Monday, April 29, 2013

Must Read Mentor Texts: George Washington's Socks

Today I'm linking up with the Collaboration Cuties- Must Read Mentor Texts. I'm super excited because this week is Social Studies Mentor Texts. Since I started teaching Reading last year, I have found tons of books to use in Reading that fit perfectly with what we are studying in Social Studies.

One of my favorites that my students just finished a few weeks ago is George Washington's Socks by Elvira Woodruff. In this book a group of kids travel back in time and wind up right in the middle of the American Revolution.

My students love that is isn't just a simple Historical Fiction, but has an element of Fantasy with the time travel.

This book does have a second book called George Washington's Spy about the same group of kids. One of the activities I have my students do with this book is to create an idea for another book for this same adventure club. They have to pick an event we have learned about in class, create a short plot, and a title for their new book.
I love the teacher and student guides that came with the novels. They have activities, comprehension questions, and vocabulary study from the novel.
I number all my novels I use in class, and the students have to use their number. It helps so much in tracking down who has each of my books.

I would greatly recommend this book for any wanting to get kids interested in novels about history.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Motivated, motivated, down right dedicated

I know it's Sunday, but I couldn't resist to join in on the Spark Student Motivation Saturdays with Head Over Heels for Teaching Linky Party. Her warm fuzzy post is so cute and reminds me of when we used those when I was little.

My motivation tip is not as cute as hers, but has solved a huge problem for me this week. In my school we have the last fifteen minutes or so as a study hall. It drives me crazy that very few of them come into class and actually use their study hall time wisely. Well this week I got an IPad to use in my classroom. My students and I were both so excited! I wanted to give the students a chance to use it as well. Somehow it occurs to me that I can solve the study hall dilemma using the IPad as motivation!

The first time I do this I wait patiently for the students to put away their stuff from the class they just returned from and for ANY student to get busy on work. It took a good five minutes for anyone to do so. When I saw the first student working, I walked over and placed the IPad on her desk. I said loudly that since she was working so hard she could play a game. I also made sure to tell her that when the game was over to raise her hand so I could pick someone else who was working hard to play.

That did the trick! Everyone got very busy very fast. When study hall was over I made sure to point out that I would be looking for some kids to play before class tomorrow morning as well. What a super easy way to motivate and encourage them to review whatever skill I want each student to reinforce! Tip: I keep track of who has had a turn by highlighting on a class list who has gotten to play so I make sure everyone gets a chance to play.

Let's Get Aquainted Linky Party: My Classroom

I've decided Linky Parties are my new favorite thing. Let's Get Acquainted Linky Party from Flying into First Grade sounds like the perfect way to make some new blogger friends and have a blast blogging! This week 's topic is to show three things I love in my classroom.

1. My Reading Covered Wagon


My students love to get to go into the covered wagon and read. This picture, from before school started, is missing the ten different pillows that normally lay on the floor and the red, white, and blue garland that normally wrap the poles holding up the top. Hopefully you get the idea. Once again, anything that gets them excited to read is a winning idea in my book.

2. The Mayflower

I wish I could have found a better picture of this one, but this is my Mayflower. The green sign is covering the word "Mayflower" because this was taking during state testing, and they somehow think that seeing the word Mayflower might help my students cheat. Sigh. Anyhow, what teacher likes just plain off-white empty wall space? I love it because the kids love to see it, and it is a super easy decoration I have had up for probably five years. I simply change the water out when it starts to fade. Best of all it hides the hideous wires that run along that wall.

3. No name board

 I probably have TONS of other things I could put as my number three, but this is used every day in my room and saves me tons of trouble tracking down the owner of papers. I normally make a big deal of walking over and putting papers on this board. I have used it so much some of  the clothespins have had to be hot glued back on from falling down. Surprisingly, I still have a few papers each week which are unclaimed. However, it keeps me from holding on to these papers and gives the students a place to look without ever having to say a word to me about a missing assignment.

Hope you enjoyed learning a little about my favorite things in my classroom!

Friday, April 26, 2013

My First Linky Party- Five for Friday

So excited to join my first Linky Party! Let's give this a try...

1. This week we learned about George Washington, and as one of my activities the students learned how to be surveyors. They loved the activity, and it was a great cross curricular activity.

2. With less than a month to go of school, I taught my students how to journal "Sixth Grade Style." They got so excited to learn something from sixth grade!

3. I got an I-pad for my classroom. To say I'm excited is an UNDERSTATEMENT! I won't even begin to try to guess the number of hours I spent searching for free apps.

4.  With my new a I-pad I made a book about our surveying using the App "My Story." I had such a blast doing it and can't wait to show my students next week. I can think of countless ways to use this FREE App in my classroom!

5. Since we didn't have school on Friday, my last item will be about me taking the time to really get back into blogging. I have already read tons of blogs today and made a bunch of catch up posts.

Hopefully next Friday I'll have more pics to add to my Five for Friday.

