Friday, December 19, 2014

Taking Action

A huge component of the IB PYP (International Baccalurate Primary Years Programme) is guiding students to take action. Even better when it is student initiated action. With fourth graders, that was a bit easier, as they have a larger picture already building in their brains. In third grade, it requires a bit more modeling before brilliant brainstorms begin!

For Halloween, my class decided to raise money for Gleaners. This actually came about because a few of them were caught kicking an apple around the hallway one afternoon. That led to a spontaneous conversation about hunger and the fact that so many children right here in our own neighborhoods, don't have enough to eat. After showing a few videos from NoKidHungry as a class, we decided to make things right by raising money when they went Trick-or-Treating.

Then December rolled around. And the BHEA (our teacher's union) put out a call for food for our district food pantry.

Yep. That's what I was thinking, too.

This time, the class collected over 60 boxes of food to donate to kids in need right in our own district. I couldn't help but double dip, either, as we used the boxes collected for our perimeter and area lesson that day.

At any rate, I love seeing how much of an impact even the smallest action projects can make on these third graders. That's why each week in their planner, they have to reflect on one kind thing they did that week. Gotta start somewhere, right?!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Animal Discovery!

One of the content areas we study in third grade is living things.  This includes basic needs, classification, adaptations, and the food chain.  It's a fun unit in itself, as it lends itself well to hands on activities and well, let's face it, most kids love learning about animals.

One of the assessments our district requires is one that makes direct connections to this unit.  The premise is that students "discover" a new animal, and using what they've learned about adaptations, basic needs, and classification,  they place their newly discovered species into a category, providing justification for that decision based on what they've learned.

We decided to take it one step further.  I mean, these "required assessments" should be made as useful as possible, right?

So we created a technology element.  Once the kids have made their discovery, and classified their animal, they bring said animal to life.

They complete a story board organizer that includes the following slides: title, classification, adaptations, food chain, and about the scientist.  They take their animal from paper to screen (we used a program called Pixie this year, but next year, I plan on using the iPads for the entire project and will be using something else.) and ultimately end up with a 45 second movie about this new species.

This required that the kids become fluent in Pixie, but also become familiar with some of the more advanced features.  What I love seeing is when the first few students "get it" and are able to finish their project, how willingly they stepped up to help their classmates finish as well!  Collaboration rocks!

To further expand their audience for this project, we invite families in to share in our discoveries!  My intention is to get each animal video up onto YouTube, and when that's done, I'll like it up here so you can also enjoy their discoveries!

That's one of my favorite things about technology, you can always find a way to add a new dimension to a current experience!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Get Kahoot!

You know how sometimes, taking quizzes or reviews can be rather, well, blah?  Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get the kids to engage in the task.

There is a solution!

And even better, it's a FREE solution!

I found Kahoot! last year, either through my twitter network or at Macul (can't remember at this point!) and took to it like a duck to water.  (Can you tell we're working on figurative language?!) Kahoot! is awesome.  It's like Jeopardy for kids, only more exciting (cue mysterious music!)  It's simple enough to use with kindergarteners, yet, exciting enough to use with 8th graders.

Last year I actually had my fourth graders create their own Kahoot! quizzes that we then took as a class.  They loved being question writers, and I loved watching them pay such close attention to the text to write the best questions.

This year, the class regularly requests Kahoot! whenever we have to take a review or quiz.  Because I am actually 1 to 1 right now iPad wise, it's super easy to indulge that request!  Worry not, though, if you are iPad free, as Kahoot! works on any device that connects to the internet, from iTouch to Netbook.  Even better is that there are hundreds of thousands of pre-made quizzes you can use.  (When I first discovered Kahoot! there were less than 100,000!)

Here's what the class had to say after their first experience with Kahoot! this year -- Tweetwrite: Kahoot!

Don't be scared - this is one of those technology tools that would be a great first step into the world of integrating technology into the classroom, I promise!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Lets! Get! Coding!

