Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cereal Box Book Reports

Each month, my students complete a book report.  For the month of September, they were required to read a fiction book and then complete a Cereal Box Book Report.  I had never assigned this type of report but it turned out to be a hit!
Here are some of my students' boxes (names have been marked out):
 The students had to create a game on the back of the box that related to the story:
Each box needed to have a prize inside, or at least a picture of the prize on the front of the box.  The prize needed to be related to the book, of course.
Top of the box:
 Side of the box:
 The other side of the box:
The students had to present their book reports on Friday in a 1-2 minute commercial.  They all did a great job!

If you'd like to use this in your class, here are the instructions and templates:
Cereal Box Book Report Directions
Left/Right Side Templates  (Found this online because Google docs was giving me trouble.  Scroll down to pages 2 and 3 for the printouts)

Friday, September 28, 2012

One of the many things I love about my school...

At my Christian school, we have a group of moms, called Moms in Touch, who meet each week to pray for our faculty/staff, students, and the needs of our school.  Once every few weeks, I'll get a pink prayer slip in my school mailbox that has a scripture on one side and a handwritten prayer on the other side; it's always a pleasant surprise! 

The one I received this week was so specific, especially uplifting, and made me feel so blessed to be a teacher at this school.  I love working at a place where people encourage each other and pray for each other on a daily basis. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Landform Projects

In geography, we are currently learning about planet earth and its landforms.  We just wrapped up our week-long landform project.  I paired the students up, but had to have one group of three.  I assigned each group a landform to research.  On day 1, we took notes using our textbook, encyclopedias, and various websites as resources.
The students had to define their landform, give a well-known example of this landform, explain how the landform was formed, find out what the weather was like on this particular landform, and discover facts about the flora and fauna.  They could also add any other interesting facts or trivia about their landform (In my classroom, we call these "Funky Facts"). 

On day 2, we finished our research and the students had to take the information they learned the day before and write a report with criteria according to a rubric.

On days 3 and 4, the groups constructed their landforms in class.  I provided the base for each group (extremely thick poster board) and they had to bring in basic materials such as clay, play-doh, paint, sand, etc.

Here's how they all turned out: 
Delta: (I was a little surprised by all the trees)
Peninsula: (Can you guess what their well-known example is?)
Valley: (Wow--a very colorful valley!)
I was unable to give any direction as the students created their landforms; I was out of town those days and had a sub!

On day 5, the students had to present their landform project to the class.  They were also required to point out the "famous example" on a map. 

Here, the students are using the Atlas app as it's displayed from my iPad to the Promethean board via AirServer: 
This pair is explaining the Mississippi River Delta to us.
This was our first major in-class project and the students were so excited about creating their own landforms.  I wonder if we could make this an edible project next year?  We love to eat in this class!  ;)

Wonderful Wonderopolis

Several weeks ago, I posted about creating a Wonder Jar for my class to use.  I shared the post with Wonderopolis via Twitter because I thought they might like to know how I use the website in my classroom.  Imagine my surprise when I received a handwritten note in my school mailbox from the wonderful folks at Wonderopolis!  They even included a sticker for my Wonder Jar!?!    
My students were thrilled and we all felt so special!
Thanks so much, Wonderopolis!  Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teacher Tip #4--Use timers and music

I consider myself to be an effective classroom manager and one of the things that has helped me tremendously is using a timer to keep students on task.  I use a timer all day long.  I time the students as they transition from one subject to the next and we even create time goals to see if we can "beat" our record.  We try to do things in the shortest amount of time possible so that more time can be devoted to instruction.

I give students time limits for classroom work and I usually set the timer on the desk of a student who has trouble focusing.  I announce that he's the time-keeper, but in reality, the timer is on his desk to keep him on track.  I'll usually whisper a directive in his ear like, "I need you to make sure you've completed five of these problems within two minutes" or "When the timer gets to 5:00, you need to be finished with this side of your paper and moving on to the next."  This strategy has been quite effective with this young man.

In addition to using a timer, I also use music to set a time limit for an activity.  For example, when the students pack up at the end of the day, I'll occasionally play a two-and-a-half to three-minute song and they must be packed up with "nothing on top of the desks and nothing underneath" by the time the music stops.  I've seen my co-workers use music in this way as well.  A former 5th grade teacher at my school would play the "Mission Impossible" theme when all the students arrived.  The children had until the end of the tune to get everything ready for the day (e.g. notes for the teacher and homework turned in, books/paper/pencils out, etc.).  She would also play "Takin' Care of Business" at the end of the day during pack-up time.

