Monday, April 29, 2013

The Stories of My Life (So Far)

Please indulge me for a moment while I say what a GLORIOUS weekend was! I am hoping that Mother Nature has finally figured it out and has sent that wicked winter packing!   Rumor has it that it will get near 80 degrees on Tuesday.  (I'm not going to dwell on the forecasted high temp for Thursday....(49)....and live in the moment.)

So...what is the first thing that I did with this beautiful weather?  (Other than avoid being inside...)  I went out and bought FLOWERS!!!  As we walked around the garden center at Lowe's, my husband was trying to ignore the fact that I would be paying good money for something that may freeze later this week.  But, like I said, I am living in the moment.  I didn't buy too many, just enough to add some color to my patio.  Aren't they pretty???


OK...back to reality.

I have been working hard to combine reading and writing experiences for my students this year.  After finishing our study of the Titanic and writing ourTitanic newspapers, we are moving on to biographies.

First, I am having students research a famous person who is no longer alive.  Why someone who is no longer alive?  Because I don't think I can handle any more biography projects about Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, or one of the boys from One Direction.  :) 

I found this great Biography Project from Mrs. Renz that has absolutely everything my students need to complete this research project.  After researching their person using three different sources, they will prepare an Important Poem and speech about their person.  (The project from Mrs. Renz has a lot more that you can do with this unit, but I am pressed for time so I just pulled these two activities to use.)  This project will also help us meet our Common Core requirements for Speaking and Listening, which is an added bonus!

To incorporate writing, I am having my students write their own autobiographies.  I am calling this project "The Stories of My Life (so far...)". 

We have been working very hard all year to practice "Show, Don't Tell" writing strategies.  Some students are REALLY good at this!  Others are struggling with what this means.
  I found this great video by one of my writing idols, Barry Lane, that teaches about slowing down our writing and "Exploding a Moment."  (Just saying that phrase out loud definitely gets my kids attention and makes writing seem more interesting for them!)

After watching this video in class, we did a shared writing together where we slowed down an incident that happened in the hallway right before writing class.  Using our SMART board, we wrote about how one student was making a noise in line and I was trying to figure out who was doing it.  The kids had a lot of fun writing together and it was great practice "exploding a moment."

So what do exploding moments have to do with writing our autobiographies??? 

Well, I have decided that I wanted to take autobiography writing to the next level.  I don't want this project to be "The STORY of my life,"  I want it to be "The STORIES of my life."  In other words, we are going to avoid the whole "I was born on ___ in ___.  My mom is ___ and my dad is ___ .  I like to ___.  I don't like to ___.  When I grow up, I want to be a ___.  THE END."

I have given the kids four "chapters" they will write about:

The Early Years
Growing Up
My Interests
Looking Forward to My Future
Each of these chapters will contain at least one "story" in which they explode a moment.  So far, we have been working on our drafts of each chapter.  Some students are really having a GREAT time with this (see below), and others will need more coaching this week.  :)  I will keep you posted on how this goes.

If you would like a copy of my planning packet, you can click here.  If you would like a copy of the final project that will be bound into a book, you can get it here.  Please let me know how it goes or if you have any suggestions!
In the mean time, I hope you have a great week with many fun "stories." ;)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Workshop Wednesday -- Card Games Galore!

It's Wednesday which means its time to link up with Ideas by Jivey for her Workshop Wednesday!  This week's topic.....math card games.

By far, my favorite resource for math card games is this book from Scholastic:

One of the things I love the most is that it contains games for upper elementary students for a variety of math topics -- fractions, multiplication, percent, probability, algebra, decimals and more!

Take, for instance, this card game called "Your Average Card" in which students use mental math to find the average of four cards.  To play, each player receives four cards (jokers and face cards removed).  The players find the average of their four cards and round their average to the nearest whole number.  Each player earns that number (the average) of points for that round.  The first player to 50 points wins the game.

Simple, yet fun!  I love games that promote mental math!! :)

I hope you will head on over to Ideas by Jivey for more math card game ideas.  But in the mean time, why not leave me a comment to let me know how you use games in math to promote learning? 

