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Put a LID on It! Using plastic lids as a teaching tool

There are so many things we consider to be trash, when in reality, they are perfect treasures for the classroom. One that I often use is plastic lids from things like peanut canisters, Pringles, coffee cans, margarine tubs, etc.  These lids can be made into stencils to use when completing a picture graph.

Students must first of all understand what a picture graph is.  A pictorial or picture graph uses pictures to represent numerical facts. Sometimes it is referred to as a representational graph. Each symbol or picture used on the graph represents a unit decided by the student or teacher. Each symbol could represent one, two, or whatever number you want.  This type of graph is used when the data being gathered is small or approximate figures are being used, and you want to make simple comparisons.

Here is what you do to make ready-made picture graph stencils.
  1. Choose the size of lid that you want and turn it over. Then trace a pattern on the plastic lid. Make sure you are using the bottom of the lid so the rim does not interfere when the children use it to trace. 
  2. To make the stencil, cut out the pattern using an Exacto knife. You might choose to do zoo animals: a zebra, a lion, a bear, an elephant or a giraffe. 
  3. Have a large sheet of paper ready with a question on it such as: “What is your favorite zoo animal?” 
  4. The students then select the stencil (picture) that is their favorite animal and trace it in the correct row on the graph. 
Below is a sample of this type of graph. It is entitled, What is Your Favorite Season? A leaf is used for fall; a snowflake represents winter; a flower denotes spring, and the sun is for summer. Notice at the bottom of the graph that each tracing will represent one student.
You could craft stencils for modes of transportation, geometric shapes, pets, weather, etc. The list is infinite. But what if you don't want to or don't have time to make all of those stencils? Then save the strips that are left when you punch out shapes using a die press. They are instant stencils!

If you are interested in additional graphing ideas, check out the resource entitled: Graphing Without Paper or Pencil. You might also like Milk Lid Math. This four page handout contains numerous math activities that utilize a free manipulative.

The Pros and Cons of Testing

Tests are here to stay whether we like it or not. As I read various blogs, I am finding more and more teachers who are frustrated over tests and their implications. I am seeing many of my former student teachers leave the teaching profession after only two or three years because of days structured around testing.

High stakes tests have become the “Big Brother” of education, always there watching, waiting, and demanding our time. As preparing for tests, taking pre-tests, reliably filling in bubbles, and then taking the actual assessments skulk into our classroom, something else of value is replaced since there are only so many hours in a day. In my opinion, tests are replacing high quality teaching and much needed programs such as music and art. I have mulled this over for the last few months, and the result is a list of pros and cons regarding tests.

Testing Pros

  1. They help teachers understand what students have learned and what they need to learn.
  2. They give teachers information to use in planning instruction. 
  3. Tests help schools evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. 
  4. They help districts see how their students perform in relation to other students who take the same test. 
  5. The results help administrators and teachers make decisions regarding the curriculum. 
  6. Tests help parents/guardians monitor and understand their child's progress. 
  7. They can help in diagnosing a student's strengths and weaknesses. 
  8. They keep the testing companies in business and the test writers extremely busy. 
  9. Tests give armchair educators and politicians fodder for making laws on something they know little about.  
                                           **The last two are on the sarcastic side.**

Testing Cons
  1. They sort and label very young students, and those labels are nearly impossible to change.
  2. Some tests are biased which, of course, skew the data. 
  3. They are used to assess teachers in inappropriate ways. (high scores = pay incentives?) 
  4. They are used to rank schools and communities. (Those rankings help real estate agents, but it is unclear how they assist teachers or students.) 
  5. They may be regarded as high stakes for teachers and schools, but many parents and students are indifferent or apathetic. 
  6. They dictate or drive the curriculum without regard to the individual children we teach. 
  7. Often, raising the test scores becomes the single most important indicator of overall school improvement. 
  8. Due to the changing landscape of the testing environment, money needed for teachers and the classroom often goes to purchasing updated testing materials. 
  9. Under Federal direction, national testing standards usurp the authority of the state and local school boards. 
  10. Often they are not aligned with the curriculum a district is using; so, curriculum is often changed or narrowed to match the tests. 
Questions That Need to Be Asked
  1. What is the purpose of the test?
  2. How will the results be communicated and used by the district? 
  3. Is the test a reflection of the curriculum that is taught? 
  4. Will the results help teachers be better teachers and give students ways to be better learners?
  5. Does it measure both a student's understanding of concepts as well as the process of getting the answer? 
  6. Is it principally made up of multiple choice questions or does it does it contain any performance based assessment? 
  7. What other means of evaluation does the school use to measure a child's progress? 
  8. Is it worth the time and money?