YET.  They simply had to complete sentences like "I'm not good at ____ yet."  "I don't know how to ____ yet."

A third grader attempts a tangram.

Life Size Abacus
My favorite group even was the abacus.  They used ropes and cut up pool noodles to create a giant abacus and they had the kids represent numbers on it.  Then they challenged them to use it to solve math problems.
One of our little ones was so excited about 'purchasing' this mask
during the depot activity.
 One of the group challenges that the younger students faced was shopping at a depot and trying use mental math to make sure it all fell in a certain price range.

Lunch on the Google Campus

By lunch time there was a little bit of a hum as students warmed up to each other.  They provided nice box lunches for everyone.  As I was sitting on the grass eating lunch, the one students from my school that was in my group asked where I got the water.  I pointed to a nearby table full of water bottles.  I was a little confused when she didn't stand up to get one.  But, she is pretty shy and quiet so I thought maybe she was working up the nerve.  I was exercising restraint all day trying to let her push herself and fighting the urge to rescue her so I didn't offer to get her one.  A few minutes later she asks, "Are they free?"

This moment really stuck with me.  When you grow up in poverty, money is always an issue.  While so many kids and adults didn't think twice about the fact that we were provided with a free lunch and free water, to her it was a big deal.

Sal Khan helping the students know how special they are.
After lunch we went inside for the awards ceremony.  There were amazing prizes from big names like  Pixar and the 49ers.  Every child was able to reach under their chair and find an envelope with tickets to something special like a museum.

Two of our local museums that provide prizes have amazing websites. Teachers, these are worth your time. Check out the Exploratorium and the California Academy of Sciences.

My teammate, Jen Ellison, share on stage with Sal Khan sharing about our students' journey.
Some of our students meeting Sal Khan.
Do you see that smile on our 5th grade boy?  The same boy that was too shy to stand in line to get his shirt, walked up to Sal Khan at the end of the day and poked him in the belly.  Apparently, it is his thing.

Our students were spread throughout the auditorium.  At the end most of them found their way to us but we couldn't find one.  One of our students and teachers went to look for her.  When they found her outside, they weren't allowed back in and missed our chance to meet Sal Khan which was a bummer.  But the girl that went outside was on a winning team and gets to choose a prize from an amazing list of prizes including a tour of Pixar.  So, I'm pretty sure she'll get over it.

Jen and I on the bus ride home.
The contrast between the morning bus ride and the evening bus ride was amazing.

On the way there, the only sound on the bus was two kids from another school having an intense debate about math.  I couldn't help but laugh as things like "Pi is so much better than Tau!" and "Two is the best prime number because it is the only one that is even!" were shouted.  Our kids, however, silent.  Maybe a whisper here and there.

On the way home these scared, quiet, shy kids were LOUD.  They were laughing and talking and having a great time.  I heard more words from some of these kids than I have in the years I've known them.

Fun and laughter on the ride home

For our kids this even was more than a math event.  This was a glimpse at how much bigger the world is than the one they live in.  This was a glimpse at possibilities.  The career choices out there are so much more than what their parents and teachers do.  Their world grew.  


Recently, I asked my friend and coworker, Jen Ellison, to write a guest blog post about Khan Academy and how she has used it to inspire our students.  I also shared about a loss that we experience recently.

Saturday we will be taking some students to a special event hosted by Khan Academy and Google. I'll be sharing pictures throughout the day via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  If you happen to be going, let me know, I'd love to say hi to some bloggy friends.

Yesterday, Jen was reflecting some more and shared the following as her Facebook status.  She gave me permission to share it with you.

