Friday, August 31, 2012

Classroom Tour: A Pinterest-Inspired Learning Space

Welcome to my 5th grade classroom!  In this post, you'll get a complete tour as well as links to my favorite printables.  Here's the door to my room with a nice little disclaimer posted to the left: 
A closer look and CLICK HERE for the FREE printable:
This little sign lets others know where we are.  My line leader moves the giant paperclip when we go to special areas:
Just inside my room, to the slight right:
And slight left:
I got the idea for this bulletin board from Pinterest; however, I came up with the phrase.  My students' pictures, which I blurred out, are the apps:
The back wall to the left:
And to the right:
I love my subway art in the windows (another Pinterest find):
This birthday board and balloons idea came from Pinterest.  I took pictures of my students (again, faces blurred) holding the calendar number of the date of their birth and placed the pictures underneath their birth month.
I attached the birthday balloons to silly straws instead of the giant pixy stix I saw on Pinterest.  My students are hyper enough on their birthdays so I don't want to give them sugar!  Also, I created the "Birthday Bucket" from a Dubble Bubble bubble gum bucket.
Small table that I use for conferencing with students, meeting with small groups, etc.
See the blue mirror?  
It looked like this when I bought it from Hobby Lobby:
I've done a few other paint jobs, including this stool: (before)
Okay, onto the next wall.  The door, by the way, connects my classroom to the other 5th grade classroom.  (That's not the other room's main door, though.)
Since I got rid of my teacher desk, this metal cabinet holds all my "desk stuff."  The present on top is just a decorated box that I put objects in at the beginning of my science units.  I pull out the items and give the students a chance to infer what the upcoming unit will be about.
It may not look too neat in this picture, but the inside of this cabinet is actually quite organized.  I have labels on all the boxes and know where everything is:
I created this welcome sign through VistaPrint:
I color-code my schedule, gradebook, student handouts, etc.  It makes things easier for me.

Here's my little corner:
Yes, those are my college diplomas hanging on the wall.  I believe educators should display their diplomas; why should this practice be reserved for doctors, lawyers, or our administration?  Teachers are professionals and many, like myself, have worked hard to earn a higher degree.  I say, displaying them shows that I accomplished a goal and am qualified to be in the classroom.   
Moving on...another Pinterest idea is the Sub Tub.  This has everything in it for a substitute teacher including my sub binder, lesson plans, procedures, flashcards, writing prompts, etc.  I even include snacks (Chewy bars, peanut butter crackers, cookies) and a pack of gum.
The third wall (to the left):
My homework board, surrounded with various printables.  I created the "I'm Done. Now What?" poster via VistaPrint and a couple are from Pinterest.
Finally, this one, I made myself through PowerPoint: (I have my students use hand signals; I never even have to hear, "May I go to the bathroom?"--there's a hand signal for that.) 
Third wall (continued): My Promethean board and magnetic dry erase board.  I'm planning on painting the black stool soon so it'll be colorful like the blue one...
Another VistaPrint creation of mine--I made this on a car door magnet and just slapped it on my board:
The circles are called Dry Erase Wall Art by the Board Dudes.  You can find these at Staples; they adhere to the wall and come off clean.  Love!
Finally, the fourth wall:
My reading area (the table was hot pink until I painted it blue):
Brownie Points (from Pinterest) are awarded to my class whenever they receive a compliment from another teacher.  Once the pan is full, I'll bring in real brownies for the class to enjoy!
Thanks for checking out my classroom!

