Thursday, January 29, 2009

Basic Tips on Using Manipulatives

We know kids learn by doing. That's why manipulatives are truly awesome teaching tools. But, they must be used correctly to be the most effective. Here are some quick tips for making the most of manipulatives:

  1. Let them explore first--Give students a little time to explore a new manipulative on their own before you want them to learn with it. Your kids may want to "play" with the manipulative. They need to get this out of their system! When I was a new teacher, I skipped this step and paid the price. Not only did the kids goof off, but my principal observed my class that day! Of course, she commented that the kids were just "PLAYING with manipulatives". She was right, but it was the fault of the teacher, not the manipulatives.
  2. Model the activity--crucial for helping students understand how to properly use the manipulative.
  3. Allow ample time for hands-on, small group activities--Remember that there's a trial-and-error process that students must go through when working with manipulatives. Sometimes kids need a little extra time to build these valuable reasoning and problem-solvings skills. Children gain the most benefits from manipulatives while working in small groups with other kiddos, which promotes social and communication skills.

  4. Assess students--Observe your students working with manipulatives when possible and always have them report back on their processes and conclusions.
  5. Help students transition from pencil & paper--This is another step that's often skipped. We never want manipulatives to become a crutch for students. Explicitly teach students strategies for transitioning from using manipulatives to working only on pencil and paper. These strategies help ensure that students succeed on standardized tests and in real life. Hey folks, your kids can't whip out those Reading Rods® and pattern blocks during the test!
  6. Use more than one kind of manipulative for activities on the same topic. Otherwise, learners may begin to associate a task with the specific manipulative used. Different textures, colors and shapes of manipulatives also cater to various learning styles. Manipulatives aren't just for math, either! Make sure to build hands-on materials into language arts, science, and social studies lessons, too.

  7. Make storate easy--Conveniently store your manipulatives in clear buckets or totes. (Many Learning Resources manipulatives come already packaged in them.) Small, zip-top plastic bags are also great for storing small, presorted sets for use in centers, small groups, or take-home ("and-wish-they-come-back") lessons.

Hey, frankly, we teachers are all strapped for time and sometimes forget to build one of these steps into our lesson plans. On some days, it's just easier to have a grab-and-go guide that lays it all out for us when it comes to using manipulatives. That's exactly what the Hands-On Standards series of handbooks does for math and science.

My favorite thing about Hands-On Standards is that it has an "at-a-glance" format with photos. All the steps are actual photographs of what the children should be doing with the manipulative! Plus, all of the standards covered are printed on each page. (Boy, my principal would have loved to have seen that!) For more information, or to download free sample lessons for your grade (PreK-K, 1-2, 3-4 or 5-6), take a look:

Oh, and there's also a new a science version, Hands-On Standards Science:

How to Help Schools Through Tough Times

It's no secret that most businesses are seriously hurting right now, but so are our schools!

You've probably heard that there's pending legislation that could give more federal assistance to schools later this year. Even if it the Senate passes it, and it's signed into law, those bucks will take their own sweet time trickling down to the states and schools.

What can we do in the meantime? Families are watching their pennies too. But, helping schools doesn't have to cost a dime. Just do one of these things. ONE is doable, right?

Oh, and you teachers reading this list, why not reprint it in parent or community newsletters?
  • Volunteer your PROFESSIONAL SKILLS--Whatever your profession, volunteer to do it for a school. If you're a beautician, provide the secretary with "free cut" coupons to give to their staff or neediest families--good marketing idea, too! If you're an accountant, see if they need help with their books. If you're a plumber, run the other direction! Kids manually wedge all kinds of interesting things in that long row of toilets and urinals in the little boys room. :)

  • Volunteer your TALENT/HOBBY--I don't have talent but wish I was able to enjoy my hobbies once in a GREAT while. The problem is, I can't make myself set aside time for them. When you partner with a school to share your talents/hobbies, you give yourself an excuse to spend time doing them. Now, all you amateur gardeners in Southern CA can revive the flowers around the flagpoles at your community schools. When you're done, swing by my house and, uh, straighten up all the abandoned, piecemeal landscape lights scattered underneath snow drifts and fallen icicles. (Email me for the Chicago address.)

  • Become a Teacher's Helper for the Day--Volunteer your time in a classroom. Don't worry, you don't have to have a teaching background. You may get to read to a child, play a board game with kids, or just help reorganize the room.

  • Donate SNACKS--I know first hand that the one thing teachers love almost as much as seeing kids succeed is FREE FOOD! Drop off extra packaged goodies with a nice note anytime. (I always have too many bags of chips left at my house after family get-togethers.) Better yet, call head to see when their next staff meeting is. Boy, brownies, and crackers sure make those meetings go down SOOO much easier. :)

  • Donate HOUSEHOLD stuff--We all have crapola around the house that we don't use. As you do your routine junk purges, consider whether a school could use it. Most schools accept kids' hats, gloves, scarves, office supplies, arts & crafts stuff, paper goods, cleaning wipes, etc. That reminds me...I have a price-club size bag of plastic cups that have been hogging my pantry space for 4 years. I'll send it to school next week! (Be sure to double-check with the school first to make sure they can use the items you have to give.)

