Thursday, May 30, 2013

Extreme Blog Makeover

If you are looking for the 4th grade blog of Mrs. Laffin's Laughings, you have arrived at the right place!

When I first started this blog back in March, I wasn't sure if blogging was for me. I didn't want to invest any money in buying a blog design just in case things didn't work out. Boy, was I wrong!

I LOVE BLOGGING! I mean LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it! The bloggers I've met are some of the most creative, generous people I know.  It is the highlight of my week when I get to sit down and check in.  :)

So I figured it was time to take my blog to the next level and beautify it a bit....and thanks to the marvelous Megan at A Bird in Hand Designs, I have a newly designed blog.

A Bird in Hand Blog Design

What do you think???

I LOVE it and Megan was so easy to work with!  In less than 48 hours after originally contacting her, my new design was in place and I was ready to go.  I would definitely recommend her if you are in need of a blog designer!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Student Wordles

Just a quick post today to share a very fun activity we did today in class involving Wordle and our end-of-year reflections. 

I always have my students write a year-end ABC Memory Book about things they learned each year.  This year, I found a fantastic ABC book from Fifth in the Middle that was so cute, I just had to use it!  If you are looking to complete a project like this, check it out!

As a part of this activity, I had my students complete a Wordle.  We went into the computer lab, each of us logged onto Wordle, then typed our names three times into a new project so our name would appear the largest word on the page.  We then rotated around the lab and typed one word or phrase into each student's project.

When thinking of words to include, I asked students to consider:
  • What do you think each student is good at?
  • What word could describe each student?
  • Is there something each student is known for?
I was truly impressed with some of the thoughtful words my students came up with!

By the time we were finished, we had our name (typed three times) and a list of 18 adjectives that could be used to describe us. Once we got back to our own Wordle, we could mess around with the fonts and colors until we found one we liked.  Here's a sample:

I especially like mine!  :)  Although I'm not sure what "The Big Boss" means....


I then collected the Wordles and we will glue them onto our ABC Memory books when we are finished with them.  I will then let my students autograph each other's memory books on the back cover, kind of like you do in a yearbook.  I think this will be a nice memory of their 4th grade year!

So what kinds of projects do you do to end the year?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Looking Forward -- What Will I Do Differently?

Teachers, by nature, spend a lot of time reflecting.  We teach a lesson, we think of how we can do it differently next time.  (Many times this even happens WHILE we are teaching!)

With this year drawing to a close, I am linking up with Finding Joy in 6th for her What Will You Do Differently? linky party.  Love it!  There are LOTS more things I want to try for next year, but these are three things I am committing to make happen!

We do A LOT of reading in my classroom.  Whether it's a read aloud or silent reading, I have not been so great at having my kids respond to their writing in a consistent way.  I have tried lots of different things (journals, Kidblog, letters), but haven't found the exact thing that clicks with me. I will say that we have had some fantastic discussions about our reading, but I know that it is SO important for kids to write to process their thinking.

I'll admit is just not my thing.  However, I recognize that it is HUGELY engaging for my kiddos so this summer I will seek out new methods of incorporating tech in my instruction.  I already found a great blog to help, Free Technology for Teachers.  Check it out!

 PBL is something that I was introduced to this year and I am absolutely in LOVE with it!  There are a few bloggers out there who already use PBL on a regular basis in their classroom and achieve AMAZING results.  With the new testing emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking, I think PBL is a great way to prepare students not only for testing, but for life!  If you are interested in learning more, check out the BIE website.

So what have you been reflecting about for next year?  Head on over to Joy in 6th and link up! 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Summer Bucket List

When I go back to school tomorrow, we will officially have eight days of school left.  Both the students and the staff have class until Thursday, June 6th and then we are finished.  This doesn't allow much time for end-of-the cleaning up, but I can manage!  My daughter graduates from 8th grade on Friday, June 7th so I'm glad I don't have to work that day.  I can't believe I will have two kids in high school....Where does the time go?

With summer on the horizon, I'm beginning to think of all the things I want to get finished.  So today I'm linking up with A Cupcake for the Teacher's 2nd Annual Summer Bucket List linky party.

