Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Helping Your Students Feel Loved, Seen, and Heard

My aunt just released her first book:  Daughter of the King: Finally Free.

It is her memoir of how her faith in Christ helped her overcome patterns of abuse, neglect, low self-esteem, drugs, and the wrong men.  You can read a little more detailed review of the book at Balancing the Backpack, my personal blog. If you are interested, you can go to my Aunt Fran's Facebook page. She is doing giveaways today for signed copies of the book.

As an educator, it reminded me that we often do not know what our students experience at home.  We only have them a portion of every day. It is so easy to get caught up in testing, grades, and record-keeping, but ultimately the biggest difference we make as educators is making students feel safe, secure, and loved.  Students should be able to feel seen, heard, and valued. As a gifted student, I rarely came across content I did not learn with ease.  The teachers who changed my life listened to me and validated my thoughts as important.  I hated when adults dismissed my ideas because I was just a child.  In truth, I was probably more high-achiever than truly gifted, but I have always possessed many of the traits of a verbally gifted individual: intensely serious, abstract thinker, witty, and highly empathetic. As a highly-empathetic and mature child, I saw things from many points of view and always had a sophisticated understanding of everyone's feelings. While I could understand many, I related to few. I often felt alone and invisible.  I absorbed so much of the the feelings of others I struggled with how to figure out what my own were. My aunt's book truly helped me realize how grateful I am that my mother made sure I always felt loved and valued.  I may have moved constantly, had an unorthodox childhood, grown up too soon, struggled making friends, spent too much time by myself, hated the back and forth of divorce, struggled with why I couldn't be enough for her on my own, and grown up on Wendy's, but I did feel valued and heard. While I would not recommend getting married at 19 to most, I truly am thankful that I found the friend and anchor (my hubby) I needed before I knew I needed him. We cannot change the circumstances with which our students are raised, but we can show them they are cared for, their ideas are important, their feelings matter, and that we see them for the special people they are. How can you make someone feel loved, seen, and heard today?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Project Based Learning Pre-assessment and Planning

Project based learning has appealed to me as an instructional tool for awhile.  I never really knew where to begin. In my classroom this year, I think I would like to try at least one project based learning experience in each subject.  The subjects where project based learning seems to make the most sense to me are science and social studies.  These are subjects with a wide variety of content and areas where differentiation is often sorely needed.   In my classroom, social studies will be the first subject where I try project based learning.   Some interesting PBL units for social studies would be to take a topical approach.  For example, students can study fashion changes throughout history, changes in transportation, changes in communication, etc. With elementary students, it makes sense to me to model the process.  I would probably do one whole-group small project as a class where we go through the process together to model my thinking and see what issues come up.  We could probably make a list of project ideas and vote on what idea to choose. Before my students can choose a project area to research on their own, they will have to be familiar enough with the basic content of a unit. Thus, we would first introduce the major events and themes of a unit. A couple of issues I want to keep in mind while trying project based learning with gifted students are metacognition and perfectionism. I realize how much more this year I need to emphasize thinking about thinking in my classroom.

Before beginning a PBL unit, I would do a project pre-assessment where students make a list of possible project ideas and then create questions on the topic after narrowing it down.  I also would like them to analyze what resources they will need and what they hope to accomplish. 

After that, they will make a plan for their project. In their plan, they will list research due dates, due dates for choosing a product, and due date for final product. We will use a calendar template to plan out the process.  Hopefully having them help create their own essential question and ideas for a rubric will aid in their metacognition growth.  I have often found gifted students to be perfectionists when it comes to project details.  Sometimes they get so caught up in certain details they lose sight of the original goal or what is actually being graded on the rubric. Sometimes, they also feel so much pressure for it to be perfect they give up and do nothing.  I want each student to identify some skills (procedural objectives) to focus their effort on while working on the project.  Some students may choose that they need to work harder on typing and research, writing and grammar, creativity and detail, or organization and time management.  For the students who feel everything has to be perfect, I am hoping this will allow them to focus their effort on certain skills and feel less overwhelmed. Ultimately, students would use all of these skills most likely in a project; I just do not want them to think all of these skills have to include their best effort.  

