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Beliefs into Action

Every single teacher I know came into the profession for a meaningful reason. No one that I have met has ever said "oh, I decided to teach because I wasn't sure what else to do" or "I don't know, I just ended up here!" in the way that sometimes people in other professions sometimes say. Similarly, I think we all have philosophies and beliefs about education- but I personally feel as though perhaps I don't talk about them enough to my students and their families. When I saw Whitney's from With Love from Texas' Beliefs to Action blog hop, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to spend some time focusing on my philosophy.

  • All students have the ability to be successful. This is so critical! If students know right off the bat that you believe they can do well, then you have set a precedent. It's true that some students will inherently be more successful than others, but that doesn't take away from the successes of other students. 
  • Nurturing is an incredibly important part of education, but so is tough love at times. You have all seen it before- some kids just need a hug. They are hurting, lonely, or have a major difficulty in their life which seems insurmountable. Those kids need love and nurturing- there is no doubt about it. I think that teachers need to be skilled in recognizing those moments, but also in recognizing when a kid needs tough love. I grew up in a less than ideal living situation, and remember lamenting about it to my fifth grade teacher. She took me to the hall and said to me "Listen, Mandy. Your life is hard, that's true. It's probably harder than lots of kids in the class. But, they will be applying to the same colleges that you do. They will take the same SATs and final exams in high school. No one will give you extra points because life is tough for you. You have to find a way to work through it." I won't ever forget those words. I'm not saying that all students need this or even that all students would react well to it. I do think, though, it's important to recognize the moments when this conversation, or one like it, is absolutely appropriate to have with a student.
  • Instilling confidence in a child can make a tremendous difference in his educational performance. This one really speaks to me. How can a student do well if they don't believe they can do well? It's just not logical. Anyone that has taken a standardized test can tell you that a little bit of confidence goes a long way. Anxiety and lack of confidence will just distract from your focus and lower your chances of performing to the best of your ability. As a teacher, I really believe it is a part of my job to help students to recognize their own abilities and have confidence in themselves. 
  • Parents, students, and teachers should work together to be part of an educational team. No one portion of the team can do all the work. Each of us has our role, and all of us must do our best to fulfill that role to help students succeed to the best of their ability. What else can I say? Communication and teamwork between all three parts will lead to success! 

I really enjoyed writing my beliefs down! Although they were always within me, it had been a while since I sat down and put them into words. I encourage you all to do so, as well! In the meantime, hop on over to Hodge's Herald to see what Elizabeth's educational beliefs are. 

Making Research Reports Fun with Instagrok

I have spent a lot of time researching the Common Core research standards this year as part of a professional learning community. My PLC worked hard at finding ways to integrate the research, writing, and technology standards into our teaching. It's not easy, friends! I use PROBE notebooks as a yearlong research report project, but since that is written it doesn't address the "technology" portion of the fifth grade writing standards and the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards. In my hunt for websites and apps, I found something really cool: instagrok

Instagrok seriously puts the "cool" back into research reports. It's super easy to use once you understand it! A "grok" is a visual concept map created for you based upon a search. It's pretty simple to get started- there a search bar, just like google, and you type in whatever you are doing research on. The concept map populates pretty quickly! Instagrok searches educational websites, pictures, and videos and puts together the best supporting concepts.

It's pretty, isn't it?? I love concept maps! Now, the real fun comes in. It's totally interactive. If you click on the video, it pops up a larger window and starts playing. If you click on the words, another window pops up with more details.

It's broken down into key facts, websites, videos, images, concepts, and notes. I have spent most of my time working with the kiddos in "key facts" but I think that as time goes on and they become more sophisticated in their research abilities I explore all the tabs with them. What a great way to teach them about determining importance! 

When you click on each fact, it brings up the source of the information so you can view it yourself. It also gives you a little text box on the bottom where you can add your own notes.

You can then "pin" the resource to your journal, which saves the information for later so you can refer back to it (and the notes you made) while writing your research report. I have to tell you a major downfall I found though- instagrok includes results from wikipedia. I address this by having my students mark them "not credible" and having them disregard that information. If there is a fact they really love, I ask them to find it from another source to use it. If it's a reliable fact, they will find it again!

One of my favorite things about instagrok is that you can customize the level of difficulty!

In the top task bar, there is a difficulty slider. Kiddos can self-select their level of difficulty, or you can assign it for them. This is SUPER helpful when trying to get some deep information and understanding for enrichment kids! I have put them up to "difficult" and then been amazed at some of the things they have researched and put together. They have examined some of the intricacies of their topics and really done a fantastic job. 

The grok stays really true to the topic, no matter the level that is assigned. At each one, the "meat" of the topic is really well represented. In the easy level, the student is introduced to the key components of the research topic. I like to think of it as the "quick and dirty" of the topic. They get the information they need without extra information to bog them down. This is great for kiddos that really have no prior knowledge on a difficult topic or for the students that struggle with retaining information. They get the knowledge they need, on their level, and are able to synthesize it into a written report. 

