Saturday, December 29, 2012

What's Ahead 2013

After a long day of travel, I am stuck in a hotel in Kentucky for the night with the hope that the roads will improve enough that I can make it back to Atlanta tomorrow. And as I was taking advantage of the free wi-fi to catch up on blog reading, I stumbled on Michelle's What's Ahead in 2013 Linky Party over at Making It as a Middle School Teacher.

 So here we go...

 Want to join in on the fun? Click either image above to head over to Michelle's blog and get the scoop on how to participate.

Happy Almost New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Welcome Winter Sale

As I battled the last few days of school before break with strep throat and a sinus infection, I found myself leaning more and more on purchases from TpT. The more I use that site, the more I love it. There are so many wonderful teacher-created materials out there from so many creative teachers, and I feel good knowing that the money mostly travels back to teachers in the trenches every day like me. That's why I'm happy to be linking up with Casey over at Second Grade Math Maniac for the Welcome Winter Sale. This weekend, everything in my TpT store will be 20% off, and if you go to her blog, you'll see all of the other stores that are linking up. (As of this post, there were already over 50 stores hosting the sale, so it looks like I'll be shopping, too!)

I'm in the midst of last minute packing, cleaning, shopping, and wrapping before venturing 800 miles north with my husband, one-year old daughter, and two dogs. We're going to visit family in Michigan for a bit, so this will likely be my last post of 2012. I hope everyone has a safe and joyous holiday, and I look forward to what 2013 has in store!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NaNoWriMo Results

A few weeks ago, I shared that my class was participating in NaNoWriMo (a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month). I had sent away for the free NaNoWriMo resources, and they sent me a set of 30 participant buttons, a poster, and some progress tracking stickers. (See the buttons and stickers in the blurry picture below...It didn't look that blurry on my iPhone...)

I pitched the program on Halloween and told students that anyone who wanted to participate could do so. We planned to meet at lunch on Thursdays to share our writing, but the majority of the NaNoWriMo work would be happening outside of class. I shared my previous experiences with the program, but stressed that participation was purely voluntary. Much to my surprise, 22 out of my 25 students signed up and set great writing goals for themselves (2,000 - 5,500 words).

We started with a great deal of enthusiasm. Almost all of my class came to our first lunch meeting and worked on writing the entire time -- including some of my reluctant writers! I also had several parents asking what I had done with their children because so many of them were coming home and writing for hours after school. Seriously.

Each Thursday, we updated our poster with our word counts. We added a letter spelling N-A-N-O-W-R-I-M-O for every 10% of our goal that we reached. Students who made 100% of their goal put a star sticker at the end. Here's how our poster looked early in the month.

See how I'm listed there at the end of the list with a 15,000 word count goal? Ha! Didn't quite make it by the end of November, but the students said that I get to attend the final celebration anyway since I'm hosting it. :)

I told students that they could finish writing this weekend since NaNoWriMo didn't officially end until midnight on Friday. I had about half of the students make their goal, and many more decided that even though they had too much going on in November to make their goal, they had great story ideas to continue with in the future. Based on that, I'd call this NaNoWriMo experience an overwhelming success.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year or are you doing other activities to encourage your students to write outside of school? If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Have a great week!

Monday, December 3, 2012

QR Code Homework Check

I've raved about QR codes multiple times in the past, but this week I did something that I loved with a QR code, so I have to share it.

The students worked on a homework assignment that reviewed multi-digit multiplication and a few questions about fractions. I wanted them to get the opportunity to check their work, but I hate the process of me just reading the answers or even having them check their work with one another. Invariably some kids don't pay attention or don't really check their work, and then it's just lots of time lost. Or a kid will find many mistakes and want help figuring out what went wrong, and that might be a big waste of time for the kid who really understands the material well. So the process needed some improvement, and this is what I did.

I took a couple of pictures of the answer keys for the assignment, and I uploaded them to an unindexed page of my class website. I then created a QR code for that page, and embedded it in a slide on a flipchart.

The directions for students were:
1. Scan the QR code with your iPad, and use it to help you check your homework.
2. When you finish, you may use the Khan Academy app to watch videos that review areas where you made mistakes or reinforce today's learning target.
3. Be prepared to share any questions you have or about any problems you found particularly difficult.