Other Credits:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Save Dave!" Group Activity

This year, I want to focus on developing the 4 C's in my students: Critical Thinking (Problem-Solving), Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.  Today's group activity correlated with all 4 C's and the students had a lot of fun! 
Originally called "Save Fred," this activity, which I renamed "Save Dave" just because I like the rhyming, came from Mrs. White's 5th grade blog:  She told me I could borrow the idea.  ;) 
Basically, you divide the students into groups (I did pairs), give them 4 paperclips, a cup [turned over on the table], a gummy Lifesaver under the cup, and a gummy worm on top of the cup, and then tell them the following story about Dave, the gummy worm:
"Poor Dave!  He was sailing along on a boat (the cup) when a strong wind blew it upside-down!  Dave ended up on top of the capsized boat.  Unfortunately for Dave, his life preserver (Lifesaver gummy) is still trapped under the boat.  Your job is to place the life preserver firmly around Dave's body, but you must obey three rules--you may not touch anything with your fingers/hands (you may only use the paperclips); you may not injure Dave in any way (i.e. poke a paperclip through his body!); and Dave may not fall into the sea (onto the table) more than three times.  If he does, Dave drowns."

Before I shared the story, we discussed the fact that we all solve problems every day.  Some problems are big; some are small.  We talked about ways we solve problems and gave examples of problems we've encountered before.  I created a flipchart for this activity and had music playing when I shared Dave's story--wind was howling, etc. and the kids were so engaged!
I distributed a data sheet to each person and they had to take notes as they tried to save Dave.  They also completed a flowchart to show the steps they took in saving him.  CLICK HERE to access the flowchart/data sheet I made for this activity.  (For whatever reason, the formatting is a little off from my original document and this copy isn't showing my flowchart.  Boo.  Sorry about that; you can still copy/paste the words.)
I asked the students to keep tally marks of how many times Dave fell into the sea.  Remember, falling three times meant that he drowned.  Oh, well--I had them keep trying even if he fell 100 times; it didn't matter!
I gave the students 15 minutes to work and it was interesting to see the contraptions they came up with by bending their paperclips.
One student quickly noticed, "The hole in the Lifesaver is smaller than Dave!?"  I just looked at the little boy and said, "Well, that's a problem!  How are you going to solve it?  Discuss it with your partner."
They all discovered that the Lifesaver must be stretched with the paperclips.
In the end, all but two groups were able to Save Dave.  They ended up stretching the Lifesaver gummy too far and it split!
After we discussed the problem-solving methods used and cleaned up, I gave each child a gummy worm and gummy Lifesaver to enjoy.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Class Contract

Even though I came up with the classroom rules for this school year, I decided that the students could help create a classroom contract.  During the first week of school, we took the time to discuss what good teachers do and what good students do.  I had the students brainstorm individually, then share their ideas in a small group, and then we discussed the "top 5 attributes of good teachers/students" as a whole group. 

We decided that good teachers do the following:
  • Grade tests in a timely manner
  • Give advance notice on projects
  • Provide hands-on learning activities
  • Are helpful
  • Use rewards
  • Listen to students
  • Are slow to anger
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Are organized
  • Explain things well
  • Pray for their students
We decided that good students do the following:
  • Show respect to the teacher and other classmates
  • Turn in work on time
  • Pay attention in class
  • Listen well
  • Try their best
  • Obey rules
  • Participate in activities
  • Pray for their teacher(s)
It was definitely interesting to hear the students' opinions on what makes a good teacher.  We had a lengthy discussion until we had a list both parties could agree on (one student was convinced that good teachers provide candy/gum for the students, but I couldn't go along with that).  ;)

I typed up our contract, everyone signed it on Friday, and we each have a copy we can refer to.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What is 21st Century Education?

This YouTube video about 21st century education is quite interesting.  It gives me chills because it scares me and excites me at the same time.  It makes me wonder, "What will this mean for me/my students in the next 5 years?  10 years?  Next year?"  "What does this mean for Christian education?"  Check out the video and see what you think: 
Points that stuck with me:
  • Many of the top jobs in 2012 didn't exist in 2002.
  • Many of the jobs students will have don't even exist yet.
  • And they'll use technologies that haven't been invented yet.
  • Preparing students for the 21st century isn't just about technology.
How do we prepare our students for the future when we don't really know what things will be like when they graduate?  We don't know what jobs or technologies will be available.