Genre Tweets

I saw an idea on Pinterest for a classroom Twitter board. I loved the idea of incorporating "Twitter" into my classroom. I decided to give my Twitter board a theme: Genre. One of our school's lowest reading areas is Genre, so I thought it would be perfect. The students are required to submit at least one Genre Tweet a nine weeks. I also allowed them to submit more for extra credit. They loved being able to make up their own names to tweet under. They tweet had to include the name of the book, genre, and why. All correct tweets with all three items included were posted.


Our Genre Tweets board is in our hallway so the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes get to see it. By having it in the hall more kids are getting to see it and hopefully learn something. I love anything that gets them excited and talking about books.

Lesson Learned:
Next year I think I'll make it open to all grades to tweet on it. I will also try to update it more often.

State Testing...yuck

We finished our state testing last week. All I can say is don't get me started. I'm sure you don't want to hear my endless rants about how a standardized test can in NO way measure how much my students learned or how well I did my job. I also really shouldn't mention how asking ten and eleven year olds to test for six different days over two weeks is WRONG! Once again, I'm sure you don't want to hear how our testing company messed up the directions on field tested items which left most kids confused as to what to do. With that said and SO much more I won't say for fear of going off the deep end, I did want to post a few pics. I see all the time the pics of teacher's classrooms when they are super cute at the start of the year. I thought it was time I showed the world what a real teacher's classroom looks like during testing.

And yes the paper covering everything DROVE ME NUTS! The only good part was that the kids loved getting to tear all the paper down, wad it up, and play basketball into the trashcans.

The Infamous Mr. Washington Part Two

Surveying: Washington Style

In addition to learning about George Washington as a President and farmer, I also taught my students about Washington's first career as a Surveyor.

I used a WONDERFUL lesson that I found from George Washington's Leadership Lessons.
The lesson included a PowerPoint to use to introduce Surveying as well as great worksheets to use while surveying. It's so nice to be able to take a great lesson and run with it!

Basically I split my class into groups of four. Each student had a particular job, but they had to work together to accomplish their survey. We then went to the playground and each group chose an area to survey. They then used the gunter's chain I had made from yarn to measure each leg of their survey. I did add having the students use a compass into the lesson by having them determine and mark down the direction for each leg of their survey. I did a quick 5 minute demonstration in class on how to use a compass before we went outside. Once they had measured each leg, they then had to find the perimeter, area, write a description, and map the area.



Overall the groups did FANTASTIC. I did of course have to steer a few in the right direction, but they picked it up pretty fast. After the lesson I had them vote on how hard of a job Washington had, and most of them decided his job was pretty hard.

My kids and I really loved this lesson. It tied Social Studies, Writing, Science, and Math all seamlessly together into one lesson. Best of all the kids didn't care that they were writing and doing math problems. They loved it!


Lessons Learned:

I made my gunter's chains out of tan yarn, which became hard to see in the pictures. Also, the tied on yarn moved if they got pulled on, so I was glad I had marked the yarn with a marker as to where each string went so they could be fixed easily.

I modified some of the directions from the lesson, but didn't realize that they wanted the map drawn to scale. That was a little advanced for my students, so I had to reassure them to just draw it to the best of their ability. When I do this next year, I will either remove that direction or be sure to really review the kids on drawing to scale before this lesson.

Take a Tour of Mount Vernon

Having taken such a fabulous trip to Mount Vernon, I also took an entire lesson to show them pictures I had taken while there. I made the pictures into a PowerPoint and added important information to each slide. Since Mount Vernon doesn't allow pictures inside the Washington house, I took my kids on the Mount Vernon Virtual Tour . I was nervous about how well the kids would really pay attention, so I had them take notes on something new they learned about Washington or Mount Vernon from the slides. I told them to write down at least ten things. Halfway through my first class, I realized my fears were crazy as they were all intrigued by the pictures. When the slides were finished I had students with forty or fifty new things they had learned! I also had many of them tell me they were going to try to convince their parents to take them to Mount Vernon this summer!

If you teach or love history, I would greatly encourage you look into the Mount Vernon Teacher's Institute. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that will change the way you think about Washington and change how you teach our first President's life. Also, if you teach in a school anywhere near Virginia, please take your students to Mount Vernon. My Oklahoma kiddos wish we were close enough to take a field trip there...

The Infamous Mr. Washington

This last summer I got the WONDERFUL opportunity to get to attend the Mount Vernon Teacher Institute. While at this institute, I got to spend an entire week at Mount Vernon learning about our first President. To say I came back with many ideas is an understatement. I came back with more ideas then I will EVER be able to have time to teach.

I start teaching about Washington during the French and Indian War. We then continue to learn more about him as a leader during the American Revolution. We also compare him to King George III as the Revolution draws to a close. Finally, we talk about him as President under the new Constitution. These discussions of George Washington are done through the lens of other events. This year after testing, I decided to teach a unit just on George Washington.

