Saturday, March 21, 2015

Waking the Brain with Morning Stretches


You might remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about my take away from the Kagan training that I attended and how I was planning to Refocus Our Classroom. One of the big ideas that I touched on was waking up the brain through big muscle movement.
So this month for the Bright Ideas link up I am sharing how it is going. The short version is that it is amazing! The long version isn't all that long, so I will share it with you.

Each morning, after our class meeting, we do a series of stretches. The idea behind this is that when you do big muscle movements it increases the oxygen flow to your brain, and therefor prepares it for learning. Some mornings we do squats, and others we do jumping jacks, but my class' favorite stretch is the milk and cookies stretch!
 To perform this stretch you simply start by reaching your right hand across the midline of your body as far left as you can while simultaneously stepping your right foot back. While you do this you say, "Milk!"
Then you repeat with the left side and say, "Cookies!" Repeat on both sides for as long as desired. We usually do this about ten times or so. The whole process takes less than a minute. 

The first time we did this I chose milk and cookies, but now each time we name two items to say. Students LOVE to be the one to pick an item. Some of our favorites are pancakes and syrup, tacos and orange juice, and donuts and coffee. 

I have found that by doing this each morning it helps all of us to wake up and be in a better mood to start our learning!

If you liked this post, please consider following me with Bloglovin', on Facebook, or on Teachers Pay Teachers for more great ideas! 

For more amazing ideas, from fantastic bloggers check out the linky below. Items are listed by topic and grade level to make your search a little easier!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Test Prep Plan

Okay friends, I know this topic is getting old quick. AND that test prep season has really just begun for those of us in Texas ,and we are already ready to throw all the practice sheets out the window. I am here to help! 

Last week I talked about how I am systematically collecting data each day to see what my students still need more help with. I hope that post was helpful, but if you are anything like me you are left with the question, "Fantastic, but what now?"
I am here today to share my plan for exactly that.
Small disclaimer: This is the first year with our new math TEKS, and none of us know at all how they are going to be tested. I personally am choosing to spend my time on the readiness standards to give my students what I think will be the most bang for our buck.

This is the order I am covering each standard and the amount of time spent on each.
Place Value-2 days
Relating Decimals to Fractions-1 Day
Comparing Fractions-1 Day
Adding and Subtracting Fractions-1 Day
Addition and Subtraction-2 Days
Multiplication and Division-2 Days
Data-2 Days
Strip Diagrams and Equations-2 Days
Input-Output Tables and Number Patterns-2 Days
Perimeter and Area-2 Days
Geometry-2 Days
Measuring Angles-2 Days
This leaves one day right before the test to play review games with all the standards.

Each day we are completing the Test Smash review of course. This little puppy has provided such nice structure and predictability to our day, and I am just in love with it. As much as you can with test prep anyway.

Then, we take this data and split into groups. I have three groups.

The first are my students that have mastered a skill. These friends are given independent tasks and become my "Topic Experts." I give them a little name tag/blank label that I scrawled on in Sharpie that says they are in expert in a given topic. If one of my students needs help they know that these friends are the first ones they go to.

The second group are my almost there kiddos. These are my students that sometimes get it and sometimes don't. They are working mostly in partners, and with me.

The third group are my low babies that will be with me, or really close by, most of the time.

Now onto what we are doing! I am using these Big Ten resources as stations for each of the topics. Each resource has 10 activities for that standard. My favorite part is that they are entirely in black and white, so I just print them to our copier.
After printing them off I am using laminated pockets for each station. I cannot sing the praises of these precious pockets high enough! They are amazing! These babies are dry erase, and durable. I have a ton of them, because I use them for EVERYTHING! By using these pockets, I only make one copy of each station and have students do their work in dry erase marker right on the pocket.
 I love that they are durable enough for me to throw everything I need for an activity in there. As you can see above and below I put the cards in a baggie and place them in there along with a marker and an eraser.
 I then place each set of ten activities in their own container so that they are easy for me to grab when it is time to use them.
I am using these for everything! My first group (students that have mastered the content) will complete the activities independently or in partners. My second group will work on the activities in partners with help from me and my first group content experts. Finally, my third group with complete the activities with me in small group.

