Thursday, October 20, 2011

These 5th Graders Recommend

In our classroom we have a running list of book recommendations we thought we would share with the world.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Eragon series by Christopher Paolini
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
13 Gifts by Wendy Mass
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black
Camp Confidential by Melissa J. Morgan
Soulsurfer by Bethany Hamilton
Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson
The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan
Ghosts in the Fog by Samantha Seiple
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Rules by Cynthia Lord
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
The Lightning Thief Series by Rick Riordan

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A $10,000 Opportunity

As some of you may know, a couple of weeks ago I was told I was one of 10 finalists in the Great American Teach Off.  This contest was created to highlight great elementary educators across the nation and I am frankly astounded to be part of the group.  Not only that but the grand prize in the contest is $10,000 for my classroom.  

The last two weeks I have been very busy creating videos highlighting my students and how we are innovative and making a difference and now I need your help.  The final part of the contest is a nationwide vote-off.  Every week they post a video and the lowest two vote-getters will be eliminated until finally one is left standing.  I do feel like I am on American Idol right now, but thankfully it is not my singing chops being evaluated but rather me as a teacher.

Voting starts on Monday at 1 PM at www.good.is/gato and you can vote once a day for the week.  If I survive the first week then I have to get people to vote the following week and so on.  

So if you have a moment, would you please consider voting for my classroom (on Monday)?  

These students work their hearts out, sharing their journeys with the world, and we try to be innovative within the very rigid public school framework.  I am proud of the accomplishments of my students, their eagerness to try and fail, and their willingness to share it all with the world. 

$10,000 for us would mean more books in our library, perhaps a new gym floor, or even carpet in our classroom so we could snuggle up with good books.  There are many deserving educators out there and I am one of many, thank you for considering.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Using Animoto in Social Studies

I recently showcased a small project my students created using the fantastic Animoto website.  Now Animoto does not want student accounts, so they used mine instead, which is a free educator account.  Sorry Animoto, but I just don't see why students shouldn't be allowed to use your site.  Anyway,  I was asked to go into details of how these were created and the truth is, it was really simple.

  1. We brainstormed what we knew about the US Land Regions to get the kids thinking about them.
  2. I spilt the kids into 5 groups, one for each region, by picking sticks - suck it up if you don't like your group.
  3. Then I gave the students print materials to start them off in their research  My students have a tendency to want to jump on the computer right away but I wanted them to use books first, because these books are really good.  
  4. They also got an idea sheet to get them started since this was their first project of the year.
  5. The students then had some time to brainstorm, research and search for images that they wanted to put in their Animoto.  Now they had already seen how Animoto worked because of the creation of their classroom vision.
  6. Students had different roles as decided by their group; image finder, citation expert, fact finder, fact writer (have to keep it short and snappy) and Animoto person.  I did not have them put their citations in the Animoto, instead they had it on a separate sheet for me to see.  This is important since they need to cite their sources.
  7. Once they had some research, one student would get logged into my Animoto and would be in charge of adding the pictures that they had found as well as working on the text.  
  8. The whole group would play around with the Animoto, the background, placement of facts versus pictures, etc.  It was great to see how the kids worked together successfully and some not so successfully   Everything is a learning opportunity.
  9. Once the videos were finished, the students watched all 5 of them with a scrap piece of paper and wrote down 3 facts they learned in each.  
  10. We then created big posters of all the facts we learned through the presentations.
  11. Then the students evaluated their work.  We discussed what would make a great Animoto versus a not so great one.  What type of facts should be included etc?  
  12. Students then assigned each presentation a rubric number 1 through 4 and boy, they were harsh.
  13. We finished the project discussing what we would change, how we would do it better next time and what we learned.
The last step was super important because I want my students to be teachers as well.  So it is important that they put on their teacher hats and do the evaluation.  They are often much more critical than me.  They own their work, they evaluate it, and they know what they should do better.  Sometimes we redo it, sometimes we take the knowledge and apply it to something else.  I loved seeing how engaged the students were in this project.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How To Make the New Year Easier - Year After Year

There are several things I do at the beginning of the year that saves me quite a bit of time during the year so I thought I would share.

