Recently, I was invited into a 2nd grade classroom to work on money (2.MD.8Solve word problems involving dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, using $ and ¢ symbols appropriately). The teacher wanted to try out something new to go along with this standard. My suggestion was to try out the clothesline. Let’s see if students could put different variations of coins from least to greatest. It totally make cents (1st bad money pun)

And it went splendidly.

Each student was given a card to work on. They calculated the total amount and put their answers on a post it note. When they were ready, the hung their cards on the clothesline.

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When they were finished, we went over each card and made sure that we added each coin correctly.

At the end of the session, they students asked why they were doing the activity now (they were well passed their money unit). I answered by telling them how many skills were involved with this activity.

recognizing each coin and its value.

practicing their addition skills with one and two digit numbers

comparing and ordering the numbers

showing equality with some of the coins (for example- 1 dime is the same as 2 nickels which is the same as 10 pennies)

realizing what happens when you have more than 100 cents.

After my answers, I realized how much “bang we got with our buck.” (2nd badmoney pun). This activity had a lot going on it. And all we did was put up a string and gave them cards. But the thinking that went on was nothing less than incredible.

It’s incredible to have teachers take something you introduced them to (in this instance–the clothesline) and see what they do with it. And I can’t emphasize enough to my teachers that they should use whatever I give them and make it their own. I usually tell them to “make it work for you.” And then, they invite me in for me to see how they made it work.

In this instance, it’s Mrs. Z, my kinder all-star. Mrs. Z decided to type her class list of students’ names onto cards and see what the kiddos would do with it. How would they want to put their names on the clothesline? Quite a innovative way to make use of the number line. I was curious too

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I assumed they when asked, the students would want to put them into alphabetic order. Seemed like an obvious choice. Nope…alphabetic order didn’t even come up as an idea. Instead, the students decided to count their letters in their names and put them in order from smallest name to longest names. “Medium is in the middle,” I had one student tell me. Got it! Thanks for explaining.

And little by little, they started placing their cards. And they did really well. Yes these pictures look like that are incorrect because they are not in alphabetical order. Remember though that they were putting them in order by number of letters in their name.

And one night for a parent evening for kindergarten, I saw this.

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So much fun to see. What a thrill to see one of my routines expanded and used. This only proves that there are so many possibilities to the clothesline activity.

Some of my 6th graders went back to kindergarten. They didn’t know it and we didn’t tell them till the end of the activity. The teachers and I just wanted to do it out of sheer curiosity. And it turned out to be a curiosity that was worth exploring.

Let me back up a bit. Just last week, I led a workshop on the clothesline activity. I like starting off with the teachers trying one out on their own. I pulled out my weight cards that were used for kindergarten. These cards are filled with colorful pictures of a bike, building, tree, a leaf, and other objects. Students are asked to order the objects by weight (the lightest being on the left and the heaviest objects toward the right).

When I tried this out in kindergarten, we had the students put their cards in 3 basic categories—-light weight, medium weight, and heaviest weight. We were not looking for precision. However, 6th grade brought in the precision aspect. Because they have more background knowledge, they were not only integrating math, but science, social studies, and language arts. The 6th grade teacher also told me that this was great because the students were persuading their peers as to which order the cards should go. They had been working on argumentative statements in the weeks prior to this activity. (Gotta love when you can bring more than one curriculum into an activity—I call it “more bang for your buck!”)

Let me give you a visual…

Kindergarten – put these in the “light category”. No arguments from them.

6th grade – argued whether the leaf or the feathers should be switched. One student brought up the fact that the leaf was made of water and the stem makes it heavier. Another student claimed that there were 2 feathers compared to just one leaf.

Kindergarten – put the train in the heavy category although some questioned whether it was a toy train or a real train.

6th grade – put it in the heavy category althought argued whether it was a toy or real. One student said it was a toy because of the multi-colors. Another student argued back that it was real because of the smoke coming out of the smoke stack. Another student questioned whether it was made of wood or metal.

Kindergarten– put this card in the heavy side. No questions/arguments.

6th grade– put this card on the heavy side, however others had issues with it. One student wondered if it was a toy plane. Another students said there was blue sky behind it and so it was real. Another student said the weight might vary because we don’t know if it’s full of people.

Kindergarten – put this on the heavy side. They said they have seen these trucks on the roads and highways.

