Currently 2015!

I can't believe it is almost 2015! I think it always seems like a year has gone by quickly, but I seriously feel like life has hit fast forward since I had a baby. It's all just flying by! Linking up with Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade for Currently.


Listening: I used to think that the best sound in the world was a sleeping baby, but now I think it is the sound of my husband cleaning the kitchen while the baby sleeps. Now this is vacation.

Loving: My quiet night at home with the family for New Year's Eve. I was out and about in Boston this afternoon taking my son to a check up at the Boston Children's Hospital (they are AMAZING) and I was seriously amazed at how packed it was already. I am happy to sit at home quietly with my hubby and son and enjoy a little family time.

Thinking: I can't believe I still have a half a week of vacation! I don't go back until Monday. This two whole weeks off has been fantastic. My house is clean, relatively organized, and I have spent so much time with my family. I have really had a fantastic vacation.

Wanting: A big bowl of ice cream! I am not going to lie, this is going to become a reality when I finish blogging.... :)

Needing: To pack up the Christmas decorations! The in-laws are coming over for Christmas tomorrow, so I felt obligated to leave them up until after that. They live pretty far away in the middle of nowhere Maine, so we usually don't see them on the actual holiday. Paired with the unpredictable weather they deal with (I always thought we got a lot of snow in Massachusetts!) and my hubby's strange work schedule, it's a challenge to find the time to get together. They are totally coming down as soon as the shin-dig is over tomorrow.

Yes: I have to be better about following a budget. I have to admit, I am a total spendaholic. My husband was watching a comedian once that said that men and women are fundamentally different because a woman will spend $2 on a $5 item she doesn't need just because it's on sale, and a man will spend $5 on a $2 item because he needs it and doesn't want to shop around. So true! I am going to tell you my dirty secret.... when my husband and I bought our current house, he had to convert a guest bedroom into a closet for all my clothes and shoes.  Seriously- I had a closet designer put together a layout for wall to wall shelving, and my husband installed it all. It's kind of amazing, actually. Now that I have a little one, I over shop for him, too. I have to get better about it!
Maybe: I want to improve my running distance. Maybe a half marathon in 2015??
I Wish: I would LOVE to go on a vacation. I am such a travel bug, and we haven't gone on a big trip in a year and a half! We have done a few weeks at the beach, but that is close and something we do every year. We usually go on a big trip every year, but we couldn't when I was pregnant and now my little one is too small to fly. Maybe this summer? If not, definitely next year!

Off to watch the ball drop... Happy New Year everyone!

SLANTbox



You guys, I got totally lucky with a fanastic SLANTbox exchange partner! Ashley over at The Primary Source was seriously incredible.  She got me some incredible stuff!

The anticipation started right off the bat with this ridiculous cute tissue paper. I can't even- it's too cute!


Why didn't I have this for all my holiday wrapping? Too adorable. But the real fun was inside....


The box of goodies contained...

12 golden file folders
11 yummy Reese's
10 sticky note pads
9 Jamberry nail wraps
8 hair ties
7 spots to plan
6 washi tapes
5 glitter nail files
4 lip glosses
3 frixion gel pens
2 nail polishes
1 adorable tumbler

I can't wait to start using all my new goodies! Thanks, Ashley. :)







Calendar time in the upper grades


Calendar time is well known among the younger grade teachers. It's a time tested tradition- the kiddos gather at the carpet,  talk about the date, days of the week, months, weather, etc. It's a great opportunity to focus the kids and get them ready for their day. By the upper grades, the kids are past the point where they would benefit from this kind of calendar time. They know the days of the week and months of the year, so it is just no longer needed. As an upper grade teacher, though, I know that my kiddos still need a focus activity at the beginning of the day. They need to do something to get them into "learning mode" - especially during the crazy days leading up to Christmas vacation! As I was thinking about this, I was also receiving training on the PARCC test, which my district will be taking this year. That's right- straight up taking the test. Not optional, not piloting, not "testing it out". It counts for us. I noticed that the fifth grade math practice test is mainly fractions. This got my gears turning- I decided to link fraction practice with my new morning focus activity- calendar time!




Don't mind the messy writing- I let a kiddo fill it in each morning!

Every afternoon before we leave, I have a student post the date for the next day using this format:

Today is (date). 
It is the number day of school out of 180.

When the kiddos come in each morning, they check out the morning message and make a fraction. Easy enough, right? Then, they simplify the fraction. After that, they convert it into a decimal (rounded to the nearest hundredth because we have not yet learned about repeating decimals). Then, they convert it into a percentage as a bit of enrichment. After that, they figure out how many days are left of school and repeat.