Have a great rest of your week!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Let's Get Acquainted -- My Classroom

Here we are...Off to start another week and linking up with Flying Into First Grade's weekly "Let's Get Acquainted" linky party.  This week's topic is my sweet home away from home -- my classroom.  I swear, sometimes I spend so much time there that it would be just easier if I moved a bed and some clothes in with me!  : )

So here are three of my favorite places in my classroom:

1.  Our Word Harvesting Wall

As we are reading a book or story, the kids listen for words they would like to harvest.  These need to be words that are beyond our every day words, but are likely to be seen in our reading again.   I learned about this activity from Tim Rasinski at a fluency workshop of his that I attended last year.  The idea is that as we read the Word Harvesting wall, the students are becoming familiar with the words so when they see them in their independent reading, they know the word, how to say it, and what it means.  The kids get especially excited when they do!  I will also ask students to use a word from the Word Harvest wall in their writing workshop and then share how they did.  This is a great way to get them to try out new vocabulary!
2.  My Accelerated Reader (AR) Race Track

Accelerated Reader is a super huge BIG deal in my school.  While I feel the goal of AR is not to earn points just to earn points (the goal is really to become a better reader), I like to use it to monitor who is staying on track with their independent reading.  Each quarter, students set reading goals that they would like to achieve.  I took a picture of each student and put them in these cute race cars that I found at the teacher supply store.  As students read and take AR quizzes, they move their race car up the track until they reach the "GOAL" flag.  The pink flag with the black arrow is what we call the pace flag and students need to try to stay at or above this point.  I'm happy to say that because our race track is a very visible reminder, students usually do not have a problem meeting their reading goals.
3.  Our Reading Rug
Like many of you, it is fun to have a place to gather as a group to hear a story, have a class meeting, or to read with a pillow.  I have two of these rugs in my room and they are always the go-to place for my reading friends.
I can't wait to check out other people's classrooms!  Head on over to Flying Into First Grade and see some for yourself.
Have a great week! 


Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Titanic Sails Again

I hope everyone has had a great week!  The rain has FINALLY stopped here.  I had to find a new way to get to school yesterday because a major road that I take was closed because a river had overflowed.  Turns out, this new route was five minutes faster!  :)

This week, my class finished up our study of the Titanic.  (With all the water flowing around here for the past two weeks, it was the perfect setting!)  This is one of the kids favorite units of study all year and I always try to time it to end around April 15th (the date the Titanic sank).  I don't know about your class, but it is taking a bit more effort to motivate them these days, and this project does the trick!  I think it is the perfect project to link up with Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching for her Spark Saturday linky party.

I have gathered lots and lots of resources on the Titanic and it seems like I never teach the unit the same way twice.  This year, I added a very fun writing project that I adapted from Scholastic where the students researched, wrote, and published a front page newspaper about the Titanic.

I gathered pictures of the Titanic and copied them on cardstock.  Having the students work in pairs, I gave each group a picture.  Their job was to write a front page article that would fit their photo.  I had all kinds of pictures -- an iceberg, the Titanic leaving dock, the Titanic sinking, John Jacob Astor, the grand staircase, etc. -- so no one's article was the same.

Because we have been studying informational reading and writing, the teams also had to decide the text structure they would use to write their article.  They could choose from descriptive, cause and effect or sequence.  They also had to have three headings in their article and at least three other text features on their front page (map, caption, chart, graph, etc.).

I was very excited when one of the students asked if he could go online to find some advertisements from 1912 that he could add to his front page.  This quickly spread and soon everyone was adding an advertisement (which is very appropriate for a newspaper.)  This also led to some great discussions about what the society of 1912 valued most as seen from the newspaper ads of the time.  Here is one of the favorites that someone found:

Yes, apparently cures for baldness was a very hot topic a century ago. Ouch!

Here are some pics of the finished products.  I think they look GREAT!!