Using timers as well as music to set a time limit has been helpful in making my classroom run more smoothly. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Digital Substitute

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to the Ron Clark Academy in Altanta, GA for a workshop (more about that experience in another post!).  I knew that my students would be missing a lot of instruction over two days and I didn't want to have to review a great deal once I got back to school.  In addition, I wanted to emphasize certain things in my lessons and I knew that the sub would not know exactly what I wanted done.  So, I created a series of videos for my students to watch while I was gone.  I recorded myself teaching the lessons and the sub simply had the job of pressing "play" on my computer, then "pause" when she needed to, and finally, the "stop" button.  This is as close to "flipping the classroom" as I've ever gotten and the subs loved it! 

I asked for feedback from my students today, in the form of a "Substitute Survey."  I asked questions about the sub, how the two days went when I was absent, and I asked their opinions on the instruction videos.  Here were some of the responses:

"I liked the videos because I've never seen another teacher do that.  You are one-of-a-kind."  Aw!
"The videos were fun because we could see you when you were gone."  Aw, again!
"The videos were great!  It was fun to be taught by Video Bowman."  ha!
"Everytime a teacher has a substitute, all of the kids try to say, 'That's not the way our teacher does it.'  Even if there's a designated person to tell the sub what to do, it always becomes the whole class trying to talk at once.  The videos helped because the class wasn't trying to tell the sub all about how our class works and how our teacher teaches."  Glad to know it was helpful.

If I ever plan on being absent again, I'll definitely take the time to create the videos.  It actually didn't take as long as I thought it would.  At times in the lesson, I would say, "Press 'pause' and please discuss this as a group...or with a partner"...or..whatever. 

The students enjoyed it, the subs had an easy job, and I didn't have to spend any time reviewing today or wondering what was taught while I was gone. 

Have any other teachers tried this before?  If so, how did it work for you? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teacher Tip #3--Back-up Shoes

I'll admit--I've been known to wear uncomfortable shoes just 'cause they're cute instead of comfortable not-as-cute shoes to work.  And at the end of the day, especially if I wear heels, I'm in so much pain! 
So, a couple of years ago, I bought a pair of Fast Flats; I keep them tucked away in my classroom in case I ever need to slip them on.

They look like actual shoes but they don't provide much padding.  Even though they don't have the padding, they're much better than spiky heels!
My campus is spread out like a "mini" college campus.  It takes me 5 minutes just to walk my students to the playground for recess.  We have to hike up a huge hill and around a couple of buildings to get there.  Imagine doing this in heels!?  My Fast Flats have saved me from pain on sooo many occasions. 

New teachers: make sure you have some back-up shoes in your classroom.  I remember when I student-taught, my cooperating teacher kept a pair of slippers under her desk.  She would slip into them during her planning period or whenever she had a few minutes at her desk.  Trust me, you'll want some back-up shoes. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Vocab Lab

Vocab Lab is an activity I use to introduce vocabulary when I begin a new geography or science unit.  Last week, we began a new geography unit and this collaborative group activity was a great way to facilitate rather than directly teach vocabulary. 
This activity is so neat because it can be done with all ages (and is really helpful for ESL students), it incorporates art by having students create Word Signs, and it's very student-centered.
Here's how it works:
  • First, divide students into groups (4 children in a group is ideal; I had one group of 5)
  • Distribute a vocabulary sheet, with only the words listed, to each student.  Here's mine from last week:
  • Distribute a list of words to each group.  *Limit team lists to 4-5 words*  The list words are broken down from the long vocabulary sheet that was just handed out; each group will define certain words.  Here's a sample of a group list: (Yes, I realize that I gave 6 words to each group; that's how I know 4-5 will be better) 
  • Assign each student a job.  I used the following:
    • Orator--this student reads the list words to the group, reads the dictionary definition (if necessary), and presents the group definitions at the end of the activity 
    • Researcher--this student looks up vocabulary words in a dictionary or textbook
    • Scribe (1 and 2 for my group of 5 students)--the scribe writes down the group definition on the word list, writes the vocabulary word on the front of a piece of construction paper, and writes the meaning on the back of the "Word Sign"   
    • Illustrator--this student will illustrate the front of the Word Sign; he/she will also explain the artwork during the group presentations
    • You could include other jobs like Material Distributor, Time Keeper, Art Interpreter, etc.  I gave them name tags, but that's totally optional.
    •  If you assign a Material Distributor role, that person can get the group's needed materials: markers, light-colored construction paper, dictionary, textbook, word list
  • Inform students that they will come up with a "team definition" for each word given on their group list.  They should discuss what they think each word means before they look it up in the textbook or dictionary (I refer to these as ICE materials--In Case of Emergency materials).  If a word is looked up, it may not be copied from the glossary; students must put the definition in their own words. 
  • The Scribe will write each word on the front side of a sheet of construction paper and then write the group definition on the back side.
  • The Illustrator will draw a picture that represents the word/definition on the front side:
  • Time limits are given for each segment of the activity; I gave 7 minutes for the students to create their group definitions.  I walked around and "spied" on the definitions as the students worked.  If they were waaay off, I guided them and helped them come up with the correct meaning.
  • Once the definitions were created, I gave 5 minutes for the Scribe(s) to write the words and definitions on the Word Signs.
  • Finally, I allowed 7 minutes for the Illustrator to create a graphic representation of the word/definition.

