Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Seuss-errific Reading!

I found this fantastic hat template the other day at A Teacher's Treasure and couldn't wait to use it with my class! Of course, I changed it up a little to fit with the skill we've  been working on all week--Author's Purpose. See my Horton and Lorax posts for more on those lessons). They include pictures of anchor charts, student samples, and links to the documents I made to go with the lessons. 


In today's lesson, I wanted to lower the scaffold even more, so I read Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose to the class, then had the students create these awesome foldables. The task was to listen during the story and identify examples of when the author was informing, persuading, entertaining, and expressing ideas. They jotted down those examples on their 4-square papers from this lesson, then after the story, they wrote their items under each flap of the foldable. The top flap was where they were supposed to write what they thought the author's main message was. Here are a few of the examples from today:


This one says, "Don't be a free-loader!" was his main message. Love it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Backwards Zorro

Are you teaching your kiddos how to solve fraction of a group problems? My co-worker came up with a fabulous name for the tried and true strategy that we probably all use: The Backwards Zorro! It's visual and fun to say and it really seemed to stick in the minds of the kiddos. Here's how it works:
Starting at the bottom, draw a line from the 4 to the 24 (4 goes into 24 six times). Draw the line to the 3 (six times three is 18). Draw the top line and write the answer. Presto!

Author's Purpose with Horton

After this really great Author's Purpose with The Lorax lesson yesterday, I decided to go a step further today using Horton Hears a Who! I think my kiddos are finally starting to understand that Author's Purpose is about more than those four words (persuade, inform, entertain, express).

In today's lesson I challenged them to listen and look for things the author included in the text and infer why he did that. Here's a copy of our anchor chart from the lesson:
What was so great is that even though I was modeling and sharing my thoughts as we went along, the kiddos made so many great inferences and thought of so many things that I'd never even considered! Here are a few of their papers:
Here's a copy of the chart I made for the kids to use if you're interested.

At the end of the lesson, I had the students use the back of the chart and follow the same procedure in whatever book they happened to be reading during Read to Self. Great formative assessment. I could really see who was able to apply the strategy and who needed more instruction.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Seuss-tastic Hats!


Last Friday's art activity: Create a tissue paper hat! I love the fact that every single hat is different. The kiddos were told that they could make a traditional red and white hat or their own design.

Author's Purpose with The Lorax

 
You know those lessons that are just right on target and everything goes well and you never want to forget how you taught them? I had one of those today, so I just HAVE to blog about it. 
First, you should know that my class is having a bit of a problem with Author's Purpose (according to their Scott Foresman unit benchmarks). I'm not talking about just determining an overall purpose for writing such as persuade, entertain, or inform. Our program wants students to infer even more and determine the author's purpose for specific sentences, etc...That's the hard part. My kiddos just couldn't seem to understand that author's purpose is about more than those broad reasons. Our reading coach suggested that maybe they weren't making the connection and if we charted specific examples it might help them make the transition. So, here's what I did:
  • First, we reviewed Author's Purpose (4 things in Scott Foresman): Persuade, Inform, Entertain, and Express Ideas (which includes descriptions).
  • Then we used the Carousel charting strategy. I made four posters on large chart paper. At the top of each paper was this question: What words, phrases, or graphic sources would you expect to see if the author is trying to persuade? I changed the underlined word to entertain, inform, and express for the other three charts. The students were divided into four groups and given markers. Each group held a silent conversation at their chart, writing responses rather than saying them aloud. After a few minutes, the groups rotated, so each group was able to visit each chart.
  • After this exercise, we viewed the charts together and discussed. (This allowed me to see what they really knew before we began the lesson).
  • Next, I told the children that we were going to think even more deeply about author's purpose. I told them that I wanted them to read to find specific examples in the text when Dr. Seuss was informing, entertaining, persuading, or expressing ideas. I gave them a copy of this chart (blank when we started):
  • Of course, I modeled heavily in the beginning. I read a page or two then thought aloud about different words, pictures, and phrases and why I thought he used them. We added them to our class chart, and students added them to their personal charts. 
  • After modeling several examples, I read a few pages and had the students work with partners to jot down specific examples, then share with the class. We repeated this several times until we finished the book.
  • At the end of the lesson, I had students return to the four charts and add anything they thought should be added. Then they answered a writing prompt from Minds in Bloom about what they would do if they had the last Truffula seed. 



What was so great about this lesson is that is was multi-level without me having to do a lot of differentiation. The kiddos who were able to think at a higher level and infer deeper meanings weren't held back. They had the freedom to jot and think on their own level. The ones who needed support had the scaffold of talking with their partners.

Another thing that was great is that at first, as a class we predicted that there would be no information in the text since it was a fiction story. The students, however, at the end of the lesson decided that we should put that the Once-ler told what would happen to the environment if it wasn't taken care of in the Information square.


I was able to pull in so many things as we read---onomatopoeia, rhyming words, similes, poetic license, conservation, theme, persuasive techniques...we even talked about how we could use these same strategies in our own writing. Best of all, I think they finally see that Author's Purpose is more than P.I.E.E.