When the research is done, it's time to write the report! I don't know about you guys, but typically this is the part that my kiddos hate. I can't tell you how many times I have had kids that did spectacular research and then failed to put it together in a meaningful way- resulting in a lackluster project. I have to tell you- instagrok has really revolutionized the research report in this way! All the information that you have pinned as you looked through your grok is easily accessible on the sidebar. You can refer back to it as you write your report. When you finish, a bibliography is populated in the sidebar, as well. Best of all, you can export your sources to EasyBib and have a bibliography populated for you! I love doing this to teach my kiddos the correct way to cite sources. Let's be real- fifth graders are not always the most detail oriented, and little things like bibliographies sometimes slip through the cracks. I once had a student turn in a research report with "my brain" listed as a source... not even listed in proper MLA format! ;) 

Once the kiddos have finished their reports, they can email them as embedded text or print them. If you have assigned the project through your teacher account, the finalized report will show up in your teacher dashboard. The major downfall I see here is that you cannot save the file as a text document on your computer. Instead, I have had the file emailed to me and then I have copy/pasted it into Word. This is definitely not the fastest way to get things done, but it works for now. 

Instagrok is totally free to use as a student, and the "teacher" account is free for 90 days. Once your 90 day trial is up, it is $45 a year to keep the "teacher" services. I have to say, I won't be signing up for a paid account once my trial is up. For me, I love the student portion of the site (researching and writing) but found the teacher dashboard a bit clunky and hard to use. I like walking through the computer lab and working with the kiddos on the research as it happens. I don't think I use the paid version enough to justify buying it. I will definitely keep using instagrok to help my students address the CCSS research and technology standards, though! 

Crazy 8s Math Club

I learned about a seriously fun sounding after school recreational math club curriculum that I just HAVE to share. It's too good to pass up- the curriculum is free AND it comes with some of the necessary math gadgets, like measuring tapes and and protractors! Seriously- it sounds to good to be true, doesn't it? Somehow, though, it isn't. I want to introduce you to Crazy 8s.

I realize I sound like I work for them, but I swear I don't. They don't even know I am posting this- I just had to share because I loved the idea so much!

Crazy 8s comes from a company called Bedtime Math. They publish bedtime stories that involve math to help kids develop number sense and operational knowledge early. My son is only 1 year old, but I read him the beditme math stories and count things out to him. I enjoy the stories and think that he will as he grows older, too.

I learned about this program at the NCTM conference a couple months ago, and the representative was genuinely eager to spread the word about this program. This is designed to be a "recreational math club" for young kids. It is social, fun, and collaborative and not competitive or focused on worksheets.

The club motto is "where math meets mischief," which gives you an idea about their activities. They include things like toilet paper olympics, glow in the dark geometry, and bouncy dice explosion. Seriously, how much fun does that sound like?

There are two age level activity kits available, K-2 or 3 - 5. The activities are geared toward kids within those levels, but are not intended to be a substitute for typical curriculum or intervention. They are math activities that are designed to inspire a love of math in kids. So many kids dislike math and think of it as a chore- this is how to show them the fun side of it! The club lasts for 8 weeks, and each session is designed to be about an hour. Bonus activities are included if you would like to make it longer! 

Here's what you need to get started:
  • Request a kit from Bedtime Math
  • Commit to coaching for 8 weeks and to follow the honor code
  • Gather a group of 10 - 20 kids in the age band you select
  • Have a place to host the club for about an hour a week for 8 weeks
That's it! I can't get over how great it sounds. I talked to the representative for a long time at the NCTM conference, and also got the chance to chat with a few other teachers who had used it. The teachers said that it was wild, messy, and fun- all in a good way. I knew right away I had to sign up! Since school it out of session, I won't be able to start my club up until the fall, but I had to share the information with you all now so you can request your kits.

Once you request your kit, you will get a call from Bedtime Math to talk about the program with you and make sure you have everything you need. You WILL need to provide some basic supplies, like markers and paper, but most of the supplies have been taken care of. They also give you a checklist of the things that you will need to provide on your own, and they estimate it will cost about $10 for those materials (but I bet you already have some of them).  If you still have questions, check out their FAQ page

It's not often something like this comes along, and is FREE! I am super pumped to try it out. :)

Currently JULY!

How is it July already?! Maybe it's because we have only been on summer vacation for 4 days, but it feels like it should be earlier. All that record breaking snow really extended the last day of school this year! Linking up with Farley at Oh Boy 4th Grade for my favorite linky- Currently!

Listening: We are having one of those really fantastic New England summer thunderstorms right now. Heavy rain, loud thunder, bright lightning. It reminds me of summertime when I was a child, sitting in the window seat with a book. Probably The Babysitter's Club because that was on point back in the 90s. :)

Loving: These first few days of vacation! Leaving my little guy for work every day was so hard this year. Now that he is one, he is SO much fun! I love getting up every morning and playing with him. We don't rush around, and we play outside every day. It's heaven.

Thinking: It's the 4th of July this weekend! We are probably going to our local fireworks with the little guy, but we will walk so we don't get stuck in 3 hours of traffic as we drive the 1 mile home.

Wanting: I need some time to create! I have some fun ideas, but no time to implement them. I'm going crazy. I think I'm going to have to dedicate nap time to creating a couple times a week.

Needing: This year, I am determined to go back to school with a roadmap of the year. I'm not talking specific plans- goodness knows I could NEVER do that- but a basic outline of the units and when I am teaching them. I think it will keep me on track more than referring back to 4 different district curriculum maps constantly.

All-Star: I am an all-star organizer! I love to organizer. Color coding, filing, sorting, labeling- you name it. It's kind of a sickness. I re-organize my closet and my office fairly often. I am in the process of switching over to a new personal planning system, too. Maybe all the re-organizing means I am actually NOT an all-star?  :)

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