About three months ago, I decided my students should learn how to code. I teach 4th, 5th and 6th graders who live in poverty. I thought it would be great if they could learn to code now, create an app and sell it on iTunes. They could break free of the chains of poverty now.
So I found some excellent coding lessons on Khan Academy and set them all to work. You should see those kids coding! It's amazing. I love watching my fourth graders, their heads all bent together next to that computer screen saying things like, "Have you tried plus, plus?" Or "No, dude, you need four parameters!" It's beautiful.
And then one day, a little button popped up on my coach screen. "Do you want to add this class to Learnstorm2015?" And I clicked yes.
LearnStorm is a pilot math competition in which students earn points by mastering math skills at their grade level. And so, I set them all to work. I watched in amazement as they dug in and fought their way through new concepts and through practice and determination they began to master math skills. I told my good pal Will, our 6th grade math teacher all about it.
"That's awesome!" He said with a typically huge Will grin. He was impressed with their progress and effort. "It will be cool to see how they do."
This conversation was about two weeks into LearnStorm and I had already been convinced of its greatness. I had begun to work on my own math skills -- starting in kindergarten and working my way forward. Will laughed when I told him about my own math journey, but he also encouraged me. "You can learn it all, I bet."
And after three months of daily struggle-- after school Khan Club meetings, Saturday school sessions -- we have reached the end of LearnStorm. My students understand grit -- they have lived it out. They struggled and worked. They've hit a wall. "Mrs. E! I'm never gonna get this last skill!" I've hit my own wall and lived it for them to see. Sometimes, I would work on my own math lessons on the big screen so they could see me try and fail and try again and learn.
About six weeks in we began the real fight. We had mastered all the "easy" skills and were smack dab in the land of new learning. I was amazed to discover that ALL of my students needed to learn how to tell time, and measure, and I don't even want to talk about fractions! But then the most amazing thing began to happen -- our school was on the leaderboard. We made our way into the top five for the whole Bay Area. 69,000 kids and mine were showing up on the Leaderboard.
We dug deep, encouraged each other and kept moving forward. Five of my students have their names in the top 100. One of my 4th grade girls is number 14 -- out of the whole contest. I've never been so proud.
As for myself, I've mastered 438 math skills as of today. I got bogged down at the end of 6th grade math --don't laugh-- there is some seriously tough stuff in 6th grade now.
The last two weeks, we've held steady in 2nd place. My students. The same kids who spoke no English in kindergarten, who have no internet access at home, who I start each day asking one question, "Have you eaten?" -- these kids are number two. They understand grit. They understand hard work and now they are witnesses to the benefit of it.
This Saturday, I am taking five of them to a final event at Google headquarters. They will be recognized and encouraged. One of my girls didn't want to go. "It's an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity!" I told her. "You have to go!"
Her response reminded me of the crippling effects of poverty. "I don't ride in cars much." She said. "It is far. What if I get sick?" She's ten years old, and doesn't often leave her neighborhood. Her family shares a car with her cousins. They walk almost everywhere. Driving an hour away might as well be the moon.
"I'll sit next to you." I promised. "You can do this."
She turned in her permission slip and asks me daily if I really will sit with her. I will.
I cannot express how far they have already traveled and now five of them will go a little further -- and hear Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy's, himself, praise their hard work.
"Mrs. E, y'a think that Sophia from the coding lessons will be there?" One of them asked me.
"I don't know." I told her.
"I hope so. That would be cool. If I heard her talking, I'd know it was her. I've listened to her lots!"
They have found new rock stars to admire. Sophia, Jessica, Sal. They look up to academics who've taught them to code, animate and tell time on a "regular" clock. I wish I could bring all 355 of my students, but I hope the five I do bring will be ambassadors to the rest -- showing them there is a world outside their impoverished neighborhood.
And if anyone could understand this massive achievement, it would be my buddy Will. He was so excited about the contest and so proud of our students. But just four days after I told him about the contest, he died suddenly - a good man taken from us too soon. And so, it was with broken hearts my students dug deep determined to do well in the contest. "We gotta do it for Mr. B!" They said to encourage one another. "He wouldn't want us to quit!"
I don't know the end of our story. We will go to finals on Saturday. We will step onto that campus and for my students it will be like Neil Armstrong standing on the moon -- a new world never seen before full of endless possibilities.
LearnStorm taught us about hope, endurance and grit. We learned to persevere even through grief and that even broken-hearted we can build something good. It taught us to encourage one another because everyone struggles. It taught us that you can learn anything. It taught us that we are capable of more than we can imagine.
Oh, and we learned some math, too.

Jen Ellison

Not So Harsh

As I was doing after school yard duty today, a student asked me, "After this do you go home or do you go to Cool School?" (Cool School is our after school program.)