I love this for so many reasons. First, it reinforces core concepts. The kids are expressing their understanding of fractions by creating a fraction using the numbers given. They are simplifying the fractions (though not always successfully, especially with large or uncommon numbers). Converting the fraction to a decimal reinforces decimal/fraction relationship knowledge, and also helps to reinforce the idea of the fraction bar representing division. The percentage is a bit of enrichment for the kiddos as it is a sixth grade concept. 

Another reason I love this is because it gives every student a place to be successful. The struggling kiddos can make the fractions using the numbers given and successfully compute the days remaining with subtraction. They can also feel successful as they make the second fraction with the number they found by subtracting. Typical students can simplify most of the fractions, and convert most of the fractions to decimals. Advanced students can convert the more difficult fractions to decimals and then convert those to percentages. 

After the kiddos have the chance to complete the work, we talk about it for a few minutes during "calendar time." I go over the math, and then let one student copy over the numbers to the board. After that, we've settled in and are ready to tackle our day.

This could be applied at other levels, as well. Sixth and seventh grade students could create a ratio. All upper elementary students could write equations using variables to show how to calculate the numbers of days remaining. I'm sure that there are even applications at the high school level as  "do now" type of activity. 

Do you use calendar time in your upper elementary classroom? If so, I'd love to hear about it!


Books Talks




If your darling little students are anything like mine, they have a really hard time making book choices. I use Classroom Organizer (a digital library tracker- TOTALLY love it- check out my review of it here!) so I can easily see what books are checked out to what students, and for how long. Too often, a student has no book checked out or a history of books being checked out for just a couple days. We all know that most students don't read entire books in just a couple days (although there are a few out there that do!), so it leads me to believe that they are starting books and giving up on them. The ones with nothing checked out are even more troubling! You'd think my library looked like this:



Seriously. Isn't it frustrating when they say "I can't find anything to read" as they stand in your library full of hundreds of books? Well, a few things have worked for my fifth graders. First, for those kids who just don't have a book checked out, it's all about hyping something up. Make it cool. How do you make it cool? Well, for this age, just make it out to be the book that all fifth graders will want to read. I do this with a book talk for my class. I gather up some books from my library, put them in a basket, and call my kids down to the carpet. Before I chose the books to bring down to the library, I make sure I know the "hook" for each one. What will get them psyched for it? Once I've got them down on the carpet, I talk about the books one by one. I read the blurb on the back or a few pages from the first chapter. I talk it up, and ask for students to volunteer their thoughts about it. After I do this for 5 or 6 books, and then leave them up at the front of the classroom to be checked out. Every time, without fail, the basket is empty by the end of the day. Win! I start book talks right when we get back to school. Now that my kids are used to the routine, I have them signed up to give book talks to the class. I still talk about one or two books, but I have a few students talk about a book they recently read, too! I ask them to make sure that it is a book that is available from our library, and they do have to hand in a few sentences ahead of time to show that they are prepared. Here are the guideline I give them:
  • Make sure you pick a book that is REALLY good. One you want to rave about!
  • Prepare ahead of time! Know what you are going to say. Limit yourself to 1 - 2 minutes of talking.
  • Talk about the reasons you liked the book. How did it make you feel? What were you thinking? What scenes or characters were memorable? 
  • Don't give away the whole story!
I make sure that all the students will get a chance to do a book talk over the course of the term by asking them to sign up ahead of time. This also gives them plenty of time to prepare!

So, what about the kids that just don't know what to read now? Maybe they have one book that they absolutely loved, but can't find anything else like it. I am loving the website What Should I Read Next for kids like this!

It's so easy to use- and so far the results have been great. Ask your student what was the last book that they read that they really enjoyed. Then, go to the website and type in the name of the book.


Hit "enter" and watch the results line up!


In this case, the student ended up reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and she really enjoyed it. The only caveat with this comes with students who are stuck in a genre rut. You know- our friends who exclusively read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. These books are great for reluctant readers, but getting them to branch out into other types of books is the ultimate challenge! 

So, what works for these types of readers in your classroom?




Sparking Student Motivation: Baseball Review Game



Linking up with one of my favorite bloggers, Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching, for Spark Student Motivation Saturday.


Planning lessons to engage and motivate my kiddos is one of my favorite things to do. Seriously! Research shows that they are more likely to learn when they are engaged- we all know that. Beyond that, I just enjoy my day a lot more when we get to have fun! If the kids are happy, they are more likely to participate and listen. Motivation is especially important on test review day. Fifth grade is the first year of middle school in my district, so the kids are getting used to a higher level of independence. A great motivational and engaging review day activity is just what they need. Higher engagement and interest means better recall, which means better test scores. Win for everyone! So, what do I do? We play baseball!