  • Create skeleton sub plans.  These sub plans have all of our times and subjects on them as well as any pertinent information.  That way when I need a sub in the room all I do is plug in the specific information and presto - sub plans are done.  Here is an example.  These also come in handy in case you wake up super sick, which I have tried, at least you can email this to the school secretary.
  • Write a Dear Substitute Letter.  I have students with special needs in my room as well as kids that need extra care.  At the beginning of the year I write a brief letter to my subs explaining a little bit about my kids and their needs, without breaking confidentiality of  ourse, then I have it to give to each new sub.  Here is an example letter.
  • Lessonplanner.  I do not buy a lesson plan book because I end up spending a ton of time writing everything in it.  Instead I have tables set up and I make my own.  Every year I just have to tweak the times and change the subjects around, voila, my very own neat lesson planner.  As the year progresses I will also type in when some kids get pulled out, band lessons, etc. 
  • Set up a parent email group.  I use this parent group all of the time and never have to worry about not including all of my parents. 
  • Use Numbers instead of Names (on the boring stuff).  My students are all assigned numbers for things like their take home envelopes, their book boxes, and files that keep on them.  That way I don't have to print out new name stickers year after year, they simply get a number assigned to this more boring stuff.
There are many more tips but these are the ones I always get done right away.  Happy year to you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On Those Two First Days

I am in the countdown, getting butterflies, and starting to have those back to school nightmares about how much the kids will hate me.  Yes, school starts in 3 weeks.  So yesterday I sat down and brainstormed what I would do those first two days or week with my kids.  We start weird this year with orientation on Thursday and then full day Friday but then Labor Day weekend so I don't plan out the lessons.  But I do make a list of all the things we should do.  Care to see it?

So what does it say?
  • Flag pennent - a way for my kids to show their personality and decorate their cubbies - it's a 5th grade thing
  • Wordle about me - I have parents hand in 5 secret adjectives to describe their child and then we add 5 of our own and it make a really great Wordle about the kids which we hang up - the students get so surprised over the adjectives their parents use.
  • Intro to Blogging - we start to talk about blogging on the second day of school because it is a huge part of our classroom.  And then we start to discuss safety.
  • Paper blog lesson - this is a great lesson shared by @McTeach and one that I love to do with my kids.
  • Lunch magnets - sign in, sign out
  • Name sticks - I randomly pull sticks when we discuss and use them for group work.
  • Pencil cups - I have tables this year so no more name tags on desks.  Students will instead have a decorated pencil cup with their name on it.  They work on this while I read aloud.
  • Writing sample - I love seeing how they grow.  I think this year's topic might be "What color is 5th grade?"
  • Read Dear Future Mrs. Ripp Student letters aloud.  Every year my students write a letter to the new kids sharing information about this classroom and how to get the best out of it.  This year some of those students are still with me so I am going to share their letters with the whole class when they work on projects.
  • Time Capsule - we measure height and write down our favorites and dislikes.  The kids always crack up at the end of the year about what they wrote.
  • Make Animoto classroom vision - the kids figure out our vision for the room and put in into Animoto.  It really gets them thinking and helps them take ownership of the room, here is last year's.
  • Discuss classroom jobs - I have helpers every week and this year I added new jobs like Googler and Mapper.  The Goggler will google questions we have submitted on a list and the mapper will keep track of where we connect with.
  • Morning Routine - we discuss expectations; what type of morning do the kids want?  How do we get started for the day?  We come to an agreement on how it will run best.
  • Random Pictures of Mrs. Ripp - I will be sharing a slideshow of random pictures from my life to see if the kids can guess what they mean to me.  The following the kids will bring in their random pictures.
  • Connect the students - this is a great activity that only requires paper and sharpies.  The kids all write their name on the border of the paper and then one person makes a statement like "I play soccer."  Anyone else who plays soccer gets to connect their name to theirs and then the next person states something and so on.  In the end you have a huge spiderweb of how connected we are in the classroom which I display even though it is super messy but it kind of looks like art.
  • Rules discussion - I don't set the rules, the kids do.  So how do we want our room to function, how do we want it to sound, to look like?  What will we do to maintain it.  That conversation starts on the first day.
  • Be a tour guide - I have some of my students from last year so why not have them give tours of the classroom.  I have changed some stuff but not everything so then everyone can feel at home.
  • Name your table.  The students will come up with a table name and then create a banner for it.  This will happen monthly as the students change tables.

