Sunday, April 19, 2015

Paint, Glitter, and Egypt, Oh My!: An Introduction to Ancient Egypt

My students thought it was the best day ever when they saw that we'd be using paint and glitter. It all started when I came across a map of Africa that was in my drawer from a previous teacher (originally from our gifted specialist). This was not just any map though...there was sand, easter grass, and paint on it! I didn't have all of those materials handy but improvised with paint, glitter, and yarn and knew this would be a perfect way to start our unit on ancient Egypt developing a foundation of the environment and geography of Africa.

The next day I started this activity by giving my students a look at Africa on Google Maps. I asked the students: What can you tell from looking at Africa? What kinds of habitats cover Africa? Where is Africa located in relation to the other continents? After this brief inquiry session, I shared some fun facts with them about Egypt and Africa including the importance of the Nile River. 

Then came the most fun part….paint and glitter! I had already precut Africa and outlined Egypt for my students so they started by glueing Africa to their blue paper, writing their title, map key, and compass rose. While they were setting up their map, I simultaneously squirted paint on the appropriate sections of their map to represent the different habitats. They used q—tips to spread the paint and glued red yarn for the equator. To complete their maps, they used blue glitter for the Nile River and added gold glitter to the desert area. For accountability, my students completed the exit ticket, which I counted for a grade. If you're interested in my exit ticket, it's available for purchase in my TpT Store. 

Happy painting! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Favorite Things Linky: Must-Have Picture Books + eBooks

Read Alouds...I. LOVE. THEM. and STUDENTS. LOVE. THEM. You do too, right?! Not only do I love the magic of sharing a book with my kids but I also love listening to others read too! One of my favorite moments of each week is on Friday mornings when my class goes to visit our librarian. We call them Book Talks. Our librarian selects some books and reads a few pages aloud to the class from each book. She does such an amazing job taking on the roles of the characters...using different voices, raising and lowering her voice, slowing and quickening the pace all depending on the context...the students (and myself!) are hooked and excited to explore and check out books that we may not have noticed otherwise. This story leads me to do a Book Talk of my own for you as part of Teaching Trio's Linky Party: A Few of My Favorite Things! Below are a few of my favorite books that I have recently read to my students.

In addition to having a love for picture books and read alouds, I am beginning to become a fan of eBooks as more familiar titles are made available. Check out Storyline Online and Epic! Storyline Online has well-known actors reading aloud popular children's books while Get Epic! has a range of recognizable fiction (think Scaredy Squirrel!) and nonfiction (that's kid friendly for young readers!) ebooks available to be read on the iPad or computer (another tip from our wonderful librarian!). Both are free! 

Happy Reading!

Visit Teaching Trio to link up and/or see more favorite things! 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Do You Kahoot?

What was originally intended for trivia-players at pubs in London has been enthusiastically taken over by students and you Kahoot?! When using Kahoot, be prepared for your students to go...well...a LITTLE CRAZY! They will be engaged. They may scream from excitement. Yes, they will be learning!

Kahoot is a game-based formative assessment system that is FREE and can be used on ANY device (desktop computer, laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod) as long as it has an Internet browser and connection. You basically create a quiz, which you project for the students to see, and then the students' devices become the game controller (think the new and improved clickers).

It gets better...for the students to participate in the Kahoot, they just have to enter a game code at Then while the students are signing in, you can embed a YouTube video to keep them occupied while they are waiting. Once the Kahoot starts, the questions are timed (to a setting you've selected), students will get feedback immediately following each question (once everyone has submitted their answer), and the top five students with the highest score will be displayed following every question (motivation to the max!). After the Kahoot is completed, you can download the students' results to your desktop or GoogleDrive. For a tutorial on how to make your own Kahoot visit this link. You can also use Kahoots that other people have made available for public use.