How do you encourage your students to really think through a project based learning experience in your classroom?  How do you encourage metacognition in your classroom (thinking about thinking)? You can get a copy of the project pre-assessment and project plan here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Setting Objectives for Differentiating Instruction

I realize I still need to share my pictures from Vegas.  After getting back from Vegas, I have stayed really busy with a graduate summer class.  I am currently taking a class on differentiating instruction for gifted kids. I find it all really interesting, and it is making me really think about how I can better facilitate learning this year in my classroom.  My favorite of the books we have been reading so far is Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century by Richard Cash.

In this book, he discusses how in our current world we are forced to think and make decisions all the time.  Students need to be challenged to think at deeper levels if they are going to be prepared to function in life and in the work world as adults. One of my favorite topics he discusses is that objectives should be labeled as factual, procedural, and conceptual.  This makes the teacher identify what the students need to know, need to be able to do, and need to understand. Most objectives used in lesson plans are probably factual objectives.  They focus on what knowledge do we want the students to have learned. This would be something like knowing your multiplication facts.

Procedural objectives involve what students should be able to do.  These would be skills like going through the writing process, being able to write in cursive, being able to fill out a planner, being able to keep an organized binder, being able to type, or being able to do research on the computer. Many of my 4th and 5th graders still struggle with motor skills, so even being able to cut and fold could fall into this category. I think of these as skills I want my students to have before going on to the next level, such as moving onto Middle School.

Conceptual objectives are what we want students to really understand. Do they really understand what multiplication is?  Can they apply it in real situations or word problems?  Many times students who are very good with numbers can memorize a process and repeat it effortlessly.  They may test well on assessments, but if you retest them later they have not retained the skill.  Really making sure students understand concepts will help push knowledge and skills into long-term memory. For gifted students, providing them opportunities to work at those deeper conceptual levels allows them to actually be challenged for once. This year I really want to plan out each unit with these three types of objectives and then use those objectives to plan what activities we will complete.  Over the next week or two, I will be doing some blog posts on how I want to implement the differentiation strategies I am reading about in my own classroom.  How do you differentiate instruction and make sure that your students are thinking at different levels?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What do kids see when people-watching in Vegas?

Hello, blog. I have missed you.  I was in Vegas...staying in a Penthouse suite...meeting other bloggers. Oh, and visiting with my mom.

I will be back soon to share my pictures with you.  I just wanted to stop by briefly and share a bit of my fun. I flew out late Sunday night from Dallas.  My mom had driven into Vegas from Salt Lake City and had spent a couple days visiting with a friend.  My mom and teenage brother picked me up at the airport. We got to the Mirage, and they were out of rooms with 2 queen beds. We got stuck with an 1100 square foot penthouse.  Poor us. 

It was awesome!  I wanted to live in that bathroom.  A mini-fridge and a cot - I would have been set.

Monday and Tuesday I mainly hung out by the pool doing some reading on gifted kids. (I'm taking my first gifted class toward my PhD).  I really should get back to working on the many assignments due by tomorrow for that class.  I just am taking a short break to talk to you.

Tuesday night I went to the teacher/blogger meetup.  It was so much fun meeting people and putting faces to the blogs. I will share more later. (If you want, you can see some of my pictures on Instagram.  My username is ideabackpack.)

One of my favorite things about Vegas though is the people.  Vegas is like a drug for the people watcher. My mom overdosed.

It amazes me to see so many young kids on vacation in Vegas.  As you walk around and see people dragging their kids through the oppressive heat, flashing lights, and undressed bodies, I find myself immensely curious.  What goes through kids' heads?  When kids people-watch in Vegas, what do they see?  I can just imagine all the questions parents get asked.  Why is he wearing a bikini? Why is she wearing tassles there? What do the feathers do?  Why is her dress so short?  Why would you want girls delivered directly to you?  Why do people gamble? 

Anyway, what do you think kids wonder when they go through Vegas? That seems like a fabulous topic to a short story to me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Why Math Facts Matter

This past year was one my most challenging years as a teacher thus far; it was also one of the strongest growth opportunities I have had as an educator.  I taught a self-contained class for the first time.  I have previously always had several classes of students and focused on 1 or 2 subjects. This year my class was made up of students in grades 4 and 5, who spanned a variety of age levels and ability levels.

