Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Common Core Math Websites

I thought I would share some of my favorite Common Core Math websites and how I use them.  I teach math grades 4-6 in one room at the same time, so access to easy differentiated practice is awesome.  My students work on lessons through our curriculum, but I supplement with a lot of websites and paper practice.


IXL is amazing for practice from pre-K to Algebra.  The students can click on the exact links they need.  It works really well because it tells students what they did wrong, and they can find exactly what they need. I also can send specific links to students via edmodo. The only downside is that I cannot assign links to kids. They just added grammar for grades 2-4 as well.  They are supposed to be adding the grammar for grade 5 in January.


Sumdog is a great website that is common core aligned with math practice up to grades 6.  They can play games, so it makes spiral review fun.  Sometimes my students act like they don't like Sumdog as much anymore, but it seems like it would be more fun as a game.  They have grammar practice as well.


Jen Runde mentioned this website on Facebook last night.  I checked it out.  I couldn't figure it out after like 5 minutes, so I gave up but it seems like it could be a more involved game instead of just small games.


I love Scootpad because for the $5 a month subscription you can assign specific skills to specific students.  I am going to use Scootpad as more of an assessment and IXL as more practice.  I love that Scootpad is one of the few with reading practice by standard as well!


Xtramath is great for math fact practice, and it is free.


Buzzmath is a website for Common Core practice for grades 6-8.  They have missions and little tutorials.  My grade 6 math class likes this website. It is all led by a little mad scientist.

What are your favorite common core math websites?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas Writing Ideas and Figurative Language

So we started our December essays today.  I printed the December Essay Menu on cardstock and taped it to the board. I explained that we are going to start doing one essay per month, but they would have choices. I went over the 20 choices on the menu.  They were pretty excited.  Many asked if they could do more than one essay.  My student who was my most reluctant writer last year asked if he could finish his essay tonight at home. It really is amazing to see what choice can do!

Today they picked a topic and started planning their essays with graphic organizers.  A few started writing. I explained we were going to go through the whole writing process.  The pack on TpT includes lots of handouts for rough drafts and publishing. Most of my students wanted to type their essays, so we are going to type ours. I was excited to see my students excited about essay writing.  Who gets excited about five paragraph essays, right?  I think the choice menu each month is going to work really well. We will spend about an hour on Wednesdays working on it.  The rest of the week they can fit it in as they have time. We actually may even turn our essays and stories into a multimedia presentation when we finish just for some fun.

This month we also are going to talk about figurative language.  We will do some figurative language lessons from Lovin Lit's Reading Notebook and Figurative Language Close Reading Stories.  We will use the close reading stories in reading groups. Of course, we have to do Jen Runde's craftivity for Figurative Language.

Now, this last resource I am super excited about. We will analyze Christmas Carols for Figurative Language.  

A few years ago, I had my students get in groups and rewrite the words to Christmas carols to be about themselves.  They came out so cute! We will type up the new lyrics and frame them in an inexpensive frame as our parent gift this year.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Planning for Choice and Time in the Language Arts block for Student Engagement and Ownership

I'll forewarn you - this is a long post but lots of good ideas. Sometimes you just have to work through your thoughts...

This is my second year of working in a blended learning environment.  By utilizing online curriculum and student-teacher interaction, students are able to work at different paces and levels. It adds a whole new level to time and resource management as an elementary teacher.  I have a small-class size, but my students still cover a wide variety of reading levels just like with any class. In the past, I taught at a charter school and we used a Reading/Writing Workshop model with Guided Reading. Over the past two years at a private school with a blended learning model, I have worked more on getting adjusted to the Common Core Standards and figuring out the best way to leverage technology for elementary students.  I have done a lot of whole-group reading instruction based on the Common Core Standards to supplement my student's online lessons. 

I have found fitting in guided reading or small-group reading lessons a lot more difficult as I have also worked through what classroom management looks like when you add in a lot of technology and students working highly independently. I have found while technology is great, it also provides more ways to be off-task.  I have found that some students need a lot of re-directing to stay on task.  When students are used to all students working on the same task at the same time, they sometimes struggle to transition to an environment where everyone may be doing something slightly different.  They worry more about what others are doing then focusing on their own tasks. At the same time, as part of the 21st century learning skills students need to work on communication and collaboration.  I think learning to work in groups is important, but learning to focus and tune out distraction is also an important life-skill.

One of my goals for the rest of this school year is to do more differentiated small-group reading instruction, so finding ways to increase student motivation is important to freeing me up to have time to work for a block of time with specific students on reading skills.  It is also important to help my students balance out working independently, working together, and learning to use one another as a resource.