Here's a copy of the chart I made if you're interested:
Author's Purpose Chart

Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment when we take it to the next level...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'm Cool Thanks to Google

So during today's tech session with my 4th graders, I find out that I'm cool...well, technically they said that Google Docs was cool, but since I'm the one that introduced them to Google Docs, I'm thinking that I'm cool by proxy. 

This was such a simple project, but the kiddos just raved about it! First I created a FREE account for our class on Google. Then I showed the kiddos how to log in and create a Google Doc. All they had to do was rename their document to their name (so we could tell whose was whose), then create a 3x2 table. One column of the table was for Amphibians, one column for Reptiles, and one for Both. Finally, they had to research reptiles and amphibians and add facts to their charts.

And don't you love it when you show them a plain, boring, black and white example, and they go all out to personalize their text by changing colors, backgrounds, and fonts? I love it!

These aren't finished, but here are a few that they started today.  

I never thought that they would enjoy this as much as they did. You just never know what will appeal to different groups.

The rest of the plan is to teach them how to create a link in their blog posts to their docs...Can't wait to see how that goes.

Success!

Today we had not one, but two lessons involving rubber bands---no slingshots, no injuries, no disasters. Sometimes its the little things...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not Enough of Me to Go Around


Today I was blessed to welcome my 26th student into my room. I'm not being sarcastic. I really do love each one and know I would miss them dearly if they weren't part of my class. But with this many blessings, comes worry...how can I possibly meet all their needs? There is ONE of me and 26 of them.

How can I possibly deliver instruction suitable for each one? Within my time restraints and curriculum demands (and let's not forget the demands of NCLB), it is impossible difficult to give each student the time and instruction they need in the way that they need it.

I see three hands raised asking for help while I crouch beside the desk of the first child I could get to. As I make my way to the other three students one by one, still more need help. My frustration is not that I can't keep up--its that they are having to wait so long for the help they need! Sure, we do peer helpers and all that, and students know how to help themselves, but usually the hands go up AFTER those things have already been tried.

I just worry that there's not enough ME to go around. All I can do is try each day to meet the needs in front of me and hope and pray that my best is enough.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cool Tools


I just stumbled on this awesome wiki, Cool Tools for 21st Century Learners, that has several technology tools organized by type. There are sites for avatars, presentation tools, copyright-free images, search engines, and more...

Clicking on a category takes you to a list of those tools. I love how this wiki is organized! If you're looking for some tech tools, stop by and check it out.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Whole Group" is Not a Bad Word

We seem to be teaching in a time when the phrase "Whole Group" is almost akin to an ugly word (ranking close behind "worksheets"). The trend is to teach everything in small groups while saving whole class instruction for short mini-lessons. So, against my better judgement, I have tried for several weeks now to teach our reading curriculum as it was "meant" to be taught (according to the training I've received). I have spent very little time (20 or so minutes) each day in whole group instruction and pulled small groups to deliver the meat of the curriculum, i.e. the reading story and skill practice for the week. Yes, you read that correctly. I'm supposed to pull four groups a day and read the same story and practice the same skill with each group. But it gets better---I don't have to read the entire story with each small group, only the pages that relate to the skill. They can read the story during their independent work time.

So basically, what we have is a very similar lesson done four times a day in ability-level groups. Sure, the lesson is differentiated in the scaffolds I use, the leveled readers, and word study skills, but the objectives are the same.

You may ask what the other kids are doing during this time? They are reading, writing, or working on a related task that goes with our skill or story for the week---all very valuable things for them to do, but they're doing them alone. For a long time.

I'm not against small groups as a differentiation method for some students who need to be retaught or shown in a different way, but for EVERYONE? To deliver CORE program content? The scenario above is not only inefficient, it is unnecessary. And according to my students' test scores during said trial, it is not working. Not in my classroom anyway.

In my mind it makes much more sense to teach the core content in a whole group setting, then differentiate instruction only for the students who need it. Those needy kids get it at least twice that way!

I think balance is the key. Interactive, engaging whole group instruction is not bad...It's even beneficial!

When it comes right down to it, I'm not going to spend 80 minutes a day in small group instruction delivering similar content just so I can say they were taught in a small group. I'm going to read our basal story with the entire class, because I think it is important that we share it together as a community and bounce ideas together. And finally, I'll pull small groups on an as-needed basis.

In short, I'll go back to what I was doing before my experiment!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blessed to Have Back-Up

Today I was reminded yet again of how truly blessed I am to be working in such a great community. I had to have a strong "talking to" with three of my students who refused to stay on task during independent work. I was really disappointed in them, and took them out in the hall to speak with them. They each had notes sent home today to be signed and returned tomorrow. Here's where it gets good...

I've already heard from two of the parents--one happened to walk up during the "talk" and had a talk of her own with said child. The other parent emailed right after school to get the "real" story because she felt like her child didn't give her all the information--then THANKED me for filling her in.