What I do know is that the role of teacher is changing and I cannot teach the way I was taught.  I must (as says) "fuse the 3 R's and 4 C's."  As you know, the 3 R's are reading, writing, and arithmetic.  The 4 C's are as follows:
  1. Critical Thinking (Problem-solving)
  2. Communication
  3. Collaboration
  4. Creativity (Innovation)  
So, how do I effectively teach critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity to my digital natives?  Well, I'm not exactly sure right now, but it's something I'll be thinking about throughout this year.

Comments/ideas/suggestions welcome!

Operation World: Pray for the Nations

Operation World by Jason Mandryk is a wonderful reference book and prayer guide that I use in conjunction with my geography/Bible curricula.  I began using it last year when my students learned about Latin American countries.  This book lists every nation in the world--it shares statistics and maps, outlines how we can pray for each specific country, and explains how God has answered prayers for that country.
If you don't have this book in your classroom, you can still join the prayer movement by going to  There is a prayer guide posted that lists a new country each day, so my students and I visit the website every morning after our worship time.  They enjoy learning about new countries (where they are located, what languages are spoken, what percentage is Christian, how many missionaries are currently serving there, what God is doing in the country, and how we can pray) and praying as a group.  After our prayer time, I post the name of the nation we're praying for on the wall next to the students' cubbies, so anytime they read the name, they can remember to pray throughout the day. 
My hope is that they will recognize the needs in other countries and also that they will focus their prayers on others, not just themselves.  So far, we've only centered our prayers on The Maldives and Mali; however, I'm keeping up with all the countries we pray for and at the end of the semester, I'll teach the students how to create a Wordle ( of all the country names. 

Even though we've only been doing this a couple of days, I had a student come in to class and say, "Last night at the dinner table, I told my family about The Maldives and what we learned about them yesterday and we stopped and prayed."  Awesome!  What if this extends to the students' homes, churches, etc.?  I know that not every teacher has the freedom to pray with his/her students, but consider doing this on your own.  Join the prayer movement for the nations!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Marble Maze--A Small Group Challenge

21st century students need to be able to think creatively, problem-solve, and collaborate with their peers.  In addition, 21st century teachers need to be facilitators and not just dispensers of knowledge.
Today, my students completed a group challenge called "Marble Maze" and it was a great opportunity for me to assess how well they can create, problem-solve, and collaborate with others. 
Basically, for this activity, I divided my students into four groups, distributed materials (yard stick, masking tape, scissors, marble, empty cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, and toilet tissue rolls--next time add index cards), and explained that they were to construct a maze so that the marble drops from a minimum height of 12 inches to the ground/surface in the longest amount of time possible.  The minimum time was 3 seconds.  They had 30 minutes to construct their maze. 

Before allowing them to start building, I gave them 5 minutes to sketch their plan and discuss their ideas.  Then, as the timer began, they immediately (and excitedly!) got to work: 
I gave no other directions and watched them work.  I walked around, took some notes, occasionally asked how they were doing, but mainly just observed.

One group tested out their structure several times but the marble kept falling off the maze at the same spot.  I could tell they were having trouble, so I went over, asked a few questions, and encouraged them to think about what they could do to solve the problem.  It was SO HARD for me not to fix it for them and say, "Here; if you'll just add a piece of cardboard in this spot, it'll create an angle and the marble will stay on track."  I just kept quiet though.  They tried to fix the issue, but the poor marble didn't last two seconds on the maze they created.

Here are the final products:  
Group 1:
 Group 2: (This maze won, by the way, with a travel time of 4 seconds)
 Group 3: (I liked the zigzag!)
 Group 4:
While explaining their objective, I said something like, "And the group whose marble has the longest travel time, will win."  Several spoke up, "Win what??!!"  I paused and a child piped up, "We'll win the satisfaction of a job well-done!"  haha!  Yes!  Encourage intrinsic motivation!