Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1st Week Idea

I admit it, I'm guilty. I am guilty of trying to condense the entire first week's worth of ice breakers and procedures into the first day of school.  I think I do this because I'm so eager to get to the part of the school year where students are learning and eagerly sharing ideas with one another. I'm ready for the part where my classroom runs smoothly and I don't have to go over how to set up notebooks and center expectations.  However, I've also learned through trial and error that the first week(s) of school need to be spent going over procedures and expectations so the rest of the year can run smoothly.

I stumbled upon this great idea on pinterest and immediately added it to my first week lesson plans.

Essentially, students are completing a Venn Diagram about themselves and a buddy.  Pretty simple idea, but then I got to thinking about why this would be important.

1: It's a great, non-threatening review of Venn Diagrams and what it means to compare and contrast two people.  Since the comparing and contrasting of two individuals is a cornerstone of RL 5.3, it's a sneak peek formative assessment.

2: It's a non-threatening format that students are familiar with.  It doesn't involve notebooks.

3: It's a great way to establish speaking and listening norms.  I would model this with a co-teacher to show students what is expected in a conversation.  We could also model appropriate voice levels, thus reviewing another classroom expectation.

I wouldn't do this the first day of school.  Instead, I foresee this as a great Tuesday through Thursday activity.

At our school, we use Kagan grouping structures, which means I have my students in groups of four to six that change every six weeks (or so).  In each group, there is a "high flyer", a medium student, a lower student, and usually a student with an IEP (since I am inclusion).  The students work together and learn from one another.

On the first day, I would have students interview their "shoulder partner" who is the person sitting next to them.

The second day would be devoted to interviewing their "face partner" who is the person directly across from them.

The final day would be interviewing their "kiddy corner" partner.  Then they will share out with the group and make a four way Venn Diagram (I'd provide the templates) about their table teams.  

From there, we would do a gallery walk to learn more about the other table teams.

During this fifteen minutes, I would monitor for appropriate voice levels and have the opportunity to teach Kagan structures and group expectations.

I'm excited to give this new idea a try!  I also plan to repeat it within small groups once we start switching during the second week of school.

How would you make this activity even better?

Book suggestions

So I just sort of realized that running two different reading blocks means I need more novel suggestions to read with students.  Since I send my kiddos home with the books as part of their homework and written responses to literature, it's not like two groups can share the same book at the same time.  I mean, I will pace out the groups as best I can so one group is always ahead of another with book series (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc).

However, I need some other book suggestions so I can work on teacher grants or visit the library.

I am currently reading Jerry Spinelli's Loser and loving it.

I am part way through Rick Riordan's The Lost Hero and have the two sequels on my coffee table: 

I have these books ready to read with small groups:


So what else should I read? I'm looking for book suggestions for DRA levels 40-60 or grade level equivalents 4.0 and up.  

Please recommend novels and why my munchkins should read them :)

New classroom supplies

I love buying school supplies. I realize that as a teacher, I probably don't need new pens every year, but there is something comforting about starting the school year off with new shiny writing utensils :)

In fifth grade, I some times find myself answering the same question over and over again.  It's not that I don't like questions, it's that I don't like questions that students already know the answer to.  That answer is usually  no.  No, you can't go to the bathroom right after recess. No, you can't trade seats to sit by your friend. No, you can't call your mom in the middle of class and need to wait until recess.  

So, courtesy of a Groupon sale, I bought this no button:

It says no in several different ways.  I plan to use it mostly for the bathroom question :)

Second, I always find myself in need of post-its or scratch paper.  So I was beyond excited when I stumbled upon this note pad at Ross:

There will be no doubt where my football loyalty lies :)  It's a perfect edition to my desk!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Last year, I was gifted by our community partners with one of these sweet personal laminating machines:

I know they are for sale at Target for around thirty bucks if you want your own (which I highly recommend).  Target and Wal-mart also sell laminating sheets, but I prefer to pick up a mega pack of 200 at Sam's Club for around twenty dollars.  The lamination sheets are thicker than the ones at our school, which means my centers hold up better to mischievous fifth graders' hands.  Plus, when you own your own lamination machine, you don't have to rely on your often overwhelmed office staff.  Plus, you can easily laminate while watching TV and call it being productive :)

However, I have learned that the thrill of warm lamination calls to more than just me.  