Last year, Hour of Code spurred on an incredible journey of coding that lasted for the remainder of the school year.  In fact, it struck me so strongly that this year, coding has become a regular part of our week.  As in, scheduled into our specials schedule, untouchable, dedicated coding time.

Furthering this, is the fact that I have two of the most amazing Thinkers that are helping with this venture.  Leo is now in 9th grade, and I was lucky to spend two years with him in my class.  His younger brother, Barry, was also in my class for a year, and between the two of them, they've taught me more about coding and tech than most adults have taught me!

Working with their schedule, we have set aside time every single Monday from 3:00 - 3:40 for "coding class."  During this time, the third graders are being introduced to coding via and Scratch.

Last year, between January and May, the 4th graders were able to create video games that are playable (some are posted on Tweetwrite!)  This year, while they may be in 3rd grade, my goal is the same - that they create their own video games.

So far?  So good!

We're only seven weeks in, and we're already rocking!

P.S.  In case I haven't mentioned it before, one of my favorite elements of coding is when kids take it off the computer.  What I mean by that is they take the skills they employ while working on code, and apply it elsewhere.  Biggest skill?  Perseverance.  They will move things one pixel at a time until it's correct, but give up in two seconds if a math problem is tough.  After about a month of coding?  The perseverance is much more present!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A New Way to Read

First graders just wrapped up a unit that focused on elements of fairy tales and writing.  Part of their unit was to take a familiar fairy tale and change the setting.  They then created a diorama of the new fairy tale, and wrote their own versions.

It's a really fun unit, and it gets the little ones writing more than they would have thought they could!


You know me.
I always have to have a technology component.

So when one of the teachers invited my Thinkers to be an audience for her first graders, of course, we happily accepted!  As I watched the first graders proudly read their stories to the third graders, I had a brainstorm.

Last year I started a website called For Kids, By Kids, where I've posted student work in a format that anyone in the world can download to read on tablets or kindles.

Why can't the first graders have their stories a part of this, too?

Yep.  That very next week my third graders met once again with the first graders and typed the stories for them.  The first graders recreated their cover illustrations, and voila!  They became published writers!

Check out the first grade stories, as well as bunches of other pieces written For Kids, By Kids!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tech Lab - Take 1

This year, one of my second grade colleagues and I decided to try something new.  We created something called "Tech Lab" and with this, comes a 30 minute "class" once a week where my third graders and her second graders get together to work tech.

Backstory - Two years ago, Ann and I had an awesome experience using an app called ToonTastic to create cartoons with our classes.  I was in fourth grade at the time, and she was in third.  Both of our classes were working their way through an economics unit, so we had the kids work in groups to create cartoons with economic problems.  As this was our first year piloting iPads, what a great way to incorporate technology into the writing process!

Anyway, fast forward to this year.  We were hoping to do similar projects this year, except I was moved down to third grade.  So instead of doing project based experiences with our classes, we created Tech Lab to give the kids weekly learning experiences.

So far we've created our Essential Agreements for when we meet, and we've explored different games and apps on the iPad.  We participated in Dot Day with the ColAR app.  Right now we're in the middle of creating App Review videos.  Each group had two weeks to explore different educational apps on the iPads and pick one that they wanted to review.  They then spent week three completing a written app review.  Next up is to find photos of the app and create videos using Explain Everything.

So far, the highlight of Tech Lab is the reflection piece.  After each meeting we gather back together and talk about the day's activity.  It's been quite insightful, as it's our first experience, to hear what the kids think of how things are going.  And it's going to be quite exciting to see where things go the rest of the year!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Like to Move It!

This week I've found my kids to be rather antsy. The weather is changing, we are between. Halloween and Thanksgiving, whatever excuse fits- they need to move.