To start, I project this image on my whiteboard. The kids are broken up into random groups, and each group is given a different color dry erase marker.  I have a practice test, a bucket of numbers, and a bucket of "runs." This will make sense soon, I promise.

Each group comes up and chooses a number from the bucket. Whatever number they get is the problem we will be working on from the practice test.


The group works together to get an answer. Everyone has to talk with their group, even if they are unsure. This lets the kids that really understand the topic help those who don't understand as well. While they are working, all the other groups are trying to solve it, too. If the group that is "up to bat" gets it wrong, it goes to the next group with no additional time to work. You have to be ready with your answer when the question comes to you! This keeps them all working and on task because they never know when they will have the opportunity to score another point. Once everyone is ready, the group answers. If they get it right, they get to choose from the "run" bucket.


 The choices are:


  • Single - move one base
  • Double - move two bases
  • Triple- move three bases
  • Homerun- score!
  • Steal- steal the next base if you are already on base. If you were out last time, you can't steal!
  • Out - your player is off the diamond and back to the dugout. 
 Here's where the diamond comes in. The designated hitter from the group draws their player on the correct base, depending on what they choose. This is totally their favorite part.


Since there are so many teams playing, it can look like the bases are loaded pretty easily. My kids that LOVE sports debated this with me for a while, because they thought they should get 3 points if they got a homerun. However, if the bases are loaded with other teams, I don't think that counts. :)



Every time a player reaches home, the scorekeeper records one point in the scoreboard. The game gets really exciting near the end, because depending on what a group draws they could win it all or lose it all in just one turn. 

So, there it is! Test review with baseball. This game is a great way to help kids work collaboratively, ensure engagement, and practice for an upcoming test. I'm a big fan! What do you do to spark student motivation?


December Currently

Linking up with Farley at Oh Boy 4th Grade for the December Currently!


Listening:
The Newsroom is SO good. I love this show! I'm super bummed that it is in it's final season. If you haven't checked it out, you should. It's smart, funny, and current. Love it.

Loving:
Christmas decorations everywhere! I love it. I am extra festive this year, maybe it is because its my son's first Christmas? I'm not sure- but I LOVE it all. The music, the lights, the decorations, the movies, you name it. LOVE.

Thinking:
The next three weeks are going to be tough. You guys all know what I'm talking about- the kids are amped up, the days are short, and we are in the thick of the curriculum. It's not going to be pretty.


Wanting:
A vacation! I desperately, desperately want a vacation. My district (and most other ones in my state) did not have the week off for Thanksgiving. We only got 2 days- Thursday and Friday. So, needless to say, I'm ready for the break! 18 days until 2 glorious weeks of peace, quiet, and snuggling with my little guy. I can't wait!

Needing:
Seriously- I can't WAIT for the TpT sale! I have my wishlist full of things that I want to buy, and I am ready to fill my cart and check out. I'm practically counting the minutes until the sale starts. WOO! My store is participating, too. Don't forget- the code is TPTCYBER.

Giving:
It's the holidays, and I feel like giving. If you would like to enter to win a free copy of my newest TpT product, Probe Notebooks. To enter, make sure you follow me on bloglovin' and TPT and then comment below. I will use a random number generator to select a winner! In the meantime, check out my blog post about how I use them in the classroom.


Happy December!




Addressing the Common Core Research Standards

Hi friends! I've been thinking a lot lately about the implementation of Common Core, specifically in the ELA subject area. I have been looking closely at my teaching, and analyzing the activities I engage in with my students. Are they meeting their needs while also addressing the standards? Are they developmentally appropriate but also challenging? Are they differentiated to engage all students with rigor without producing rigor mortis? Honestly, I'm not sure, and I think this internal conversation is one that will be ongoing throughout my career as different students come through my classroom and as the standards evolve and change. For now, though, I have to share something I think really works!

Probes


My students have been working in PROBE notebooks this year to meet the research component of the CCSS. I got the idea from a colleague who has been working in PROBE notebooks for years. They are homework projects which are due every two weeks. The premise is simple- they receive a topic to briefly research, and complete a short report on the topic following a basic template in a composition notebook. They must write a fact page (in their own words), draw a border that is relevant to the topic, include 4 illustrations with captions, and sum it up with a sentence or two stating what they have learned.  The kids love it because it involves coloring and decorating, parents love it because it is a predictable assignment, and I love it because I have the opportunity to work with students on their research and report writing skills regularly. As a bonus, the students have a composition notebook full of their writing and they can reflect on at the end of the year. It is so fantastic to see the kids recognize their own growth!