As soon as my students saw the slide, they were off!

A few students had a hard time grabbing the QR code from the screen because it was so large, so they opted to get it from my computer instead.

Either way, all of the students were very engaged in checking their work, and it gave me time to circulate and answer questions, help kids who had been absent, and check to make sure that everyone had finished. It felt way more productive that our usual homework checking, and it took me less than 3 minutes to prep. Now that I know how well that it works, we will definitely be doing more of this in the future.

Do you have any new ways that you're using QR codes in the classroom?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cooperative Learning

We routinely do group activities and assignments in my classroom, and every year, there tends to be a few students who stand out as leaders and a few others who are happy to sit back let the others do the work. From my own experiences in school, I remember just how frustrating this process could be, yet I know how important it is for students to learn how to work productively together. As a result, I often use role cards in group tasks -- especially if the task is one that will last for more than a few minutes.

There are 6 jobs that I use off and on.
  1. Production Manager - functionally the "leader" of the group who has to make sure everyone is doing what they're supposed to. This is also the only person who is able to come and ask me questions throughout the task when the group gets stuck.
  2. Social Manager - troubleshoots disputes between group members and makes sure everyone is being included.
  3. Resource Manager - gets all the supplies for the group and makes sure everything gets put away at the end.
  4. Information Manager - does research or divides up the research tasks; decides how the information will be communicated.
  5. Time Keeper - keeps track of time; creates internal deadlines and time goals to make sure that the group is on track to finish before the official deadline
  6. Technology Specialist - the person in charge of technology for the group; either uses the tech or delegates tasks to others.
I don't use every job for every assignment -- it depends on what the activity is, how many students are in the group, etc. I also try to make sure that I mix up what roles they have in the group so it's not the same student always being the technology specialist, for example. I've found that by making these roles and responsibilities more explicit, everyone participates more and it alleviates some of the drama that comes along with group work.

I have some really basic (translate: ugly) cards that I've been using since my first year of teaching that assigns the job and outlines the responsibilities for each job, and I decided to spruce them up a bit to make them more fun. I ended up making three sets:

Winter Monsters
Super Elfkins

Racing Elfkins
Each set has all 6 jobs with a list of responsibilities and enough sets for 10 groups. They are currently available in my TpT store for $3.00 per set, but I'm offering a set for free to the first three followers who comment. Just leave me your email address and the title of the set that you want (Winter Monsters, Super Elfkins, or Racing Elfkins) in the comment section.

How do you assign roles for cooperative learning in your classroom? I'd love to hear about it in your comments!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

iPad App Wish List - Free Apps

Last week, I shared that my school is going to become a 1:1 iPad school, and yesterday I shared a bit about my role in preparing for that process. Today, I want to share my top 10 list of free apps that I hope we'll have next year. (To see my top 10 for paid apps, click here.)

1. Show Me
This is an interactive whiteboard app that can also record audio and screen actions. It's great for making tutorial-type movies as I previously shared here.

2. Evernote
This app lets you take notes, capture photos, record audio and organize ideas in a user-friendly, easily accessible way. I use this extensively to organize my anecdotal notes and ideas, and I have ideas for how my students would be able to use this next year as well.

3. BrainPop
The app version of the website. My students love Tim and Moby, and I think the quality of the BrainPop stuff continues to get better and better. They've developed such a large storehouse of videos that deal with so many different topics in all subject areas. To me, this is a must-have app if your school already has the paid subscription to BrainPop.

4. Rover
This app was created for educational purposes, and it's a cloud-based Flash player/web browser that allows Flash-based websites to run on iPads. While it's not always the fastest app in the world, it's much better than realizing that the lesson you'd planned won't work on the iPads just because Adobe and Apple don't get along better.

5. Google Earth
The app version of the website. My students could explore this app for hours. It's great when we're exploring topics in history or literature, working on real world math problems, or looking up locations for current events.

6. Adobe Photoshop Express
Allows students to make minor tweaks to photos -- including cropping, eliminating red eye, adjusting color, etc.