So there you go, just a couple of my to do's for the first couple of days.  If you see something you like; borrow the idea.  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

An Example of an Author Study

The students did author studies this year as detailed here.  To be fair I decided to create my own author study on one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, so here it is.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Diary of Project

For the past two years, my phenomenal tech teacher, Myrna Heilman, has spearheaded the Diary of project in the 4th grade. The students get to research an animal of their choosing, write down 10 facts at least and then create a movie pretending to be their animal. This is based on the books in the "Diary of a Fly" series and this lesson plan.

This lesson not only lets students incorporate tech in a meaningful way, not just for tech's sake, but lets them truly adapt a different voice and unique perspective. While most of my students' work can be found here, below is just a sample of the finished product.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Dream City Project Finished

For a week the students worked on building their 3-d models becoming designers and builders.  Here is the finished product.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Build a 3-D City - a math project for scale, area, and perimeter

This week we started our much anticipated week-long project with the goal of designing and building a 3-d city.  I searched the internet for plans to modify but did not come across any, so please feel free to use or modify this as you see fit.

In Everyday Math, unit 8 in 4th grade is all about area and perimeter.  The unit is very short and I therefore saw a need for concrete practice with calculations.  My husband, who happens to be a house designer and builder, agreed to co-teach this with me.

Length of project: 5 days

Materials used: 
Advance preparation:
  • We wrapped the plywood in gray paper for roads and drew in all of the lots and roads.  (We placed the wrapped plywood in the classroom a day in advance to build anticipation, it was great fun!)
  • Copies for each person as needed
  • Poster hung for Building Process
  • Lottery lot numbers made and cut out, one for each student to draw.  I worte on them lot # and what type of building.
  • Scale decided upon: 10 feet = 1 inch
  • Height of each story = 10 feet
  • There must be 10% green space left on lot
  • Single family homes must have at least 20% garage of house square footage
  • Shopping malls etc. must have 40% of square footage be parking

Day 1:
  • My husband used this presentation to reveal what the project would be, the video was stopped when "Kelly" was introduced.
  • Then he showed a slide show of different types of houses to show the students what houses could look like, again sparking that creativity.
  • We would stop and let kids get excited with each other for a couple of minutes.  
  • We made a list of math we would need to use: Scale, area, perimeter, fractions, decimals, percentages.  There may even be more, only time will tell.
  • Then time to sketch.  Some students work in teams (if they are designing/building a large building) while others work by themselves.  This is their time to try out several ideas that will fit with their requirements.
  • The rest of the class time was used on sketching, answering questions and just checking in with students.
Day 2:
  • Start out by answering any questions students may have.
  • Discuss math conversions needed by using this prezi
  • I would also sketch out at some point what it means to draw a detailed dimension plan.
  • Meet with students to see if they have everything figured out and give them architectural approval.

    Days 3-5:
    • Students design, draw, and meet to get their building permits.  
    • The process is as follows: Concept design, architectural control, permit checklist, detailed plans, building permit, build your house.
    • This is where the support will happen as students try to do the math needed for the project.
    • Obviously different levels of support are needed for this for each student, modify as you go.
    Coming soon: pictures, video and progress reports.

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    A Lesson in Action and Word Choice

    My students are developing their choice in words and in particular how to create a more exciting story.  I often find that students are tired of writing by the time they reach the exciting bits and so it ends up being shortened and not fully developed.  This action word lesson sprung from this problem.

    Day 1:
    • I read them "Crazy Hair" by Neil Gaiman and asked them to take note of any "delicious" words that he used.  Whenever students submitted a delicious word, we discussed what other words he could have chosen and why we thought he didn't.
    • We then return to our prior knowledge of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing, which ones have we discussed more (organization, voice) and which ones do we need to explore; word choice.
    • This always lead to a discussion of why word choice is so important, where the students take ownership of making their writing better. 
    • I also introduce the "circle it" strategy here for spelling words: don't skip a word just because you cannot spell it, spell it as best as you can, circle it and come back to it when you edit.  This eliminates kids stopping and losing their momentum in their writing.
    • Then they need to spice up some boring sentences to get their creative juices flowing, my list of boring sentences can be found here.  I only gave them 4 to work on in a small group and they had about 5 min. to improve.  Then present to the class and the students compliment each others sentences.
    • I do a teaser for the next day about how excited I am to introduce their writing project etc.