If you would like a copy of my handout to use this project in your classroom, you can get it here.  I would appreciate it if you could let me know how it goes for you!  :)

On another note, Jen at Runde's Room is having a sale at her TPT store this weekend to help support a friend of hers whose son has just been diagnosed with cancer.  She is donating profits from her sales this weekend to this family as they begin their battle against this beast.  Why not head over to TPT and gather up some of Jen's goodies for yourself and send some love her way?  See you there!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Workshop Wednesday - Writing with Purpose

Like many others out there, the events in Boston this past week have left me saddened and running to hug my kids a little tighter.  I came across this picture of Mr. Rogers and thought it was extremely appropriate for this week:

I think that is an important thing to remember, especially when our students come to us with their concerns after a tragedy like the one in Boston.  While it is so easy to focus on the scary stuff of events like this, it is important to remember that there were so many people running towards the chaos to help.  I think that if we focus on the helpers and not on the bad guys, it will make this tragedy a little easier to live through.  God bless all the helpers out there!  :)

This week's Workshop Wednesday with Jivey is all about sharing our favorite writing mini-lesson.  Thanks to Jivey for hosting this fun linky party!  As you may have figured out, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE writing, so this one is right up my alley. :)

Whenever possible, I try to incorporate food into my lessons.  Why?  Because the kids LOVE it and it gets them motivated!  I have a favorite mini-lesson that is used to practice author's purpose that involves one of my favorite treats - donuts!

We spend a lot of time discussing author's purpose in reading, but students tend to think that it doesn't apply to their own writing.  They don't see themselves as authors that have to follow the same rules that "real" authors do.  Oh, how wrong they can be!

I begin by passing out a small powdered donut to each student.

Before my kiddos can munch on their donut, I tell them that they have to write about their donuts using one of the author's purposes - persuade, inform, and entertain. I partner kids up into groups of two or three and assign one of the purposes.  After some giggles, they get down to business. 

It is always entertaining to read what they write and the kids have a great time doing it!  Here are some examples:

Persuade:  "Science has proven that eating donuts is not only bad for your health, they are bad for your self-esteem.  Hundreds of people are spotted every day walking around with white powdered frosting on their chins and down the front of their shirts from run away powdered sugar.  It even gets on the front of their black pants and won't come off.  They get laughed at.  This makes them feel bad about themselves, which only makes them eat more donuts.  So do your waistline and your self-esteem a favor and skip the donuts.  Eat an egg."

Inform:  "Do you know why donuts have holes in the middle?  Donuts have been around for centuries.  As you know, the older kitchens were not able to cook as well as our new kitchens with microwaves and pizza ovens.  In the old days, it was hard to fry food to get it to cook.  Donuts have to be fried.  To avoid having raw dough in the middle of the donut, the inside was taken out so the donut could cook all the way thorough and that's how the donut got a hole in the middle."

Entertain:  "Knock, knock." "Who's there?"  "Donut."  "Donut who?" "Donut you think my joke is funny?"

(OK, that last one is kind of bad....but you get the idea!)

One of the things that I like best about this activity (aside from being able to eat donuts as a call of duty for teaching the lesson!) is that it is a great way to help kids make a connection to themselves as authors.  When I conference with my students, one of my questions is to always ask what their author's purpose is in a particular piece of writing.  I am happy to say that after completing this lesson, identifying their purpose in writing comes easier and easier.

Head on over to Jivey's blog to check out other wonderful writing ideas!  Thanks so much for stopping by and have a great rest of your week!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing -- Help Wanted?

I am so excited!  Yesterday was the first meeting for the National Writing Project's Summer Institute at UW-M.  I am so lucky to be a part of this program this July.  (You can read my original post about this program here.)  I can't wait to get started!!

Yesterday I found out that I need to start thinking about an area of writing instruction that I would like to research.  I have some thoughts rolling around in the back of my brain, but since part of this program is to learn how to provide professional development in writing to my fellow teachers, I thought I would throw this one out to all of you for your feedback.

