5 Tips for Teaching Volume

I have always enjoyed teaching volume to my students. It's one of those interesting math concepts that requires students to use their visual spatial reasoning. I find that a lot of students who struggle with other math concepts like fractions really excel in volume. I love any math concept that can boost a student's math confidence! 

There are a couple of things that I have learned work best for my students when it comes to calculating the volume of prisms and composite figures: 

1. Teach all of the different ways to find volume and let students choose the one that works best for them. 

There are plenty of different strategies that students can use to calculate volume besides length x width x height.

For example, if the cubes are visible: 

1. Count each cube.
2. Count the layers and add them together.
3. Multiply the length x width x height.
4. Calculate the area of the base and multiply it by the height. 

Most of my students eventually gravitate towards the formulas, but many also check their work with one of the other strategies. 

If not all of the cubes are visible:

1. Count each cube. 
2. Length x Width and then add the remaining cubes. 

When I ask students to tell me how many more cubes will be needed to fill the prism, some students choose to count all of the empty spaces, and others find the volume of the entire prism and then subtract the visible cubes. 

2. Hands-on practice is a must!

When I first start this unit, I teach my students the difference between 
1-dimensional, 2-dimensional, and 3-dimensional figures. This truly helps them understand the difference between "squared" and "cubed." 

This year, I also saved empty boxes from my pantry instead of throwing them away and used them for our volume unit. I created several different center activities that my students rotated through, and it was a hit! Giving them the opportunity to explore helped them gain a deep understanding of volume. 

For example, in one of the centers, students used Unifix Cubes to fill different small boxes. Here they counted how many cubes were required to fill the box, and then they took the Unifix Cubes out and used the formula "length x width x height" to learn that counting and using the formula result in the same answer. 

In another center, I gave students a certain length, width, and height, and they built the prisms and counted the cubes to determine the volume. This really helped engrain which side was the length, and which side was the width (since I often get a lot of questions about the two).

3. Scaffold instruction when teaching volume of composite figures. 

For years I made the mistake of teaching my students additive volume of composite figures by simply introducing the topic and then throwing them in to problems with missing sides. 

This concept was always a struggle, and I needed to figure out a better way. 

This year, I broke down each step for my students and worked slowly through each problem before moving on to more challenging ones. 

As you can see in my interactive notes below, we started off by finding all missing sides FIRST. Too often my students would start multiplying whichever numbers they saw without realizing that sides were missing. 

Then we focused on finding the volume of each figure at a time, paying special attention to the length, width, and height. 

We did the same with the second figure and then added the volume together for the composite figure. I made scaffolded sheets that got harder and harder, but only after students mastered each step. This activity WORKED SO WELL!

What was the biggest mistake that my students made? Multiplication and addition errors. *sigh*

Since this was such an important skill that I wanted my students to master, they had to show me their answers before moving on to the next math activity. If they got anything wrong, I sent them back to revise. They know my policy - we need to learn from our mistakes in math!

4. Allow students to work in partners

One of my favorite ways to use task cards in the classroom are to print them out and tape them around the room. This gets my students moving and I have found that they are much more focused. The purpose of task cards (in my opinion) should be continued practice of a skill through a variety of different questions. I always allow my students to work in partners when completing task cards.

Since students are moving around the room instead of staying in one place, I have a chance to listen to some of their conversations as they get closer to my small group table. Side note - I strategically tape the more challenging problems close to my small group table so that I can hear that discussion. : )

I hear the BEST conversations when my students are working with a partner when their answers don't match. One partner explains their point of view, and the other naturally explains theirs. This usually results in three scenarios: 

1. One of the students changes his/her answer. 
2. They both rework the problem to see if their new answer matches. 
3. They get frustrated and ask me or another group (if I'm busy) for help. 

This right here has SO MUCH value! 

5. Have some fun!

Additive volume is pretty labor intensive and hard on the brain. We took a few breaks during this unit and completed:

A Color by Number Activity 
(which I love because it is self-checking)

My students enjoy playing this game!

I hope these ideas make teaching volume a little easier to understand! 

If you are interested in the resources found in this post, see below!

Volume Bundle

Clipart from @rulersandpanbalances

Happy Teaching!

