Thursday, September 24, 2015

A favorite activity with my 5th graders is to have them write an essay:"I read because..." You can do this as a stand alone activity or in conjunction with any unit. I actually got the idea from an essay of the same name by Richard Peck.

“I read because one life isn't enough, and in the page of a book I can be anybody;
I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;
I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I'm just beginning myself, and I wouldn't mind a map;
I read because I have friends who don't, and young though they are, they're beginning to run out of material;
I read because every journey begins at the library, and it's time for me to start packing;
I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready.”

― Richard PeckAnonymously Yours

You can also read the essay "Why I am a Writer" by Pat Mora in the "Autobiographies" W and M unit. Then have them answer her by telling why they are readers.

I love to hang these in the hall around conference time as the parents LOVE seeing them and other teachers always comment on what the kids write.

I have also invited other teachers to include their essays.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Using Google Classroom, Doctopus, and Goobric

As promised I created some screencasts to hopefully serve as a guide to those of you who would like to use Google Classroom, Doctopus, and Goobric to organize and assess assignments.  As I created these.  I realized I was using resources that I had gotten from others and I thought you should have access to those as well and I should give credit to the people who made these amazing things.

Dana Lavesque and Randy Stall have great resources on there Instructional Technology Page.  Check it out for more info on getting started with Google Classroom Etc.

The amazing Nate Ubowski from Heritage High created this doc for a session at InnEdCo this summer.  I refer to it OFTEN for all things Doctopus and Goobric.  These tools are amazing but if you don't use them everyday you may forget things and this doc will remind you of what to.

Here are the links to the 3 screencasts I made to help you use these tools.
Getting Started with Classroom
Making a Rubric "Goobric" friendly
Using Doctopus and Goobric

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reading Response Rubric Follow Up

So I did a bit of research ... looking at several of your classroom websites as well as the general internet, and using what I found I created this DRAFT of a CCSS based rubric for written responses to reading.  I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your feedback/input.  Feel free to make changes or comments as my hope is this can be a useful tool for many of us.

P.S.  If you want, I can show you how to use a chrome extension called "Doctopus" to use this as way to efficiently grade responses kids turn in on Google docs ... but only if you help make this good! haha :-)

Reader's Response Rubric -- DRAFT

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Reading Response Rubrics??

Does anyone have a rubric they use to grade written responses to reading? I've been using the same one forever and as I pulled it out again this year I realized it left a lot to be desired as far as being aligned to CCSS and giving useful feedback to my kids.  I'd love any and all examples of what you use!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

E is for Effort!

What does effort look like?
One of the things I do at the beginning of every year is to create a poster with my students of "What does effort look like in a 4th grade Gt classroom?" or a 3rd grade? or a 5th grade? or an advanced math class?

We have the best conversations and they have wonderful ideas to share. I add all their ideas to my poster and then put it up in the room. We often refer back to it for a "little reminder" or just a "great job!"
I am doing this activity this Friday, so I will post pictures!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Getting Started with Battle of the Books

I hope that everyone is have a magnificent start to the school year. Overwhelming, I know, but magnificent none the less. I’ve had a lot of students asking about Battle of the Books this year, and I’m excited to start! I think that we will start meeting after Labor Day. For those of you who are doing Battle of the Books (or BoB, as we fondly call it) for the first time, here is how I go about it. And whether it’s your first time or not, please share your thoughts and ideas!

On the flier that I send out to students (any fourth or fifth grade that is interested) I include the books, a request for a $10 donation, and a place for parents to sign that their students may read the books. Some of the Battle Books are not on our district’s approved list because they are newer titles. Therefore, it’s important that parents sign their consent for their student to read the books. The $10 donation is optional, and I really appreciate the help towards buying books. Last year, we had 50 students in BoB (so awesome!!) - obviously I was not going to buy 50 copies of each book. Instead, I buy as many as I can and students are reading different books at different times. I dedicate a bookshelf just for Battle Books and students can return and borrow anytime they need.

We met on Wednesdays every other week during the student's lunch time. (Some of them stayed for recess also, some of them just came during lunch.) For our first meeting, my amazing colleague put out 10 well known picture books. We circled around the books and asked questions that were like Battle questions, but the students could answer easily just looking at the picture books. (Think scaffold practicing.) So, we might pose a question like, “In which book does a girl have an adventure with her father?” (Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen) or “In which book does a boy have a special relationship with a tree?” (The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein)

After that, we did a lot of just verbally posing questions to each other. I encouraged students to practice writing questions as they were reading so they were making themselves aware of the details. (For our LPS Battle of the Books, we have a shared Google Spreadsheet where all students are writing questions for all the books. It’s a great resource and the students are doing all of the work!) We did one day where we did a matching game of the title and the author, because answering with the complete title and complete author is a requirement but something they are not used to. We also did a fun Kahoot about the Battle Books (here is the Kahoot from last year ; I’ll make another one and share it later on this fall)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Screencasting ... be there without being there

As most of you know, last year my position went from full time to half time.  Personally this was perfect for me as it allowed me precious time with Ruby, but professionally it presented some challenges.  One of the biggest challenges I faced was creating a schedule that allowed me to offer service to all grade levels.  To do this I really needed to be in the building full days (or at least 3/4 days) which seemed impossible at first as I was responsible for teaching 5th graders, 6th grade CMP.  It seemed like I would have to work 5 afternoons a week and due to our building schedule that meant I would only service 4th and 5th graders.

