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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Government Online Resources

I have been putting together my government unit, and here are some online resources that I have found...

This site has some simple little review games for the kids to do over the branches of government, checks and balances, and the executive branch

This is another nice site which covers the basic of government for kids.  It was created for a Thinkquest competition.

This Congress for Kids site focuses on Ithe legislative branch.

This PBS site was created for the 2008 Election, but it still has a lot of good information!

This site offers an interactive field trip of our nation's capital.

This site has a good Washington D.C., webquest.

I really enjoy teaching social studies, and government is one of my favorite things to teach.  One thing that makes it difficult though is with the spiral curriculum, it is difficult to get the kids excited about something that they have learned about already in the last two years and will learn about again for the next two years, so I am always trying to find new and interesting ways to engage them.  One thing I do is that I focus on our government in Illinois.  That seems to help somewhat. :)

I hope you find these worthwhile.  I would love to know of any other great resources that you have used or have seen--even those that aren't websites!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Leap Day Fun and a freebie

As I have mentioned before, we are having an EXTRA day of fun in our classroom to recognize Leap Day. 

I have been putting together the finishing touches on our day, so I thought I would share.  If you would like the PDF file which includes the words for alphabetizing, the algebra problems (two pages--one is easier, one more challenging), and a matching game for words with the prefix ex-, you can access it below.

Also, I found this website with lots of good information for kids.

Have a Happy Leap Day!  You don't get too many extra days--so ENJOY!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Math thinking spoons

One of our math opening activities is something I call math number spoons.  When I first started doing them, I had little ceramic tiles that we used.  Each child received a bag with ten ceramic tiles in it--1 for each digit.  When I left that school, I left those tiles behind.  I now do the same type of activities with little wooden spoons from the craft store. 

The setup is simple.  Make a list of clues in which each digit is used just once.  I display the clues on the SMARTBoard. I try to make my clues to review current math topics, but also to offer some challenge and introduction to math terms.  I encourage my students to TAKE A RISK.  They should do the ones that they are sure of first and then give a go to those that they are not so sure of.  After enough time for most kids to determine their answers, we move into the next part of the lesson.

Students are given a partner to go over the answers with.  The key to this portion of the activity is the reading of the phrases.  One student reads the words and the other student tells what they have for that answer, and then they switch roles.  This continues until they have reviewed all of the statements.  It is a great way for the kids to be exposed to the math vocabulary and to have the opportunity to support  their answers to the partner.  I do not require partners to change their answers.  They can keep what they believe is correct.

Finally, we go over the terms and answers as a class on the SMARTBoard.  This offers everyone an opportunity to check their answers and to learn how to solve the ones they were unsure of.  Kids really like this, and I like the way it offers  me an opportunity to cover many topics.  The image below will take you to a SMART doc with some sample pages for this activity.  We typically do this one to two times per week.

Sometimes, we use the number tiles at our desks while we do our People number math.  It helps to keep everyone involved!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Math Workshop tips?

So, we are definitely getting the feeling that we should be moving to math workshop in the next year or two.  I have struggled with this a little because I love teaching math, and I think I work hard to differentiate for my learners.

However, being the control freak that I must be, I don't want to wait until I'm told I HAVE TO do math workshop to figure it out, so on Monday, I am beginning my Math Unit 8 trying my own version of math workshop.

Here are my current lesson plans for next week.  The students will be grouped according to their performance on the pretest.  Group 1 will be the kids who require more support while Group 2 will be more independent functioning.  The groups will be dynamic as I look at the pretest results.  Some days a student may be in Group 1 while on another skill he may fall into Group 2.  The items in red mean that they will have my support during this time.  The items in black will be asked to work/play more independently while I am working with the others.  Some days Group 1 will have me almost completely to themselves...

We will start most days with a short group activity and end them with a quick recap.  I have about an hour (give or take) each day for math, and most days are split by a special in the middle of the math block.

What do you think?  Am I on the right track?  I am anxious to get started and see what happens.  Do any of you use math workshop?   I will do a follow-up in a week or two to let you know how it is going.  I would welcome your comments and ideas! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Extra Day! Leap Year Activities

February 29th is a special day.  An extra day.  What would you do with an extra day?  Well, we are going to make it a fun day filled with leaping, laughing, and X's.

We are going to treat it as an extra day, and we will forego our regular curriculum on this day just to have a fun day of Xtra activities.  I have celebrated like this before with my students, but it has been a while, as our last February 29th fell on the weekend.