    Day 2:
    • Write the word "ACTION" on the white board.  Let students guess for a minute why.  Then refresh their memory about the lesson from day 1.   What does action have to do with word choice?
    • After discussion of this we speak about the climax of a story.  My students already know about the parts of a story so they recognize the diagram I draw on the board.  I circle the middle part because this is where the focus needs to be.
    • We discuss how movies are filled with action and then how would you write a scene from a movie?  I offer them my example. We discuss why it works as an action sequence.
    • Then it is their turn.  In small groups, they are to brainstorm using our huge whiteboards (24" x 32") and then write our a short action sequence using the most exciting word choices they can come up with. I project their brainstorm help questions to save paper.
    • I have them write in small groups as a guided writing step, some students would be capable of writing their own example right away but this way they help each other gain strength.  I gave my students 30 min to brainstorm and write.  They all finished just in time.
    • Share the stories and compliment what can be complimented.
    • Then I reveal the final project: their own short story, starting at the beginning of the action and ending at the end of the action.  No set up, no explanation, no denouement, just pure action.
    Day 3:
    • Brainstorm using these sheets from www.writingfix.com.  This fit our purpose of using transtion words to shift from place to place as well as keeping the focus on the action.
    • Students will spend a lesson brainstorming and meeting with peers to help each other out.
    Day 4:
    • Meet with me to discuss their idea and then begin the actual writing process.
    Days spent on this lesson will depend on progress of students.  I envision about 2 weeks with a comic like illustration to go along with their action sequence.


    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    Math Obstacle Course

    The point has been reached in my 4th grade EDM curriculum where the kids start to really spread out as far as their abilities.  I knew I needed a review day but did not want to start at the whiteboard droning on.  Enter the math obstacle course!

    The idea was simple: 5 different obstacles or stations, 3 volunteers, self-paced kids and a final project.  The five stations were:
    1. Rounding numbers
    2. Multi-digit multiplication
    3. Long division
    4. Build a Buck (adding and subtracting decimals)
    5. Fraction of Game
    I recruited one fabulous parent volunteer to run the long-division station, had my fantastic special ed. teacher teach a different way of doing rounding, and then had the incredible ELL teacher teach at the multiplication station.  I ran the game stations and did various check-ins.

    The students were told they had to complete all 5 obstacles before they could get to the final station; Build your Dream House using pattern blocks (they had to label them, so that was review all the way back to the 1st unit of the year).  They decided where they went, and then set their own pace.  Kid could get re-taught certain concepts if they needed it or they could choose to do the challenge questions right away and see if they completed the obstacle right away.

    I drew a map of the obstacles on the board, explained the concepts, and off they went.  They loved it!  It was a bit of organized chaos, but the connections I was able to share with kids and witness them make just floored me.  All students completed all 5 obstacles, even those who needed some extra review, and they loved the creative final project.  Many of the students were eager to share their dream houses and all brought them home.  

    I will definitely be doing this type of review again and could recruit more volunteers if needed.  To see the challenge questions and course card, click here for English version and here for Spanish version.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Diary of an Animal - Digital Storytelling

    I love the "Diary of..." series by Doreen Cronin and knew my first year that I wanted the kids to write their own diary of something.  Last year, my fantastic technology teacher Myrna found a way to combine this project with digital storytelling.  So today, I am excited to unveil our next writing project; Diary of an Animal.  This project focuses on the traits of voice, organization, ideas and presentation.

    The process is easy, and not one that I created but simply one I borrowed and then tweaked to fit us.

    Build Up:

    • I build excitement by reading aloud "Diary of a Fly" and "Diary of a Spider.'  Most students have seen these books but love hearing them again.  I also put them all out on display for the kids to flip through whenever they want.  
    • After this, it is time to unveil the project.  Kids usually cheer when I tell them about studying a particular animal, and then I show them the final product.  I still have some of my old students' projects and they love to see what they will be making.
    • I also scaffold by reading aloud a couple of example diary entries written by former students and there is always time for questions before we move on.
    • Then it's time to get started, I give the students a couple of minutes to brainstorm a top 3 of animals they would like to study and then we are off to the library!  I encourage students to pick different animals so we learn about as many as possible.
    • Otherwise they may choose whichever one they want to, as long as it is one they are interested in.  They check out books from the library to find their fun facts.
    • The trick with this project is that they have to write their diary as that animal, so instead of a normal research project they really have to understand how that animal works and would think.
    • Students use this sheet to find fun facts that they may use in their final product.
    • Once they have all of the facts needed, and some extra ones, they start on the pre-write.  We have this great graphic organizer for that as well that students may choose to use.
    All of this has been taking place during our literacy block up untilnow.  Now we get tech involved.