  • When time is up, the Orator and Illustrator from each group will explain the definitions to the class and connect the artwork to the term's meaning.
  • While the groups present, every student is to write in the definition next to each word on their long vocabulary list (the sheet handed out at the beginning of the activity)
  • Hang the Word Signs up in a designated area of the classroom and review them each week throughout the unit.
  • At the very end, I handed out a vocabulary list with the word and definition that I want them to study.

  • Display a timer to manage the time
  • Provide bilingual dictionaries if necessary
  • Use proximity for classroom management
  • Encourage class to applaud each team's artistic efforts
  • Refer to Word Signs as a warm-up activity each week
  • Utilize additional team roles if necessary
  • Establish rules (e.g. No one should delegate words; the group should talk together and create a team meaning)

  • Time extensions will be used less often the more you practice
  • You can adapt this activity in a way that works best for you (Instead of Word Signs, you could fold the paper into fourths and have a box for the word, a box for the definition, one for the illustration, and one for a created sentence.)

Credit:  ACSI Conference, Vocab Lab by Amy Bratten (Assistant Professor of Education at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida)

Friday, September 14, 2012

International Dot Day

September 15th is known as International Dot Day because that's when the book, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, was published in 2003.  This book is about a little girl named Vashti who does not believe that she can draw.  With the help of her teacher, she realizes that she actually is an artist.  This book invites students to explore their creativity by simply "making a mark and seeing where it takes them."
I, along with over 350,000 other educators from across the world, registered to participate in celebrating International Dot Day.  Here's what my class did:
We decided to do a week-long series of events to celebrate.  On Monday, I read aloud The Dot to the students and we began creating our own digital artwork using the Promethean board.  I printed their creations and we displayed them in "The Dot Gallery" in our classroom: 
On Tuesday, we learned about pointillism and focused on the artwork of Georges Seurat. 
On Wednesday, we were able to livestream with the author of the book (and his twin brother, Paul).  The students were SO excited about this.  I invited our librarian and the other 5th grade class to join us and they enjoyed viewing the livestream as well. 
It was neat to see that people from all over the world tuned in.  Schools from several states such as California, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas (to name a few!) were represented.  There was also a school from Canada and even Afghanistan.
Peter read aloud the book, shared what inspires him, and had a brief discussion/Q&A time.  There were so many questions that were submitted and we were thrilled when a question from our class was read aloud and answered first!!  One of my students asked, "How did you come up with the character's name, Vashti?"  We had wondered if he'd gotten it from the book of Esther in the Old Testament of the Bible.  You know, Queen Vashti?  Well, he didn't get the name from there, by the way.  ;)  If you'd like to view the archive (and learn how he actually came up with the character's name), CLICK HERE.  It's about 30-40 minutes long.
On Thursday, the students practiced pointillism in their art class (I had emailed the art teacher and she, of course, wanted the children to celebrate in her class as well).  The students couldn't stop talking about the artwork they made.  I can't wait to see it!
For fun, I dressed in dots that day and carried my dot teacher bag:
On Friday, we had "dot" snacks, which were a hit!  I provided chocolate chip cookies, Skittles, and Smarties.  YUM! 
On Monday, each of my students will receive a certificate for their participation in Dot Day and, at the end of the year, these certificates will go in their time capsules (which I'll talk about in another post).
How did your class celebrate dot day?  Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter #DotDay.  Also, be sure to follow the Peter Reynolds Twitter feed @DotClubConnect. 
Happy Dot Day! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Teacher Tip #2: Make positive phone calls during the first week

The first week of school is extremely tiring and the last thing you probably want to do after teaching all day is spend an afternoon/evening calling parents.  However, this simple gesture can make a world of difference.  It means a lot to parents when you take the time to share good news with them.  Just call each family at some point during the first week to let them know how much you enjoy their child (or at least, how excited you are about the school year).  Ask about their child’s first day (or how their week is going), and inform them that you are available if they ever have any questions or concerns.  It’s also good if you can share something specific that their child said or did that was positive; this is really encouraging since some parents only hear from the teacher if the child misbehaves.