I love Go Noodle. Love, love, love it!  It's perfect for when it's too cold to go outside for a four stop obstacle course or a quick recess. The songs are fun, the track and field events are energizing, and on the whole Go Noodle gets kids moving and gives me a bit more focus time afterwards.   And while Go Noodle can't conquer curriculum as much as I would like, it's a great jump start into creative thinking!

Part of our math experience for the week was exploring arrays. Students built array posters, they drew arrays, they created arrays with counters, and, most actively, became arrays.

Using their dry erase boards, we headed to the open area in the Fine Arts Wing to spread out in arrays. With 18 Thinkers in math class, we were easily able to build arrays for 18, 16, 15, 14, 12, 10, 9, 8, 6, and 4.  Yes, we threw in a few prime numbers as well.

Giving the kids the go ahead to actually be crawling around on the floor? Let's just say they have quite the solid understanding of arrays.

This week also brought out the food chain. Literally. We started by playing a food chain game using pre-determined and created food chains. It was a nice introduction. Then we kicked it up a notch. Each Thinker was given a mini poster with the name of an living thing on the top.  Their job was to use the resources we had in the room to create a poster about that living thing.  Basic needs, habitat, and adaptations were required (and even though we hadn't studied adaptations yet, well, they figured it out and gave themselves the front loading for next week!)

Them we got to move. The living things, while the kids thought they were random, we're carefully plotted parts of four food chains. Their job? Figure our how to create those chains. This got them moving and talking and problem solving and reasoning, and most importantly, learning!

There are so many ways to make movement an everyday part of learning, the more ways we use, the better!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Granted! Again!

You may have seen the post earlier this year about the BHS foundation fair, and the request my class made for a second grant.  The first one, Let's See What We Can MaKeyMaKey, brought us Chromebooks and MaKeyMaKeys.  We love them.  As the classes are all going to get Google emails later this year, and they'll even be more useful.  For now, though, it's come in quite handy for gaming and scratching.


Our wish was granted again!

I think this year I'm more excited than the kids, though, as I can not wait to get my hands on a 3D printer!  Even better is that the Chromebooks will be a HUGE support, as the programs I'm currently exploring for 3D printing are web-based and work with Chrome.  That means I'll have eight computers in my room for work time, so technically, teams of three will be able to print in 3D to their hearts content!

The prize patrol this time around was much more of a production, and yes, this time there was even a film crew (albeit the district TV station crew!)  Last year, the kids kept buzzing all day long.  This year, we were all buzzing!  I  mean seriously, how may 3rd grade classrooms have their very own 3D printer?!

This one soon will!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Downside to the Cloud

I love the cloud.  I've had a Dropbox account forever, and continue to find it indispensable.  All my photos are stored on Shutterfly, which makes bragging about my little niece super simple.  The Evernote suite has been indispensable for note taking for the past several years, and when you throw Penultimate into the mix, the ability to type OR write in my cloud-based notebooks?  Awesome.  To add to my wonderfully cloudy sky, I started using Google Drive for everything that I don't have in Dropbox.

I love the cloud.  Or maybe two.

Conferences and Report Cards.
(yes, that's two.)

Because I store all my records, notes, lesson plans, units of study, student work, files for projects and activities, and just about everything else I need to do my job, which includes writing report cards twice a year, and preparing for conferences twice a year...... well, I can't exactly shut off my wi-fi to keep me from being distracted online like I did in the olden days.

Which I desperately need to do.

I spent the entire weekend prepping for conferences.  Or should I say, avoiding prepping for conferences.  It's not that conference prep is all that challenging.  There's a sense of accomplishment in seeing the growth from September until now, and, if growth isn't on the menu, adjusting goals and interventions so that growth is achieved in between now and second quarter.

Getting started, though...... that's what's impossible, thanks, in part, to the cloud.