    Tech Piece:
    • Students type all of their entries in keyboarding and then copy and paste it into a storyboard template.
    • For pictures, there are two options:  either draw their own using a drawing program or import them from the internet.  This may also depend on your student, sometimes this can take way too much time.
    • If searching the internet for pictures, students are also taught how to cite the source and put this into their digital story.  
    • When both of the above are completed, students are then shown how to import into Digital Story, add titles, record the story and then put in transitions and music.  
    This whole project usually takes a couple of weeks in technology but only about a week and a half in literacy.  The end result is very creative, funny, and something the students love to share with their family.  This is also a great introduction to Digital Storytelling.

    In the end we evaluate through peer review and we share these projects with our 1st grade reading buddies as well.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    A Child Argues Against Sledding

    I had to teach persuasive writing this week for a mandatory writing assessment so since we had gone sledding this week, I asked my students to try to persuade me to let them go again.  One child, Erik, decided to go another route; I love it when they get creative.

    Dear Mrs. Ripp,
    I think you shouldn't let us go sledding.  First because it's dangerous.  You crash multiple times every time you go down the hill.  Also, people might flip over in their sleds.  Lastly, (for this reason) kids might try to go down the hill on their feet.

    Second, it might get us in trouble because we aren't allowed to sled in the big hill.  The teachers might yell at us to be quiet.  Also, you have to go up the wrong side and could get hit.

    Third, it will make other kids jealous.  They might bring their own sleds from home because we did it.  They might also try and stop us from going down and that might get people get hurt.  Kids might throw snowballs at us to stop us sledding.

    That is why we shouldn't go sledding again.
    Your friend,

    If you would like to leave him a comment on his post, please do so!

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    A Day in the Life of...

    I was asked by Kim to describe a typical day in my classroom to show how I fit it all in, so here I go.

    First bell is at 8:15 and my students start to trickle in then, and by trickle, yes, it takes a while for all of them to get there.  They know they have 15 minutes until math starts so in those 15 minutes they have to sign in, read the morning message, work on geography and spelling for the week, help correct grammar on the board, and hand anything in.  Most students have extra time so they end up chatting with friends, filling water bottles, or reading.  1 or 2 minutes  prior to my math timer going off I will run through the day with the kids so that they know what to expect.  I also showcase any special events in my morning message to diminish questions.

    At 8:30 math begins, we have a routine every day for the first 5 minutes which include a fact test based on the given day and a hypothetical test questions where they have to come up with 3 wrong answers and one right one.  After that I start my lesson by explaining the goal to them, asking for previous knowledge, and then we start.  I try to limit my talking so often they share in their groups or show me solutions to examples o white boards etc.  By 9:00 I better be done with the lesson so that students can work on their math work and I can work with kids that need extra help or even an extra lesson in something.  We have all the way until 9:45 for math, which is such a huge help.

    15 minutes for recess and students come in for 70 minutes of literacy.  The first 10 minutes is snack time so we will often correct the two grammar sentences from the morning and then discuss the lessons goal and check in with student progress.  Every Monday we then do a 20 minute exercise called weekend web, Tuesdays we take 20 minutes to infer meaning behind a selected poem or song (often we sing the song as well), Wednesday and Thursday are dedicated to whichever writing project we have going, and Friday we do 15 minutes of writing Op. Ed.  The remaining time is dedicated to at least 20 minutes of read to self or someone, in which I meet with my daily book club or single students that need an extra conference, and beyond that we work on our writing projects.  It is quite amazing how much we get done in those 70 minutes!

    Social studies or science are taught in 45 minute blocks, again we discuss the goal of the lesson (2 minutes max), relate to previous lessons and then are off.  My students rarely need a lot of instruction, in fact, they beg me to not talk at them too much because they would rather just get to work.  I think it helps that at the introduction of any kind of new project we discuss goals, expectations and timeline for it so the kids are keenly aware of the direction we are headed and the purpose of it.