I laughed and told him that I stay after school because I had a lot of work to do.  He asked what I had to do.  I explained that I had to plan out our lessons and do things like make copies.  He looked confused.  I explained that no one tells us what to do each day, that teachers had to spend time figuring that all out.

He shook his hear, "Wow! That's HARSH!"

I laughed thinking of all the things I have coming up this week.  There is a colloquium for beginning teachers and their support providers Wednesday, our school's Family Fun Night on Friday, and a special field trip Saturday I volunteered help to chaperone for kids that won a contest through Khan Academy.

The thing is, even on the longest of weeks, it doesn't feel harsh.  I like my job.  I may not love every moment or every meeting.  I may be joyfully participating in a count down to summer break.  But, really, I'm lucky.  I love my job.

While it may feel 'harsh' at times, I appreciate that many people and companies take the time to thank us this week.

I have a full wish list.  I've already treated myself to some cardstock today in preparation for my purchases.  :)  Everything in my store and in many stores will be on sale Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  

I hope you let in all the appreciation headed your way this week.  You deserve the praise.

Custom Cartoon

Have you heard of Lauren from Polka Dot and Pals?  She created a custom character for me.

I love it so much.  If you want one, you can order it here.

Death of a Teacher

I typed Death of a Teacher into a Google Search bar.

I didn't know what else to do.

I don't know what I expected to appear.  Did I expect the internet to magically help me?

Everything was happening so suddenly.  One moment I hear that my friend's husband, a teacher I work with, is in the hospital and very sick.  The next he is gone.  He was young.  He was happy.  He had a beautiful wife and two young children he loved.  He was a teacher, a chef, a friend.  He was funny, dedicated, and a story teller.  Most of all, he was loved.

What about his students?

We can't just call a sub.  We can't let them have a stranger in there while they process what just happened.  Who is going to take care of them?

I asked my principal if I could cancel my intervention classes and be in his 6th grade math classroom.   I wanted them to have a familiar face with them.  His wife and I had taught 2nd grade to many of his students and I wanted to take care of them.

Phone calls were made to all the families of the sixth graders to let them know what happened. The district provided counselors and a script to read as we started the day.  I met with our principal and the other sixth grade teachers and we made the best plans we could.

But, there I was, the night before entering his classroom googling Death of a Teacher.  

As students started to arrive, some walked right in.  Some stopped unsure about entering his classroom.  Some wandered over to his desk and looked at pictures of his family.  The counselor tried to start a group discussion but there was an awkward silence.  

One of the things that I had read in my late night Google search was that it is important to provide a choice for someone who is grieving.  When sadness makes you feel like you have no control, just small choices give you a little bit of power back.

I told the students that I had made a variety of copies for them to choose from.  There were pattern coloring pages, word searches, and math papers.  They could get any of those to work on.  

As students began coloring, the room began to buzz.  I went and sat with tables for a while and kids asked questions and shared memories.  Eventually those led into whole class discussions.  

It became clear that these preteens were afraid they were going to say the wrong thing or act the wrong way.  We talked about grief.  We talked about how some people like to be left alone and some people like to talk.  How sometimes you start crying out of the blue and sometimes you laugh.  We talked about phrases we could use like, "Do you want to talk or be left alone?"  Mostly, we talked about their teacher and how much they loved and appreciated him.

His name was Mr. Bunker.

One of the students said she wanted to make Mr. Bunker the Cool Kid for the week.  She explained that each week, he brought up a student and wrote on the board whatever people had to share about them.  She agreed to lead the activity.  She wrote his name across the board and students began to share amazing stories about Mr. Bunker.

I spent a week in his room and I learned a lot from him through the stories kids shared.  

I also learned a lot about being a teacher.

I learned that our routines we establish in class are import to our students.  

I learned that kids want to know us.  They loved stories we share about our real life.

I learned that our students appreciate and recognize our uniqueness more than we know.

I learned a lot about THOSE kids.  You know, the ones, you think aren't listening.  The ones you worry aren't getting it.  The ones you tell your coworkers and spouse stories about.  The ones you feel like  you will never get through to.