To see what Kahoot is all about, take a look at one I created for my 2nd graders on Academic Vocabulary for Adaptations. Before the Kahoot, students and I had a discussion about adaptations and created a class Circle Map about hibernation, migration, camouflage, and dormancy. Then my students did the Kahoot on Academic Vocabulary for Adaptations to give me an idea of who's got it and who doesn't. The Kahoot I created has a song about adaptations playing as the students are signing in and has five questions with pictures. My students get VERY EXCITED so I do a Countdown to Calm ("3-2-1-0 and calm") after each question. It helps. Sometimes. ;)

Happy Kahooting!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Learning Across the Curriculum with Native Americans

Do you ever feel like there are just NOT enough hours in the day? All the time, right?! Well I’ve got a solution for you…integration! I’m talking about making connections across the curriculum, using content meaningfully and authentically, and engaging students in learning in multiple ways. Doesn't that sound great?! Take a look at how our unit on Native Americans was integrated with writing, reading, math, science, and within social studies. 

Writers’ Workshop

During the third quarter, we focus on informational writing...what better way to do that than to have students take on the role of a news reporter for the Powhatan, Lakota, and Pueblo?! Students researched each Native American group and then went through the writing process to write their news. Topics they wrote about ranged from announcements of  contents where a long house was the prize (as in the example above) and the arrival of the English settlers to warnings about tornados and buffalo stampedes. As long as they were informing the "public" about something related to the Native Americans, they could go wherever they liked with it. The final step was to bring their news to life with the free app, Telestory

Readers’ Workshop

We were focusing on some TOUGH skills in reading this quarter and using the Native American content was a great way to make inferences, asking questions, and locating information more accessible to all of my students since they all had background knowledge on this content from the work we had done in social studies.

First we started with poems...I wrote poems for each Native American group where the students had to infer what each line of the poem meant and then infer who the poem was about/what was happening in the poem. Students also used a Prezi I made with authentic Native American photos to make inferences about which Native American group was pictured. They had to use their connections about each tribe's home, transportation, environment, and occupations along with the clues in the pictures to make their inferences. They were making inferences just like a historian!

Pebble Books is an excellent resource for kid-friendly nonfiction books! My kids had been doing a great job generating questions before, during, and after reading but they were not always asking the most accurate questions that reflected what they had read. To help them with this skill, I copied and pasted text from Pebble Books into five paragraphs. Then I generated five different questions that were specific to each paragraph. My students' goal was to match each question to its related paragraph and then highlight key words in the paragraph to prove that the question did indeed relate to that paragraph. I did something similar to help them practice locating information. I again copied and pasted five paragraphs from Pebble Books but this time I generated five questions whose answers could be located in each of the paragraphs. Then students matched each question to the paragraph with that question's answer and highlighted the answer in the paragraph to prove their work. You could do this with any text to help students practice both of these challenging skills!

Math and Science

Google Maps in math?! Yes! Students "traveled" to destinations related to our three Native American groups, illustrated a picture of the environment (connection to habitats in science), and then added their miles as they traveled from place to place. Students got to "visit" long houses in Jamestown, buffalo at the Yellowstone National Park, and multi-story terrace buildings in Albuquerque. This was a great real-world context for the students to experience adding with regrouping as they progressed along their trip AND was so much fun (they especially liked the street view)!

Social Studies

Students mapped the houses, transportation, occupations, and environment of each tribe with specific mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers they are expected to be able to locate in 2nd grade.

Economics beautifully integrates with Native Americans...the different resources, needs and wants, goods and services, bartering,'s the perfect opportunity to integrate across social studies objectives. First I gave the students a list of economic academic vocabulary words and we discussed examples of each vocabulary word and how it related to the Native Americans. Students organized this information into a Tree Map (photo above, top left). After that, they used the Tree Map to create a Native American good or service...students made jewelry, buffalo skin, a feather game, bows and arrows, teepees, pottery, etc. The next day they bartered their goods and services in exchange for goods and services from each other. This simulation was a hit! Following the simulation, they completed a reflection on bartering and scarcity and a resource sort. The documents for our economics simulation are available in my TpT store. Enjoy!