7. QR Code Reader and Scanner
I've integrated QR codes into several classroom activities such as interactive word walls, geometry riddles, and general differentiation; students would need this app for its functionality.

8. Khan Academy App
Videos and tutorials for a large variety of math and science topics. I love using this app to differentiate instruction. When I'm working with one group, I can send students who aren't understanding a concept to this app to watch a video that might help them until I can get to them. In addition, it's great for my advanced kids who are ready to move on to more advanced topics.

9. NearPod - FREE (for now)
This is a newer iPad app that allows teachers to create presentations that are broadcast to students' iPads with built-in interactive questions and activities. I haven't used it yet, but it looks amazing. There are several videos about it at The basic edition is free, but if this is something we like and want to explore further, we may need to contact them for pricing about the school edition which has more features.

10. Virtual Manipulatives
This colorful app has manipulatives for fractions, decimals, and percents -- a big part of the 4th and 5th grade math curriculum.

Honorable Mentions (a.k.a. If they're free and useful, do we really need to stop at 10?)
* VoiceThread - records audio over pictures; students may have familiarity with it from the K-3s.
* The Weather Channel app - we study weather in 4th grade, and it's helpful for data collection, etc.
* iTunesU - free access to courses from universities and other schools -- great for advanced students
* Edmodo - allows student-teacher interaction, assignment submissions, polls, etc.
* Spelling City - games and activities to support differentiated spelling instruction

What are some of your favorite apps (free or paid)? I'd love to hear about them in the comments section!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 26, 2012

iPad App Wish List - Paid Apps

As I shared last week, we're becoming a 1:1 iPad school next year, and we're now in the early stages of determining what apps to purchase and how to roll out teacher professional development. One of my first tasks in this process was to create a list (in rank order) of the top 10 apps that I thought we should have. When I first read that task, I decided that if my list is limited to 10, then perhaps I should make a list of 10 paid apps and 10 free apps. What follows is the current version of my paid app wishlist.

(All of the prices listed assume individual purchase of the app. I'm sure we'd get lower prices with volume purchasing.)

1. GoodReader - $4.99
This app is a very robust .pdf reader that allows students to read and annotate texts using a variety of annotation tools. It is easy to use, and it works with a large variety of document formats. It would be a vital app to have if we were trying to go relatively paperless.

2. KeyNote - $9.99
In addition to being a presentation tool, this app could be used for students' word work and word study journals. I had students build illustrated math dictionaries and journals using the slides in KeyNote.

3. iMovie - $4.99
While it doesn't have all of the features of the computer version, this is still a great app for student use.

4. Book Creator - $4.99
A fantastic app for writing that allows students to design, write, and publish their own eBooks that are compatible with other eReaders. Easy to use with amazing design potential.

5. Explain Everything - $2.99
I haven't had the chance to play with this one yet, but it shows up on virtually every educator's top 10 list that I've seen. It appears to be a design tool that lets you annotate, animate, and narrate explanations and presentations. In that way, it may be similar to Show Me or ScreenChomp, but it appears to do more. I've also read that the clips produced through this app can be imported to other apps (e.g., iMovie).

6. Pages - $9.99
A versatile word processing app for the iPad that will be useful for publishing student work.

7. - $4.99
Yes, there's a free version of this app, but this one is ad free and will work offline.

8. GarageBand - $4.99
Music and sound editor that can be used for creating student podcasts.

9. PhotoSync - $1.99
Allows wireless transfer of photos and videos between devices -- iPads, computers, etc. May be very useful for having students turn in their work.

10. WolframAlpha - $3.99
Great reference resource for quick information about many cross-curricular topics. Probably safer and more reliable for quick answers than sending students to Google.

There's my list of paid apps. Tomorrow I'll share my wish list of free apps.

Are there other paid apps that you use in the classroom? I'd love to hear about them in the comments section. I still have about a week to revise my list before it's officially due to the powers that be!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ordering Adjectives and Other Obscurities

This is the first year that we are implementing Common Core at my school, and one of the first surprises to me was the specificity of the list of language standards. Take this one for example:

4L1d. Order adjectives within sentences according to conventional patterns (e.g., a small red bag rather than a red small bag).

