Challenge Friday: Geometry 3D Shapes


The kids have been studying geometry in math. The kids have to know the names of solid figures, such as sphere, pyramid, cube, cylinder, cone, and rectangular prism. For each shape they have to know how many faces, edges, and vertices it has. So for Challenge Friday, our mission this week was to make one of the solid figures out of Legos and then write about it, describing it by its geometric properties. After making one, they could make another if they had time.

Although cubes, pyramids, and rectangular prisms were very popular, some kids found very creative ways to make cylinders, cones, and even spheres! We met in a share circle after every student had had a chance to make at least one shape. In the share circle, they described their shape by how many faces, vertices, and edges it had, and the other kids had to guess what shape it was. Once they guessed the correct shape, the student revealed the shape they made.

I took a picture of each shape that the kids made and then they glued the picture in their notebooks with their written descriptions.





Challenge Friday: Visualizing with Legos


Since we’ve been working on visualizing text all week, it seemed appropriate to make Challenge Friday somehow related to visualizing. I also needed to give the kids a quick quiz to see how they are doing with visualizing text independently. I decided to find a way to combine the two.

First, I used five different books to create leveled passages as I had done earlier in the week. Then I created two questions for each passage that were in SOL-style multiple-choice about visualization. The kids would have to answer those two questions and then draw a picture of what the text said. The questions were about the details in the passage that helped you to picture things. For example, “What detail best helps the reader to picture what the cat looks like?” and, “What did the cyclops’s voice probably sound like when he said, ‘I’ll eat you all!’?”

Some kids, who throughout the week seemed to have no problem visualizing text, had trouble with those two questions. Some didn’t understand how specific details can be used to visualize specific things. Others just didn’t read the question carefully or didn’t know what the question was asking. Their pictures were also very helpful because it showed which kids focus on one detail and ignore all the other description and action around it versus kids who notice all the details and use all of it to make their pictures. It all showed where misunderstandings were in vocabulary or phrasing of certain sentences. One student who read this sentence about a cyclops, “He was fifty feet tall,” showed a huge misunderstanding in his picture. He had drawn a dark cave, which it DID mention in the text, but in the cave was a person with a label that said, “this person walked 50 feet.” All of these observations about each student’s answers to the three parts of the quiz really helped me to see how they were visualizing and how I can help them pay attention to the details in the text better.

After I had gone over the quiz with each student, we met on the carpet to talk about challenge Friday. Their challenge today was to make the scene from the passage they had read on the quiz using Legos. It was particularly challenging because the scene that they made had to match the details from the passage that they read. I gave the passages back to them so that they could refer to them as needed. It was fun to watch how they creatively used the pieces to match the color, size, and objects from the passage. For example, one student read a passage about a man who walked through a river and was wearing heavy rain boots. She attached two blue flowers to the bottom of a Lego minifigure’s legs to be the rain boots. Other students used flagpoles and sticks as swords for their minifigure to battle a hydra.
(on a side note, doing these passages that came directly from the leveled books in my classroom library also encouraged the children to try books that they otherwise had ignored on the bookshelf. I have had many students ask me this week about where the book is that their passage came from because they would like to read the rest of it.)





Contractions and Comics


We’ve been learning how to write contractions in our language arts word study time. I showed the kids how contractions work both in English and Spanish. After making a list of contractions in both languages, we compared the kinds of contractions by the rules the contractions follow in both languages. The kids noticed that, in English, contractions always use an apostrophe where the missing letter is. In Spanish, however, this is not always true. There are certain colloquialisms that do use an apostrophe when two words are put together to form a contraction, such as the words “M’ija” (mi + hija) and “pa’ que” (para + que). However there are other words that lose a letter when they make a contraction but they don’t use an apostrophe, such as “al” (a + el) and “del” (de + el). Then there are also several words that GAIN letters when they are put together, like “con” and “mi” go together to form “conmigo”. It was really interesting to watch the kids make these comparisons.

After practicing contractions for a few days, I introduced the kids to a free app for iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads. It’s called “toonthat”. It’s an app that let’s you take pictures of things and then add talking bubbles or thought bubbles and other special effects to create a comic. It’s very easy to use. The first day, we just practiced using the app and learning how to make comics. The next day, I added a requirement that their comics had to use contractions. They loved the idea!

Their comics turned out great and every day they beg me to let them make more contraction comics during their free time! They share them with their friends and make each other laugh. Some of them take pictures of each other. Others use stuffed animals as the comic characters. Still others make scenes from Legos and Playmobils and use the figures from both as the characters.


When I was introducing the app to the kids we talked about making sure to ask someone’s permission before taking a picture of them, and then make sure the comic is approved by them before showing it to anyone else. We talked about appropriate school language and what it means to be “funny at the expense of someone else”. I told them it’s much safer to use stuffed animals or toys as the characters because then you don’t have to worry as much about hurting someone’s feelings. I also shared a bunch of comics that I’ve made using my puppies and Legos as the characters.



Challenge Friday: Designing Yeti Houses


When Lego released the series 11 minifigures, there was a yeti included as one of the 16 in the series. I knew the kids would love that one, so I collected 11 yetis (one for each pair of students) and had them participate in a Challenge Friday activity centered around the yeti. First we read about the yeti to find out what the creature is. We talked about mythical creatures and I showed the children where they could find books about the yeti and other mythical creatures if they wanted to learn more about them (which they very much did in the days to follow). Then I announced the challenge.

