Fourth Grade Play- Polygons

Play-to-learn days have become the highlight of our math workshop! Image We just spent the first few days of our exploration of geometry looking at polygons and angles.

We knew we wanted to have a couple of days of play before more formally launching the unit. We also thought it might be useful to talk about the other play we’ve done in math this year. We reminded students of the Array Play Days, and of our Fraction Play, and discussed how play leads to discovery. It was interesting to liken the play we’ve done in math to the play they do when they are playing outside of class. At first they had seen it as something very different.

“If we’re playing, then we can do anything. Like throw things around and stuff. But we can’t throw stuff around the classroom. That’s not what you mean.” Continue reading

Fourth grade play-to-learn days


They decided to use origami as a way into fractions.

Back in October we were getting ready to start a new unit in math- or maybe it was a new section of a unit. We had spent some time exploring arrays and how they are one model for multiplication. It felt to me as if kids understood this, but in a very school-y sort of way. They could dutifully draw an array to represent 13 X 7, but then would not actually ever use arrays to help solve any problems. I guess it felt like arrays fell under the category of “stuff the teacher wants me to do,” and not, as I had hoped, “stuff that can help me,” or even, dare I dream, “stuff I think is cool.” I was ready to move on anyway, chalking this up to generational disconnect. “They’ll think arrays are cool when they’re old,” I told myself.
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Kika’s Historical Fiction

One of my students from last year wrote this amazing story in her 5th grade study of Human Rights. They chose a Human Rights issue, researched it, designed a presentation, and wrote a historical fiction piece. This is her first draft. To see how one of my former students has continued her journey as a writer is so amazing. It also turns out she’s one of my future students, since I’ll be teaching 6th grade next year.


Yuki looked like a wild horse, galloping through the streets of the small, friendly town, her silky black hair flying through the wind.  The glaring sun beamed down at her.

“Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” she screamed. “Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” Continue reading

The Sub Sandwich Problem

ImageMelissa, my math coteacher and sometimes partner in executing the Learning Plan, came in and told us about a field day she had helped organize at her school last year. There were a lot of kids, and groups of them all wanted to have their lunches in different parts of the park. Without time to really think very hard, she had to divide up the sandwiches among the groups. She did the best she could, but some of the kids came and complained afterward that the allocations hadn’t been fair. We asked our kids, “Were they right? Did Melissa mess up?” Continue reading

The Pentomino Proof

IMG_4991My students enjoy talking about their ideas about books, about their writing, about new content we’ve been studying in Social Studies, and about math concepts. They question one another and listen to each other’s thoughts and strategies.

So why do the words, “Show your thinking,” instill dread and angst?

A wise staff developer once told me, “When we have questions about practice, it always comes back to purpose. What’s your purpose?”

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The Learning Plan Learning Curve

The idea of having fourth graders set their own course for working and learning is not widespread. It can be hard to find people who are trying the same thing in their classrooms- people who might be able to shed some light on my fumbling around. The lovely and talented Ann Marie Corgill, is doing this work in her fourth grade class in Alabama. She started it a month or so before we did, and inspired me to give it a go. With not much more than a hazy vision of what independence and self-determination would look like, we launched.

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