Okay, fair enough. I know that we don't say red small bag, but I couldn't articulate why. And if I couldn't articulate that, it seemed like I would have a hard time teaching it. Hence began one of many research projects for this year.

As it turns out, there are actual rules for ordering adjectives! Whenever you have a list of adjectives, according to most sources, they should be put in the following order:

  • Number - e.g., many, few, seventeen
  • Opinion - e.g., beautiful, silly, annoying
  • Size - e.g., big, small, gargantuan
  • Age - e.g., old, young
  • Shape - this one is tricky! It can be shape like "round" or shape like a condition - e.g., dusty
  • Color - e.g., red, blue, yellow
  • Origin - think countries, directions, religions, e.g., Canadian, northern, Catholic
  • Material - e.g., plastic, wooden
  • Purpose - e.g., sleeping as in a sleeping bag
The wheels started turning with this new knowledge, and slowly the lesson plans came together for this topic.

For the first day, I made a PowerPoint about the order of adjectives and my students made a foldable to record their thinking. 

On day two, we looked at some examples that I pulled from the books they were reading in their book clubs, and I gave them the task at looking for more sentences that used multiple adjectives together. They recorded their sentences, and we shared some of the examples as a class.

Days 3 and 4 involved some word sorts. I made some cards with adjectives on them, and they sorted them by what type of adjective they were. Then they put some together to make sentences. 

On Friday (day 5), we took a short assessment that had students identify the correct order of adjectives in some multiple choice questions, and then write their own sentences.

Overall, I was happy with how the unit turned out, and we all learned a lot about adjectives that we hadn't known before. By getting the students to play with adjectives more, I also noticed them using more interesting word choices in their writing. Win-win.

I've put together all of the resources that I used (and then some) into a unit over at Teachers Pay Teachers. It's one of many units I've been working on to deal with some of the more obscure standards introduced by Common Core, and I hope you'll check it out.

It will be on sale Monday and Tuesday for 28% off with the TpT Cyber Monday sale if you use the code CMT12

What are some of the more interesting/challenging standards you've encountered with the Common Core? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Word Walls

I devote a fair amount of wall space in my classroom to a word wall. I know that not all teachers do this, and I've read plenty of criticisms in the past about why word walls are impractical (too large and overwhelming to students, not used by students, etc.). But I want to share how I use a word wall in my classroom to counter some of those criticisms.

At the beginning of the year, I put up a large empty word wall.

Each week, on a separate area of our whiteboard, I'll introduce some content-area vocabulary on word wall cards that are color-coded by subject. For some -- like the math vocabulary -- I have QR codes linked to each word so that students can look up the definitions. Others are just the word. We'll do a variety of vocabulary-related activities throughout the week, and then once the words are learned, we'll move them to the big wall. Here's an example of that with some of our math vocabulary words (green & blue background with QR codes) and an International Baccalaureate Learner Profile Trait (green and polka dotted background).

The big wall serves a couple purposes. First, it acts as a record of all of the learning that we've done. It's exciting for my students to see all of the new words and concepts we've learned throughout the year, especially since the board moves from being completely empty to practically bursting at the seams by May. I think that's valuable affirmation of our hard work, and it's worth dedicating the space to me.

The second way that I use the wall, however, is even more important. We use it as a source of constant review throughout the day. During many of our transitions, I'll choose a word, share the definition or a related concept, and the students have to use the wall to figure out what word I'm referring to. I'll have students do this to earn spots in line, transition to get materials, or as a sponge as we wait for other teachers to arrive, etc. As students get better with this routine, I have them start to give the clues to each other so that they're remembering the vocabulary and using it regularly. I hardly ever do test prep throughout the year, and by constantly revisiting these words, I don't think we need to. The word wall is a great visual reminder to me about the words they need to know and the concepts we've talked about.

Don't get me wrong. I think there's a lot of value to having personal word walls and smaller, focused word walls for particular units. But in the best of worlds, I think kids benefit from both.

I've spent a lot of time working on creating durable word cards for my word wall this year, and on Monday and Tuesday, all of my word wall sets at TpT will be 28% off with the code CMT12.