Here are my well-intentioned plans, in no particular order of priority:
1.  Painting My Office:  I have finally chosen the new colors for my office and will begin painting right after school is out (unless I can talk my husband into doing it for me! :)
The darker paint "Lagoon" will be the walls and the lighter paint "Balmy Seas" is for the ceiling.  Just the names make me feel more relaxed....What do you think?
I've already gathered some new "art" for the walls...
2.  TpT Store:  I hope to set up my very own store at Teachers Pay Teachers and want to update many of the things I've created to make them more colorful and better organized. 
3.  Writing:   I will be participating in the National Writing Project at UW-Milwaukee this summer.  I am VERY excited for this opportunity and can't wait to get started!   My goal is to dedicate more time to writing this summer -- ideally every day.  I am thinking about starting a blog about this experience and know of two other bloggers who will be participating in the National Writing Project this summer too.  If you have participated or will be doing so this summer and would like to participate in this blog, please leave me a comment below so we can make plans! 
4.  Get Organized:  I need to live by the motto "When in doubt, throw it out" because I have accumulated TOO MUCH STUFF in my short time of teaching.  This summer, I want to go through files and drawers and get rid of things that I haven't used but always saved "just in case."  I would post pictures of my disorganization, but it is just too embarrassing!  :)
5.  Read:  I love to read all the time, but especially during the summer.  This summer, I plan to tackle these two professional development resources (which as you can see, have much to do with my passion for writing):
 I also have these resources in my cart at Amazon:
6.  Get Together:  I read about this great idea to have a Pinterest party from Sarah at Learning is for Superstars.  It's hard to go from seeing all of my teaching friends every day to not seeing them for three months, so over the summer I want to have a Pinterest party where we all get together to share something we made (crafty or food) from Pinterest.  I think it will be a hit!
7.  RELAX:  With so many things planned, it's important to remember that I need to relax and rejuvenate for next year.  We don't have any family vacation plans this summer because my son and husband will be gone for three weeks to the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.
 My daughter will be spending every possible moment that she can at the horse farm because she will be helping with Horse Camp this year. 

Which leaves me to hang out with my two favorite furry friends.

Can't wait!
So what's on your bucket list for the summer?  Head on over to A Cupcake for the Teacher and link up!
Wishing you a wonderful week!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spark Saturday -- Energy Coasters

I hope everyone had a wonderful week!  I know that I sure did.  This week really FLEW for me.  We have 8 days left when we go back on Tuesday.  I can't believe it!

I'm linking up with Joanne at Head Over Heels For Teaching for her Spark Student Motivation Saturdays.  What better topic is there to match up with "spark" Saturday than ENERGY???

As you know, this is the time of year (for those of us who haven't begun summer break yet) that us teachers have to pull out all the stops to keep our students motivated.  Earlier this week, I posted about a project we did in science in which we learned about potential and kinetic energy by building spool racers.  (You can read that post here if you missed it!)  This was a highly engaging and motivating learning activity for my kiddos and to keep the "energy" flowing (pun intended ;), I followed the spool racer activity up with Energy Rollercoasters.

Here's the deal....

Using about 6 feet of plastic tubing, masking tape and BB's, my kiddos had to construct a section of a rollercoaster on the wall to demonstrate how potential and kinetic energy and gravity move the BB through the section of track.  Their coaster had to have:
  • One "up" hill
  • One "down" hill
  • At least one loop
If their BB got stuck, they did not have enough potential energy built up to have kinetic energy take the BB to the end so they had to untape their layout and try again.

This picture demonstrates the ultimate goal....your BB having enough energy to make it to your cup.

When they were finished, the students sketched out their layout, identified the point of greatest potential energy and the greatest kinetic energy,  and filled out a reflection (which does not seem to want to load here...ugh!  My computer must be ready for summer break!).

I had planned on giving the students about 20 minutes to complete their rollercoaster layouts, but because they were having so much fun with it and kept asking if they could try another design or add more loops, etc., I just let them go with it for about 45 minutes.

I just love hands-on learning and try to load these last two weeks up with lots of activity to keep students motivated and learning.  I am excited to read what others bloggers do to keep a spark in their classrooms this time of year.  Why don't you head on over to Head Over Heels and check some out for yourself???