I spent my weekend playing gin and cribbage with others on Yahoo, window shopping on Zulily, adding to my amazon wish list, building a new Shutterfly book for my niece, researching virtual field trips connected to classroom content, predicting weather patterns, diagnosing my dog's cough, diagnosing my most recent spell of headaches, looking for recipes that I'd actually eat, reading up on favorite movies on IMDB, and shopping for couches.

In other words, since I couldn't turn my internet off, I couldn't do any prepping for conferences.

Darn you cloud computing.......

Guess it's a good thing that I work great under pressure!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Stop, Drop, and Goal

Remember that fire safety tip we all learned as kids?  Stop, drop, and roll?  Considering I remember the lessons quite well, it's safe to say that the learning stuck.  (Or, it could be because we review fire safety every October.  Who knows?)

The idea of stop, drop, and roll is so catchy, the idea of "stop, drop, and goal" popped into my every-active brain.  It's been my motto in dealing with behaviors in the classroom this year.  Third graders (and yes, this applies to my fourth graders, too) often bring quite the drama to otherwise simple situations.  That's meant getting a bit more creative in reaching the desired outcome of calm(er) kids.

Stop, drop, and goal has been surprisingly useful.  It also helps me keep things in perspective myself, as I tend to overreact sometimes (I know, kinda hard to believe!)

Whenever kids come up to talk to me, whether it's to ask a question, or, more likely, tell me a story, I always stop what I'm doing so I can give them my full attention.  Sometimes that involves me telling them that "I want to hear what you have to say, but, I can't fully listen right now, please tell me later." which surprisingly goes over well.  Sometimes I can stop whatever it is I'm doing and give them my full attention.  That focused listening is really important to me, especially in this ever-busy world of go-go-go.

While I never thought about applying that to trouble spots in the classroom, it's become quite the handy reminder.  I've got a few live wires this year that know just the right buttons to push in their peers, which results in tears on a fairly regular basis.  I've found that if I stop what I'm doing completely, drop down to their level, and ask them what they would like to do to remedy the situation, it completely stops the tears.  In fact, I think that it gives the kids a sense of control over a situation that often feels out of control.

While we aren't always able to "fix" things completely, we are able to put things right enough so that the involved students can get back into a more learning ready mindset.

Stop, drop, and goal.  Might just have to make that into a poster for my room!

Sunday, October 26, 2014


That is SO not what I'm talking about.  Get your mind back in the classroom!

I just registered our third grade to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a field trip later this year.  Fingers crossed that our application gets accepted.  Why does it need accepting?  Because the DIA provides FREE (yes, completely free) field trips for those in the tri-county area.  Even better, they also provide FREE transportation.  How cool is that?!  I registered us for a guided tour that will focus on making thinking visible, with an emphasis on the IB Key Concepts.  I'm super excited and hopeful that not only will our application be accepted, but that the kids will have as great of a learning experience as I think they will!  Oh, and if you're not my neighbor, check out your local museums and see what they offer.

However, that trip is quite a ways off.

And as I really like field trips, I may get kind of impatient.

Thankfully, our district owns and operates a fully functioning Farm as well as an incredible Nature Center, both of which all grades K-8 visit multiple times a year.  Yes, this field trip has a cost, but it's worth it to experience hands on learning in multiple content areas at both locations throughout the year.  Our first visit to the Nature Center is coming up in December, where we'll get to play with rocks as we focus on geology.  We go back to the Nature Center in March for Maple Tapping and Pioneer Day.  We go to the Farm twice, too, I just don't remember when third grade goes (fourth grade goes in September and May.)

Aside from the district trips, though..... This year I have discovered the joys of virtual trippin' and I'm loving them!  I can't believe it's taken me this long to bring field trips to my classroom instead of the other way around!  Best of all, they are FREE!  So far my class has been to a Culture Concert in New York, we're going to the White House kitchen this week, as well as on a Polar Bear Excursion.  In November we'll be traveling through eco-systems looking for connections, and learning about marine animal conservation.  All without spending a penny.  All without leaving the classroom.