Meet my homework and lamination helpers: 

This is Chloe:

She offers helpful feedback when grading.  Sometimes she'll bring me a pom pom and we will play fetch instead of grading.  

This is Crookshanks:

She likes to lay on warm lamination and try to eat it while I'm cutting it out.  She is equally helpful with warm laundry right out of the dryer.  Yes, her name is derived from Harry Potter.  No one should be surprised by this.

She also assists with my novel units:

Usually, she will try to lay on both the book and my notebook (where I'm taking notes).  So helpful.

To all of my students, I apologize if your papers have bite marks in them.  My two helpers do legitimately try to eat your work some times.

Posters, Round 2

As much as fire code will let me, I plan to cover my classroom in anchor charts that I make with my students.  I'll take pictures of our anchor charts and make notebook sized copies for my students. There will be anchor charts for phonics, writing, reading skills, science terms, vocabulary words, read alouds, the works!   However, I will be making a few of these posters about norms and expectations. I love these cute ideas from pinterest:

I love that this stresses the importance of learning :)

I don't know what book this teacher is using, but I love the anchor chart:

I really like the evidence component because it focuses on RL/RI 5.1.  For those readers not well versed in the Common Core State Standards, both these anchor strands require students to quote accurately and use inferences, which is nicely supported by this anchor chart's structure.

This is another great anchor chart with quoting:

This one is great too!

Here's a great TpT freebie:

This poster does a wonderful job at reframing what it means to fail:

Failure is part of trying. It doesn't mean it defines students, it just means there is more to the journey.

This one perfectly illustrates the 8 math practices, but in student friendly language:

(From this blog)

Monday, July 29, 2013

data tracking

At my school, it is a requirement for transparent data for students and teachers.  I'm not a fan of data walls because I don't think it is helpful for special ed students to see themselves in red all the time.

Instead, I am a fan of data folders where students track their own growth and progress.  I found this on pinterest:

I think it needs to be placed on my students' data folders.  Academics is a journey and there are small, meaningful steps that students will take toward mastery of a concept.  It's a process :)

Here is a very rough copy of the poster I made for my classroom explaining what mastery of standards mean.

At our school, we don't have grades.  Instead, we assess mastery of the Common Core with standards-based assessments.  We are moving toward SBAC online testing, but that will be coming up in the next few years.  

For a student to exceed standards, which isn't possible for all standards, they must meet all components of the standard in addition to a working knowledge of the next grade level's knowledge targets.  

For example, knowing and using the 26 letters of the alphabet would be mastery of a standard.  There is not an option to exceed standards because there simply aren't additional letters to learn.  In contrast, multiplication in fifth grade includes whole numbers to the thousands as well as  fractions and decimals.  To exceed standards, students could attempt larger problems and explain their thinking in a variety of ways.

In our district, we have broken down the common core into four categories of learning targets:

1. Knowledge: This is the basic level of what students must know about the standard.  As the lowest form of Bloom's Taxonomy or DOK (Depth of Knowledge), students are recalling facts and regurgitating information.  This is frequently regarded as a DOK 1 question.

2. Reasoning: Students must apply the knowledge targets on a task or question.  This can be done in multiple choice or short answer format.  We tend to have students justify their thinking (ELA) or explain their work (math) to show their understanding of the material.  When they justify their thinking for reading passages, it is an expectation that they quote accurately from the passage to reveal the basis for their argument.  These are frequently regarded as DOK 2 questions.

3. Product: Students must solve more complex problems, create a product or write an extended constructed (written) response to explain their thinking.  These are more in depth and regarded as DOK 3 or 4 questions.

4: Performance: Performance tasks are rare in elementary school, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.  Students combine their information, usually from multiple standards, to complete a given task.  It usually is a synthesis and analysis, which is a DOK 3 or 4 level activity.

For students to master a standard, they must meet all of the knowledge, reasoning and performance or product tasks (if applicable). 

If students are missing part of the reasoning question or cannot fully complete the product, they do not master the standard.  Instead, they are approaching, which means they understand parts but need more guidance toward independent mastery.

For emerging students, that means they are still developing their working understanding of the material and need assistance to complete tasks to grade level expectations.

