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!

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