Saturday, December 28, 2013

Character Study

We are (supposed to be) using Oakland Schools Units of Study for Reading and Writing this year.  The idea behind said units is fantastic - they are aligned with common core, provide anchor charts and step by step lessons.  They go into minute details of what should be included, and how to deliver the instruction.

That's all the detail I'm going to go into about the units.  You can read into it as much or little as you'd like!

What I am going to share is the Character Study unit we did.  I really, really enjoyed this unit, and so did the Thinkers.

Working in partners, the kids read different books that had a strong lead character.  They set their page schedule in their work booklet, and used the mini lessons to learn more about characters and character development.  One thing was missing from the unit, though, and that was a culminating project.

Hence, the "wanted" posters were born.

Now, ideally, these posters were going to be blabberized, and then used as an AR trigger image so that anyone could "hear" the characters "speak" but alas, the flu took me, and we lost time.  Maybe next year.  The posters still turned out really neat, though!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hour Of Code

Teaching our 2nd grade buddies!
Coding.  Computer programming.  Not something you'd think that elementary aged kids could do.  If that's the case, you'd be wrong.

My class participated in something called Hour of Code, sponsored by Computer Science Education Week.  What started out as something just my class was doing, happily spread to the other fourth grades.  And, even more exciting, once my class completed their "training hour" we collaborated with our second grade buddies so THEY also experienced hour of code.  Second graders!

Teamwork and patience were needed.
But it doesn't stop there, no, it kept spreading, and we ended up collaborating with our Kindergarten buddies too, who had a blast telling the computer what to do during their coding time!  That was one of my favorite things about the Hour of Code - how, once my class started, it organically spread where it needed to go.

Exploring Scratch.
Coding.  Basically it is telling the computer what to do.  In the case of the tutorials set up for this experience, the kids started with something familiar - Angry Birds - and were able to manipulate several levels of code there.  The tutorials (which are still up, by the way!) walked kids from Kindergarten through High School through the basics of coding.  It was so neat seeing how some of my kids really, really clicked (pun intended!) with the coding concept, and went on to try other tutorials, and taught each other the more complicated programs, such as scratch, which we'll be using later in the year (hopefully!) when we play with the MaKey MaKey….. but that is a whole different post!

Anyway, I highly encourage you to take an hour out of your week, sit down with your class (we started whole class before moving to individual laptops) and play around with coding.  This is one of those skills that I don't think we realize how much it will be used in the future!
A mash-up of Vines taken during our class coding experience!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Buddy Up!

My school encourages each classroom to have a "buddy room" in the building which with to do projects.  I've spent the last five or so years working with the same kindergarten class, and as the years have progressed, we've gotten quite strategic at our projects, with the kids (both my 4th graders and her kinders) having a blast as they get to know their buddy!

We try to do something connected to the month, or if that isn't feasible, we make connections to our current unit of study for PYP (Primary Years Programme.)  One of my favorite projects that we do is a buddy book, where the 4th graders and kindergarteners look for things that they have in common, and then write (4th graders) and illustrate (kinders) a book together.

This year, in November, instead of doing the usual Thanksgiving project, we added a technology twist!  The Kindergarten room has four iPads, my class has four iPads, and we were able to borrow eight additional iPads from other classrooms.  The kids had to illustrate something they are thankful for using the special paper from International Dot Day.  From there, they got to bring their "dot" to life using Augmented Reality!  It was SO cool!
One benefit of these projects is that as the year progresses, the kinders get more comfortable with talking, and the fourth graders get more comfortable with asking questions, and learning how to help the little ones learn how to have conversations.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gridding the Classroom - Part 2: Geography

My student photographer actually
got a decent shot of me!

The start of our map.

As a part of our mathematical morning that fated day after Halloween, we extended our math play into geography, which was a natural connection to our PYP unit - Where We Are in Place and Time.

We compared the grid lines on our floor to the longitude and latitude lines on a globe an map.  From there, we used coordinate pairs to determine where to add features on our map - including natural and human characteristics.
Students used chalk to add features - buildings, rivers, etc.
As we drew, and our map grew, we transferred that information to a grid map on the Promethean board which made it simpler to print out maps for those that were absent. (the rest of the Thinkers drew it on graph paper.)

The last thing we did that day was travel from location to location on the map.  Simple, right?  Nope. Not when you're using directions (N-S-W-E) and distance (1 block, 2 blocks, etc)  Definitely not simple, but definitely, DEFINITELY fun!