I struggled with this idea all summer, it seemed like a terrible injustice that my K-3 students would not get any time with me.  They deserved and needed my time as much as my 4th and 5th graders and I felt like I'd be abandoning them.  I started to brainstorm and work with my principal, classroom teachers, the district math coordinator, the director of elementary education, really anyone who could help me find a creative answer to the question "How can a 3 day-a-week teacher lead a 5-day-a-week math class?"

In the end, I came up with an idea by modifying the process of having a "Flipped" classroom.  I would work with my students for 90 minutes on my 3 work days (CMP3 suggests 55 min 5 days a week or 3 90 minute sessions) and they would work independently using SCREENCATS I made to guide their learning. My schedule now looks like this:

Last year, this process was successful and over the summer I began to think about all the other ways I could use screencasting to support my kids when I couldn't physically be with them.  I could make a screencast that guides a student as they explore a passion project, or read a novel or non-fiction book that far exceeds the ability of their classmates, I could use screencasting to set up an interactive "center" for kids who need a challenge, I could make a screencast instead of writing sub plans ... really the possibilities are staggering!

So in the spirit of "Show don't Tell," here's a link to a screencast I made to help explain how I make this model work for my students and I. Screencasting in the Classroom

I'd love to hear your ideas about screencasting ... how can we use this to benefit kids?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Increasing Writing During Math Instruction

Check out Jill's great idea for working on writing during math time: Along with improving their written reflections, she is going to do some math quick writes by asking them thoughtful questions. - Something I did this summer and how it involved math. - Why is math your favorite subject? and when do you NOT like math? - Write to another student and explain (with detail) how they can get an “4” on their next math test. - Pick one of the standards of mathematical practice and explain how you are good at it. - Pick one of the standards of mathematical practice and explain why you are not good at it and how you plan to improve. Let's add to her google doc and create a fantastic list to get students writing more during math time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Creating a Physical Environment that Promotes Thinking

As mentioned in a previous post I've been thinking a lot about inviting more active learning and thinking into my practice.  One way to do this (that they talked about frequently at InnEdCo) is intentionally designing the physical space in your classroom.  I think the way I had previously set up my room (and the fact that I hadn't changed that set up in 4 years) didn't inspire either me or my kids to think and learn creatively and actively, so it was time for a change!

I started by getting rid of most of my desks and replacing them with tables.  Besides just making the room feel bigger, my thinking is that this will also send a message to my kids that I value collaboration.  I want my room to be a place where we come together to discuss, explore, and solve problems; having my kids sit around a kidney table rather than in desk seems like it might be a better way to do this.  I did keep a couple of desks and smaller tables for when independent work is necessary and to allow my students a choice of working independently or in a smaller group when appropriate.

Next, I painted the tops of all of my desks and tables with clear white board paint.  This turned out so cool!  I love the idea of my students brainstorming and problem solving by writing right on the tables.  My hope is that this will encourage risk taking. When "mistakes" can be quickly erased, it may feel safer to try a crazy idea that just might work.

Finally, I replaced half of the traditional desk chairs in my room with fit balls and raised a few desks to make standing desks.  I prefer working while standing or sitting on an exercise ball for many reasons, not the least of which is pacing or bouncing a bit when I need to move, and I think my students will enjoy it as well.  I've thought about making this transition for a long time but I never did it before because I thought it would create too many distractions or management issues.  After examining this thinking, I was disappointed in myself for not doing it because it would be "too hard."  I always tell my students to "do hard things" so I decided I had better do the same.  Now that it's all set up, I actually don't think it will be too hard, I'll just set expectations for sitting on the balls or working at the standing desks the way I do for everything else.  I'll expect that my students will use the space appropriately and hold them accountable for doing so.

I can't wait for my kids to come and se this space next week!  If you're interested in planning workspaces that inspire thinking check out these resources:

Here are some pics of my classroom set up!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Laying the Foundation for STUDENT-based questioning

Before I can go forward in the process of documenting our INSPIRED journey into the power of inquiry, questions, and student discourse to leverage instruction and overall higher level learning over the next two years, I must take two steps back to post about two foundational steps that we took before beginning this blog journal.(This was step 1.)