  • Donate CORPORATE stuff--Betcha your place of work has stuff it needs to get rid of, too. You can either coordinate the donation yourself, or contact a place like to coordinate it for you. (We've never worked with this company before, but their website is interesting--also looks like a great place for teachers to create lists of stuff they'd like to have donated!)

Speaking of donating corporate stuff, we have to free up space in our warehouse every few years. Last November, we contacted a bunch of local schools in order to donate hands-on learning materials and toys--54 schools came and loaded up trucks! The biggest surprise was that our staff benefited just as much.

We loved reading through all the letters on our wall of thank yous from the students (see photo)! Some were hilarious--one little boy said that the person from Learning Resources who coordinated the donation should get a raise. Another kid said he felt bad that our donation coordinator had to use all of her own money to buy the donated stuff--cute! Some notes were a bit sad but very inspiring--a little girl thanked us most of all for the ruler because she had never had her own!

My favorite letter (see above) was from a child who ended her note by saying simply, "Make us smart!" This is exactly what we're all doing when we give back to schools. So go ahead, invest in children!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Get It! Making Connections with Manipulatives

Three moms are trying to get their 3-year olds to hang up their coats...

Mom #1 tells her child, "Please go hang your coat on the peg." Mom #2 points at another child hanging up his coat and says to her kid, "See how he's hanging up his coat? Please do that." Mom #3 takes her kid by the hand, walks him over to the coat, and guides him in picking it up and hanging it on the peg--all with a strong explanation and praise. Which mom do you think will succeed?

The first mom only used auditory methods. The second mom used auditory and visual ones. Mom #3 emphasized kinesthetic/hands-on but also talked to the child (auditory) and demonstrated (visual). Good teachers and smart moms and dads cater to many learning styles when they teach!

The National Association of Elementary Principals says that most kiddos under age 9 are primarily kinesthetic learners. They learn by doing. They need to touch and move (MANIPULATE!!!) things. But, we all have combo learning styles to some degree. (I'm tactile and kinesthetic with a lot of auditory and a little visual thrown in. You get the idea.)

Hmm, seems like manipulatives must be perfect for teaching children, then! These tools are mostly kinesthetic and tactile, yet also give strong visual cues and encourage communication (auditory).

Manipulatives are visual because kids can “see” what’s going on as they work through a problem with their hands. Manipulatives help unlock abstract concepts and put them right smack dab in the palm of little concrete hands. Color-coding systems are even utilized by some kinds of manipulatives (see examples below) —a double dose of visuals!

Rainbow Fraction (R)

Reading Rods (R)

As far as the auditory part goes, hands-on instruction with manipulatives is cooperative. It gets kids talking about what they did and how they did it, while getting them to practice using key vocabulary.

If you follow this blog already, I probably don't have to convince you that the hands-on way is best for kids. But, there are folks out there who need to be reminded that hands-on instruction isn't just fun and games, that multiple learning styles aren't mumbo jumbo, and that manipulatives aren't toys.

Manipulative-based instruction is engaging, but that doesn’t mean it’s goofing off! That being said, it's not magic either. Manipulatives are “part of a complete breakfast”. When used correctly with good teaching, they’re a research-based best practice and cover skills aligned with the standards.

This isn’t just my opinion. The Put Reading First research recommends that kids learn phonics through "manipulating" word parts. Use of manipulatives has been recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in every decade since the 40's. According to the National Center for Accessing the General Curriculum, manipulatives positively affect student achievement when compared with traditional instruction. In a national survey, 85% of elementary teachers rated manipulatives as "highly effective". Need I go on? :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Words Inspire Lessons

I've always been a word, rather than numbers person, although I appreciate good hard number facts once in a while. I aced the verbal part of my SAT and tanked on the nonverbal. In college, I squeezed out teaching degrees without having to take a single math class! (A crime in higher education, but yes, it happened.)

BTW, when you skip math in college, you get to opt out of doing budgets when you get a job in the real world, right? SHHH! This is exactly what I'm telling my new boss. ;)

Back to my main point...

Watching the inauguration events yesterday, I was struck by all the beautiful words spoken. Some consider the English language "ugly to the ears" because its rhythm, grammar rules, and vocabulary roots are a hodge podge of irregularity. But, I think that just might be what makes it a thing of beauty. In the words spoken yesterday by poet Elizabeth Alexander, "our patchwork heritage is a strength".

I thought these inaugaural quotes were particularly moving. I'm going to save them for a day when I have more time to contemplate what they really mean from my own experience. So, I thought you might want to share a few with your children/students. No matter your political affiliation, the words themselves will make great topics for critical thinking activities or discussions on character, conflict resolution, politics, or history.

President Obama:

"...we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned."

"...we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

"...willingness to find meaning in something greater than ourselves"

"...bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction."

" and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

Poet Elizabeth Alexander:

"Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking."