We have many chats in the classroom about how education is a journey and reassessment happens frequently.  I've said it before, but what I love about the Common Core State Standards is students are given until the end of the year to demonstrate mastery.  I'm no longer confined to trimesters or quarters to jam in content, but rather have the flexibility to reteach and blend concepts together.  I'm not teaching theme in isolation, I'm teaching theme while examining elements of poetry, figurative language and text structure.  A lesson or unit might take a few weeks, but we've hit RL 5.2, RL 5.5 and language standards for figurative language by blending concepts together for more authentic learning.

In addition to the class poster that "mistakes are proof that you are trying", I am a fan of this one as well:

It's okay not to know. It's not okay not to try.

Resources for maps

I love teaching about maps and science/social studies.  Here are some great resources I stumbled upon while researching this summer.

This gem from national geographic is interactive and very student friendly.

 I didn't complete the whole game but it definitely scaffolds instruction for the students.  It also nicely lends itself for a cross curricular lesson with coordinate planes and graphing in the first quadrant.

The second site is unfortunately loaded with ads, but still has a lot of good vocabulary for students.

I would use this with caution due to the ads, but this could definitely be adapted by taking the relevant information and putting it into a word document for student notes.  That way, you can practice highlighting skills and note taking in addition to the science content.

This anchor chart does a great job at providing picture examples to go along with the vocabulary words.

 This anchor chart goes great with the land forms kit I teach and is wonderful for ELL (English Language Learners) students.

Slightly cutesy

While this wouldn't really mesh well in my classroom because it seems a bit too cutesy, it'd still be a fun craft project and a great way to get rid of the crayon surplus I have occurring in my classroom. I wish I could trade crayons for glue sticks, since that's what I always seem to need!

So basically, you need a tin can, sharp crayons and a hot glue gun to make these:

The picture really explains it all. Except I would use these for something in the classroom, especially if I taught lower elementary. It'd also be a cute secret santa work gift :)

How I would improve:
-paint the can first, I'm not a fan of the silver showing
-use the same shades of crayons with a contrasting ribbon color (think shades of pink, then a bright green and white polka dotted ribbon)

Happy crafting!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Adding a little quirkiness to the classroom

I love adding whimsy to my classroom. From a football shaped key holder to the Batman "Ms. Vice" sign, I'm all about adding a little fun and joy into our school day. I found these ideas online and am excited to give them a try.

Idea one: student helpers

I have table team captains and group leaders, but I like the idea of specialized lanyards for students to wear, especially during small group time.

 I could teach one center to each group, then have the groups teach each other the rules, leaving me free to pull small groups or do beginning of the year diagnostic assessments.  Plus, Bed, Bath and Beyond always carries some pretty blinged out lanyards.  By releasing responsibility to the students, they feel more ownership over the classroom.  This in turn empowers them to make better behavior decisions because they feel they have a say in how things go in our classroom :)

Idea Two:
Wasabi Tape

I just like the idea of making my white cords look a little more fun :)  Plus, there's always some on sale at Hobby Lobby and I'm sure I could find lots of uses!

Idea Three:
Phone Prison

 Luckily, cell phones aren't a huge problem in fifth grade at my school but every so often, one goes off.  I usually take the phone and turn it into the office to have a parent come pick it up, but I like the idea of phone prison in the classroom instead.  Once the parent or guardian comes in, we would have a chat with the student about making better choices.  I fully understand the need for some students to have phones to let their parents know they're home safe and that's a family decision, but there's no need for the phone to go off during the school day.

Idea Four:
Classroom mascot 
 This one is perhaps inspired by the gnome of DENSI, but I like the idea of a classroom mascot.  Similar to a Flat Stanley approach, I'd like the mascot to go home and write about his/her adventures.  (On a side note, I'd also like the mascot to be washable).  I like the idea of having the mascot share important reminders with the class.  Perhaps the mascot needs his/her own Edmodo account? Or if nothing else, to make guest appearances on the classroom blog!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Making students feel special

I'm a firm believer in making students feel special, valued and cared for in the classroom.  Whether it's notes home, a positive phone call, a high five or praise in front of the class, I believe in acknowledging the good in others.  As educators, we are so quick to point out the negative behavior without appreciating the good moments.

So I'm going to try to add more joy into my classroom by empowering students and creating a culture of success.  I found this idea on pinterest and am ready to go hit up some thrift stores to find my own special chair.