At the beginning of the year, Math was my biggest challenge. Our school uses a lot of technology, so that students have opportunities to work at different paces and levels. In Math, I had Gifted students who were extremely advanced and other students who were not ready for 4th grade Math because they still struggled with 2nd and 3rd grade concepts. We spent a lot (and I mean a lot) of time working on building fluency at basic, foundational Math concepts.  From working with many students even in Middle School Math, I have found that for most students who struggle with Math it comes down to not being able to fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Often when students struggle with fractions or Algebra, it comes down to these concepts.

During the last week of the school year, I was contacted by a publisher to review an ebook.  Compass Publishing asked me to review Laura Candler's book Mastering Math Facts.

I was thrilled with the opportunity.  On a side note, I love Laura Candler!  I discovered her website when I first found out I had to teach using Reading and Writing Workshop at another school.  Her website became my foundation for teaching in a workshop model.  I discovered the world of education blogs through her email Newsletter.  Without Laura Candler, I probably never would have started a teaching blog.

Anyway, this next year we are also adding a Grades 2/3 class.  I was excited to review Laura's book for ideas to help build math fact fluency in my 4th and 5th graders, but primarily for ideas on how to implement it in our 2nd and 3rd grade class. I do believe it is important for students to memorize their facts because it needs to be part of their subconscious.  However, it is vital they also grasp the conceptual ideas behind all four operations and how they work together. Laura does a great job with the lessons and activities in the book of helping students gain a conceptual understanding of math facts. She has a lot of hands-on activities, which is great for all students but especially for your kinesthetic learners.  I look forward to sharing more ways I implement her ideas in my own classroom when school starts.

I first printed the book out and put it all in a binder.

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She has a great section at the front of the book that matches the activities to the specific Common Core Standard they correlate to.

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I look forward to trying some of her hands on activities that help students make connections between operations like this egg carton activity.  I like that she gives you detailed instructions for the lessons.  I have taught Language Arts more than Math, so I do not have a huge mental list yet of hands-on lesson ideas for Math.  I think the hands-on activities will be great for the kids who are still struggling with their math facts.  For my Gifted kids who mastered their facts long before they came to me will probably still want to do the activities just because they are fun and more interactive.

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She also has some great handouts that really help you visualize the operations.

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You can get Laura's book Mastering Math Facts as an ebook at her TpT store or in print at her website. You also can get a copy at her publisher's website. Laura also is having a webinar for her book on Tuesday, July 16 at 8:00pm EST. You can read about the webinar at Corkboard Connections.  I would attend, but I will be at the Vegas blogger meet-up.  I do intend to watch the archive though.  If you have not attended one of Laura's webinars, you should.  They are always worth the time.

How do you help your students master their math facts?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Organizing Students' Electronic Assignment Submissions on the iPad

I hope you are having a good Thursday.  I went back to work today.  I enjoyed having a couple weeks off.  Next week I will be off for 3 days again because I am off to the Vegas Teacher Blogger meet-up.  I am super excited to meet lots of teacher bloggers!

Kristin at ITeach1:1 is having a "Tune Into Technology" linky that focuses on iPads.

I work at a school that uses technology constantly.  Our middle school and high school students all use Macbooks.  This past year I taught a grades 4/5 class.  We used Macbooks in our classroom as well.  This upcoming school year we are adding a grades 2/3 class.  The 2nd and 3rd grade class is going to use iPads, so I have spent some time researching apps.  I am excited for this linky to get some more ideas.

We also have been toying with the idea of whether or not the 4th/5th grade class should remain using laptops or should also use iPads.  I have my students submit a lot of their assignments electronically, so that was my biggest concern about using iPads.  I wanted to know my students could still submit their assignments to me without having to email everything.  I do not want to have sort through a million emails.  I like their assignments to be submitted all in the same place in an organized and systematic way.

This year I used Edmodo some at the end of the year.  Edmodo is a great app because of its versatility.  The students can use it as a planner, they can store files, they can submit assignments, and you can also use it post comments to the class. We primarily used it for the planner. 

In my research for an app that allows students to submit assignments electronically, I discovered a new app called Showbie.