One of the best tools we have!

A student map in progress - our dry erase
boards double as writing surfaces!

Adding roads was a team effort!

A completed map!

Moving from place to place.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Gridding the Classroom Part 1

They walked in and this is what they saw.
The looks on their faces were priceless!
The day after Halloween in an Elementary school is never a fun one.  The kids are too fidgety, too tired, too "hungover" from all the sugar and the likely late night trick-or-treating.  This year, instead of "fighting" it, I went with it. 

We turned the classroom into a giant grid, and spent the entire morning "playing" math.  And geography.  And reading.  And even a little writing.  It was, as some of the kids said, "the best math day ever!"

Let's see…. we covered columns and rows, coordinate pairs, reading a grid map, creating a map (post for another day!) arrays, median, mode, range, directions, and distances.  I try to make movement a regular part of the day, though it doesn't always happen.  This time, though, the physical movement helped make a lot more sense of the data concepts that seem so arbitrary on paper!

Of course we had to start the day playing…. 

Then the kids walked around a bit, before
we moved into columns and rows - and moved
in each!

Moving like rows…..

Setting up for graphing - favorite Halloween Candy!

Flipping the boards to find the median.
We also used the grid to sort geometric figures
 by number of sides.

Then, of course, we had to calculate how
big the grid was in the first place!
Students came up with a variety of ways
to show how they solved it.
This was a great way to practice the "over up" of
coordinate pairs.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


As part of our PYP unit in How the World Works, the Thinkers read biographies of inventors.  I'm very specific in that they must be an inventor or innovator, and if I am organized enough (which happens more and more!) I go to the public library ahead of time and pull specific biographies for the kids to pick from.

From there, after the biographies are read, the class writes a report on the inventor/innovator they read about.  If you ask me, it gets kind of dull, so every year, I try to find something to spice it up a bit.  This year?  This year we hit the jackpot!

After the kids finished typing their report, we headed to the computer lab.  Their first task was to find a clear picture of the inventor/innovator they studied.  Once that was done, they headed to the Tagxedo site and converted their report into a picture of their inventor/innovator!  It was way cool and added an element of fun to an otherwise "eh" assignment.  The class was so proud of their work!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tween Tribune

If you're not familiar with this incredible resource, you need to be.  Like, now.  Go.  Go check it out, then come back.  I'll wait.  TWEEN TRIBUNE

Ok, got that out of your system?  Don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to play with it.

Anyway, I've been using this resource for a few years, but it's only in the past few years that they made it more elementary friendly.  In an effort to introduce current events to my fourth graders, without spending the money on Time for Kids or Scholastic, both of which are fantastic resources (but cost money) we use Tween Tribune Jr (TTK-4) instead.  The Thinkers spend time every few weeks scouring the site for relevant articles that are of interest.  Relevant meaning articles in which their is either a problem to be solved, or multiple perspectives to the story.  We do this in preparation for the PYP Exhibition, and it gets the kids excited about reading the news.

Now, that last part?  Reading the news?  Could be seen as scary.  Especially in this day and age.  With Tween Tribune, there is NO worry!  They scour the country papers looking for age appropriate topics for kids.  They've even split it up into multiple categories, complete with reading levels and comprehension quizzes! Currently, I haven't given my kids user names, so they're not experience the full effect of this incredible site, but yes, you can sign your kids up with user names, so they can take quizzes and respond to posts (all which you approve, first!) and see what others are saying about the same articles.

(Tween Tribune is not paying me or compensating me in any way for this post.)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Read. Aloud. A lot!

Like many elementary teachers, I read aloud to my class on a daily basis.  Sometimes, if they're persistent enough, and I'm feeling giving, I'll even read a little extra.  This request usually happens when I end the day's chapters on a cliff hanger.

Which I do.  A lot.  Hey, it's fun!

Anyway, one of the things that was a tug-of-war decision for me was using our read aloud as instructional, or using it for pure enjoyment.  I know that there are schools of thought that argue for each side, and both are very valid.  I've found that we do snack time during read aloud, giving the kids a few minutes to chat at the beginning before I start reading.

Once I start reading?  They're usually hooked. X Our Daily 5 CAFE board is right by my read aloud chair, which makes a great place for modeling some of the strategies that are on the board.  This helps with instruction in a very organic, natural way.  Most, if not all of our read alouds happen this way - me reading, using the ever-growing board of strategies, and the kids munching away until a cliff hanger leaves them slack jawed.