In the last month, I attended the iNACOL conference and the NAGC conference. At both conferences, I came away re-convicted on how important choice, rigor, and depth are for student engagement.  In the past, I have used a lot of choice menus for student assignments and projects. I have always been intrigued by the idea of doing project based learning for opportunities for depth and rigor.  I also always really enjoy reading blog posts from teachers who use stations or rotation models to differentiate for their math and reading workshop blocks.

I decided for now to work on the choice element of student engagement for my Language Arts block.  Because my students work more independently and may vary in the amount of time they need to spend on a task, a rotation model does not work as well for me. I decided to make a chart to plan out my Language Arts block in 15-20 minute increments.  I then designated times for certain whole-group lessons/activities and small-group reading meeting times. Wednesdays I marked off as Writing Wednesday where we will spend an hour on a more in-depth writing assignment (such as our monthly essay writing I mentioned yesterday).

 The rest of the blocks I left blank where they can work independently or maybe in partners or groups depending on the task.  My students will each get a chart where it lists the tasks at the top they need to complete for the week.  Some weeks it may even be broken into more of a must do and may do list of tasks.  Using the chart each week will give us a sense of consistency, while allowing for flexibility to make changes to time allotments and tasks/activities.

They then will be able to fill in those blank "Independent Work" boxes in the chart for which tasks they want to do when.  I made my chart for the week and a template for each reading group in PowerPoint.  I decided to call them reading meetings instead of reading groups, and I think I will change the names for different themes throughout the year. You can get a copy of the PowerPoint file here if you would like to make changes for you.

For now, I was playing with naming my groups seasonal names.  Another teacher today said she liked the idea of naming her groups by color and then color coding their handouts by group name.  I really like the idea of using color paper and color-coding the handouts, so I may change the names to my groups.

My hope is that if students have more choice of when they complete certain tasks, this will help them take more ownership to stay on task.  As we have been talking about getting ready for middle school and SMART goals, this also goes along well with taking ownership of setting and meeting goals.  This process will hopefully allow me to focus more on my goal of doing more differentiated small-group instruction.

As they get better at working independently and taking ownership for their time, we can add in more  group-work opportunities for depth.  I am intrigued by Jen Runde's blog posts on Genius Hour and passion projects.  I think this would be a great way to add in some inquiry-based learning. I need to do more research.  It seems like the projects may be more independent, but by encouraging students to do them in groups of 2-3 you could definitely work on communication and collaboration.

How do you allocate time in your Language Arts block? 

Weekly Writing Inspiration and December Essay Writing

I hope you are getting some great shopping in at the TpT Cyber Monday sale. I spent my fair share today, but I got so many great things!

I wanted to share some writing resources I am really excited about right now.  When I first start blogging almost two years ago, I did a weekly series called "Weekly Writing Inspiration." This is something I started in my classroom several years ago. Each week for our journal writing we used inspiration instead of prompts. We had a quote of the week, a poem of the week, and a picture of the week.  We discussed what we observed, the meanings, and how they could inspire our writing.  It really got the kids to think critically and creatively. As creativity and critical thinking are two of the four 21st century skills, they are something I want to continue to emphasize.

Weekly writing inspiration is something I have done in my class every year, but it usually falls off somewhere during the year because I start running out of time to find a quote, poem, and picture each week.  I have always meant to sit down and compile 40 poems, 40 quotes, and 40 pictures. It never happened as many great teaching ideas find themselves.

Well, the other day I found some resources on TpT that helped me fulfill my weekly writing inspiration goal.

Panicked Teacher's Quote of the Week

Panicked Teacher's Idiom of the Week

Picture of the Day (We just may not do it every day).

We started doing one of these each day before Thanksgiving. We discuss the meanings and use the handouts from the packs. Then, each day we use the quote, idiom, or picture to inspire our journal writing. I just will have to pick out a poem then each week. My goal is to get a monthly poetry pack made with poems to analyze. I made one for March last year. Hopefully, I can get one made for December in next couple days. :)

To help my kids get better at multi-paragraph essays, I want to make sure we do at least one essay per month for the rest of the year.  I decided to start making a monthly essay menu with four choices for each of the writing types: informational, opinion, narrative, and research. They will be able to choose, but in 3 essays they need to do an opinion, a narrative, and an informative.  I am excited to share my essay menu for December with my students on Wednesday. 


What are your favorite resources for writing and the Common Core?

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