My overall 2-year goal: To explore the potential of student-derived questions and subsequent text based discussion (TBD) to support student comprehension and learning from text. (I will only outline our  journey to find the answer to QUESTION 1 in this post.)

My personal guiding questions:

  • QUESTION 1: How do students learn to develop meaningful questions that promote student-to-student discussions that increase and deepen engagement and learning?

  • QUESTION 2: What does an effective discussion that promotes thoughtful engagement with text or content matter such as math, science, social studies, and knowledge building look and sound like?

  • QUESTION 3: When the students are engaged in student-to-student discourse, how can one monitor or gauge evidence of rigorous thinking?

QUESTION 1: How do students learn to develop meaningful questions that promote student-to-student discussions that increase and deepen engagement and learning?

It is my understanding from reading myriad articles, and to quote the Right Questioning Institute , “ the ability  to produce questions, improve questions and prioritize questions may be one of the most important—yet too often overlooked—skills that a student can acquire in their formal education. Strong critical thinking is often grounded in the questions we ask. By deliberately teaching questioning skills, we will be facilitating a process that will help students develop a mental muscle necessary for deeper learning, creativity and innovation, analysis, and problem solving.”

CCSS correlation - related to so many, I won’t even list them.

Lesson 1 - Students began by watching the visual presentation of the wordless book, Bluebird by Bob Staake ,which captures the “somber hues of loneliness and introspection”, and then following the six steps of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) method. (Feel free to check out Jay Corrigan, teacher specialist’s, Prezi”ntation” which hooked me in!)

1. The Question Focus (QFocus)
2. The Rules for Producing Questions
3. Producing Questions
4. Categorizing Questions
5. Prioritizing Questions
6. Next Steps
7. Reflection

(To keep this blog post as short as possible, here is a link to the in-depth description of implementing each step of the QFT method. )

OUTCOME:  Upon completing the prioritization and reflection process, ONE student-generated question became the basis of a very high-level whole-class evidence-based discussion.

  • How did the author use color, shades, and hues to define the theme of the story?

Lesson 2 - Students used the Text-Based-Discussion TBD sheet, adapted from Krista McDaniel, to prepare for their first TBD using the first lesson as background knowledge for generating questions.

OUTCOME: While the discussion was interesting to observe, it was the REFLECTION portion of the discussion that provided us with what we really needed to move forward with our questioning technique. The students evaluated the type of questions that they had discussed in their group, and which ones had the most profound impact. They came up with a list of SIX CRITERIA for effective, what we call - INSPIRED- questions as outlined below:
This criteria has been the bridge to extending our work towards answering QUESTION 2.

**I can tell that students understand the value of the an INSPIRED QUESTION, as they have elected to actually hold a collaborative question “revising and editing” session before formalizing their individual Text-Based-Discussion preparation sheets, and subsequently having a high-level, meaningful TBD. 

Monday, August 3, 2015


At InnEdCo this year, one thing that kept sticking out to me was the problem we face trying to make learning a more active endeavor for our kids. This is something I strive for, I don't want my classroom to be a passive environment. However, upon reflection of my own practice, when it comes right down to it, I expect my kids to "sit and get" more than I want to. So, what to do?

At the same conference I also heard a lot about MakerSpaces and it seemed like setting this up would be a great step in the ACTIVE direction. So I talked to my principal and while we still have a lot of tweaking to do (mainly who will supervise and when will it be open), we're going to set one up in one of our empty classrooms. I'm excited because really think this will be a FANTASTIC thing for our kids. It may not be a direct link to making learning more active in my room but I think having this kind of learning spot in our building will help to foster an "active learning" mindset in my students.

Have any of you done something like this? Do you have any ideas of what we should include? I'd LOVE any and all ideas/suggestion you all have and I'll keep you posted on how it goes! If you're not familiar with MakerSpaces, check out the video links below.

 This first video is from a HS ... The Principal of this school was at InnEdCO and he was so inspiring! New Jersey HS

 This one is from an elementary school and features so LEGO products and Makey Makey's which I have already so we could start with these materials. Dousman Elementary

 This one is LONG but its a good starting point for people who have never heard of MakerSpaces. What is a MakerSpace

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

With a Piece of Chalk

I am planning on using this video as a springboard for discussion with students this fall.  What are your thoughts? How could it set the stage for a conversation with students?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Paper Roller Coasters

One of my students had a passion for all things roller coasters, so I did paper roller coasters with my 5th grade math students this year, and they loved it!  Students worked on it this fall in small groups, and then wanted to re-visit it at the end of the year so they all collaborated together to make a giant one.   The fine motor piece of cutting, folding, and taping made it difficult for younger students.  I would recommend 4th - high school students.  You could use it as a very exploratory project where students are creating and collaborating, or you could go very in depth into the math and science of how roller coasters work.    There are tons of books about the history of roller coasters, and the science of roller coasters. The project came from  Enjoy!