With Showbie, you can add classes and students.  Within the classes, you create assignments.  The students submit their assignments to Showbie from their iPad and everyone's submissions are organized by class and assignment.  You can get the app for free, so it really seems like a great way to create a paperless classroom when you have access to iPads.   I like the idea that students could take screen shots of assignments and submit those or even take a picture of an assignment done on paper and just submit the picture. I look forward to trying out Showbie this year and moving a little closer toward a paperless classroom. I think you could also use Evernote somehow to organize student assignment submissions, but I haven't figured out how yet. How do you organize electronic student assignment submissions?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mentor Text - The Junkyard Wonders: Incorporating Engineering in Literature

So you would think come summer you would have more time for blogging, but the last couple weeks have been crazy with the drama over totaling my husband's old truck and getting a new truck.

Anyway...drama over.  Yesterday, I remembered it was time for Collaboration Cuties' Mentor Text Linky. 

When I saw it was a Language Arts Mentor Text, I was excited to blog about one of my favorite read alouds. I have mentioned this book before. A couple years ago I was introduced to Patricia Polacco's book The Junkyard Wonders at a Balanced Literacy training.  I fell in love with the book. It is a beautiful story about friendship, creativity, and uniqueness.

This book had also been on my mind because I was researching the Next Generation Science Standards on Friday.  I remember reading this post at Corkboard Connections.  In this post, Wendy and Cheryl of Get Caught Engineering talk about how Engineering will be a large part of the new Science Standards.  They have some great ideas for incorporating Engineering in Literature.  I immediately thought of The Junkyard Wonders. In this book, the main character, Trisha, goes to live with her dad because she wants a new start.  She felt dumb at her old school.  She discovers she has been placed in a special class called The Junkyard. Everyone in  the Junkyard has something that makes them different. Mrs. Peterson, their teacher, places them in groups called tribes and immerses them in a year full of truly hands-on learning. At one point, they actually go to a junkyard and collect things to make something new. The message in the book is about how we all have something special to offer and no one deserves to feel unloved. It is a sad book because one of the classmates dies.  I rarely can read this book aloud without getting teary, but I love the story!  You can use this story to discuss story elements, theme, mood, visualizing, character traits, etc. 

I love this story enough I decided I finally needed to make a unit to go with it.  (It took me most of the day to finish the unit.  That is why I am a day late with this blog post.)  The unit is 18 pages and has a variety of organizers to analyze literary elements.  I also included several writing assignments and a project idea.  I created it with the 4th and 5th Grade Common Core Literature Standards in mind.

Mrs. Peterson reads them a definition of genius on the first day of school that I love.  I think I want to make a giant poster of this quote!  Here is a free copy of the quote to display in your classroom. You can also get it at my TpT store.

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

You could use this quote to prompt great discussion and writing.  I also love the idea of using this book to prompt discussions of inquiry based learning, working in groups, creativity, etc.  I think often we feel so pressured to be worried about meeting certain curriculum goals or testing expectations, that we often forget that learning should be fun and creativity should be fostered without limitation.  We often put kids in a box when we should be encouraging them to just follow their natural bent to think outside the box. I look forward to discussing this definition of genius with my gifted students.  How do you foster creativity in your students?  Have you ever tried incorporating engineering in literature?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bloglovin Giveaway Winners and Thinking about Math Interactive Notebooks

I have been trying to sit down and finish a post for days.  My husband was in an accident almost two weeks ago (where luckily no-one was injured).  We have been dealing with body shops, insurance, and car dealerships for almost two weeks.  This whole process has been a nightmare and time-consuming.

Anyway...on to better things.  The Bloglovin Giveaway ended today.  I have two winners.  Congratulations Cheryl and Desiree!  I will be emailing both of you.

I have been doing a lot of research trying to figure out to incorporate interactive student notebooks this year. I would like to use them with more than one subject, but Math is going to be the hardest to figure out. The hard part is that my students work very independently and at different levels, so not everyone will be on the same Math lesson or even same grade level of Math. 
We use a lot of technology, so I love the idea of a digital interactive notebook.  I am playing with the idea of using paper notebooks to house the "inputs" for the notes, but maybe create the more creative "outputs" on the computer. For the "input" section of the notes, we may do some of the notes all-together or in small groups, but I also need them to work on individual note-taking skills.  I decided to create a note-taking template for Math to try out with my students.  What do you think?  Should I add anything?  Take anything away?  (I should probably make a template that has a section for properties). You can get a copy here.
How do you help your students become independent note-takers?
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