Have a great long weekend!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Workshop Wednesday -- Responding to Reading

Unlike last week, this week is REALLY flying by for me!  (Wahoo!!!)  Here it is, Wednesday already.  So I'm linking up with Ideas by Jivey for Workshop Wednesday.  This is such a great linky party -- I hope you will check it out!  (And yes, I am a little jealous that today is her last day of school! :)

This week's topic:  How do my students respond to their reading?

I have tried lots of things to have my students respond to their reading.  I occasionally have them use Post-its, which is a great way to track their thinking.  However, this year I have tried using and having them blog about their reading.  (For some reason, involving tech is like the energy drink for student engagement in my room!  :)

This worked especially well with our read alouds and I loved that the kids could access it from home to complete their responses!  I would simply go on the blog, post a question, and students could respond.

They could also respond to each other's responses and begin an online book discussion.  So fun! 

Kidblog is FREE and easy to get started.  All posts need to be approved by the teacher before they will post to the internet so it is easy to monitor. 

So how to your students respond to their writing?  I'm looking for some new great ideas....Won't you share yours in a comment below?  Head on over to Ideas by Jivey to get some more inspiration!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Learning About Energy -- Spool Racing!

I know many of you are already on summer break or are winding down with your last week, but here in southeastern Wisconsin we still have three weeks of school left.   We are out on June 6th and staff goes back at the end of August.  The kids don't report until after September 1st because in Wisconsin it is a law that school can't start until after September first....Isn't that interesting?  Personally, I would prefer an earlier start and an earlier finish, but I really can't complain!

One of my favorite units to teach in science is the unit on energy and I always save this unit until the end of the year when we need something FUN to ENGAGE us.  (You know what I'm talking about, right?)  We have been studying potential and kinetic energy and I found this very cool lesson from Zoom on PBS (you remember that show from when you were a kid, don't you???).  You can find the directions here and a video from YouTube to show your students how to build the spool racers here.  (This may also lead to an interesting discussion about what video looked like before HD media!)

Using wooden spools, toothpicks, a rubber band, tape, and a pencil, students worked in pairs to build their spool racer to use for racing.  (Also a great lesson for following directions!)

After building the spool racers, it was RACE TIME! 

After the racing was over, we had a great discussion about:

  • Where in the spool was the potential energy being built up?
  • How was the kinetic energy shown?
  • What modifications could be made to the spool racer to increase the potential energy and thus, the kinetic energy?
  • Why did some cars spin in circles?
  • What other modifications could be made to the spool racer to increase the energy?
  • What role did factors like carpeting (and friction) play in the race?
  • Did forces like pushing help?

When the race and discussions were over, we packed up our supplies in these baggies and they are ready to go for next year!

Needless to say, the students were OVERLY engaged with this activity and it was a fun way to test out energy.  I have one more potential and kinetic energy activity that we will be doing this week (building rollercoasters) so check back soon for that.  So much FUN and so EASY!

Wishing you an amazing week!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Five for FRIDAY!!! (May 18, 2013)

Another week down which means it's time to link up with Doodle Bugs Teaching for their totally awesome Five for Friday linky party.  Wahoo!!

So here are five random things from my week.....
1.  Organization!:  After linking up with Ideas by Jivey's Workshop Wednesday and seeing all of the great ways that everyone was organizing their math manipulatives, I figured it was time for me to get my act together.  I began with the math games that I have bought off of TpT.  I put each one in a poly folder and created a bin.  It's not pretty, but it's MUCH better than hiding them in a drawer!

2.  Shedding My Winter Fluff:  After months of denying that I needed to become more active, I re-joined Weight Watchers on Sunday.  I was a member about 7 years ago and lost about 25 pounds.  I'm hoping to do that again.  Wish me luck!