The original idea from the first blog had students add stickers, but I think just a fresh coat of paint and some pretty letters will do the trick.  I'm thinking a black chair with white letters.  Of course, the letters will either be sparkly or polka-dotted :)

I like the colors of the second blog's chair too :)

For perfect polka dots, use the end of a pencil's eraser :)  Works like a charm!

I think this chair will be reserved for students to share out their writing or as a reward in the prize bin.  I love the idea of me not having to buy things as a reward and using a coupon system instead!

Now, to find a chair that's sturdy enough for eleven year old boys but cheap enough on my teacher's salary :)

And for perhaps the cheapest of all: butcher paper, tape and smarties to create this:

Glittery pencil packs are often at the Dollar Tree :)

Pringles cans get an upgrade

So I had this Pringles can...I was going to throw it away but then I had a better idea:


So I went in search of some pretty scrap book paper and modge podge. The larger, 12x12in scrapbook paper works best because you only need one sheet.  I was lucky enough to find glitter modge podge and well, why not add some sparkle and joy into teaching?  

By the time I was done modge podging, my former Pringles can looked super snazzy.  I was going to use it as a container for a math game, but then I stumbled upon this idea on pinterest:

Yup, my old Pringles can is going to be upcycled into a snazzy ruler holder!  Granted, I might need to make another since I've got a lot of rulers in my classroom.

But then I got to thinking what other uses I could have for a decorated Pringles can...

Perhaps to hold these pointers?

Perhaps as a vase for fake flowers (with pens attached of course, we must have multiple purposes)?

Perhaps for the sacred teachers only scissors? 

Perhaps for another purpose I have yet to think of :)


I might be the rare one here, but I love teaching geography, history, government and really anything to do with maps.  My grade level happily appointed that FOSS science kit to me (well, land forms) because for some weird reason, being a cartographer and making sand models only appeals to me and my inner five year old.

For fifth grade purposes, we go over physical, political and topographic maps.  We use post cards from around the world to examine different land forms, learn about the fifty states and regions of the US.  We use this map and the matching world version to go over political maps, focusing on state and international boundaries along with capital cities:

(Map is from FAO Schwartz, but the Discovery Channel makes a very similar one that is not only less expensive, but usually on sale at Kohls!)

We use our globe, atlases and old-school pull down maps to go over the physical features of the earth (land forms) and visit both using the different layers on Google Earth.
If you haven't played with the 3D buildings, I highly recommend it! We used it for looking at the monuments in Washington DC and for exploring the remains of the Titanic.  There are also premade tours on Google Earth, which you can access in the gallery or clicking the tour button under "my places"

The topographic maps are included in our FOSS science kit, but I extend the learning by printing out topographic maps of our area so the kids can make connections with our own mountains.  Mount Shasta, as nifty as it is, doesn't have the same connection as our own Mt. Charleston in Las Vegas. 

Besides exploring our surrounding neighborhood and US land forms, we also use Google Earth for virtual field trips.  A favorite is to visit the moon and Mars :)  
On the Google Tool Navigation Bar, select the planet and pull down to visit the moon, Mars or the sky.  The default setting is our own planet but you can go elsewhere.

Since I'm in charge of reviewing the solar system, it makes perfect sense for me to take my little astronauts on a virtual trip to Olympus Mons, Mars.  We talk about the name, make the connection to Mount Olympus (since they study Greek mythology in fourth grade) and they absolutely love it.  I often have to shoo them out of my room come recess time so I can eat.

When we talk about land forms, volcanoes inevitably come up.  While I'm not opposed to the traditional baking soda, red food coloring & vinegar "volcano explosion", that experiment is part of another science kit.  So instead, we visit the volcano builder website and play with virtual volcanoes.  

The students learn the vocabulary associated with volcanoes (viscosity, magma, etc) as well as the classification of types of volcanoes.  They make predictions about the types of explosions that will occur when the pressure and viscosity levels are changed.  We also watch volcanic eruptions and discuss the geological processes that are occurring   A tip I picked up from Discovery Education is to play the video clip on silent and have students narrate what is happening on the condition that they use the academic vocabulary.   We use Discovery Education and PBS video streaming, but teacher tube, you tube, National Geographic and other sites have similar footage.

To check their understanding of maps, I created a sort which is available on TpT.  Hopefully your students love earth science as much as mine :)  You've got to put the joy in teaching and if tech toys don't do it for you, find something that does.