How to Help Your Child Learn in the Summer

I have two very important jobs: mom and teacher. In that order. 

I have two daughters, ages six and eight. They love coming to school with mommy, but they quickly learned to occupy themselves because mommy is a teacher and she has work to do, meetings to go to, conferences to attend, and the list goes on and on. They are also wonderful helpers, especially when I need papers passed out quickly before students arrive in the morning. They don't mind, probably because they don't know any different! :)

Case in point - check out the sweet notes that they leave on my whiteboard:

As a mom AND a teacher, I often get asked the following questions: 

1. What do you do with your children in the summer to prevent the summer slide?
2. Does the summer slide really exist?
3. Shouldn't children enjoy their break away from school? They work hard enough during the school year! 

Let me answer questions 2 and 3 first: 

Yes, there is such a thing as a "summer slide." It's amazing how much students forget from one year to another. I have been teaching fifth grade for 12 years now. The first month of every school year is spent reviewing things like how to write complete sentences using correct capitalization and punctuation, and reviewing multiplication facts. 

I also believe in the need to let children enjoy their summer away from school. My daughters work very hard during the school year, and even I often dread having to do homework with my kids because I am exhausted from work at the end of the day. 

However, learning in the summer doesn't have to be a chore. Your children will L O V E spending one on one time with you and will actually work very hard to make you happy (for the most part). 

Like I said, my two daughters are 6 and 8. My 8 year old loves school and writes stories and creates math problems for herself because she thinks it's fun. My 6 year old, on the other hand, needs plenty of encouragement to work hard and needs a lot of reinforcement from me. 

This summer, my reluctant 6 year old actually asks me the following questions daily: 

"When are we going to do school, mommy?"
"Can you sit right here next to me and watch me?" 

Let me tell you, this brings much joy to my teacher/mommy heart. 

Here is my one and only tip for working with your child this summer: 

Keep it simple. 

There are three things that you can do to help your child for the next school year: focus on reading, writing, and math. 

You can look at their learning standards for the following school year and try to get ahead on their first unit. Most school districts post their standards on their school websites, or you can look at the Common Core Standards if your state uses them. 

Don't stress out about it too much though - their teacher will do a great a job of teaching these standards. You just need to focus on the basics. 

Math Practice:

If your child is entering: 

Kindergarten: practice reading and writing numbers from 0-20
First Grade: practice reading and writing numbers from 0-120

My six year old is entering first grade. I tried to start practicing numbers from 
0-120, but then I quickly realized that she was having trouble recognizing her teen numbers. There are so many resources available on the internet to help with any skill that your child needs extra practice with! 

I ended up making some practice sheets for my daughter, and we are also playing "Teen Number Go Fish," which she loves. Learning should not be a chore. If you are aware of things that your child needs extra practice with, you can practice them in a variety of ways! If we are at a restaurant and we are waiting for our food, we practice writing teen numbers on the kids menu, or we look for teen numbers in the menu or around the restaurant. 

Here are some (free) strip puzzles that Kindergarten or 1st grade kids will love!

If your child is entering: 

Second Grade: practice doubles facts, 10 more or 10 less than a number, time to the half hour, and counting coins

Here are some free practice sheets for some of these: 

If your child is entering: 

Third Grade: start practicing multiplication facts
Fourth Grade: practice multiplication facts
Fifth Grade: practice multiplication facts

See a trend with grades 3, 4, and 5? Your child needs to know their multiplication facts in the upper elementary grades. It is essential. 

My eight year old is entering third grade. She has learned that multiplication is repeated addition and can figure out the answer to a multiplication problem that way. 

I am not stressing out about teaching her all of her facts. We are simply starting with the "easy ones." I am teaching her to multiply by 0, 1, 2, 5, and 10. We have been practicing these for a few weeks now before I introduce multiplication by 3. If we get to the rest, great. If not, that's ok! She will still be ahead of the game with just the ones above. 

Here are some great multiplication facts websites to use: 

Reading Practice: 

I'm sure you've heard your chid's teacher say this many times: make sure your child is reading at home. 

Let me sound like a broken record: your child needs to read at home! Your child will become a better reader and writer if they read. 