 Fire X
I am posting an outline of my current plans for the day...if you have any other great ideas, I'd be glad to hear them!

Plans for Wednesday, February 29th: 
Our EXTRA day
8:30-8:40  Opening Activities
8:40-9:00  Daily 5 Block (No restrictions)
9:00-9:15  Extra Sharing:  Everyone shares!  Students are partnered up and each person must share a book or a writing with their partner.
9:15-9:45  X activity stations:
1)            Alphabetizing words that begin with X
2)       Learning about the prefix eX
3)        Turning an X into a picture and then creating a story about it.
9:45-10:05  Daily 5 Block (No Restrictions)
10:05-10:45  (Computer) Math Practice on IXL(20 min) and Sumdog (20 min)
10:45-11:15  IMC
11:15-11:35  Math Leap frog in the commons practicing X facts.
11:35-11:50  Solve for X (algebra practice)
11:50-12:40 LUNCH/RECESS
12:40-12:55  Read Aloud
12:55-1:25  Targeted Instruction
1:25-1:50  Extra time for partner reading
1:50-2:20  Extra time on the computers(TBD)
2:20-2:50  Xylophones, Xrays, and the number of leap days there have been
2:50-2:55  Ready for Home
2:55-3:15  PE
3:15  HOME

For a link to some of these activities, go to the 2/26 post.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A little winter reading...

I have been on a major reading kick lately.  I am a reader, and always have been,  but sometimes life gets in the way of getting a lot of reading for  myself done.  However, I have been enjoying the new year by doing a lot of reading just for me!
I nearly always choose books that are written for late elementary/middle school.  I started teaching as a middle school language arts teacher, so that is when I became a fan.  I can read great stories at this level, and it doesn't take me too long to get through a book.

I began this most recent spurt of reading with Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.  This is certainly not a new book, just one I hadn't gotten around to reading.  I enjoyed it, and I loved the message that it sent.  It reminded me a lot of Loser by Jerry Spinelli. (one of my students' favorite read alouds) However, I don't think this book would be one my students would enjoy yet.  While the text has nothing provocative or wrong in it, I just don't think they would be able to connect with the characters who are both in high school.  I think this book would be a great one for middle school though.

 I then moved into The Report Card by Andrew Clements.  I enjoyed this one as well.  I liked the message, amd I have always enjoyed this author's voice.  I could see many of my students enjoying this one.

The next thing I knew, I was wrapped up in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.  This 5 (soon to be 6) book series is one that has taken my classroom by storm.  I have had the first three books in my library for a couple of years, but I finally picked it up to start in January. 
The Alchemyst The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
As I began the first in the series, The Alchemyst, I knew that my group of voracious readers would LOVE this series.  They had enjoyed reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and in some ways, this series is a marriage of these two ideas.  Readers get to enjoy the magic of Harry Potter, but they also get to learn about mythology as they did in Percy Jackson.

For mythology, this book covers most cultures' mythology.  It makes it interesting to imagine all of the different gods interacting with each other.
The cover of The Magician
Of course, I knew my kiddos would love the action, and all of the books n this series offer plenty of this.  I was pushed to read the books quickly so that I could get them to a boy in the classroom reading it.  The next thing I knew, students were checking books out from the library and purchasing copies from bookstores.  They have found out that the final book in the series comes out in May, so I will have to get it so we can end our year with this book.

The Sorceress CoverWhen I finished The Warlock, I kind of floundered for a couple of days trying to find what I was going to read next.  I was in the mood for more action and excitement, but I didn't put my fingers on anything right away.

While cleaning recently, I came across Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor.  This was certainly a change from the Nicholas Flamel world that had overtaken my reading.  But it was a good one to read and to take me back to why I fell in love with adolescent literature.

The cover of The Necromancer This story is about a young girl whose life is in constant turmoil because of a mother who is not too great at that job.  She is a strong character who is forced to grow up quickly, and we understand her point of view and her love of other characters in the book quite clearly.  This book reminded me of many of the Sharon Creech books I have read over the years.  It is not one that I would recommend to my 3rd graders, because I don't think that they would understand the character and her issues yet.

The next two I am going to give a go are Fablehaven by Brandon Mull and, in an effort to find something appealing to my more reluctant readers, Dragonbreath: The Curse of the Wereweiner by Ursula Vernon.

Waiting for Normal [Book]Fablehaven especially looks interesting to me, and one of my sons has read them all and recommended them to me.  The Curse of the Wereweiner also comes from my sons' library, but it looks as though it has not been read yet.  What about you? 