So, my friends, I know that not all districts have the funds for extra trips, and I know that sometimes we just can't get out for trips whether it's our choice or not.  Well, now you don't need to spend money and you don't need to leave the room.  All you need is an internet connection and a projector (and a computer of course) and your students can travel and learn and explore without walking out the door!

Happy trippin'!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


The past few weeks we've been focusing on the key concepts of change and perspective.  Key concepts are a big part of the IB PYP program, and this year, I've worked hard to weave them into everything we do instead of isolating them in our units of study.

Key Concept Tags - image found HERE
For example, though we're studying ways cultures from the past have influenced culture today (change and perspective!) we've also found examples of change in math as we look for differences in quantities and change numbers into different forms.  Read aloud always offers a great opportunity for perspective, as does class conversations in general.

However.  It's what we've been playing with in writing that was the most exciting connection to our key concepts, at least for me.  We've been working on parts of speech, subjects and predicates, and sentence types as a part building *excellent* sentences.

So.  For this task, the kids were given the prompt: "I opened my closet door and I was shocked when I saw........"  Everyone was given about five minutes to finish the sentence and start building a paragraph.  Once that time was up, pieces were read to the class, who was surprised to hear so many different ways to finish it!  Hello, perspective!  Welcome to writing!

From there, I collected all their papers, and redistributed them so that no one got their own.  They were then given three minutes to continue writing where the original author left off.  After three minutes, the papers were passed again, and the process was repeated until everyone had added to four different papers.  Then, papers were returned to their original author.

Talk about change!  As students re-read their original stories with everyone else's perspective plugged in, they were shocked to see how much the story changed from inception to completion!  Not only that, when we talked about how the original author started the story, and where they would have taken it.... the perspectives of their classmates was completely different than what the authors saw in their heads!  All in all, it was a fun activity for the Thinkers, and a great way to exemplify two key concepts in our everyday curriculum adventures!

Saturday, October 18, 2014


What a day!  I'm SO not a morning person, especially on the weekends.  After a week of non-stop "on" I need the weekend to unwind and recharge.

Connecting and chatting and oh yeah, getting gifts!
Not this weekend.

I was one of the, oh, say, around 1700+ educators around the country that were up and at 'em early for an all day workshop, also known as a teacher's playground, also known as EdCamp.  Seems like a huge number for one day, doesn't it?  That's cause there were 17 different EdCamps happening today.  Today.  Might have even been 18, I don't remember.

Bottom line is that once again, educators gave up a Saturday to spend time learning and sharing and connecting and growing in our profession.  Profession.  Like professionals.  But that's another post.

Lunch included?  Thanks for that bonus treat!
Anyway.  Today I was able to connect with new friends and reconnect with old.  I was able to share my expertise in some areas, and I learned a ton from others as they shared their knowledge.  What was really neat is that in the past, all the EdCamp sessions I've facilitated (I'm almost embarrassed to admit that today's EdCamp was my eighth...) were more I talk, people interrupt with welcome questions, and we go back and forth with me sharing, they questioning, and everyone learning.

This time around one of the session I facilitated was a discussion session.  It was so much fun to facilitate!  The topic was homework, and those in the session included a current high school student all the way up to college professors and administrators.  It was a lively, interactive, engaging conversation among professionals, and I felt so refreshed when it was over!

Discussing homework.... great conversation!
I could keep talking for pages, but that could get a bit, well, eh.  Instead, I'm gonna give you the link to the session board.  It was great having it online, as you could quickly check from your devices at any time, without having to go back to the session board.  Even better, though, is that there are linked google docs for each session, so even if you weren't there, you can still check out all the sessions via the notes people have shared!

And of course, a HUGE thank you to all those who organized this awesome event at OU, and to all my fellow facilitators, as none of this would happen without all of the above!

Have fun reading, and if you happen to be at the next EdCamps in the area, introduce yourself!  I love meeting my colleagues across the globe!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Brought to You by the Letter S...

