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April 16, 2021

Brain Flakes - STEM and Participation Tool

Do you know about Brain Flakes? I learned about them a couple of years ago. Kind of like Legos met a pinwheel. But the best part is that they don’t hurt if you accidentally step on them. My own kids absolutely have loved them to create, and it’s been a Fun Friday/ rainy day option in my classroom too. I got mine from a Donors Choose project, then bought another one for at home. 

Disclaimer - this isn't an ad, I'm not getting any money from them. 

When we started hybrid I had put some linking cubes in each of their desk pouches to use for volume, and that led to looking around the classroom for other items that could be used for random purposes. My in class kids have become the leaders in our daily break out groups. It has made it a little more fun for in class kids that have to stay at their desks for longer times throughout the day. 

Every day, my in class logs into our team meeting to chat directly with our at home kids. Yes, we can hear the kids at home and in class while altogether, but when kids are in smaller groups they open up so much more. They participate so much more. So headphones on...

During our DL weeks I would give my class 10 minutes during math or another subject to have break out groups. They would do some independent work together or answer questions for me. I would hop through the different groups to listen in. 

Now that kids are in class, I wanted a visual that I can see that shows the communication in the groups. So I pulled out the Brain Flakes. 

Each in class person has 2 of each color that they keep in their pouch. When the groups first meet up in their break out group, they make a quick plan as to who is going to be each color. They type it into the chat. Then as the groups are talking, the person in class uses those colors to build their own design. Person 1 may be blue, and when she talks, the in class kid puts a blue on the design. Then person 2 might be yellow, and that color gets added when they share. Person 3 is red, and person 4 is orange. The goal is for each design to have all the colors. 

Since they are building in front of their camera, we have the buy in from the kids at home. Most kids want to get their color on the design. It’s also a lesson as to who is hogging the conversation. 

Anyhow, if I didn’t have Brain Flakes I would probably pull back out the linking blocks to show participation. 

Hope you had a great day! 

April 15, 2021

Jenga to Review Math

In a normal year I use Jenga blocks to review for tests all year long. I have 8 sets of blocks, enough for each group to have one as we review. 

It’s a pretty basic set up. I print off task cards, or some activity. The kids work independently to solve the problem, then have a discussion about their answers. 

Did they get the same answer? Then they discuss the different strategies they used. 

Did they get different answers? Then they work together to figure out where the error was and discuss strategies. 

By their discussions they are showing their understanding.

After they have a discussion they all take a turn to play a block in Jenga. 

Then they move onto the next problem. 


It’s the same kind of thing with a lot of games. 

With distance learning the kids have missed out on that kind of fun, so now that kids are back in the classroom I figured that we could do the same kind of thing in breakout sessions. We tackled this today for our math review and tomorrow we will do it again with the other set of kids.... a different review with the other half of the blocks.  I split each set of blocks so that the stacks were shorter and stacking didn't take as long.

The kids in the classroom are once again the leaders. They have the jenga sets. I stuck the problems in their team channel. The teammates at home cheer on their in class group member, but they also have to help solve the problems.  

I wanted to make sure that only one in class kid is in a group, so I hand picked groups and started the meetings myself, instead of the random assortment we usually do. Each group has one person from group A, one from B, and one from our DL kids. Thankfully my class is split pretty equally.

Hope you had a great day! 

April 14, 2021

Smarter than a 5th Grader - Math Review

For a while when my own boys were younger we would watch the Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader show as a family. We like those kinds of knowledge shows. Then when I moved to 5th grade, it was a perfect fit to review everything for math. I even found the actual board game in a thrift store and was able to grab the logo to give some official decoration to my classroom. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make it feel magical. Grabbing a logo from a Google search, and projecting it on the white board, and the kids feel extra excitement. 

In a normal year the kids work in teams to create the project. It’s a whole thing, they have to brainstorm a game board - using large poster board. The game boards, game pieces, and corresponding question cards/answer key then are displayed during Open House. Kids quiz their parents, they drag their friends in to play their games, it’s a big deal. They love it!! 

This year I still want kids to have that experience, but I’m giving them the option to go digital, or keep it as a hard copy. All independent. Either way, I get to see their finished product. Of course I want to see their game board, but I’m really looking at their questions and answer key. :)

Here’s how they start. Before any game board is created they have to create questions in specific categories. (Just like the real game show.) Since it’s all math related, they have to come up with 5 problems in each category. 

#1-5 Place Value
#6-10 Order of Operations
#11-15 Multiplication
#16-20 Division
#21-25 Decimals
#26-30 Fractions
#31-35 Graphing
#36-40 Volume

Now they are welcome to use their math book as inspiration, but we always have the deal that they have to come up with their own problems. Word problems being at least 1 of the questions in each category since they are tricky. Usually I give them 40 index cards, and they label the cards with the specific question number and category. This year I’m thinking of just having them stick it all in a PowerPoint.

But what good are questions if they don’t have an answer key for our guests to check their answers? So an answer key must be tucked into a file folder near the board game when the games are played. The file folder also helps to contain all the little pieces once everything is complete.

So creating 40 questions, creating an answer key (and checking their answers to make sure they are correct), and then finally the teams can work together to make a game board. 

I give them a lot of choices. They can do something like Chutes and Ladders, they can do something like Monopoly, they can create something totally new. They need game pieces, they can borrow dice, a sand timer, play money, or even a bell, etc. It’s a way to have fun and review. They must test out the game to make sure it makes sense. They must have directions clearly on the game. 

When everyone is done, we then move into the playing phase. One member of the team stays at their game to explain the rules, while the other members switch around to play the other games. We play the games the following weeks until the last week of school. 

This year, the kids will be creating their games over the 2 weeks before the state math test. They have to turn the different parts in for their daily math independent work. We will also be doing more review in those final few days together, but this game is the bulk of their review.  

Hope this helps,