3.  MAP Testing:  Our spring MAP testing is over and I am soooo excited by the growth my kiddos made this year!  In reading, we made over 12 points growth from fall to spring and in math, we made almost 15 points growth from fall.  (Average growth is about 9 points between fall and spring.)  Yippeee!!!  The best news is that in reading, I only have two readers who are slightly under grade level benchmark and in math, I have only one.  All three of these students came to this year working at the early/mid 3rd grade level so they have grown by leaps and bounds this year!  Celebration!!!
4.  Summer Writing:  On Wednesday, I met with the coordinators of the UW-Milwaukee Summer Writing Project to discuss my inquiry question that I will be working on at the National Writing Project Summer Inquiry Institute.  I'm not 100% settled yet, but I'm leaning toward researching ways to help students set goals for their writing and work through the revision process.  I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that my students feel it is "one and done" with their writing and revision is not a part of their writing process.  Ughhh...  I can't wait to begin researching to see what the experts say.  I'll keep you posted!
5.  Gardening Galore:  My spring tulips are in full bloom around the yard and I just love all the bright colors! 


How was your week?  Head on over to Doodle Bugs Teaching and link up!

Wishing you an amazing weekend!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Manipulating Math!

Happy Hump Day everyone!

I know that for some of you, this is your last week of school!  :)  For me, I still have 16 days of school (not that I'm counting).  But since I'm linking up with Ideas by Jivey's Workshop Wednesday and this week's topic is about math manipulatives, I figured I'd throw a little extra math at 'ya!

So being a 4th grade teacher, it has taken me awhile to catch on to the concept of using manipulatives in math for older kids.  I was under the (false) impression that manipulatives are only for the younger kids.  How wrong, how wrong...

This year, I have really tried hard to use them whenever I could.  The Base 10 blocks worked WONDERS when I taught decimals!

Right now, like many of you, we are studying geometry.  Yesterday, I taught a lesson on classifying triangles.  We reviewed the ways triangles are classified (by the length of their sides and the measurement of their angles) and went through some practice problems from the book.  My kiddos caught on pretty quickly. 

Then I gave them a project sheet and a cup of toothpicks.  On the project sheet (I think I found it from a Mailbox magazine so I can't share it here  :( , my mathematicians were given three numbers to represent the number of toothpicks for each side of a triangle.  They then used the toothpicks to build the triangle.

For example, if the number was 2,3,4, they would build a triangle that had two toothpicks on one side, three toothpicks on another, and four toothpicks on the last side.  After making the triangle, they had to classify it by both of its names.


For most of my students, this worked GREAT!  They rose to the challenge!!  For others, they were rather sloppy in lining up their toothpicks so it didn't work as well.  :( 

I am now looking for other ways to make math more hands-on for my 4th graders because they go bonkers for math activities.   They like it so much, they even forget they are learning!

 I hope you will head over to Ideas By Jivey and check out the other great ideas!


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Let's Get Acquainted -- Teacherhood

I hope you all enjoyed Teacher Appreciation Week and felt very appreciated!  I know I did!

I'm linking up with LaToya at Flying into First Grade for her Let's Get Acquainted linky party today.  I love this week's topic....It fits right in with Teacher Appreciation Week, I think.

We have three questions to answer this week...

Linky Questions

1.  What made you decide to become a teacher?

2. What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?

3. If you were not a teacher, what would you be?
What made me decide to become a teacher?  Like many of you, I was influenced by an amazing teacher that I had in elementary school.  I wanted to be just like her and knew that teaching was in my future!  I had Ms. Mullen-Teofilo for THREE straight years (3rd, 4th & 5th) and loved every minute of it!
What has been my most rewarding experience as a teacher?  I have only been teaching for five years, but I think the most rewarding experience is when I can reach a student who is seen as difficult or challenging and help them turn things around.  I seem to be drawn to the ones that give me the biggest challenge.  I pride myself on the relationships I build with my students and it is because of these relationships that I feel some of my more challenging students blossom.
If I was not a teacher, what would I be?  I would either be a writer (something else I love) or a quilt shop owner.  Before I went back to school to get my teaching degree, I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years.  After my daughter was born in 1999, I began quilting and even toyed with the idea of opening my own shop.  (I told my husband that my fabric addiction was cheaper than therapy...).  Given the state of the economy over the past decade, I'm glad that I decided to follow my first passion and get that teaching certification!
Here's one of my latest quilts...

So how about you?  Why did you become a teacher and what would you be doing if you hadn't?  Head on over to Flying into First Grade and link up!

Wishing you an amazing week!