... and the Number 3

It's a lovely Sunday evening.  The sky was blue all day, and despite the rather cold temps, the sky was shining proudly.  Now I sit here and watch the sunset as I reflect on this past week.  I mean, I ask my students to reflect all. the. time.  I guess I should set the example, too?

Anyway.  This Sunday Summary is brought to you by the letter S, and the number 3.  S?  3?  Please tell me you've seen Sesame Street?!?

On to the summaries.....

First S = Support. I realized this week how lucky I am to be a part of a very supportive union.  All the political commercials on TV right now make me sick to my stomach.  I just can't handle the blatantly misleading information that permeates the screen these days.  Thanks to the support of the Michigan Education Association, along with my district union, the BHEA, I know where my votes will be going.  I leaned on my union for support in the past, and appreciate that I have them to lean into.  I'm grateful they sent a simple postcard with their recommendations as to who would be best for Michigan.  It's going to make a very stressful election day a whole lot easier!

Second S = Spontaneity.  Have you ever had one of those times where someone asks a "thought grenade" (thank you Nick Allen) during a lesson?  The best thought grenades this week were thanks to our Really Good Stuff calendar.  It has facts listed for each day of the month, along with any other useful, month-long factoids.  And currently on my board, is a math problem derived from one of the facts from this week.  Best part?  These spontaneous side-tracks often lead to mini-inquires into the topic of the moment!  For example, do you know how many times a hummingbird's heart beats in a minute?  In an hour?  In a week?  My Thinkers do!

Third S = Sleep.  I finally, FINALLY got two really good nights of sleep this week.  My best friend's husband exists happily on 5 hours a night.  So does another friend.  Not me.  I'm not that lucky.  I need a solid 8 each night.  Except, that never seems to happen during the beginning of the school year.  I guess we're no longer in the beginning of the school year?  Whatever it was, I function SO much better when I get enough sleep!  That, and I actually am able to stay awake long enough to get schoolwork done when I get home from school!

Until next time..... Here's one more S.......

Monday, October 6, 2014

BHS Foundation Fun!

Last year, I applied for a grant through the Bloomfield Hills Schools Foundation.  It was quite thrilling to be awarded the funds to purchase four Chromebooks and four MaKeyMaKeys.  Below you can see a quick five minute video of how they were incorporated into the classroom.

Tonight, the BHS Foundation hosted a Fair, held at the Bowers School Farm, so that the BHS Foundation board, and the community of donors could see where their funds went.  While I don't mind presenting, this time around?  I figured it would be better to call in the experts!

Eight of my Thinkers from last year came out for the evening, along with our Coding teacher (now a 9th grader) to share their experience with coding and the MaKey MaKey with the community.  They.  Were.  WONDERFUL!  I was so proud of them!

When you have the kids in your room for a whole year, you know how awesome they are there.  When you take the same kids and put them center stage in public..... things can go either way.  Not with these Thinkers.  They rose to the occasion, and did a fantastic job sharing the gift of our grant at the Fair.

It was a pretty cool feeling, watching these ten year olds present to their Superintendent, school board members, and Foundation board members.  They may be only ten but they are already pros!

This year, my class (yes, they helped!) is applying for another Bloomfield Hills Schools Foundation grant.  Only this time..... we're shooting for the moon!  I am hoping to be awarded the funds to purchase a 3-D printer for my classroom.  You can check out that video on the Bloomfield Hills Schools Foundation page (and please like it while you're there, that counts as a vote!)

I am SO grateful to the Foundation for the opportunity to apply for grants.  We all know that education funding is tight, and too much spending comes out of teacher's own pockets.  It's through organizations and foundations like this that we get the bits of help that can make more magic happen!

If you don't have Facebook, here's what we're hoping to get this year.
Please tell your friends to vote for it on the Bloomfield Hills Schools Foundation page!