Best of all, they address the research standards, which will teach the students skills that will serve them through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. From the CCSS standards:


To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and 
extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum. In like fashion, research and media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than treated in a separate section.
-Common Core ELA Standards

 This addresses the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing:

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating
understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each
source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

As well as the CCSS W.7 and W.8 for 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.



I put together a PROBE Notebook activity bundle over the past few weeks. It's the complete one-stop shop that you need to set up and start using PROBEs in your classroom! The file contains a a rubric, completion checklist for students, exemplars, research graphic organizer to prevent plagiarism, a poster for your classroom, a sample schedule, and an editable schedule. Colorful and blackline versions are included.




The research notes is my favorite part, I must admit. My fifth graders struggle to avoid plagiarism. I created this document to help them to understand how to combine sources and put things in their own words. The students first identify the question that they are going to answer with their research. I've identified the topic for them, but they must narrow it down a bit. For instance, I chose "The First Thanksgiving" for our last PROBE, but the students needed to decide what aspect of the First Thanksgiving they would be writing about. Then, they complete the research. I ask that they read the information FIRST, then turn away from the computer to take notes. They write down what the big take away was from this site, then go back to the source to add dates, locations, or other info they couldn't remember. Of course, they can use the same source more than once. This ensures that it will be in their own words and note a direct copy from the text. The sample completed research notes page below is from a special education student I scribe for. We completed it together.


The research question will also help students to develop a topic sentence, as they have already focused their research on a specific area. Having the source listed on the graphic organizer also helps students to create their bibliography easily when they are finished! 

I'm totally in love with PROBE notebooks. I used them last year and really enjoyed seeing the student growth throughout the year. This year, I am even happier to be using the PROBEs as we will be taking the PARCC assessment which includes a written research component. Completing PROBEs with my kiddos will prepare them to meet the standard!

So check it out... as a flash freebie! The product will be going back to paid shortly, so grab it for free while you can. If you do download it, please consider rating it.







Plickers

Most of you know what a crazy busy year I have had. I had a baby, bought a fixer-upper to renovate, and my husband got a promotion that requires him to work longer hours. I am always looking for something to help me organize or track information in some way. Well, friends, enter Plickers.



I'm a technology addict, so I admittedly love a good bit of ed-tech in my classroom. Sometimes other teachers in my school aren't as interested in things I'm using because the technology is hard to manage. I've got to say, though, this ed-tech is SIMPLE and 100% free. It's a student response system that uses an app on your smartphone and some free printable response cards. Optionally, you can display the question via a projector to a screen or smartboard.

To use plickers, you have to enter questions into your library on their website. You can select a "correct" answer or just enter the responses to poll the students.


The screenshot above is from my account's "library" where I can assign the questions to my class. Once it is assigned, I can easily access it from the app. Select the class name, and click on the question you would like to ask. The question can be displayed on the projector as the class responds, as well.



Whatever question you select from the mobile app will show in the "live view" section of the website when you log in. More on that in a minute.

The standard student response cards are the size of half a sheet of paper, but larger ones are available. Each card displays the student number (this card is number 1) and has 4 choices for responses: A, B, C, D.  The kiddos select their answer and hold the card with that letter facing up. In the card above, the answer being selected is "B."  The letters are itty bitty and in a light font to ensure that kiddos can't copy each others answers, and that kids are not afraid to answer honestly. No one will know if they don't get it correct. 

To record the responses, you open the app from your phone. Have the kiddos hold up their cards and scan the room with your phone. No need to walk around the room and scan them all up close- if you can see if, it will pick it up within a reasonable distance. In my classroom, which is fairly large, I am fine to stand at my spot and scan the room with the app. Once I start scanning, the student names highlight showing they have responded. If you are showing the liveview on the projector from the website, it shows what students have responded with a checkmark (without confirming their answer or if it was correct). I LOVE this because the kids can be sure that their answer was recorded! You can also optionally have their answers shown on the liveview, but that wasn't something I thought I'd use.


The app (screenshot above) also shows me which students have responded by highlighting them. It also shows the student response graph as we are working in real time. If a student responds correctly their name is highlighted in green, but if they respond incorrectly it is highlighted in red. This allows me to wander around the room and ask students to check their answers. It also begins building the student response graph in real time! You can see the breakdown of student responses as they come in.