I admit, I haven’t always done this—it wasn’t until after my 2nd year of teaching that I realized how important positive parent/teacher contact is.  You want to establish good rapport with parents and really work as a team. 
If, for whatever reason, you can’t call a parent, email works too; it’s just not as personal.  This year, I’ve seen most of my parents face-to-face so I’ve been able to speak with them personally.  If you make positive contact with parents within the first week of school, it usually makes the year run much smoother.     

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Wonder...

Today I used the website to introduce "Wonder Wednesdays." 
First, I showed my students the "Wonder Jar" (I simply cleaned out a spaghetti sauce jar and attached some stickers) and had them write down on a post-it note any two things that they wondered about.  I had to put a limit at two; otherwise, they would've created a list a mile long!  I gave some examples and we briefly discussed "how?" and "why?" questions.

I then showed today's wonder on Wonderopolis; we watched the video and learned how high humans, animals, and insects can jump.  We learned new vocabulary (ever heard of a bharal?  Me neither; it rhymes with "squirrel" by the way) and read about some games involving jumping (looking forward to trying one out at recess!). 

This site is great!  It offers a "Wonder of the Day" (there are over 700 archived), along with a picture or video, a clear explanation, vocabulary words, activities/experiments to try, and a clue for the next day's wonder.

I told my students to put their "wonders" in our Wonder Jar.  Each Wednesday, I'll pull one out and we can look it up on the site.  If it isn't listed, we can submit it and Wonderopolis will send us an answer!

Today, my students were curious about the following:
  • How many flavors of ice cream are there?
  • Why do people snore?
  • Who can hold their breath the longest?  What is the record?
  • How long does it take the average person to read the entire Bible?
  • How did the states get their shapes?
  • What causes people to forget things?
We wrapped up this activity by reviewing the Habit of Mind "responding with wonderment and awe."

My students really enjoyed this site and are looking forward to Wonder Wednesdays! 

Oh, yeah!  If you're on Twitter, be sure to follow @Wonderopolis, @WonderPhillips, and @WonderLeadMaria...and use #wonderchat to share how you use Wonderopolis in your classroom.

Suggested Reading:  Activating & Engaging (Habits of Mind) by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teacher Tip Tuesday #1--Establish Clear Procedures/Routines

For the month of September (possibly longer), I'll be writing a series called "Teacher Tip Tuesdays" in which I'll post a new tip every week.  I'm only in my 5th year of teaching, but I've learned a few things in that amount of time that might be useful to newer teachers or to those who are about to enter the profession. 

I'm no expert; these tips are just things that have worked for me, so you can take 'em or leave 'em. 

Tip #1:  Establish clear procedures and be consistent in making sure they are followed correctly.

The first two weeks of school are the most important and I spend much of that time teaching, practicing, and reviewing our class procedures.  After I explain a procedure, I have my class repeat it back to me and then we take time to practice it.  This way, there is no question about what is expected in my classroom.  I review the taught procedures everyday and at the end of the second week of school, I give the students a classroom procedures quiz (not for a grade!).

There is no way to teach all the procedures in one day, so I break them down and teach the most important ones first.  Here's my outline:

Day 1:  (I teach all these procedures on Day 1, but not necessarily in this order)
  • How to enter the classroom/Morning Routine
  • Where to put backpack
  • Signal for getting quiet ("Give Me Five")
  • What to do if teacher leaves room
  • What to do if a visitor enters the room
  • Hand Signals for comments/questions/restroom
  • How to behave in the hallway
  • How to line up
  • How to get things from your cubby during transition times (I use color groups)
  • How to pass papers in
  • If you break a pencil
  • Labeling papers
  • Playground rules
Day 2:
  • Where to put homework
  • What to do if teacher is called on walkie-talkie
  • What to do if you are absent
  • What to do if you are tardy
  • What to do if you finish work early
  • Active listening
  • How to walk up the hill at dismissal
  • How to behave at car pickup
Day 3:
  • How to work in groups
  • What to do after a test
  • Keeping a binder
  • Going to the office
  • Responding to drills/lockdown
  • Going to the library
  • Getting materials without disturbing others/Moving about the room
As you can see, there is a difference between procedures/routines and a discipline plan.  I'll explain my discipline plan another day.  A procedure is simply a way we do things in the classroom.

To learn more about establishing clear procedures/routines in your classroom, read The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry & Rosemary Wong.

I'll leave you with a quote from the book: "Student achievement at the end of the school year is directly related to the degree to which the teacher establishes good control of the classroom procedures in the very first week of the school year.  It is the procedures that set the class up for achievement to take place."