We talked about architects and what they do. I emphasized how architects make plans and think through what they’re going to build BEFORE the building actually happens. I explained to the kids that the yeti was hiring them as the architects and he had certain specifications that he wanted them to include. Beyond those criteria, however, they could be as creative as they wanted. They could also be creative in how they chose to include the specifications. This discussion was done in Spanish and the ideas that we we’re discussing we’re written on the board in Spanish. We’ve been talking a lot about cognates and the kids have gotten very good at identifying cognates. They immediately noticed that “arquitectos” and “plan” looked and sounded like the corresponding English words. I kept the chart paper with the specifications written in English up on the board as well so that students could refer to either language while they were making the yeti houses.

The kids set off right away, working on first a plan and then building the actual houses.

While they were building the houses, I wrote a question on the board that we would discuss during our Share Circle that would happen next.

After 20 minutes of building, the kids brought their completed houses over to the Share Circle. They thought about the answer to the question I had written on the board: “How do you know the yeti is happy with his home?” Then they shared with the partner sitting next to them. I called on several partners to share with the whole group. Some students said that they knew the yeti was happy because they “included all of the specifications” in the house, while others said it was because they had provided various forms of entertainment and comfort for the yeti, including flat screen TVs, laptops and video games, hot tubs, and heated chairs.

Finally, we went around and took a picture of each yeti house from directly above to get a bird’s-eye view. The kids went back to their tables and revised their floorplans to make sure they were accurate maps of the houses that they had created.

They really loved doing this challenge and requested to do it again the following week!

Integrating Math and Literacy in Two Languages


After attending a conference in New Mexico about dual-language teaching, I returned to the classroom with a new understanding of what should be happening in elementary classrooms across the United States.  We should not be TEACHING SPANISH AND ENGLISH to kids.  We should be teaching IN Spanish and English, helping ALL students acquire two languages in elementary school.  There is a big difference between “teaching a second language” and “teaching in two languages.”  Some of the most important statements I have ever heard stuck with me from this conference:

  • “Monolingualism is the exception in the rest of the world, but it’s the norm in the United States.”
  • “If you can speak English and Spanish, you can communicate with 80% of people in the world.”
  • “Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century.”
  • “If standards are designed to make Americans more competitive in the 21st century, why is there no standard for biliteracy and bilingualism?”

This is exactly what our school is trying to do to help prepare our students for the ever-changing global community that they are growing up in.  It is amazing how fast children acquire understanding and vocabulary in a second language if they are given the opportunity.  We shouldn’t be teaching children a second language.  We should be allowing them to acquire the second language in the same way that they are acquiring the vocabulary and structure of their first language.

With all of this in mind, here’s an example of how that would look in a third grade classroom where about half of the students are first-language Spanish speakers.  When my students entered the room at the beginning of the day, they saw this graph hanging up on the board with directions to add a sticky dot to their favorite type of book before Morning Meeting.


(I allowed them to pick their top two favorites, if they couldn’t decide on just one favorite.)  During Morning Meeting, I explained that later today we would be finishing the graph, making observations about it, and then writing a paragraph to explain the graph to someone else.

During writing time later that morning, we made a list of observations about the graph.  I spoke in English and in Spanish during this time, but did not translate directly what I was saying in either language.  I fluidly moved between both and the students readily gave ideas for observations in both languages.  Whichever language they used for their ideas, I wrote on the board exactly what they said.


Students were then told to work together in pairs to write a topic sentence that tells what the whole graph is about and then add four detail sentences to complete the paragraph.  They had to write the topic sentence in red and the detail sentences in pencil.  This helps them show the separation between the main idea sentence and the sentences that support the main idea.  They were given a note pad to record the sentences for their paragraph.



When students had written a topic sentence and at least two detail sentences, we came together in a Share Circle to share ideas for the topic sentence.  I made a list of all topic sentences that students shared.  We then went through the list and talked about what makes a good main idea sentence.  The kids suggested that it should be a complete sentence.  We eliminated which ideas on the chart were NOT complete sentences.  One child suggested that those might be good as a title for the graph, but not as a topic sentence.  Another kid observed that one of the ideas wasn’t even about the graph, so we eliminated that one.  Finally, a student said that the topic sentence has to be about the WHOLE graph, not just one little part of it, so we eliminated that idea.  This left four possibilities.  I called on a student to pick one of the four options as our topic sentence for our class paragraph about the graph.

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I wrote the topic sentence in red, just as the students had done.  Next, I called on different partners to read one of their detail sentences.  I wrote those sentences in green.  When I had written four detail sentences on the board, I called on three different students to read the whole paragraph.  We discussed again how the main idea is in the first sentence in red and the detail sentences tell more about the main idea.

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The next step was for the kids to write a paragraph in their writing notebooks about the graph.  They could choose to use the paragraph that they had written with their partner, make up a completely new paragraph, or use a combination of some copied sentences and some new sentences.  As before, they had to write the topic sentence in red and the detail sentences in pencil.  We shared the paragraphs that the kids had written in a Share Circle after students were finished writing.

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The next day before Morning Meeting, the graph was hanging up on the board again with a new question: “What is missing from this graph?”  The students wrote ideas about what could be missing on sticky notes and stuck them to the graph.  During Morning Meeting, they shared the ideas they had about the missing parts on the graph.  We talked about which parts of a graph are essential and we added those to our graph.

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