Keep in mind that my students did other Native American activities and tasks that did not lend themselves to integration. When it was appropriate and connections were seamless, integration was a great way to supplement this content-based unit. What connections can you see across your curriculum? in other content areas? Give it a try!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Are Your Students Up For a Challenge?! Extension Mini-Projects

It all started with a video that one of my students sent me... We were learning about capacity as part of our unit on measurement, and I had explained to the students that the units of capacity are like a royal family...the cup is the royal cat, the pint is the prince or princess, the quart is the queen, and the gallon is the king. This connection resonated especially well with one my students so much that he when he went home, he found a bunch of containers, sorted them into the units, and made a video to share with me. His video was ADORABLE, and I was so impressed with his initiative. Then I thought, "This is a great idea! I should have all my students do this!" and the Capacity Challenge was born! Though I made this an optional project, 18 out of my 27 students took on the challenge and sent me their own videos. The Capacity Challenge ended up being beneficial for all of my students because I shared each video with the class, which exposed them to different variations of cups, pints, quarts, and gallons (i.e one student shared how ziplock bags come in different units). Students who completed the Capacity Challenge earned a medal to wear for the day that I customized to say "I completed the Capacity Challenge!". Students also signed their name on our Capacity Challenge List where I had QR coded their videos.

The Capacity Challenge was so fun that I posed a second challenge to my students for our science unit Living Systems...The Plant to Product Challenge! Students investigated a product in their home that was made from a plant and then researched the process from plant to product. Then the students shared their challenge with the class exposing all students to important plant products. Some students made a video while others made a poster and brought in a prop/artifact to accompany their brief presentation. Some students were general with their research while others were more specific. I made the challenge's requirements open-ended so that the challenge would be accessible to a range of learners. If you're interested in the Plant to Product Challenge it's available in my TpT Store!

So are your students up for the challenge?! Good luck!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Math Menu: An Alternative to Math Centers

Have you ever considered using a math menu? I was at my wit's end with math centers when I saw our gifted specialist use a choice menu for a social studies unit and thought, "Could I do that for math?!"  While math centers have value for students, I was struggling to maintain them…making the activities and materials, switching them out, etc. I knew there must be an easier and more efficient way for me that would also meet the needs of my students. That's when I decided to create a math menu and give it a try! 

Our Math Menu is printed on poster paper and is posted in our classroom.

When designing our Math Menu, I wanted the menu to be general enough that it could be used with any math unit so that I wouldn’t need to create or prep too many new tasks. I also wanted to make sure I held students accountable for their work and that they had some kind of product to show for their time spent during Math Menu. The final characteristic I wanted was to make sure there was a mix of open-ended and closed tasks so that no one would quickly do all of the choices and be left with nothing else to do.

After the students have learned all of the objectives for a unit, we will usually do Math Menu for about five to seven days before a test. While students are participating in Math Menu, I pull small groups by objective based on formative assessments. I LOVE the structure of a menu vs centers because of flexible grouping…I can pull groups whenever I want, for however long I want because I am no longer tied to the rotation of a center schedule. Students may also be in more than one group. For instance, if Michael needs support with adding coins and measuring length, he will see me with the adding coins group and again for the measuring length group. The part I have to be careful about is making sure I’ve seen every student so that no one is left out or left doing Math Menu for too long. 

At this point, I have been using Math Menu for about a year with both my students from last year and my current class. Basically when it's time for Math Menu, I'll say to my students in Oprah-style, "It's time for Maaaaaaaattttthhhhhhhhh Meeeennnnuuuuuu!" and they'll say, "YAYYYY!" Then I tell them something like, "I need to see the following students at the carpet for adding double digits...and everyone else may go to their choice for Math Menu and gather what they need." I will work with a small group from anywhere to 5 to 15 minutes depending on how they are doing. Sometimes a few students in the group catch on quickly so I'll send them back to Math Menu and keep working with those who need more intervention. When I'm done working with a group, I'll call for the class' attention (we use "Give me 5") and give the names of the next group of students I want to see. I will also periodically get up to see what everyone is working on around the room too. At the close of Math Menu, everyone helps clean up and I check the Check-in Table (see below). 

Along the way I have added some features to make Math Menu successful for my students and I:

Signs help keep us organized and give the students a reference for what to do. 

Check-in Table
Students shade in the amount of money their choice costs. This gives me a quick glimpse at who is accomplishing their work. This table was printed on poster paper, laminated, and is posted on an easy-to-reach cabinet in our classroom.