Do you find yourself reading children's books a lot, too?  Do you have any special ones that you recommend for me or my voracious 3rd graders?    It makes my workshop and my conferences much stronger when I can talk books with my students and know exactly what they are talking about in the books they are reading!

Besides that, it makes it a lot easier for me to talk the talk to my kids about the importance of reading when they know I walk the walk!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Enhancing reading responses with technology

  So many of us use reading responses in our classrooms.  Over the years, I have tried many ways to get kids to respond to literatures.  I began with reading response journals, in which I had students write every day.  I then graded them every other week.  That was not very effective--for the kids and me--mainly because I am not disciplined enough to sit and grade all of the journals in one sitting.  (I find too many other things to do. :))

I have also used letters to the teacher.  My students would write me a letter every week telling me about the book and using a thinking stem in their writing.

Currently, I am using .  I LOVE IT!  It has really helped to build a community of readers in our classroom.  Students are required a post per week, but I do allow extra posts for extra credit.  Students are just beginning to be required to make a comment per week, but most of them have been making comments from the beginning.  (I have the comments set so that I have to approve them.)  Typically their writing includes a few lines about the book, and then they break into a thinking stem.  They do pretty well with this.  Some of my kids give me a much improved response over what they would give me if they were writing.  I score the entry in the comments section of the post and mark it so that only the student can see my comments and their score.

Recently, I have begun "mixing it up" by changing the assignment each week.  (I have to thank Pat at A Time to Share and Create.  She gave me the first idea months ago)  I have found some great sites for the kids to respond to their story in a more unique way.  They complete the assigned task and then embed it or link it to the blogpost.  It has been very popular, and students are even more eager to read each other's posts so that they can see what others are doing.

Here are some of the things we have used or plan to use. 

WORDLE:  I am a huge Wordle fan.  We use it a lot, but due to paper and ink restrictions, it is not feasible to print them out.  Using Wordle on the computer, the kids create their wordle about their book or a character in the book and then use the snipping tool to take a picture of it.  They save the image on their computer and then insert it into the post. 

BOOK TRAILERS/WEBSITES:  Students are assigned to find a book trailer about their book or to find a website about the book or author and insert it in their book.  (I do have to point out to the students that they are not to use sites that are selling the book like Amazon.)  This is a great search for kids, and they have fun looking and watching for book trailers.  Scholastic has a good number of book trailers, and many kids found them on School Tube, too.  The one below is one I posted in my blog for the kids.  They are really into this series right now.

JIGSAW PUZZLES:  This is from  It is a jigsaw puzzle where students make statements and connect them to corresponding ideas.  The puzzles can be embedded.

VENN DIAGRAMS:  Another one from Just as it sounds, students make a venn diagram and embed it into their blog.

TWISTER:  This one creates fake tweets.  I haven't used it yet, but I think it would be great for kids to choose a character from their book and have them create a tweet that that person might share with the world if they could.  This is also from

GLOGSTER:   Glogster is a great site where kids create a glog ( interactive poster) of their book where they can have images, text, design and media elements.  Students just put the link to their glog into the blog post.

VOKI:  My students love Voki.  They create the avatar and then add the text that they want him/her to say.  This would be another good character study activity.  The voki can be embedded into their blog.
Not only are my students sharing about their books, but they are also learning so much about web tools and sharing their creations.  I also like the creativity and originality that students use in their posts.  I try to be sure to assign a more traditional post regularly, too.  Do you have any other great reading response ideas to share?  I love to hear your ideas/comments!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Picture Prompt Linky Party

The Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher and Classroom Magic are having a Picture Prompt Linky, and I am joining in the fun.  You can use the above pics for creative writing starters in your classroom.  If you would like a copy of this Powerpoint, just click here.  To go to the linky party, click on the image above.  Hope you enjoy!

What I am is...

My students LOVE this video by and Sesame Street.  We play it at least once a week, often as we are transitioning from activity to another.  They even do some of his motions...

It has a great message besides a catchy tune.  I love it, too!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interactives for the SMARTBoard

This site has a great set of resources for the SMARTBoard, but they could also be used individually with students on their own devices.

I am highlighting the US history one, but there are many great ones at this site.  I found that even though many are listed for older children, there were pieces in each one that I could use with my 3rd graders--either as a whole class lesson or as an extension for some of my high-achieving students.