The fabulous thing about this flexible grouping is that students may be in a different group each day depending on the content we are covering. Someone who is an expert in place value may be with me in small group for measuring angles. I love the flexibility that this allows for me to work with exactly who I need to while making sure that everyone in the room is engaged and learning.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Strategic Test Prep

Test-prep is officially in full swing in our classroom, and I am delighted to say that it is off to a great start. Our early success is much due to one word. CONSISTENCY. We have a plan of action, and we are sticking to it! 
This Test Smash resource is the number one way that I am providing consistency to my students. The beauty of it, is consistency is built right in, no extra materials needed, because each day students know to expect the same categories of questions in the same format.

Every morning I am projecting the daily problems using my computer. I didn't even have to print it out. Some of my teammates have chosen to print out one copy to project using the document camera, and that works too. My students enter the classroom, get unpacked, and start their work in their math journals. I love having my students complete their work in their journals because again it cuts down on copies, but for my students that need a little more structure I have a few copies of the recording sheet copied.
The recording sheet is generic and works for each and every day, so just having a few copies on hand is more than enough. Students work the problems while everyone arrives and then for a few more minutes after the bell has rung.
When we are ready we go over each of the problems using the included answer key. I have my students star the ones they got correct on their own and work through the ones they missed with me. I am finding that after just the first few days my students are showing a ton of confidence in solving each of the problems. They get so excited when they got one today that they didn't yesterday!

This is another amazing part of how this test-prep is structured. Due to the same topics being covered each day, it really gives kids a chance to practice until mastery and give them a sincere sense of success.
Next comes my favorite part! I am a self-proclaimed data nerd, and the individual data sheets rock my world! Remember me saying that students star the problems they get correct on their own? Now they get to color in the block for that problem too, which they love! The first day we did this it took some time, but now, after just three days, they are rocking it!

While they are filling it in I am able to walk around and take a super quick inventory of how my students are doing. For example, I know the student above has mastered several topics, but I need to include him in my small group for input-output tables. This easy data collection method is a true lifesaver!

This Test Smash resource comes ready to go for third, fourth, and fifth grade math standards. Be sure to pop on over to TeachersPayTeachers and check out the previews for a fuller look at each product!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Refocusing the Classroom

Over the last two days I have had the amazing, fabulous, energizing opportunity to hear from the man himself, Dr. Spencer Kagan all about Brain Friendly Learning. Anyone who knows me as a teacher knows that I live and die by Dr. Kagan's strategies, and I was in complete awe the entire two days.

Whenever I attend a workshop such as this one, I always make a list in three parts. The first is things I want to implement day one back in the classroom. The next section is within a week, and the final section is a bit more long term. Today I am going to share my takeaway list of what I am starting tomorrow.
 Now is the time of year that I have let a few things slide that are really important, and these items are just as much about me refocusing my efforts in the classroom as anything else. I hold myself 110% accountable for the mood, emotion, and energy level of my classroom, and there are a few things that need a little revamping.
Numero uno-start our day with a handshake for each student. I do this in the beginning of the year, but at some point it slid into oblivion. First thing tomorrow it is making a comeback!
Next up is energizing our class with some structured exercise. I want to get those endorphins (17 points if you can guess the Legally Blonde quote I am thinking of) pumping first thing in the morning. A few calisthenics should do the trick to wake up both the body and mind. I plan on taking 1-2 minutes per hour in the classroom doing this to continue the flow of oxygen.

Rounding out the morning we will complete a class building activity and have our usual morning meeting.
After recess I plan to institute a period of quiet time where I lead students through some metacognitive meditation. Admittedly this one is going to be tough for me. I am not the sit calmly and quietly with eyes closed and think inwardly type, but I am going to give it my best effort, because I truly believe it will be beneficial for my students because a calm-minded student learns easier.