Checklist, Templates, and Pre-Cut Game Cards for Invent a Game
All of these items help the students prioritize and make the best use of their time when they are making a game. I found game templates for free for Monopoly, Candyland, etc. HERE and had a parent volunteer make blank cards and bag them. 

If you are interested in my Math Menu and management pieces, check it out in my TpT Store! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Screencasting for the Classroom

When there is only one of you and twenty-seven seven year olds, tutorials on how to use a Web 2.0 Tool or app are a valuable resource! I have noticed that screencast tutorials are especially helpful for those students who need to hear how to do something again when I have already given the directions. It gives them a way to be a problem-solver instead of relying on me or their neighbor to tell them again. Screencasts can also be helpful for parents! The possibilities are endless on what to screencast! There are many different platforms for screencasting but I have stuck with the two tools below. I love them because they are easy to use (really, give it a try!)  and quick to upload on my class website and YouTube. I hope you love them too! 

Screencast Your Computer

My school's technology coach (Sent From My iPad) introduced me to Screenr, a free screencast recording application for the computer. It's super easy to use and can help you make screencasts in a snap! There is a five minute recording limit, which forces me to be concise and anything longer would be too much for my students. I usually upload my screencasts to my class website for my students and parents to access but you can also publish them on YouTube. I have used Screenr to make tutorials for a range of things from showing students how to use their online reading log from showing parents how to navigate our class website. Below is an example for my students' online reading log:

Screencast Your iPhone or iPad
with the newest operating system Yosemite

Another screencast option that I was recently introduced to by Leslie Fisher at the Future of Educational Technology Conference involves using your iPad or iPhone. This is fabulous for making a tutorial on how to use an app. You take the USB cord that is part of your charger to connect your device to your Mac (this may work with other computers but I'm not sure) and voila you're iPad is now mirrored on your computer screen ready for recording! Leslie Fisher provides a fabulous tutorial on how to do this but here is what the finished product looks like...this a screencast I made using my iPhone and QuickTime on my MacBook Air to show my students how to use the app Flipagram:

Happy screencasting!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Students As Authors: Writers' Workshop Part IV

It’s always a lifesaver to have extra writing activities on hand that are ready any time! Here are some fun ideas that I use for students who finish first:

Whole-class journals are community journals with open ended prompts. Click the link for my free whole-class journal labels

Scholastic's Story Starter Machine is SO FUN. Just click the link and you'll see! 

In the past I've had my students use Kidblog but this year I created a blog group on Edmodo. Every year I always have a group of students who take off with blogging and even do it at home...they are the writers who don't usually compose much on paper but when you give them a keyboard, they go on and on! The students also like having an audience and being able to write to each other. 

Drop Everything and Write
Just like Drop Everything and Read, we do Drop Everything and Write! I got this idea from my mentor teacher during student teaching and use it every year. The students love to interview each other and have conversations through writing. 

Have I convinced you? Isn’t writing the best? ;) 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Blended Learning in Readers’ Workshop

What if I told you that every one of my 27 2nd graders were on-task (yes, EVEN the student who is usually bouncing around the room and can usually only focus for about two seconds), actively engaged, and exclaiming “This is so fun!”. What would you think I’m describing? Recess, maybe? I’m talking about reading! My readers’ workshop has been transformed with the implementation of 1:1 Chromebooks (a laptop with only Internet). 

Before the use of Chromebooks, I always felt like I was having to rearrange our reading block every six weeks…the kids would get antsy, more off-task behaviors would be happening…some kind of oomph was missing. Have you ever had the feeling? I needed and wanted readers’ workshop to be a time of the day that my students and I looked forward to and were excited about. I was constantly trying to find a way to make readers’ workshop work for us, for it to be worthwhile. Then our administration and PTA granted us a class set of Chromebooks. I knew that if I could find a way to have the students use the Chromebooks during readers’ workshop, the workshop that I imagined may come to life! 

After some trial and error, I now have the beginnings of a blended learning environment for readers’ workshop and my students and I LOVE it! I still do mini-lessons and model with read alouds but now when my students are working on using strategies in their leveled book, they are doing it on the Internet. Thanks to Edmodo (a free facebook-like platform for education), Reading A-Z, and other e-book sources, my students are collaborating with one another, reading for extended periods of time, actively responding to their reading, receiving immediate feedback, and having fun! 