The US history map above has some pretty nice features.  It breaks US history into categories, does a short lesson on it, and then has students participate in an interactive review.  You can skip through the eras if you don't want to do them all.  At the end of the map there is a comprehensive review assessment that students can do and receive their score.

Check out these interactives.  They cover all content areas.  I think they are worth your time!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Do you believe in zeroes?

I am not a big believer in zeros.  A zero is worth nothing, and it means that a student did nothing.  It is pretty hard for a student to do nothing without an intervention from the teacher.   I know that this can be considered a controversial view, but I find that often zeroes are given to students who are immature or irresponsible. In the learning standards, there is not one to measure student responsibility.  With that in mind, it is unfair for me to score them with a zero when they have worked on something in class or have begun a project, and not turned it in.

This is especially true for activities that we do in our classroom.  My students participate in our Daily 5 workshop every day.  I feel that they need to be held accountable for this time, but I do not allow them to do nothing, so I have worked out a rubric that matches better with what I am seeing.  I got this idea from another teacher, and the rubric itself has been pieced together from a variety of sources. 

This is my Daily 5 Rubric.  The rubric shows 8 points, but the lowest a child can score is a 5.  This is still not  a great percentage, 62.5%, but it does show that they have done something.  A zero, to me, would mean that they weren't even there!  I find myself using 8 point rubrics over 4 point rubrics most of the time.  Since I am required to give letter grades, I have found that these better align with my grading philosophy and the students' work.  In the four point rubric 2 of the 4 scores are failing percentages.  (Have you ever noticed that in the traditional grading scale, 60% of it is worth an F? Every other letter grade is only worth 10%)

Look at the example.

4 point scale                                    8 point scale
1/4 (25%--F)                                    5/8 (62.5%--D-)

2/4 (50%--F)                                    6/8 (75%--C)

3/4 (75%--C)                                   7/8 (87.5%--B+)

4/4 (100%--A+)                               8/8 (100%--A+)

If you would like a copy of the rubric, you may click here or on the image above.  What do you use to assess workshop time?  I know that this is a measure of behaviors, but those behaviors do lead to better readers.  I do use other assessments as part of the reading and writing grades.  I would be curious to hear your ideas.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lincoln talkers

As part of our study of Lincoln, the students create these Lincoln talkers.  They actually make them and fill them with words or quotes for their Lincoln recital text.

Students are shown a model, receive an explanation of what to do, and are given a circle to use for the talker, but that is it.  I like that they all look so different.  The kids do a nice job making the head outline, and then they add details to that.


The mouth opens to reveal words or phrases from a speech that President Lincoln gave or part from a poem about President Lincoln.

This activity forces children to choose what they think is most important in their piece of writing, because they typically can't fit the whole text into his mouth.  Also, it puts them into the practice of reviewing the text again so that they are prepared to recite it to the class.

I have used these talkers for different things over the years.   I have had students make themselves and fill the mouth with adjectives about themselves, had them be other famous people we are studying and put ideas that they think they would say, make leprechauns and fill the mouth with a limerick....the possibilities are endless!

I hope you can find a use for them with your kids.  Let me know if you have other ideas for uses!  ( I love comments!)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Word Clouds

Word clouds are a great way to encourage students to use technology to "show what they know."  They are so much fun and have so many different uses. I have students use them to tell me about a book character, the elements of a book, to illustrate a theme, or to determine what words they used too much in their own writing.  They could also be used to illustrate the theme of a piece of writing.  Below are a variety of word clouds from some different sites.

I love Wordle.  They are easy to create and flexible to edit for adults and kids.  The wordle below is one I made by entering in all of the Presidents' first, middle, and last names.  If you are hoping for a successful son, it looks like you might want to name him James, William, or John.  :)

Tagxedo is another fun word cloud generator.  It works very similarly to Wordle, but you have the flexibility of creating your tagxedo into a shape, and when you hover over a word in the shape, it will pop out...
This is one I made just by entering the URL of this blog.  I was unable to find a way to embed it, so it appears as an image and loses its interactivity.  However, still cool!

Word it Out is another word cloud site.  It is easy to use, also.  The one I made here uses the words from this year's classroom expectations that my students created.

TagCrowd doesn't have quite as many options, but it does allow for a word count.  This would be a good one for students to use to review their papers for repeated words.  This one was made by entering the URL of our class website.

ABCYa also has a word cloud generator.  It is easy to use.  It just doesn't have the options that some of the others have.  Here is one I created for The Gettysburg Address.