After the students are finished responding, you can view the completed graph in the "reports" section of your online account. This is the graph of the student responses after I asked my kiddos if they liked plickers. I told them to be honest because we could stop using them if they weren't fans. This is just after one use, but so far the plickers are a win!


I printed the plickers on cardstock and have the kiddos keep them on their desks while they work. I have had a couple of my more organizationally challenged friends misplace them, and I think I am going to have the kids glue them inside their notebooks. You can't lose them, that way!

I've found a few different benefits to using these in my classroom. I often give quick checks to my students to check their progress. I like the immediate feedback that a 2 - 3 question assessment gives at the end of a lesson, or the beginning of the next day. I don't like to use these for grades, necessarily, but I do like to record progress. The plickers help me to see how the kiddos are doing and record their answers quickly without having to grade and record all those papers. LOVE this.

I also love the fact that they get the students excited to complete their work. They are itching for the opportunity to use their plickers! They are definitely excited to give their answers. I did find that this was a double edged sword, though. They were rushing and not checking their work to make sure they could answer the questions at the same time as everyone else. To solve this, I started giving worksheets with the "quick check" questions for the kiddos to answer. Once we are all done our work, we pull out the plickers and answer all the questions. 

I also like to do "polls" among my kiddos to see their thoughts on a topic, assess their feelings about their understandings, and quickly see how they performed on classwork or homework. We used to do "heads down, eyes closed votes" where I have each kiddo raise his or her hand at the appropriate time for how they feel or what their score was. It was kind of hectic copying down all their responses! Now, I can use the plickers and have it recorded for me. Talk about a time saver!

Seriously- I don't think I've found a 100% free with no option to pay more for something extra app that has been loved by both me and my kiddos before EVER. You can tell I mean it because I used italics, capital letters, and underlining in that sentence. It's that serious. You can learn more and sign up for a free account on their website


Thanksgiving Weekend 5 for Friday

Linking up with DoodleBugs for a Thanksgiving weekend edition of 5 for Friday!





I am crazy in love with my little one. I really enjoyed his first Thanksgiving! It was full of family, laughter, and love. There is nothing better.




I am all prepped and prepared for the TpT Cyber Monday sale! I filled my cart up with goodies, and set my store to participate. Use code TPTCYBER on your purchases!




Like most of the east coast, we got some Thanksgiving eve snow here. Check out the view out my back window on Thanksgiving morning... pretty isn't it? We are pretty close to the MA coast, so we got spared the bit hit that many other places got. Just 30 minutes away in NH there are tens of thousands of people without power STILL! Many had to spend the holidays in restaurants and warming shelters. My Dad is without power, but fortunately has a generator to keep him (and his tropical saltwater fishtanks) warm. 




I've been working on something new for my store- soon to debut! Keep your eyes peeled for a Cyber Monday flash freebie. :)


It's too snowy and cold to lug my little guy around shopping today. It's ok with me- I am going to snuggle with my little guy and listen to some Christmas music. Maybe even decorate the house for Christmas! We will enjoy our day together. These quiet, snuggly days are so precious to me.





Week of Thanks

Linking up with BlogHoppin' for a week of Thanks!


I'm a lucky girl. I have a lot to be thankful for! I'm totally cheating and linking up a few today, so I can enjoy all the things I am thankful for this weekend.



A - A good book

I am a total reading fanatic. I can't get enough!  Once summer, I read almost 100 books while on vacation in Paris. It was better than watching the local TV and only understanding half of what was said! Whenever my little dude is napping, I'm reading. I don't have much time anymore, but I still get in at least a book or two each month. Here are some of my recent favorites.




And the classics I love reading to my son:









N - New friends

There is a lot of new staff at my school. We generally have pretty low turnover, but this year a lot of people transfered or moved to new districts. Half of my team is new this year. I have to say- I love them all! We all have really complementary personalities and get along well. We all share ideas and resources, and our teaching styles are pretty similar. A good team makes life a better place!



K - Kids

I'm thankful for the kiddos. Without my students, I wouldn't have a job! More than that, though, I am thankful for their silly little smiles and funny comments. Every day I find something to laugh at. They are smart, sassy, and really incredible. I love my job, and I love the little ones that I work with all day.


S - Sharing ideas on with bloggy friends

You guys, I'm a serious teaching blog addict. I downloaded the bloglovin app on my phone and I read blogs all day! I swear, it's a sickness. They should make a 12 step program. Although, if they did I would have a serious lack of ideas. Reading about other teacher's ideas really inspires me! Maybe it's for the best- I'll keep my teacher blog addiction!


Thanks to all who entered the Moby Max giveaway! The winner is Beth M. You will be getting an email shortly!
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