What does this look like in the classroom? What exactly are my students doing?

Take a peek at this tutorial I created for my students and you’ll see how they use Edmodo and Reading A-Z:

The following are screenshots of the work they produced on Edmodo for generating questions before reading with a nonfiction text. 

As for me, I’m doing mostly the same things that I did before…pulling small groups, meeting with individual students, observing, etc. However, I can now give immediate feedback to the students who remain at their seat…through my teacher account view, I can approve their posts, rate it with a range of smiley faces, and even pull impromptu groups based on what I see them posting at that moment. Isn’t that fabulous?! What do you think?!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Students As Authors: Writers' Workshop Part III

What do writers write?! Each quarter we focus on a different type of writing (narrative, persuasive/opinion, informational, and back to narrative), and I pick a topic that is related to one of our current units of study in science or social studies for their writing pieces. Integration = Connections = DEEP LEARNING! Then when all is said and done, I offer the students activities that extend upon their writing, which often involves technology or art. 

My ultimate favorite writing unit we have done is Who Should be Mayor of Pickle City? for persuasive writing. During this writing unit, the students are simultaneously learning about the elected leaders and responsibilities of local government in social studies. To hook the students, I created two fictional mayoral candidates of the fictional Pickle City. 

Meet…Kate Ketchup and Pete Pizza

I presented each candidate’s platform to the students with Voki (a free tech tool used to make talking avatars). They loved it and thought it was hilarious. Then we summarized each candidate’s platform and discussed pros and cons for each point. Following this overview of the candidates, students decided who they wanted to side with. Who would make the best mayor for Pickle City? 

During the Planning stage, they used a flow map from Read, Write, Think (I printed the blank map) and brainstormed introductions and recorded the main points of their candidate’s platform. Then they caucused with their like-minded group through an inner/outer circle format to develop arguments for each of their points. This worked out so fabulously! They collaborated with many different people and gained great information from each other. 

After they had developed a strong argument for their candidate, they developed counterclaims. We started by having a VERY guided debate (debate inspiration from professional development by our county’s language arts supervisor). I asked the students, “Why do you think Kate Ketchup or Pete Pizza should be mayor?” A student would offer an opinion about Kate Ketchup’s platform and then another student would offer their thoughts about Pete Pizza. I continued switching between both sides recording their arguments on chart paper. 

Caucus with Like-Minded Group                                                                                                                  Guided Debate

THEN came the counterclaim. I explained that it’s important to see both sides. and that politely refuting another’s idea can make for a stronger argument. I proceeded by asking the students to look at the arguments documented on the chart paper for the opposition and think of a reason as to why it’s not a good idea and what your candidate could do that would be better. Following this direction, the students developed at least one counterclaim with the following sentence frame: 
"Some may argue that…however… "

What the students wrote was unbelievable! They had become expert persuaders! I wish I had a student example to share with you but from what I can remember, they wrote things like, "Some may argue that more cars equals more pollution however Pete Pizza will offer cars that run on electricity."

After our debate, students completed their planning by adding a conclusion. They wrote things like, "Obviously Kate Ketchup is the best choice for mayor," and, "In my opinion you should vote for Pete Pizza." Then they proceeded through the stages of the writing process. When they reached the Publishing stage, they composed their final draft as a letter to the citizens of Pickle City. And when all was said and done, our classroom was covered with campaign posters, voting booths, and ticket ballots. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Students as Authors: Writers' Workshop Part II

Most of our writers’ workshop is spent writing, of course! Planning > First Draft > Edit/Revise > Publishing. These are the stages my students follow for each writing piece. They keep their work in a writing folder and move it from magazine box to magazine box based on each stage of the writing process (idea source from The Superlative Six). Nearly all of my Writing Process Labels have become detached from our boxes but if you're interested in seeing the labels, they are available for FREE in my TpT store. The students usually do two to three pieces each quarter. We spend A LOT of time on each piece to really make it quality. I am a big fan of Thinking Maps and have the students use them for the Planning stage. Sometimes I create my own Thinking Maps templates and sometimes I find JUST what I'm looking for from Lisa Lizak and Beth Wright or Read, Write, Think (click links for free Thinking Maps!). 