In the same vein, I will incorporate more music in the sixty beat per minute range. I often use music during writing, but not other subjects. I have no reason for this, so it shall begin tomorrow!
There will be more laughter in our classroom. I am going to start a joke jar that students can submit jokes to. We can pull a joke before each part of our day. We will also play games that make us laugh, listen to short funny podcasts, and watch hilarious videos of animals being adorably cute on YouTube. 

Finally, we will integrate more Kagan structures throughout our day both academically and as brain breaks. I have always included structures every day, but there are always room for more. Two new ones that I learned about this week are Sage-N-Scribe and Celebrity Interview. I can't wait to use them both with my class. 
Here I am with the man himself. Please pay no attention to me as I am battling the fiercest allergies in the west, but look at him. He is my educational idol (one of them) and I am here to tell you that he is even more brilliant, inspiring, and amazing than I could have ever imagined. 

If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to go to a conference with him (or any other Kagan offering) run, don't walk, throw some elbows if necessary, because it is truly that great! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Making Peer Editing Meaningful

I am still in full on writing gear over here, how about you? Last week I wrote about How to Help Students Revise in this post. I am very happy to report that revisions are going really well in our class, and we are getting much more natural at it. 

Editing is a whole different story though, so this week I am focusing on ways to make peer editing meaningful, because let's face it, there is one of us, and what seems like sixteen million of them and wanting help at the same time. 
 Here are a few suggestions for peer editing that have worked really well for me over the years.

Set Clear Expectations

I devote a whole writing block to just setting up the expectations of what peer editing is. This is a tough one for kids, and adults for that matter, to wrap their heads around. No one wants to be told that their writing isn't perfect. By setting up clear expectations and a purpose from the beginning you keep everyone on the same page. 

I always tell my students that we are working together to make our writing better, not that it needs to be fixed. 

Model, Model, Model

A large chunk of that first day of peer editing is me modeling how I would like to see it done. I am fortunate enough to have an aid in my room during writing, so she and I model it up with our own writing, then we model some more with student writing. 

Assign Partners Based on Ability

I am pretty rigid when it comes to partners for editing. I don't want my highest writers to get frustrated by trying to get their writing edited by someone who is still working on writing complete sentences, and the other way around. By ability grouping, I know that partners are on roughly the same playing field and will be able to learn from one another. 

Now you might be asking yourself how those lowest babies can edit when they are struggling to write a sentence, and this is my response to that. They get their ability based partner, but they also get a peer coach to work with the set of partners. My peer coaches are my kindest, most patient, students. They aren't always the highest writers, but I believe that this process is just as important to them to help them become those highest writers. 

Now That We Know How....

Break Out Those Highlighters

Sometimes it can be hard to see what has been edited, so I have students highlight their edits. This serves two purposes. The first being that they can be easily seen when going back for the next draft. The second being that when I am walking around the room it is readily apparent who is working and who isn't.

Special Pens

I love me some Flair Pens, and my students are always asking to use them. I usually decline their offer as they are my favorites and I don't want to share, but for editing they are welcome to them. We have a whole jar of these suckers. They kind of serve the same purpose as the highlighters, because they are easy to see among all the pencil, but it is good to mix it up.

Start Small

The first time I have my students peer edit all they looked for was capitalization. After doing that for a while we added in punctuation, and at this point we are doing those plus spelling and asking questions about the piece. 
By starting small students feel successful, and that makes them come back for more!

Have a Checklist for Students to Complete

The checklist above is the one I use with my students. You can grab a copy of it here if you think it will work for you, but even if it doesn't, I would recommend coming up with something. A checklist helps to guide students with their partners, because goodness knows no matter how many times we have done something someone always asks me what's next, and I just don't have time for that!