I learned that those kids were listening.  They can quote you word for word.  They know how much patience it took to work with them.  They see the extra attention you give them.  They know you care.  They make treks from other schools when they hear your gone just to look at your classroom.  They write heartfelt apologies for the way they treated you.  

They will be better for having known you.  Even if you are positive they haven't heard a word you've said.

They love you.  They appreciate you.  

The ones that don't write cards.  The ones that don't say it.  You mean more to them than you will ever know.

Coding with Khan

I am lucky to be part of a wonderful team of Specialists.  Our school schedule allows our grade level teams to collaborate daily while their kids go to Specials.  We have Fitness, Art/Engineering, and Global Investigations as our specials. Sometimes students are referred to Surf Lesson (Intervention) with me during Specials time.  

Our Global Investigations time is a class that uses technology and Project Based Learning to explore the world.  It's teacher, Jen Ellison, decided she wanted our 4th-6th graders to learn to code.  It sparked an excitement amongst our upper grade students that made me ask her to do a guest blog post about Khan Academy.  Our students started off using it for coding and now are also using it for math.  I'm impressed with this FREE site that our kids find so motivating.

Here is Jen to tell you all about it.....

Like most children, my students feel powerless.  Their lives are controlled by the adults in their lives -- at home their parents and guardians determine their rising and sleeping. They control what and when they eat.

School is no different. I tell my students when to read and what to read - I even tell them how to read! And yet my decision to become an educator stemmed largely from a desire to empower students.

More than anything else I want my students to feel powerful enough to determine the course of their lives.  I want them to believe that they can tackle any problem great or small and be victorious.

This is where Khan Academy comes into play. I am always looking for ways for my students who are trapped in a cycle of poverty -- to find a way out.  Most people are familiar with the story of the young creator of Minecraft -- how he taught himself to code and created a game.  He learned basic java script and made boxes and squares, but step onto any playground and ask about Minecraft.  His simple, little game dominates the thoughts and minds of children everywhere.  And was a financial windfall for him.

I visited Khan Academy looking for a way for my own students to learn how to code.  I discovered that they have step by step lessons to teach students to code.  A person can log into Khan Academy and follow the lessons and day by day, lesson by lesson learn to code. No background knowledge or experience is required.  It works. Anyone can learn it.  ANYONE.

Even an old teacher like me. 

That’s right, in the process of determining whether it was appropriate for my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students, I taught myself to code.  Two months ago, I knew absolutely nothing about computer programing, and now I can write simple codes.  I completed the 100 introductory lessons, and am working my way through level two.

My students love coding and Khan Academy.  The computer lab is never silent when we are working in there.  Everywhere you can hear voices saying things like, “Wait, how did you do that?”  or “I just got 2,100 energy points!”  Khan Academy is amazing.  We have been working in Khan Academy and my students are still happy to log in.  “Are we gonna do Khan today?”  They ask and I expect them to groan -- we’ve been working on it for such a long time now -- and yet, they react with cheers.

I’ve got a pack of fourth grade girls who love to sit together and code.  “You gotta plus plus.”  I heard one of them say to the other just yesterday. That’s right, she’s nine and talking like a pro.  “You don’t have enough parameters.”  A fifth grade boy was explaining to a girl today. 

I should mention, my students do not live in an environment flooded with technology.  We are a Title 1 school, and most of my students do not have computers or internet at home.  They come to school to use computers or go to the public library.  And now they have learned to code like champs.

But more importantly, they feel empowered.  They sit down to that list of lessons, and choose what they are going to work on and how they are going to do it.  Khan Academy allows students the freedom to choose what to study and how to study it.  Students are tackling math, programing, history and science.  I’ve got one fifth grader who loves learning about physics.  He watches the embedded videos and leans in close to hear every word.

If you haven’t visited Khan Academy, I highly recommend it.  Start by watching the introductory video entitled “You Can Learn Anything”.  I am a lifelong educator and have always felt in my heart that given the right tools, you can learn so much, but now, I truly believe that you can learn anything.  Trust me, if an old teacher lady like me, can learn to write code -- anything is possible. 