So.....I am asking for you to think about your writing instruction. 
  • Does it make you click your heels together or cringe in fear? 
  •  Is it the best part of your teaching day or the worst part?  Is it a part at all???
  •  Are you prepared to incorporate the Common Core Standards into your instruction?
  •  Are your students active participants in their growth as writers?
  •  Do you feel comfortable conferencing with your writers?
  •  Want to learn more about writing across the curriculum?
  •  Can you connect a student's life as a writer to their life as a reader?
  •  Are you able to find professional development in writing?
  •  Is there something else that you want to know more about? 

I would really, really, really appreciate it (is that begging??) if you would leave me a quick comment below to let me know what your response is.  No response is too small or insignificant.  I will consider EVERY comment as I narrow down my topic.  Thanks in advance for your help!!  :)

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Workshop Wednesday -- Reading Group Organization

I believe that it is safe to say that spring is almost here in southeastern Wisconsin. (My son was in northern Wisconsin this weekend and they still had several inches of snow....Ughhhh!!!)   Look what was peeking up at me today when I got home from school...


You may notice that the ground around these little cuties is soaking wet.  That's because it's been raining here pretty much non-stop since Monday night.  I think I even saw some animals starting to pair up in anticipation of the ark that is soon to arrive!  :)

I'm linking up again with Jivey this week for her Workshop Wednesday.  Last week was my first week, and I got so many awesome ideas from her linky that I just had to come back!

This week's topic is about tools we use to organize and keep track of our reading groups.  After reading through her post, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about!  I have tried keeping written anecdotal records,  yet always seem to miss something because I can't write as fast as my mind races sometimes.  So this year, I have brought my iPad into the classroom and use the Confer app to group my students and take anecdotal records.

I really feel that it has kept me organized with my record keeping and helps me put students together for reading, writing, and math groups.  Plus, when it's time to prepare report card comments, I have everything right in one place! 

I can input records for different subjects throughout my day.

Inside each subject, I can keep track of when I meet with students for instruction or intervention, note what was taught, and add ideas for next time.

I can also review past notes for each student to see trends.

These notes can be shared between my iPad and iPhone and I can download the data into a Google doc if I wanted to share it with another teacher or specialist.  (Thanks to the iTunes Store for these screenshots.)  This record keeping system also works great with Daily 5.

If you decide to give Confer a try, let me know what you think!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Leaving My Comfort Zone

Happy weekend everybody! 

This year I have been trying really hard to help my students develop more responsibility and accountability for their learning.  Early in the year, I began researching problem based learning strategies and tried to incorporate them in some of my projects.  While this required much more planning, and sometimes "thinking" on my part, I felt it was well worth the effort. 

When I think about the classrooms I had when I was growing up, I remember the teacher standing at the front of the room doing 95% of the talking and completing 95% of my daily work on a worksheet or workbook.  When I became a teacher five years ago, I thought that was the only way to teach.  It was a huge shock to me to see that there was a different way -- a better way -- to teach.  I have wrestled with finding this better way and am beginning to feel like I am getting there.

As a teacher, my goal is to inspire my students to become lifelong learners.  I feel that this cannot be accomplished by me being the "sage on the stage" and telling my kids exactly what they need to know.  I want them to learn how to discover, how to wonder, how to ask questions, how to search out answers, how to take their learning farther.  I want to be their supporter, their advisor, their mentor, and their cheerleader.  Perhaps this is why I have embraced math workshop and writers workshop so much -- because it puts the kids in control and makes them more responsible for their learning.

I understand that giving up this control can be very scary.  It's easy to say that it is just too much work or would take too much time.  I get that.  However, I have seen firsthand that when I put my students in charge of their learning, AMAZING things happen.  Behavior issues virtually disappear because every student is engaged.  There is a feeling of electricity in the air when students are working because they see the value in what they are doing.

Today I came across an AMAZING blog that inspired me to write this post.  I hope you will head over to Venspired to get some inspiration of your own.  Here is a little something of hers that should get you thinking...

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Workshop Wednesday -- Moby Math!

Thanks to Jivey at Ideas by Jivey for hosting the Workshop Wednesday linky party!  There are some fabulous resources that have already been shared and I've wanted to post about one of my favorite math finds so this is a great opportunity!

I began using the Moby Math website after Winter Break this year and wondered how I lived without it.  It was found by one of our fabulous third grade teachers as she was searching for math intervention resources. 