I am so blessed to be working in a community that still believes in teachers. They know I'm not perfect, but thank goodness they will back me up. It is very nice to have the feeling that we are working together as a team. These parents not only care about their students' educations, but their behavior in and out of school as well.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Teaching in the one-iPad Classroom


As I write this, I'm reminded of my early days in teaching when I was lucky to have one computer in my classroom. Although we've come well past the days of the one computer classroom, I now find myself trying to troubleshoot how to use my one iPad in the classroom. Here are some ways I've begun using it with my 24 students:
  1. Small group instruction-There are countless apps that can be downloaded for free or at very little cost that are beneficial for a small group of 4-6 students to work on together. During my small group math instruction, I've used Coin Math and Math Drills Lite. The children at the small group table take turns (round-robin style). While one child answers the question/problem on the iPad, the others work it on white boards or with money manipulatives. The iPad gets passed around the table in a clockwise motion and we continue this until everyone has had at least 2 turns. 
  2. Paired with Document Camera-I'm fortunate enough to have a Promethean ActiView camera in my room, so many times, I've simply placed my iPad under the document camera and projected the image onto our ActivBoard. One or more students can take turns clicking the iPad. I especially like to show BrainPop's featured movie using the BrainPop app.  I've also used Grammar Jammers in this way.
  3. As a Center Activity-If it's not being used with small groups (or maybe after we've finished), sometimes I allow small groups of students to take turns playing games on the iPad in groups of 2-4. (I love this idea for school-purchased iPads, but as the one I have is my personal iPad, I do this sparingly). Some of the apps I've used in this way are Crazy Tangram and Rocket Math.
  4. As an Interactive Slate-With the Splashtop app ($4.95), I can control my computer with my iPad. This allows me to walk around the room and use my iPad as an interactive slate. Instead of having students come to the board to click, drag, write, ect...They can do the same things from their seats on my iPad! This allows for even more interactive lessons because of the time efficiency. Let me explain...previously if a page on my flipchart lesson called for something to be revealed by clicking, I found that having a student walk up to the board, click the object, then walk back was not very efficient and slowed down the momentum of the lesson. Therefore, I simply clicked it and moved on. Now, I can give that control back to the students as I move around the classroom.
  5. As a Student Response System-With Promethean's free ActivEngage app, students can respond to questions using the iPad, rather than ActiVotes, ActivExpressions, or other mobile devices. ActivEngage works right alongside the other devices and groups of 2-4 students can "share" the iPad when choosing their answer. One desk grouping could use it (3 desks are in a group in my room), then pass it to the next group for the next question. This allows for more active engagement and collaboration. It reminds me of the "Think Pair Share" strategy we use in reading. I've yet to try this out in my classroom, but I've explored the app and this is definitely on my To-Do List.
I'd love to hear how you're using iPads in your classroom!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tech Tools: Weebly

Ten-year-olds designing a website? You bet! With a free account from Weebly and about 45 minutes, even a novice can create a website. It is very easy to use, offers many flexible templates, and allows users to upload or link content with a few clicks of the mouse.

My students literally put this website together in less than an hour today! Here's how:

Go to Weebly and create a free account. Log in and choose a name for your site.


Click on your site's name to edit.


Use the tabs on top to change your site's design, add pages, and choose elements to add such as text or pictures:
Drag and drop page elements onto your page. You can edit them right on the page!

Create and change to your heart's content, then click Publish. You're done!

I introduced this tech tool to my students as a way for students to build background for a story we're reading next week. I set up the account, then assigned groups of students to work on each page within the site. Not only did they learn a lot about Ancient Egypt, but they were able to create content and learn in the way that suits many of their learning styles. Win-Win!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Museum Box Update


Last week for Digital Learning Day, I introduced Museum Box to my students (More here). They were so excited! All in all it was a good experience. There were pros and cons with this tool, just as with many others out there, and there was a definite learning curve for me and the kids! 

The original plan was for groups of 3 to make one cube that would be included in one class box. However, when we got started, I didn't know that I would have to have each group load the same box. They all wound up working on their own box instead of one cube.

Want to try it with your kids? Here are some things you might want to know first:

Pros:
  • Bright and colorful
  • Icons are kid-friendly
  • Print is large
  • Easy to learn and navigate
  • Allows you to add links, pictures, videos, and text
  • Searchable database of images and sounds
  • Very easy for teacher to approve, reject, or edit boxes once they're submitted
  • FREE
Cons:
  • Sometimes the colors that students used within the text boxes and saved didn't show up on the cube the way they were designed. 
  • If the text that students created needed to be edited and was already placed on a side of the cube, you could re-save the text, but not add it immediately. There would be an error message on that side of the cube and you'd have to go back in and add it again.
  • The "Clear All Sides" button is too close to the "Clear This Side" button, causing many mistakes and complete do-overs.
  • Found pictures, videos, and files must be uploaded. They can't simply be linked. 
  • When adding a link, say to a video, the image of the website didn't necessarily look like the website's linked page. 
With all of that said, I will definitely use it again. There were a few issues, but it was still a fun learning experience for both my students and for me. Here are a few samples my kiddos created:
Hope you enjoy!

Happy creating!
 

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