George Washington Leads the Way

At my teacher institute, I got the opportunity to meet Bentley Boyd, the author of this fabulous comic about George Washington. George Washington Leads the Way tells the story of Washington's life while tying his life to seven leadership traits. This comic is great, and my students loved it!

I broke my students into groups of three or four and each group read about one leadership trait of G.W. They then reported back to the whole class what they had read and at least three examples of how Washington displayed that trait during their reading. All the students wrote down at least one example for each word. I changed the directions slightly from what the worksheet below asks.
We then took a few minutes to discuss our School Creed and the things they vow to do every day as a student. They then used our School Creed as a guide to write a creed for George Washington. They were required to use all seven of the qualities we read about. I'm actually pretty proud of how these turned out.

Lessons Learned: I really only planned one class period to do this lesson, but it took two. We didn't have much time for them to be able to read them to each other. Next year, I will allow more time so we can share. Also, I would have loved to have enough copies of the book so each student could have their own. The seven words would have also made a great vocabulary lesson. Maybe instead of doing it all in one lesson, to do seven smaller lessons. Introduce the word, read the comic, summarize how he showed that word, and maybe do a vocabulary card for each word.

Marveling at Main Idea

I just found this post that I wrote back in September and only saved as a draft, I think I hoped to include some pics, but I think it's time to post it. Better late than never?

Main Idea

This week my major reading focus was on Main Idea. After deciding that what I did last year would simply not do, I went on a search for new ideas. I came across the best idea at the Little Literacy Learners blog. This wonderful gem gives you the instructions to do the lesson and the worksheet she used with it. I used this lesson to "introduce" main idea to my fifth graders. By fifth grade most students have a clue what main idea is, but have a terrible time identifying it in their reading. We did the lunch bag activity as a class. I also had several other bags made up. They then worked with partners to examine two other bags. After that I took it a step further and had the kids use their bag organizer to write a paragraph about the bag. Most students simply used the main idea as their topic sentence and the supporting details to create their other sentences. However, I had some who really got into the creative writing side. These students took the same main idea and supporting details and created a story about the day the bag was used. I was pleasantly surprised how creative some of their stories were.

The second Main Idea lesson I did was based off an idea I got from an anchor chart on Sub Hub. I designed a Main Idea House worksheet. The students then read a biography from our Social Studies textbook and had to complete the house. For the first house, I gave the students the main idea. They then had to read the text to find details that would support that main idea. This took some trial and error, but I think most of them caught on pretty fast. For the other three houses I gave the students the person's name and page number. My thought was that they would create their own main idea, and then list their details that support it. I quickly realized that they were nowhere near ready for this step. I will definitely do this activity again next year, but I will make sure to give them the main idea or use shorter passages so there is less information to sort through. Even though the lesson didn't quite go the way I wanted it to, I do feel like the kids are starting to grasp the concept. This looks like a topic I will need to revisit several times throughout the year.

Missing in Action

Can I get a redo?

It's Snow Day, which means I am sitting in my pajamas instead of teaching. As much as I love having some time off, it really gets me thinking about this year. My beautiful blog that I started this last summer completely got left and neglected way back in September. I meant to come back to it, I really did, but like laundry you decided not to do, it began to pile up on me and then it was too late. Well not anymore, with only a month left of school, I am going to catch myself back up and make a blog I can be proud of. (Or at least not cringe when I think about my blog.)

So let's start at the beginning: Why I left my blog. (Also known as my excuses.)

As I had mentioned in one of my blog posts this year we got a new principal and a new Teacher Evaluation System. While I knew it was going to be a challenge for me, I had no idea the stress of figuring out this new system would have on me. I spent hours and hours combing through documents, emails, and pictures to try to "prove" what a good teacher I am. Looking back I really should have just relaxed because I know that I'm a good teacher, and my new principal, who I love, also saw that. My evaluation turned out great, but I feel silly for the amount of stress and worry I put myself through.

In addition to my stress over my evaluation, I also got "the class." As in the class that made me scratch my head, brainstorm, rebrainstorm, ask every teacher/mother I knew, plan, make different plans, and start again. While I don't like to complain, I'll just say a combination of factors from parents not caring, no work ethic, severe behavior issues, low motivation, even lower math and reading scores, and an apathy for learning from a large chunk of my seventy five students, led me to constantly try to figure out how to get through and truly teach this group of kids. While I wish I could say that I worked miracles and now have the BEST group of students, I will have to settle for saying that I truly tried everything I could think of and then some. I would be lying if I didn't say that my students improved, because they have. ALOT! But I still don't feel like they are where I want them to be. I'll keep saying my prayers and keep at it and hopefully by the end of the year...

And my last and most happy reason for neglecting my blog... I got engaged!!! My wonderful boyfriend of three years, proposed to me the day before Thanksgiving. Like all engaged women, I have completely been consumed by wedding planning. While the wedding planning is far from being done, we are getting married next January, I am recommitted to getting my blog going.

So with my excuses in the open for all to see, I am back and will do my best to get my blog back to a happy place!