6th grade – put it on the heavy side. Questions of whether or not it was a toy were brought up. Another student asked it if was filled with anything because that would make a difference. For instance, the weight would vary if it were filled with feathers versus bricks.

Kindergarten – put this in the middle category. They did wonder if it was filled with anything.

6th grade– Wondered if it were filled with anything. One student said that when she bought a new backpack it was filled with paper to make it look full. Another student said it could be filled with books.

One last thing. We did not say a word about this being a kindergarten activity to the 6th graders. We just told them to put the cards in order from least to greatest. At one point, an exasperated student exclaimed “THIS IS SO COMPLICATED!”

Below is the final clothesline that the 6th graders “settled” on. (There were some that were still not happy with the outcome.)

If you’d like to download your own set of weight cards..gohere.

Fractions is one of the “F” words in math. (The other is functions, but I’m not working with that grade level). Whenever these two words are said, teachers usually groan with frustration (that other F word). Understood because both can be hard to understand for students. Part of my job is to turn that frustration into FUN!

Third grade has been working on their fractions for the past 4 weeks. This week I went in to work with them.

First I started off my visit with a number talk using a picture that has been floating around Facebook. This picture had the potential to initiate lots of discussion and it surely didn’t disappoint.

I let the students just stare at it awhile. Rather than taking observations and questions right away, I like my students to just have quiet time to internalize what they’re seeing. Next, they shared with their elbow partners their thoughts and questions. Then, I let them share their thoughts with me. Watermelons provoke lots of discussion (who knew?). Lastly, I asked them what possible question I could ask of them. One of the teachers rose her hand and said, “how many watermelons are there?” Being picky about words and vocabulary, I politely added to her question. I asked the students “how many WHOLE watermelons are there?”

Here are some of the highlights of the three classes’ discussions….

I see eight pieces of watermelon.

They are in a square.

It looks like an optical illusion. It’s kind of like the 4 outside melons are the frame and the half melons are the picture.

Some of them look like Pac-Man

How are they standing up like that?

Finally, the quietest girl explained how she saw 5 watermelons.

Onto the class activity. The third grade knows I come with something different, innovative, and unique. I like to surprise them. I didn’t invent this idea. As a matter of fact, my inspiration was from a workshop I had attended given by Andrew Stadel. He introduced me to Clothesline Math. I wanted to use this idea of an interactive number line with fractions. I envisioned a single clothesline with students approximating where to place certain fractions between 0 and 1. However, one question lingered. How can I maximize the engagement with the whole class in this activity? Print out 30 fraction cards? With my active imagination, I saw kids running for the number line, tripping over each other, and ending up in one gigantic entangled web of limbs, fraction cards, and rope. Yeah…that wasn’t happening.

After a trial run in my office, one of my colleagues suggested that I put up two clothes lines. LIGHT BULB!!! That was it! Split the class up. 13-15 kids working on a number line was a much better option than 30 kids per one number line.

So happily, I strung up two number lines in the classrooms (one in the front and one in the back). I printed out about 20 fraction cards on colored cardstock. I not only used unit fractions, but also chose equivalent fractions, and pictorial fractions.

The students were stoked and excited. I promised them that they weren’t being timed (don’t like to pressure students with that element) but emphasized that they needed to work as a team. Off they went.

One of the teams decided to analyze and read all the cards first. Good strategy. Other teams just started grabbing cards and ran for the line. One of the teachers approached me and asked if the kids could use their fraction bars. My compromise was to let them work for 10-15 minutes first before using their fractions bars. They ended up only using their fraction bars to check their work after their number lines were completed. Very resourceful.

Here’s something I found intriguing. One of the kids clipped together these two cards as equivalent fractions (see below). He saw the picture as 1/5. I intended for the answer to be 4/5, but could a student validate this as equivalent fractions? I asked one team this question and none of the kids wanted to take ownership of it. I think they were embarrassed to admit to it in fear that they would be wrong.

As a closing activity, we did a “would you rather” question. Would they rather eat 2/3 box of cookies or 4/5 box of cookies? They could write out their reasoning on the paper. They were allowed to use whatever strategy they could to validate their reasoning. I didn’t get to see how these turned out as my time ran out with each class, but my hope is that it was worthwhile.

After the excitement of the day, my mind is reeling with other concepts that could be used on the number line. The third grade teachers also want to use the clothesline concept for other topics. This especially excited me because it means I’m empowering my teachers to try new things in their classroom.