During the First Draft stage, students use their Thinking Map to compose their writing on special draft paper. If students need me, they sign up for a writing reservation (made with Google Forms) on the computer. I will also pull small groups based on what I see. 

Writing reservations also come in handy for the Edit/Revise stage. I love the writing reservations because it gives me a record of what students need and who I’ve met with but the best part is, the students do all the work! They love going to the computer and completing the writing reservation form. It makes them feel so fancy! I keep my iPad at my fingertips and have the results of the writing reservation form up on the screen and it updates in real time as the students submit a reservation. 

Student View of Writing Reservation                          Student in Action                      Teacher View of Writing Reservations

One of the most overwhelming parts of writing for me used to be editing student work so I then I got smarter and started having the students do most of it. It's a win-win for both the students and I because they become master editors with all the practice (I also like to think that maybe they put more effort into their first drafts so then they don’t have to correct as much, wishful thinking?) and I don’t have to spend hours after school editing every single error. 

During the Edit/Revise stage, I’ll pull a small group based on the reservations. They bring a marker, clipboard, and their first draft to the carpet. I keep a dry-erase board with me to do brief lessons based on their errors. I will instruct the students to check every sentence for a capital letter, punctuation, etc. and they use editing marks to make the corrections. As the year progresses, I add additional steps during the Edit/Revise stage, such as pick a word to find a jazzy synonym for, check for contractions, etc. During the final part of this stage, I pair the students up and they read their writing aloud to one another while I rotate around and listen in. The purpose of the partner read aloud is for them to give each other compliments and suggestions. Two brains are better than one, right?! They also catch a lot of errors once they hear how their writing sounds out loud.

Finally, the students move to their final draft! They write their story on loose-leaf notebook paper (it takes them forever to remember what side the holes go on! Does anyone have any tricks for that?) and sometimes they make it into a book! Every other month I organize an event called Quill and Scroll with my colleagues where five students from each class are invited to share a "published" piece of writing one evening after school. Families are invited, the kids dress's real special! Every student in the school gets invited to at least one Quill and Scroll during the year. Stay tuned for a more detailed post on how to organize your own Quill and Scroll!  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Students As Authors: Writers' Workshop Part I

What’s your favorite subject? I would absolutely say writing. Mostly because I LOVE what my students come up with…their adorable writers’ voice and creative ideas. I also like it because it’s the one subject I have to plan the least for…once we get started on a writing piece, the students do most of the work! I also have become super comfortable with managing writer’s workshop. Not comfortable in the I’m-in-a-rut kind of way but instead comfortable in the sense that everything is just as it should be, smooth and peaceful. Who doesn’t love that? The funny thing is our routine for writers’ workshop stays the same all year yet my students nor I have ever gotten antsy with our routine compared to readers’ workshop that I have to revise at certain times of the year. Want to know what I’m talking about? Here’s an overview of writers’ workshop in my classroom that will be shared over a series of posts:

Characteristics of My Writers’ Workshop

My three favorite things about Writers’ Workshop: read alouds, sharing, and music. Some days we start our workshop with a read aloud to focus on a type of writing, text structure, topic sentences, etc. There are so many fabulous mentor texts available! Other days we start with a student or two sharing their writing. The students continue to have opportunities to share during and at the end of our workshop. Throughout the year they learn how to compliment each other and offer suggestions. Many a time a student will write something that is unbelievably amazing, something better than I could have ever planned…these moments are significant for igniting the fire in others. Lightbulbs go off in students and I hear words like “Oh I could include that in my story by…!” and “Look! I just added…just like Ashley did!” 

Isn’t that the best? Meanwhile The Piano Guys are playing on Pandora in the background and I think that nothing could be better than this. If you haven't listened to The Piano Guys Station on Pandora, you must go there right now. You'll be glad you did. ;)

Visit Hippo Hooray for Second Grade for more on Pandora in the classroom. 

The School Potato is Here!

Hello, World!

I’ve been thinking about you and have many good things coming your way to make up for all of the time that I’ve been gone. 

Stay tuned! 
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