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!
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