These card sets are normally priced between $3 - $8, and I have them available for the following topics:

Math - All Common Core aligned and embedded with QR codes linked to the definitions:
International Baccalaureate PYP
I'm working on some new sets for additional grade levels in math, more science units, and some new Social Studies cards with QR codes. Stay tuned for those.

Do you have a Word Wall in your classroom? I'd love to hear how you use it in the comments section!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of year, and as I recover from my food coma, I have many school-related things to give thanks for this year!

1. Listening to Reading Grant
Every year, my school's PTO offers grants to teachers who have projects in need of funding. As I was thinking about all of the things that I need for my classroom (and my wish list is never-ending), I decided that I wanted to create an opportunity to add the fifth part of the Daily Five into my classroom - Listening to Reading. We had all of the other components going, but I didn't have any access to grade appropriate audiobooks nor did I have a way for them to listen to them. Then I saw someone pin this on Pinterest, and the wheels started turning:

I had two first generation iPhones sitting in a desk drawer waiting to be repurposed or recycled, and it occurred to me that they could be used for Listening to Reading -- especially with one of these headphone splitters. So I typed up a grant proposal, shopped the iTunes catalog for audiobooks, and crossed my fingers. A couple of weeks later, I was alerted that my project had been funded!

We recently started using the audiobooks in the classroom, and I have to say that I'm really pleased with how it's going. I created a schedule and gave the students a list of titles of audiobooks to choose from, and each group picked their own book to listen to. They've loved it! I was a little worried that there might be fights about volume controls since the headphone splitter doesn't allow individual volume control, but there's been none of that. Just a bunch of kids contentedly listening to extraordinary readers share books the kids love. I especially like it for some of my struggling readers because they're able to tackle texts that they wouldn't be able to handle on their own. 

So far, I've just been having the groups summarize the chapters as they listen, and that's been working out well. Eventually, though, I'd like to design some activities that they could do at the listening center. Any suggestions or resources to share?

2. We're becoming a 1:1 iPad SCHOOL!
I know. Huge, right? I thought about leading with that, but I didn't want overwhelming jealousy to color your reading about my grant. Like I said, I have LOTS to be thankful for...

As I think I've mentioned before, I teach in a building that's just fourth and fifth grades, but it's a big school -- 550+ students, 10+ homerooms per grade level and growing. Last year, I was one of two pilot classrooms with 1:1 iPads, and I loved it. This year, I've had to share the iPad cart with my floor while we waited to hear what was going to happen with funding for iPads. (I have not loved the sharing part at all for a variety of reasons, but that's a different post...). Last week, our school board voted to approve a lease that will eventually roll out iPads to grades 4-8 in our district, and starting in April, we'll have an iPad for every student in our building. (They'll get them in grades 6-8 in later years.)

I could not be more thankful for this decision, and I'm so excited about the possibilities!

In the meantime, I'm on a team that will be responsible for teacher professional development with the iPads as we figure out what apps to get, what teacher training needs to be done, and so forth. I'm really looking forward to this process, and be sure to stay tuned as I expect to have LOTS of future posts about iPads.

3. Blogging and TpT 
Finally, of the many school-related things that I'm thankful for this year (and I could keep this list going for quite some time!), I'm particularly thankful for discovering so many great teaching blogs and learning about Teachers Pay Teachers. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I was getting pretty burnt out on teaching and seriously considering a career change. If I left the classroom, I knew that I would stay in education (maybe get a PhD or something...), but I can genuinely say that those feelings have subsided. Blogging has given me an outlet to write -- something I truly love to do -- and TpT has inspired me to be more creative. It has also given me a little bit of extra income so I can invest in my classroom without feeling like I've short-changed my family in some way. So for all of you in my extended blogging family or those of you who have supported Eberopolis in one way or another this past year.

As a small way of saying thanks, I'll be participating in the TpT sale on Monday and Tuesday. Be sure to check it out!

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Week Ahead

Next week is the beginning of term 3, which means we are 1/3 of the way through the year already. How did that happen?!?

This week, we'll be starting the following units:

Math - Fractions(!) - We'll be diving into the Fractions standards, starting with equivalent fractions and comparing fractions. Most of this week will be foundational work of understanding what fractions are, building fraction strips, and finding ways to make comparisons.