I hope that this post has been helpful! I would love to hear from you in the comments on what other writing struggles you are having. You never know, I might have a tip or two to share in the future! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Increasing Engagement During Read Alouds


Welcome back for another round of Bright Ideas from some seriously amazing bloggers! This month I have a simple idea that can have a high impact on your classroom.
We all have them, some like me are them, those kids that can't sit still and are always wiggling. I was one of those kids, and I am still one of those adults. I loved to be read to, but I could not for the life of stay still. I see this in my students today too. Instead of getting frustrated with them, we have embraced it, and I use it as a way to show me who is engaged in the readying, and who needs a little redirection help.
We all start facing forward. This is our traditional direction for a read aloud on the carpet. I personally have spots for my students that we rotate every so often, but however you do it in your classroom works just fine. Sometimes the reader sits, but this time the reader is standing.
Then, as I read I walk to different positions. The students' job is to follow the reader with their whole body, not just their eyes. I do this every couple of pages, so the motion is pretty consistent.
Moving around serves two purposes. 
#1 it gives my active kids a chance to move, which they love. 
#2 It gives me an immediate visual of who is with me, and who is not, which I love. 
Just by watching when I start walking to see who isn't simultaneously turning with me I know who I've lost. They can try to fake it by watching the other students, but they are always just a half second behind which is a dead giveaway. 

Simple right? I hope that this is something that you can find useful for your classroom. 

Overall, I think this is a really positive activity that could hold some real power at stressful times of the year. I think we will probably do it occasionally, especially right before our big testing season!
If you liked this post, please consider following me with Bloglovin', on Facebook, or on Teachers Pay Teachers for more great ideas! 

For more amazing ideas, from fantastic bloggers check out the linky below. Items are listed by topic and grade level to make your search a little easier!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seven Super Strategies for Geometry

Geometry is one of those units in math that when planning for I think, oh yeah, we've got this. Then we get into the unit and sure enough, students get it. Then we take the assessment and whomp, whomp, they didn't get it. At least that is how it worked out for me this year. 

I am not going to wallow in it, instead I sat down and made a game plan! I hope that I can help out someone else BEFORE they get the whomp, whomps with these Seven Super Strategies for Teaching Geometry. 
Geometry is all about vocabulary. This is where I start, spend time, and end. It is more than just memorizing definitions though, students have to be able to use the vocabulary when describing figures, and that is where it gets tricky! So, here's the plan:

1. Bring in a Story to Hook Them

My favorite story for the geometry unit is Grandfather Tang's Story. The story is told using tangrams throughout. I love to read this story with the book under the document camera. This way we can stop and analyze each of the shapes for line and angles as we go. 

2. Keep it Going With Some Tech

My students L.O.V.E. StudyJams, so I use that to my advantage. We are really struggling with angles this year, and they just happen to have a Step by Step on classifying angles, so that is definitely high on our list!

3. Kinesthetic Movements

To review the vocabulary of lines and angles we use our bodies to model each. I think it is really important for each student, or group of students, to come up with their own movement and then share it with the class. This way there are multiple options, and students have something personal to them. I of course check the movements that each student uses for accuracy. 

4. Chants


I am all about little chants that get stuck in your head. We use the ones above for angles. We say them three times each in a different voice each time. They get stuck in your brain, to the point of annoyance, but I will never get tired of hearing a kid say, "Little and cute, acute!" while running across the playground at recess.

5. Use Your Classroom as a Search Zone

Have students go around your classroom and search for objects that show parallel lines, perpendicular lines, and angles to take a picture of and label. Bonus points if you use an app like Skitch to label the photograph!

6. Geoboards

Break out those geoboards and see how many shapes you can make! 
Pro tip-call them geobands, not rubber bands, and give very specific directions about how geobands are only allowed on geoboards. They do not go on the floor, in your mouth, and they certainly do not go flying across the room!
I love to have my students create their own shapes using the geobands and then trade with a partner to see how they can classify the shapes created. 
For example, in the picture above can you find at least:
-four sets of parallel lines
-a square
-a rectangle
-three right triangles
-a trapezoid
-eleven right angles
-three acute angles
-two obtuse angles

7. Lots of Authentic Practice!

For practice with this newly reviewed material I will be using this Big Ten: Geometry. It offers ten vocabulary heavy activities for students to complete independently, in partners, in stations, or led by a teacher in small group. 
When using this with my students I am able to find the trends of where we are missing key information then scaffold students to success!


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