    So as you can see, there is nothing magical in my room, just a sense of urgency because we have a lot of fun things to do and learn about and the kids dig that.  We are never in a rush though, just rolling along at a good pace.

    What's in Store this Week

    With this wonderful day to just reflect on the world, I ended up reflecting on all of the great projects happening in my classroom this week, so why not share it.

    In science, we continue with our crayfish studies, however, the kids decided that it would be more fun to create a crayfish documentary rather than just a research paper.  So we are busy researching the questions they have come up with, then writing scripts and finally filming the scenes.  I cannot wait to see the end result!

    In social studies, we will finally get to work on our Early Explorers of Wisconsin Fake Facebook Pages.  Thank you to all of those who submitted templates to me.  Students have only been told the backstory of exploration in Wisconsin but have no clue what project they will work on yet.  They are so excited that they begged to do social studies on Friday, we didn't have time though.

    In reading, students are working on their chosen author studies.  I am doing my own alongside them on Neil Gaiman, so I have to decide how to present my information.  It has been great to see the varied approaches to how to do this project and once again, students are showing their excitement by continuously asking whether we will be doing the project or not.

    Writing is exciting this week as students finish their Why Tales (excellent writing here) and we start on our next project.  The kids have been really into "whodunit's" lately, so I am toying with the idea of turning our picture book project into a "whodunit" instead.  The main goal is transition words and voice, which can be accomplished through many methods.  I think in the end, I will let the students decide.

    Math is a mixed bag of assessments.  We have weird pile of tests we need to get through such as the mid-year assessment, but after speaking to my students about it they didn't seem too worried.  They told me that they knew what the purpose of these were; "To help them learn better."  We also discussed that they could do the tests in whichever order they choose, they can jump around between tests, and I will bring in lots of bubblegum.   Plenty of math game breaks will be provided for those who want them and we will get through it as we usually do.

    There will be plenty of little extra's added in, such as music/poetry Tuesday where we will be discussing the great song "Pride in The Name of Love" by U2.  Op.Ed. Friday's topic has not been chosen yet, and we have a geography bee to go to on Thursday.  School is a magical place indeed.  

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    The Winner of Connor's Christmas Glogster Challenge!

    More than 30 students submitted glogs so it was hard to choose a winner.  Helen's glog though shone the brightest  so here it is! 


    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    A Study in MLK Jr. Day

    We discuss Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the year, however, in order for the students to understand why they get Monday off, I decided to do a little mini lesson today during literacy to remind them.  I am a huge Patty Griffin fan and knew that her song "Up to the Mountain (the MLK Song) would be an incredible piece to study on our Music and Poetry Tuesday's.

    I started out by asking the students why we get Monday off, thankfully most of them knew why and they also knew a little bit about his life.  I minored in history so I took the kids back to pre-Civil War times and told them a little bit about Jim Crow Laws.  (I don't want to go into too much detail because we explore it in social studies later this year).  Once the background had been set, we talked about the time of MLK and what they knew about him and the Civil Rights Movement.  This was at most 10 minutes of my class.

    After that I knew I needed to recapture their attention because I had done a lot of talking.  So I played them a clip from MLK's Last Speech also known as his "Up to the Mountaintop" speech.  The students were amazed that they were able to watch him speak. 

    We discussed how he was a preacher so he used biblical text to express his desire for his followers.  The kids completely got the duality in his speech once we had mentioned this.  I then played them a video of  Patty Griffin's song while they got a print out of the lyrics to follow along with.  Having the lyrics was helpful for them since she can be hard to fully understand.  Finally, I played the speech clip again without saying anything.  Quiet.

    I asked them, "What did Patty Griffin use in her song from the speech?"  Multiple hands shot up with different answers.  They all saw the similarities.  And what is more, they understood more how powerful MLK was because they had seen him speak "live."  I ended our viewing with this short video montage from the "I Have a Dream" speech, which never ceases to amaze kids.

    We finished the lesson with the students journaling on the topic:  Has MLK's dream come true that we only get judged by our character and not by how we look?