Something I started this year, though, is a project or activity AFTER read aloud.  This is a great place to bring in some of the Thinking Routines that we use in the district- my favorite for read aloud being chalk talk.

In this case, prior to our reading unit on character study, we did a mini character study using our read aloud and a chalk talk.  The kids went from poster to poster "talking" with their "chalk."  We did this a few times with the main characters in the story.  Then each group was given a poster to analyze, and they had to create a character sketch of just that character. I think it was kind of fun, and so did the kids!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spelling. S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G.

This week kicks off our first spelling list of the year.  Oh joy.
(I'm a terrible speller who relies on spell check and an extensive knowledge of homophones!)

Spelling with the Thinkers is a little bit different than most have seen, and though I have made small adjustments nearly every year, the gist is the same, and it's very, very effective.

Did I mention that there are 24 Thinkers this year?  Which means I'll have 24 different spelling lists?  Yep, and it's still an extremely effective way to deliver spelling instruction.  Even though you likely are thinking at this moment that I am nuts.  (Which I am, but that's a different story, and after all, aren't all teachers a little nuts?!)

So, the program is simple.  It's not exactly a program, actually.  It's more of a delivery method.  It actually works with just about any spelling program your district or school might be using.

Here's the basics.....

1.  Start by collecting your students spelling errors.  By this I mean, read everything they write.  Yes, even their math work.

Pink Spelling paper.  Next year it might be blue!
2.  Keep a list of spelling errors for each of them.  (I call this my Pink Spelling Paper, though it's really card stock!  It's pink cause that's the color we had in the copy room at the time!  Double sided, this pink page holds 60 spelling words.  Some kids have one that lasts all year, others go through multiple pink pages.)

3.  Pre-test.  Yes, pre-test.  Use whatever program you have (I use Evan-Moor) and give the kids a pre-test.  The words they know, why bother testing them again?

4.  Whatever words the kids get wrong on the pre-test, well, those go on their list for the week.  The rest of their list?  That gets filled up with words from their individual lists, you know, the ones that you've been keeping throughout the week?

5.  Have the kids write down their spelling lists - I have it set up so they do so on the back of their pre-test. They then copy the words into their planners for studying at home, and I keep the pre-test for use when they partner up to give each other their actual test.

Yes, those are Care Bears.  It's how I
tell the menus apart!
6.  During word study, or for homework, or however you do it, the kids are to learn those words.  Remember, 24 kids, 24 lists.  I have used a variety of spelling menus in the past, as well as spelling tic-tac-toe.  Anything but weekly spelling sentences, cause those get so tedious (for the kids and for me) week after week!

7.  Come test day, partner the kids up.  They trade papers and give each other their spelling tests.  IMPORTANT:  This needs to be modeled and practiced!  Take the time at the start (the first three weeks or so) and it will pay off in the end!

8.  Any words wrong on their spelling test?  Back on the list it goes!  Yes, this means that the word may show up multiple weeks in a row.  Then again, isn't the point of spelling tests to learn words for use every day, not just for the test?  I thought so.

It sounds like a lot, but really, it is only slightly more work than the average spelling program, and the payoff is much, much, stronger.  Cause kids are not only learning the spelling pattern (which is what the pre-test is for) they are also practicing the words THEY need to learn, especially cause they're already using them!

If this sounds like something you might want to try, you can check out the full details of my Spelling Differentiation delivery on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Yes, this is a shameless plug.  You know you'd do the same thing if you could! (And I encourage you to do so!)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Geometry Fun

The first math unit of the year is a geometry unit.  This unit tends to be a bit challenging for the kids, and I do my best to make it as engaging and relatable as possible.

For example.....

To learn about circles, we took chalk outside with the challenge to draw a "perfect circle" before breaking out the compasses and creating all sorts of concentric circles and designs!

To review and learn about geometric terms, we created posters and turned them into an e-book.  One of our math workshop rotations was to read the e-book on Kindle, and write quiz questions that others can answer by reading our e-book.

Check out our e-book: Geometry on Scribble Press

To add a creative twist to the whole polygon practice, we designed maps of whatever our imagination wanted - candy stores, dream bedrooms, dream houses, tree houses, amusement parks - anything!  The catch?  We had to use at least five different polygons!  To wrap up that project, the kids labeled each element on their map with the correct geometric term.

Still to come?  Geoboards and riddles for sure.  Play dough is a maybe. And who knows what else the 2am brainstorms will bring!?!