When students log in to Moby Math (yes, there is a subscription fee, but I think its pretty reasonable and there may even still be a free 30 day trial), they are given a benchmark placement test for all skills beginning in kindergarten.  Imagine my shock to see that some of my students were missing some kindergarten and first grade proficiency skills -- no wonder math was such a difficult time for them!

After taking the placement test, students are given computer guided instruction and practice in the skills that they need to master.  Even students who have mastered all skills up to their grade level continue to grow as they receive exposure to skills for future grades.  You can even assign the program to give students fact fluency practice before beginning their practice sessions -- a great way to keep those math facts sharp! 

While something like Moby Math would never replace quality, best practices instruction, it is helpful in that it is a different way for students to be exposed to math and it is differentiated to each student's needs.

What I also love is that as the teacher, I can have as much or as little control over what my students are working on each day.  I can go into the program and move their practice sessions around, assign extra benchmark tests, or reassign a practice session if the student didn't do so well on it the first time.  For my students who struggle in math, I check their data pretty regularly to make sure the program is truly helping them.  For my students who do well, I may just check on their data weekly.  That way, it is not overwhelming for me and still provides the maximum benefit to the kids!

I have made Moby Math a part of my math workshop so students work on it for about 20 minutes in class, and then I assign 15 minutes to be done at home every night.  The kids love it because they can see their progress and I've also received very positive parent feedback.

Be sure to visit Jivey to find out about other great Workshop Wednesday finds!  Let me know what you think of Moby Math if you check it out!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Let's Get Acquainted

Being a new blogger, I was excited to find Latoya at Flying Into First Grade's "Let's Get Acquainted" linky party.  My spring break is over, so this is a great way to relax and unwind after a busy day with the kiddos!


I live for shopping!  It is my therapy, next to blog-stalking.  (Much to my husband's dismay...)  My current favorite place to visit when I need something new to brighten my mood is Charming Charlie.  It's like Claire's Boutique for adults and the rainbow of shiny bling that awaits me when I step inside the door just makes me so happy!


Without a doubt, it is Chicago Fire on NBC on Wednesday nights.  It is the one show that I manage to stay awake after 8:00 just to watch.


Chocolate, need I say more???  I can't teach a day without it!  : )


Definitely PIZZA!  When I was pregnant with my son 15 years ago, I ate pizza EVERY day.  We are convinced that is the reason why he has red hair when the rest of us don't. : ) 


This one is a toughy.....My current favorite place to have the hubby take me for a dinner out is a small Italian restaurant in a town next to ours called Taste of Italy.  It is in a building that used to be a bank, so they use the old vault as the bar which is so awesome!  There are probably no more than 10 tables in the whole place, so sometimes there is quite a wait,  but the Pasta de Casa and cannoli are TO DIE FOR!!!

Vocabulary FUN!

I'd have to say that one of my greatest "finds" this year to motivate my kids to improve their vocabulary has been the Flocabulary program.  Have you heard of it?  You can check it out here for yourself.

For about $5 a month, I have access to the Flocabulary gallery of short videos for all subject areas, although I am mostly sticking to the Word Up program for vocabulary right now. 

Each week, my students learn ten new grade-specific vocabulary words that have a very catchy rap song and animated video that goes along with them.  Each week's unit also includes activities and assessments which makes my life SO much easier.  (And I think we are all in favor of working smarter, not harder, right???)

I have added one component to their program.  On Thursdays, I assign each student one of the week's words to draw a picture to illustrate the word for our word wall. 



My students absolutely LOVE watching the rap song video every day on our SMART board!  By the end of the week, they are able to rap along, which can be quite hilarious!  I love that it is an all-in-one program that truly engages my students and motivates them to learn new words.  It is so cool when they recognize one of the Flocabulary words in a book we are reading and they automatically know what it means.

Do you have any other great vocabulary finds you'd like to share?  You can sign up for a 30 day free trial of Flocabulary if you'd like to give it a whirl yourself.  Let me know how it goes!  I'd love to hear from you!