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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!


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?

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