I've heard all of the excuses: 

"My child just doesn't like to read." 
"My child can't find books that he/she likes." 
"I just can't get my child to read no matter what I do." 

Your child can read anything as long as they are reading!

By anything, I mean: 

1. The back of the cereal box
2. A magazine
3. A coupon at the grocery store
4. The menu at a restaurant
5. The (hopefully appropriate) billboards on a long road trip

My daughters don't love to read independently unless I really force them to (which I don't like to do because I want them to love reading). 

BUT...they LOVE to read out loud to me! Every night while I cook dinner, they take turns reading to me. My eight year old reads a chapter from her book. When I make comments like, "Wow! I can't wait to find out what happens next!" her eyes light up and she responds with, "Me too! Can I read another chapter?!"

My six year old is still learning how to read and she gets tired more quickly. She is also reading a "chapter" book (really, it's just a longer, low level book), but she reads a few pages out loud to me each day until we finish the book. Let me tell you, she was SO excited to finish her first "chapter" book because she wants to be like her older sister. 

When your child sees that you are interested in what they are reading and asking them questions about it, they will want to read more! 

If you don't have many books at home, go to your local library. They probably have a summer reading program with incentives that will encourage your child! 

Writing Practice: 

When it comes to writing practice, you can keep it simple here as well. Remember, you don't want learning to be a chore. When my girls and I "learn" in the summer, I usually keep it to no more than half an hour of sitting before we take a break or do something completely different. I also put a smiley face on each page that they complete, and give them a sticker or a piece of candy when we are finished. They love it!

If your child is entering: 

Fifth Grade: Use Technology to Research and Create a Presentation using PowerPoint, Google Slides, or on online tool. 

I also write letters to my girls in the summer. I just purchased a simple journal, and we write back and forth to one another. I can't tell you how much your child will love doing this because they love YOU. 

Here's a sweet letter my daughter wrote to her daddy: 

We also write these short "letters" to each other while we wait for our food at a restaurant. A lot of learning can take place during these "wait" times! : )

I am also using the summer to help my daughters learn keyboarding skills. I found the coolest (free) website that both of my girls love: 

There you have it! Enjoy this time learning and being engaged with your kids - it will build memories.

Turning a Set of Task Cards into a Booklet

I love task cards. Most teachers do. They are an easy way to reinforce concepts that have been taught in class, and once you print, laminate, and cut them out, you can use them for years!

There have been (many) times; however, where I just did not have the drive or energy to do all that printing, laminating, and cutting of task cards. I am a little bit of what you call, a #procrastinator. 

Two years ago, I was planning my math lesson for the following day and found some task cards that made a great center activity. There was just no way that I had time to prep the task cards though, and I didn't want to print a set for each student. 

I started playing around with the printer settings in order to see if I could shrink the pages down a little and I found a little magical box called, "booklet." 

"GENIUS," I thought, "I'm going to turn these into a little booklet for the kids!"

It worked out so well and made my teacher heart quite happy!! It was also an easy way to make up missing work for those students that did not finish in class or were absent. 

A little disclaimer before I show you the directions: 

1. This may not work with all task cards as the font is pretty small. 
2. Your printer settings may not look exactly like mine. Play around with it!
3. It will take some trial and error. I have even gotten to the point where I cut out the the pages and glued them in the order that I needed, and then I ran copies for the kids. Keep that master copy! 

How to Turn a Set of Task Cards into a Booklet: 

1. Open the PDF document with your task cards: 

2. Look through the document and decide which pages you want to print. For my document, I will be making the booklet out of the task cards, and I will be printing the answer document full page. 

3. Click on File, Print and look at the printing options. You should see an option that says "Multiple." I prefer this over "Booklet" because of the way that I want the pages to look. 

4. Click on "Landscape" as your orientation and "Vertical Reversed" for the page order. This will be your first page and last page so choose your page numbers accordingly. 

5. Use the same options for the next pages. In this screen, you can see that I chose to print pages 7 and 8, and THEN 5 and 6. This will make sure that my pages are in the correct order when the booklet is opened. 

6. Print your answer document as a full page. It will make it easier to grade. 

7. Put together the master and make copies for your students!

I hope this makes your teacher life just a LITTLE easier!

Happy Teaching!