Reading - Informational texts - we're going to start working on identifying the main idea in paragraphs and texts.

Writing - Opinion Writing - one of my fabulous colleagues prepared our unit on this, so I'm looking forward to diving in and giving it a test drive.

Science - Light Energy. I haven't even thought about experiments beyond day #1 yet, so I'll be thinking about this today and searching for my flashlights...

Social Studies - the American Revolution. Finally, we get to an era in history that I can get excited about! We're trying a new online resource this month - Social Studies Alive! America's Past - and I'm excited to see how it goes.

I also need to figure out which grammar/word study tasks I'm going to work on this week. As I look at the list of topics I'm supposed to cover in the next 6 weeks and the number of interruptions we inevitably have in November and December, I'm a little daunted by the task of fitting all of this stuff in.

What are you working on in your classroom this week? Have any particular resources you want to share? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Weekend Reading - October 27, 2012

Here are some of my favorite teacher blog posts that I read this week:
While I wish I had some grandiose and fun plans for this beautiful fall weekend, I will be sitting home at my desk grading papers, writing report cards, and preparing for next term's units. We have 6 six-week terms, and therefore six grading periods throughout the year. Most of the time, we have a week long break between each term (which I LOVE...), but this term, we don't have a break until Thanksgiving. We did all of our end of term assessments last week, and I now have until Halloween to grade them all and write report cards for my 25 darlings, as well as prepare for entirely new units in all of the subject areas. To say that I'm a little overwhelmed by the prospect would be an understatement. 

How do grading periods and report cards work where you're at? How much time do you typically have between the end of the term and the completion of report cards? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo)? During this month, crazed writers all over the world band together and commit to moving their stories from their noggins to the page. It's 30 days of saying sayonara to your inner editor and focusing on quantity over quality. The goal is to just finish that first draft, and let the editing happen in December. For those who are inhibited by their inner critics, it can be a fun and liberating experience to meet daily word count goals and just be creative with the writing. There are tons of online communities to support the experience, and many writing groups meet face-to-face to cheer each other on. I've participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and while I lack any published novels to show for it, it was a fantastic experience that really helped me grow as a fiction writer.

What does this have to do with teaching? Well, let me tell you. Every year, the Office of Letters and Light -- the lovely group that came up with NaNoWriMo -- sponsors a Young Writers Program to encourage kids to write. They've developed a whole curriculum to help students plan their novels, set writing goals, and overcome writer's block. They'll send out inspirational emails from published authors throughout the month of November (and these are authors your kids will have heard of. I seem to remember getting emails from Jerry Spinelli last year) to keep the kids chugging through their novels. They also have a free kit that you can order with goal tracking posters and cool pins for the kids who participate. You can access all of that information through the Young Writers Program website.

In the past, I have been blown away by what my kids have accomplished during NaNoWriMo -- not so much in terms of the quality of their writing as much as their confidence and enthusiasm as writers. I've had many kids walk away from the process thinking they could be "real authors" when they grow up because of all of the writing they were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. Parents have been overwhelmingly supportive of it as well. I'm super excited to try it again this year because I think I have many students on the verge of finding their love for writing, and this may be just the right thing to make it happen.

I'll be sharing weekly updates here throughout November, but I wanted to get the information out about NaNoWriMo in case anyone else wants to get in on the fun. There's still time to sign up and prepare before November starts, so you can kick off NaNoWriMo with everyone else in the country on November 1st.

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo or are you interested in participating this year? I'd love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments section!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tech Tuesday: Show Me

Of all of the iPad apps that I could not live without, Show Me would live high up on the list. For those of you unfamiliar with this tool, it is basically a whiteboard app that allows you to record the screen with accompanying audio. Ever seen the Khan Academy videos? Similar concept.

I'm working on my K-5 math endorsement this year, and one of my assignments is to create a presentation about the Chinese number system. Here's a simple video I made using Show Me to demonstrate computations with Chinese numbers (warning to those who can actually speak/write Chinese -- my calligraphy with the Chinese numbers is not very good!):

The app is very user friendly, although it does require a sign in to be able to save your videos. Once videos are saved, they can be deleted (unlike ScreenChomp -- my former go-to app), and there's a download feature in beta so you can download videos and embed them in things like Prezis. You can also adjust the sharing settings of videos to keep some private should you so desire.