"We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider."

"…take no more than you need"

"In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun."

Lowery Benediction:

" for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around...when yellow will be mellow (is this guy really going to keep this rhyme going much longer?--hilarious!) "...when the red man can get ahead, man" (another good one! keep it up!) "...and when white will embrace what is right."

Hey, maybe all these words will even inspire a young writer to write words just as beautiful!

Oh...and sure, these words are strong enough to stand on their own as inspiration for all kinds of writing activities. But, if you're looking for great tools to round out your writing lessons (hands-on materials & graphic organizers), check out these unique things that could lend a hand:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hand Pointer Point of View

Remember when you were a kid and someone pointed at you? That gesture was always followed by doom. The "point" of pointing is to draw attention to something without saying a word, but that attention doesn't have to be bad. Actually, we know from classroom management research that many negative student behaviors can be quickly halted by using...HUMOR!

So, how do you make a one-finger gesture a positive (and effective) thing? A cartoon pointing hand on a stick! Some of my all-time favorite Learning Resources products are our Hand Pointers:

Yes, somewhere in Cartoonland there are thousands of characters sporting only stumps, but their amputational contributions will never be forgotten. Thanks, guys, for lending a hand! ;) (Oops, I guess humor can also be a bad thing too.)

I love the Hand Pointer because it's simple, versatile (value), and has personality. I consider myself somewhat creative. I've made my fair share of bulletin board decor, cardboard flashcards, and mini reading rooms made of giant refrigerator boxes. But, there's no way I can make a pointer this darn cute!

If I were back in the classroom, here's what I'd be doing with my cutie-patootie Hand Pointers:

1. Good point! Point at a kid who's doing something good for a change. Look for positive behaviors and literally "point" them out as great examples of how your whole class should act.

2. Give one to a kid who gets to play teacher during an activity with peers.

3. Whip them out unexpectedly to use while presenting at professional development workshops or staff meetings. I've had great success (and a lot of fun) with this.

4. If you're lucky enough to have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, the Hand Pointers work great on them!

5. Assessment in any subject--point out things and ask students questions about them (obvious, I know). This can be pointing to parts of a cross-section to quiz kids on science terms, pointing to objects in the room to see if ELLs are building everyday vocabulary, pointing to states/countries on a map, etc.

6. Fluency--to help readers with their pace, use the pointer to follow the words as your students chant them.

7. Phonics, alphabet awareness, and phonological awareness--highlight letters or parts of written words in pocket charts or on the board. Tap a desk/table to count out syllables in a spoken word. Here's how one teacher does this:

8. Vocabulary--point to words IN CONTEXT in big books or on the board. Then, talk about meanings.

9. Counting--sometimes auditory learners need to hear numbers. Tap out their values or have students tap the rhythm as they count (or skip count!) up or down.

10. Patterns--tap them out on a desk/table. There are all kinds of patterns in the world. Some are auditory, AKA "music". ;)

Yes, many of these things you can also do with your own finger or a dowel rod (note: splinter & termite risks), but that's no fun!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Making the Case for Snow Play!

Welcome to our new blog on everything hands-on learning! Let's share some cool learning ideas with one another and see where it takes us. Hey YOU, that means you have to share unique activities too! :)

Okay, so we are a little nutty, and my husband's a real life snowman from Norway. We took my one year-old out to sled and play in the snow this weekend--her first time playing in it! Well, I guess it wasn't the first time...

A few weeks ago on one of my days off, we laid on our tummies inside in front of the sliding glass door to our deck and put our hands in the snow. It was her immediate instinct. She didn't hold back, she didn't stare at it in wonder, she just GRABBED it. She needed to know what it felt like and then very quickly tried to shake the surprisingly cold, wet stuff off her tiny pink hand--he he!

So why isn't there more snow play for little learners? Yeah, it's cold, it's messy, but oh-so-educational. Get out those sand molds, buckets, shovels and toy bulldozers and head outdoors. Or, let them take their play dishes, colorful sprinkles, and food coloring out there and whip up a pretend dessert masterpiece. Hey, maybe there should be snow tables in early childhood classrooms just like there are sand & water tables! Why couldn't some company put a refrigeration unit in the bottom of one of these tables and sell them for, let's say $10,000 each? :)

Think about all that kids learn by playing in the snow like this--cause & effect, measurement, spatial skills, gross & fine motor skills, gravity, force & motion...not to mention all the vocabulary they're building. OMG, my nerdy teacher heart is thumping harder just thinking about the learning potential.

BTW, the sledding was a great time for kid, mommy, and daddy. What a workout too! If you haven't done it in a while, do it! Santa brought our family an inflatable toddler sled (not from Learning Resources) that we had to take for a spin. Now I'm thinking I might try doing a belly sled on the ladybug from our Giant Inflatable Insects (LER 1800) or see if it's possible to "skate" in the inflatable Measuring Feet (LER 7581). I'm not kidding. Seriously, I'm going to try it out and report back. Hmm, I wonder if anyone would notice if I took a long lunch today...cya.