Word Mosaic is another one that is easy to use.  You import your words and determine the shape.  It will allow you to embed the image.  The one below is one I created for Valentine's Day..."How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways..."
ImageChef Word Mosaic -

Share with me any other ideas you have for the use of word clouds.  They don't always have to be printed out.  Students can put them into blogs, you can place them in your blogs, wikis, or online portfolios.  Leave me a comment about any of these sites.  I love hearing your ideas!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mt. Vernon virtual mansion tour

Have you ever been to Mt. Vernon, George Washington's home?  It is located in Virginia, a short distance from Washington, DC.

I have been lucky enough to go there a couple of times.  It is a beautiful estate, and it oozes the feeling of importance that it should.  How cool is it to touch the banister that George and Martha Washington did?  I love that kind of stuff!

Anyway, while looking for more Presidential information, I came upon a virtual tour of Mt. Vernon.  I think it would be a great thing to share with students.  Click on the picture below to access the tour.

If you get the chance to visit our nation's capital, I highly recommend making the effort to get out to Mt.Vernon.  It can be accessed by public transportation (train and bus), and it is well worth it!  Plan on a long visit--the mansion is beautiful and interesting, but the museum located on the estate grounds is interactive, informative, and fun, too!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

World Read Aloud Day--March 7th

Don't forget about World Read Aloud Day on March 7th!  Go to Litworld to sign up and find more details. 

The driving question of this year's World Read Aloud Day is "What would the world be like if everyone could read?"  I have decided that our class will create a podcast where each child answers that question.  We will begin by brainstorming ways that reading helps people and empowers people and then they can go from there.  I'll give them the stem, "If everyone in the world could read..."  then they will finish the statement and illustrate it.  We will then use our answers to record our podcast.

We are also dedicating the afternoon to Read Aloud.  Our Director of Elementary Education is coming in to read to our class, I am going to read to them, and we are going to skype with an author who is going to read to us.

If you would like a copy of our stem page, you can get it by clicking below. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fraction glyphs

Fractions are hard for some kids to get their head around.  This activity is a quick assessment of basic fraction knowledge, and it engages students with something that most of them love...BASKETBALL.

The glyph is a quick review of numerators/denominators/value/equivalence.  Students follow the directions on the master page and then make their basketball hoop and ball match the description.  Click on the basketball to download the whole activity.  Each child will need one hoop page, one paper basketball, the key page, and a die.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Digital Learning Day Success!

Today was the first Digital Learning Day, and my class participated by completing a scavenger hunt.  I was very pleased with their results!  I really wasn't sure what to expect, but they really rose to the challenge.  I am listing the results below.  I allowed them to work individually or with partners.  Most of the girls tended to work together while the boys mainly worked along. (Interesting)

I think that I will try another challenge later in the year.  The students responded favorably to the task, and said that it made them feel more comfortable about a number of different computer skills.  We have practiced these skills numerous times, but few had done these tasks so independently.  They had a great time. 

v  Go to .  Read the Being Smart rules. List the five rules in your Word doc.  (19 students completed without difficulty.  4 did not get it done)

v  Find out the name of Jimmy Carter’s Vice-President.  Put the v-p’s name and the site where you found it into your doc.  (All 23 students found this answer)

v  Go to  Play 3 games of Junk Pile.  Capture an image of each game’s score and put them in your doc.  (22 students completed. 1 student only got two of their game scores captured.)

v  Find a website about chemical and physical changes.  Spend at least 5 minutes on the site checking it out.  Then create a QR code for it and insert the QR code into your word doc.  (19 were able to do independently, 4 were not.)

v  Find the name of the 2012 Newbery medal winner.  Put the name of the book into your doc. Include the site where you found it.  (21 found the answer, 2 did not.)

v  Find a book trailer for a children’s book.  Insert the URL into your doc.  (19 were able to complete, 4 were not)

v  Save your word doc into your documents and then submit.  (Everyone completed this step!)

I think something like this would be good for a professional development activity, too!  I think many teachers would surprise themselves at what they would be able to do!  :)

RAFT follow-up

So we concluded our unit on Jane Addams with the RAFT project I blogged about earlier.  I was so pleased with the students' output!  They worked very hard, and used their computer time so wisely so that it could be completed at school.  Nearly all of them completed it at school.

This year, each of the RAFT options were chosen by someone!  I think that is a first.  I am including some of the final projects for your reading pleasure.  :)  I hope that if you don't know much about Jane Addams, you know more after reading their projects.  More importantly, I hope that you can see that they learned about Jane Addams!  :)