In my classroom, we use this app to make math movies to explain different math concepts. I'm outsourcing video creation to my students this year, and I plan to post some of their videos on my class website as homework help for future years. It's also a great way to assess student understanding because I can really learn a lot by what they're able to explain or not explain, but that's a different post...

Do you use Show Me or similar apps in your classroom? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Managing Online Resources with Symbaloo

This topic has been on my "need to write about..." list for a while now, and this week, I'm all about crossing things off of my to-do lists!

Have you ever used Symbaloo? If not, you're missing out. I know I blogged about this in April, but it truly is one of my favorite sites for differentiating online tasks for my students.

Symbaloo is functionally a bookmarking site, but it organizes the bookmarks visually in a very user-friendly/kid-friendly way. Websites are saved as "tiles" and put into "webmixes" organized by topic or purpose. They can be kept private or shared and searched. For example, I'm looking for resources to help with our upcoming unit on the Revolutionary War, and I found this webmix through a search:

The tiles look like icons for apps, and the webmix designer can edit them to change or upload pictures, give titles, change colors, etc. The tiles can also be dragged and dropped and rearranged to help with organization. I always like having sites already bookmarked for students so that we don't have to waste time typing in web addresses (and subsequently figuring out where the spelling went wrong...), and I like that this site lets me bookmark sites with visual cues in addition to the text.

Pretty cool, right?

But let me tell you how I really use this site.

At the beginning of the year, I create a tile for each of my students with their name and a generic subject-specific icon on it. For example, for reading, my webmix looks like this:

Then, I go through and edit the links associated with each person to differentiate instruction. For example, if I want Josh to read something from one website and Zack to read a text from another, then I'll link the tiles to those two sites. But then on the next assignment, if I want them to read the same thing, I'll link both tiles to the same site.

The initial setup can be a little time consuming (about 20-30 minutes), but it's very easy to use once it's set up. It really takes the guess work out of what assignments my students need to be working on when we do differentiated activities online since they just click on their name.

Another perk: the site is iPad compatible, so we're able to access these webmixes through Safari or other web browsers. One downside, however, is that you can only link to websites, RSS feeds, and audio sources -- not actual apps on the iPad.

Should you decide to give it a try, check out the education version at

Finally, here's a link to my original tutorial as well as brief tutorial video about Symbaloo that I found to help you get started.

Do you use Symbaloo in your classroom? If so, I'd love to hear how you use it in the comment section!

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Weekend Reading

Here are some of my favorite blog posts from the week!
This week in Eberopolis will be the last week of our second term, which unfortunately means that I'll be doing a ton of assessing and grading to get ready for report cards. These are the units we're wrapping up:
  • Narrative writing - students are putting the finishing touches on two narratives -- one historical fiction set in Colonial America and another on any topic of their choosing
  • Literary reading - we've been reading novels and really digging into theme lately
  • Multiplication, Division, and Algebra - it's been a busy 6 weeks in math. Most of my darlings are getting multi-digit multiplication and division, but there are still several that are struggling with their basic facts, so this is always a challenge. We'll be working on this the rest of the year, I suspect.
  • Forces & Motion and Simple Machines - this was a fun science unit, and I definitely think my students understand many of the concepts. 
  • Thirteen Colonies - aside from our Colonial America narrative, we'll mostly be done with this by Tuesday when we take the test. But a former student did drop off a pile of books she had borrowed last year and forgotten to return, including several of my favorite Colonial America read alouds that I'd been missing this year, so I may need to sprinkle those in throughout the week.
 What activities and topics will you be studying in your classes this week? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Management Monday: Displaying Student Work

This year, I'm trying something new for displaying student work in my classroom, and I just wanted to share. Meet my new classroom wall display:

I printed each student's name on a piece of card stock, and then had the students color and decorate the page however they wanted. I then laminated them and punched a hole in the corner so I could attach a 2" ring clip. Next, I used Command hooks to hang all of the students' cover pages.