When my students get discouraged, or feel overwhelmed with a new and difficult task, I remind them of two simple things:  In the beginning, even Einstein had to learn his ABC’s just like the rest of us, and it isn’t that you can’t do the work -- it is just that you aren’t good at it -- yet.

The world is filled with possibility.

Khan Academy benefits at a glance:

Free forever.
Spanish translation available.
Individually paced.
Short videos and hints for students who need support.
Endless choices.
Multiple paths to understanding.
Jen Ellison

Adding and Subtracting Mixed Numbers: A Looong Journey

I mentioned in my last post some fifth graders I worked with recently that were struggling to add and subtract mixed numbers.

It is no wonder.  You have to be able to fluently do all the previous fraction skills to be successful.  

Typically, I have 2 weeks for an intervention group.  Luckily this group was before spring break so we decided to give this challenge 3 weeks.

Some of the kiddos came in, as the 5th graders often do, telling me that they don't need help with fractions.  Sometimes they are right.  Sometimes they just didn't give their best on the test in class and they really do have a grasp on the concept.  Sometimes they have no idea what our posted objective really means.  I let them take a pretest with the promise that they won't need intervention if they get 100%.

This time, the kids had a weird reaction.  Many of the boys that told me they knew how to do this, looked at the pretest and said, "Nevermind.  I don't know how to do this."

Most of the pretests were blank.  The ones that weren't had answers where the numerators AND the denominators had been added left to right.

Having already thought through the foundational skills, I was luckily prepare for starting at the beginning.

I spent a year teaching 5th grade math and had broken down the fraction skills to minute details.  If you take a look at my fraction section of my store, you'll see this was a huge focus for me.  I made task cards for each little step along the fraction path. Starting with my Identify Fractions Freebie.

It seems kind of silly that I created a 3rd grade product with such a simple objective while teaching 5th grade math, but it turned out I've needed it a lot.

When I taught 5th grade, I had them printed and hanging on my wall so I could have specific student practice their specific needs.

I gave those to the next 5th grade math teacher.  Now, I pull up task cards electronically on my interactive white boards and we use them with white boards.

Besides saving tons of ink, they give me a quick review option.  If kids can answer 4 task cards easily on their white boards, then I move up to the next foundational skill,

I discovered through my review that my students didn't know how to find a common denominator.  So we spent a significant amount of time practicing with my Find a Common Denominator Task Cards.

Then we practiced Adding Fractions with Unlike Denominators and simplifying.  We spent a lot of time on simplifying.

Then, I thought we could start adding Mixed Numbers.  I was wrong. 

So many of the students I see for intervention have anxiety surrounding math.  They are actually quite quick to learn, but if they miss one thing, they shut down and tune out.  Not exactly a successful strategy.  So, I encourage them to stop me if they get lost.

The first problem in, kids stopped me.  Oh.  So, we need to review what a mixed number is, what an improper fraction is, and how to go back and forth with them.  OK.

... SIDE NOTE... I attended a training where we were told to stop using the phrase "improper fraction" because there is a judgement that there is something wrong with it.  Really?!?  What should we say instead?  Well, we can call it a number in a fractional form.  Sigh.  Until someone gives me an actual label for it, I'm not going to stop calling fractions "improper".  How can I teach math without labeling the skill I'm teaching!?... Back to your regularly scheduled blog post...

So we spent some time working with Changing Improper Fractions to Mixed Numbers and Changing Mixed Numbers to Improper Fractions. 


Then we were ready to start adding and subtracting mixed numbers.  Thank God I had three weeks for all that!

Honestly, the last day when they were taking the test.  I was nervous.  I was so proud to grade them and give out mostly 100%.  Sometimes, grade level objectives can be daunting when working with students with a below grade level background, but just focusing on the baby steps along the way leads to success.  I'm not going to lie, though.  My feet were sore after all those steps.

If you are somewhere in that continuum of fraction skills and are looking for some resources, I have several bundles which are all at least 20% off.  I'm listing them in the order I teach them so you can jump on wherever your needs fit. :)  Just click the picture to find it in my store.

My newest was created in the midst of all that struggle. :)

My next 5th grade referral is for multiplying mixed numbers.  I'm already working on my next batch of task cards and breaking down the foundational steps needed.  Wish me luck. :)


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