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    An Author is Studied

    In my quest to continue book explorations, I wanted to make sure that students became experts on at least one author.  While I like the aspect of a book report in how it opens up new author and genre opportunities for the kids, I am not a fan of the way I have used book reports in the past.  So I wanted my students to do an author study instead.

    I opened this up for discussion today so that the students could share their input and they came up with the following requirements for how to become an expert on a particular author:
    • Pick a good author, can be someone yo have read before.
    • You should figure out the type of author and their particular writing style.
    • You should read and remember a biography of the author.
    • We should skip Rick Riordan, since so many students wanted to do him.
    • If you choose an author of picture books, you must read 7-10 picture books.
    • If you choose an author of chapter books, you must read 2-3 books or more.
    • You may work by yourself or with a partner.
    • If you work with a partner, you should both read the same books and discuss them.
    • We will have 6 weeks to do this project.
     We also discussed how the students would prove that they had indeed become an expert on.  The student ideas were:
    • Do a report
    • Some type of poster
    • 2-3 glogs
    • A book
    • ABC book
    • Film an interview
    • Create a documentary about the author
    • Skype in pretending to be the author
    • Skit/sketch about important part of the author's life
    • Timeline with books and biography
    • Dress up and pretend you are the author
    I now have a master list of who the students are researching, we have gotten books from the library and the students are giving me a thumbs up as for the excitement about the project.  Time in class will be given to read and research but students must manage their time appropriately for our deadline of February 21st. 

    I will be creating a biography sheet for those students that need it, and the rest have been instructed to use their reading notebooks to gather all of their information.  I cannot wait to share more resources and their projects!

    Here is a student's take on what it means to do an author study.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Crayfish You Say?

    We do Foss curriculum and for 4th grade one of our units is Structures of Life.  So imagine the excitement and chaos that ensued when upon returning from winter break, crayfish had arrived in our room.  You think you have seen excited kids before?  Add some crustaceans, and the noise-level will go up about 50 decibels.  So as any good teacher would do, I squealed along with them and inside groaned in repulsion at the critters.

    Foss is a great science curriculum for new teachers like myself because it gives you a great spring board for actual hands-on science.  However, this unit is a bit lackluster.  So instead of pushing the students through all of the investigations, we did the first one, and then I asked, "So what do you want to know?"
    Those hands shot up and here is a partial list of things they wanted to learn:

    • Why do we have to transfer them to feed them?
    • How will they grab the food?
    • Do they like to be alone?
    • Why are they so aggressive?
    • How long does it take for them to regenerate a limb?
    • Do they have ears?
    • Can they see us if we sneak up behind them?
    • How do they fight?
    • Do they sleep?
    • Do they swim?
    • If the water is above their heads, do they die?
    • Can we get them to mate?
    Once again, my students showed me that their questions are much better than the ones posed by the curriculum.  This unit will now become a student-led exploration for the next couple of weeks, where we will pose new questions as well as revisit our original list to see what we have learned.  This project will then culminate in a class research report about crayfish.  That way, I can sneak in how to write a research report while we do something super fun.  Letting go of the set curriculum is proving to be even more worthwhile than I had hoped.

    We have also done a crayfish scavenger hunt to get more information for our research papers, so here is link to that.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Wisconsin's Early Explorers on Facebook

    My overarching theme for this year has been student-centered learning, so putting the focus back on students rather than me talking them through the learning.  So as I prepped social studies over the break, I realized that I could not just tell my students about the first explorers in Wisconsin; they had to research it and present.  But how to do this without it being another research project with a report attached?

    We have just finished a formidable Native American research unit, discussed here, where students took full control of their own learning.  As said by my students, this proved to be one of the best experiences for them this year, so I knew there had to be control relinquished to them.  I also have very set perimeters for the project because it does have to fit into the information presented in the chapter in social studies book.  So students will be creating two separate projects. 

    The first project will be a simple read and share event, in which the students have been placed into teams (no more than 3 kids)  and they will read a sub-section of general information about the Native American tribes in Wisconsin.  This mini-project will take one lesson (45 min) for reading and writing (they are learning to not copy others' words) and one lesson for presentation.  By ripping half the chapter apart, students will have to take more control of their learning as they engage in active listening during presentations, and practicing their own public speaking skills.