At the beginning of the year, I displayed the cover pages because it was a good way to get to know more about the students and their interests based on what they had drawn or written or how elaborate their illustrations were. Now, as the year has gone on, I'm letting students choose what work they want to have displayed. They can just attach a finished piece to the ring and turn to that page of work.

Here's why I like this system:
- It creates a portfolio of student work. We're constantly adding things behind the cover page, and it's easy to pull it down when I need to have parent-teacher conferences or find work samples for students.
- It gives students some control over what work is displayed. Rather than have one uniform cute bulletin board with all of my students' work on it, my students are able to choose lots of different things to put up, and they can showcase the work they are most proud of even if there are other things in the pages behind that work.
- It's easy to change out. I don't have to deal with stapling anything or removing staples to change out the display. I can hand the students their ring and cover, and they can change it out themselves and hang it back up when they're done.

There's no question that it takes up a lot of wall space in my classroom. That's one definite downside of it, but I feel like it's a good use of wall space, and it definitely helps me do a better job with displaying student work and rotating it out more frequently.

Are you trying anything new to help display student work this year? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bedtime Math

Just a short post to share one of my new favorite websites: Bedtime Math. The premise is simple: each day a real world math application is presented in a short and lively informational text. The information is then followed by three leveled story problems -- one for "wee ones" (counting on fingers), one for "little kids," and one for "big kids." The solutions are explained at the end of the post. It's a great way to incorporate real world math at home with kids of all ages as part of the bedtime routine just as we typically have a bedtime story. And since solutions are provided, even math-phobic parents can participate! If you haven't already checked out Bedtime Math, I highly recommend it. I learned about through my K-5 Math Endorsement class after we read a very interesting Wall Street Journal article about the impact of math-phobic parents.

What are some ways you promote math at home? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Writing in Math

One of the reasons I opted to be an elementary teacher instead of a middle school or high school teacher is because I love teaching and learning about everything. I couldn't commit to just one subject. My passions change from one year to the next, and this year, I'm very passionate about teaching math.

This is the first year we're working with the Common Core in my district, and it has been a fun challenge to get to know all the new standards. It has been a big transition for my students, however. Many of them seem to be used to finding answers and being done with problems -- not persevering through challenges, representing their thinking in multiple ways, or explaining their thinking. As a result, the first 6 weeks were tough for some of my students.

I saw this quote in my math endorsement class this week, and it really struck me as exactly what my students needed to hear. We've been doing a lot of work on problem solving lately, and some of my darlings are all too willing to give up if they don't immediately know the answer to a problem. We had a great class discussion about what this quote means, and how it applies to the work we've doing.

We've also been talking about the Standards for Mathematical Practice lately, and connecting those to our process work in class -- especially when we write about math. The SMP's are pretty abstract for fourth graders, so I tried breaking them down into questions for students. For example, when we deal with the first standard to "Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them," we use these prompts:

Breaking it down into questions makes it a lot easier for students to know what they need to do to apply that standard to their work, and it has really facilitated our conversations. I've made posters for each of the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice, and I often see students refer to them when they're working on their problem solving and explanations.

Another thing that I've done to help with the SMP's is share student work in class discussion. On Thursday, we worked on a complicated story problem involving multiple factors of a number. Students had to solve the problem and write their explanation on a sheet of white paper. I covered up the names of the students, and displayed 5 or 6 with a document camera. Students read the explanations and were asked to name one thing the mathematician did well and one thing that could be done better. I was really impressed by the suggestions that students were giving! They were commenting about the efficacy of different number models, the organization and labeling of work, the thoroughness of the approach, and the need to have both numbers and words in a good explanation. It was some powerful feedback, and I'm excited to see where we'll go with this next. I can tell my students' confidence with math is increasing, and I really think they're becoming much more competent in their writing about math. Next week, I'll be giving them more writing prompts in math to include in their math journals, so we'll have to see how that goes.

To get your own freebie copy of the math quote poster, click here.  My Standards for Mathematical Practice Posters are available in my TpT store, or by clicking on the image below. They're on sale this weekend for $2.25.

Are you teaching Common Core math in your classroom? What challenges, if any, have you been facing this year? I'd love to hear about it in the comment section!

Have a great weekend!

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