    The second project is the actual research of various historical figures prominent in the exploration of Wisconsin.  There are 12 different prominent explorers that the students should learn about.  I will therefore go through the time line of the exploration years to provide them with an overview of the time, and then set them off to research.  I have checked out netbooks for them to do their research on, however, students can choose to use them or not.  Other student choices include:
    • Who their learning partner should be?
    • Who they would like to research (I ask them to pick 3 and then pick sticks and assign)?
    • How are they going to research?
    I find the "how" is just as important as the "who", because in 4th grade, we are just learning how to do actual research.  Students have not had a lot of practice and are so used to the teacher printing out various sources, or creating a livebinder.  By having a classroom discussion on various forms of research, we are once again handing over the responsibility (and thinking) to the students, so you are facilitating rather than leading.

    Students will be asked to present all of their information via the fantastic Facebook Template that has been circulating on Twitter.  However, I will be asking them to draw it out by hand rather than on the computer.  The reason is two-fold; we have some very artistic students that need an outlet, and we have limited access to computers.  So in the end, we will have some fantastic Facebook templates adorning our classroom walls.  Timeline will be discussed and determined by the students as well but I foresee about one week's worth of time is needed.

    As for grading, students will be evaluating themselves, and we will discuss what they loved, had difficulty with, and how they would improve upon it.  No formal grade will be assigned, as is my style, but students will be asked to read and comment on each other's work as well, as part of the learning process.

    In progress:  
    I have been meeting with my students and some need a little bit more scaffolding, so I created this direction sheet for them to use.  That way they can check off when they find the needed information or if they need to make something up they can.

    Why the Internet is Like the Mall

    Another cross posting from my other blog, this one has taken on a life of its own, with others putting their own spin on it.  When we discuss internet safety, it is vital that we are able to relate it to students' lives, so that they can understand that being behind a computer does not mean that they are protected.  While I am not in the business of scaring students, there are plenty of other ways that can happen, we can stress the importance of proper behavior.  And thus this lesson came about; linking the internet to going to the mall.

    I believe in the importance of honest conversation with the kids, where they supply the answers, rather than me hitting them over the head with it.  I simply started out this lesson by writing the words "Internet Safety" on my whiteboard and turned to the kids.  They volunteered what these words meant to them and then I ventured into the mall analogy; so what would they do to stay safe at the mall if their parents dropped them off?  

    Some of the students answers were

    • That they would not talk to strangers
    • Give anyone their information if approached
    • Go only to the place they were supposed to
    • And they wold go straight there, rather than take detours or stop at other places 
    • They wouldn't give their money to strangers

    By having the students provide the safety rules, taken from their own memory of rules drilled into their heads by their formidable parents, they connected real life danger with things that can happen on the internet.  Sometimes students think they are safe on the net, as we all know, and this brought the responsibility home for them.  

    So as we continue learning proper safety and etiquette, we will keep referring back to the mall analogy, for example, would you walk up to a friend and tell them their outfit was ugly when talking about how to comment?  Today was one of those moments where I was able to make students understand something they have to learn in this day and age.  A lesson not just meant for 4th graders or 5th graders but hopefully something they will keep in the back of their minds when they go on the internet themselves, or maybe even next time they go to the mall.  Once again today I realized how huge my responsibility is for these kids and how glad I am to be their teacher.  

    So You Want to Use Kidblog?

    While this post is from my other blog, I have found it to be a very useful one, thus the cross posting.  Many of us have started our students blogging but to ensure full parent and student understanding, I created these documents.  We still use these documents, halfway through the year, as we continue to emphasize safe internet usage and responsible behavior.  My students can practically recite the safety plan.

    One of our main components will be our Kidblog but since this is the first year anyone has done anything like this in my school, there was some safety business to handle first.  So here are my links to an internet safety plan my students will sign as well as the Kidblog introduction letter I am sending home to parents.  Please feel free to use.

    Welcome to This New Adventure

    Numerous times I have been contacted through my other blog, Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension, to share lesson plans that I have blogged about.  Well, ask and you shall receive!  I am excited to unveil this blog, which will feature lesson plans, videos, student feedback and all great things 4th grade.

    I hope that this will be a place for others to share as well, and not just for 4th grade, but for many grade levels.  We work so hard on our lessons that it seems a shame to not share them with others, I know I get inspired by many people, so hopefully I can repay them through this.

    Join me as I start on another adventure.

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