Thursday, April 16, 2015

Confessions of a Reformed "Anti-Task Card-er"

I am just going to say it.  I am not a big fan of task cards. {ducking from anything that may get thrown at me right now.}

I know that they are really hot right now.  I know that people love them.  I know that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread for some teachers.  But *I* have just never really fell head over heals for them.  

Until this year.

OK...that isn't exactly true.  I still am not a huge fan BUT my kids LOVE LOVE LOVE them.  Did I mention that they love them?  Because they do.  Task cards have revitalized plain old worksheets for the kids.  They have instant buy in and I find that the kids are completing their work faster if I present the work in task card format than if I simply type everything up on a worksheet page.

So, since we have this new found love for task cards in my room, I thought I would share some of the ways that task cards have been successful in my class this year.

First up is the "Task Card Dump".  Basically, the students get into groups of 4 or 5.  I make enough copies of the task cards I want to use for each of the groups.  The kids get a recording sheet, sit in their groups, and dump the task cards in the center.  Then, they take a card each and begin solving the problems.  There is no order to which card needs to be taken next, they just grab whichever one is there. 

The "Group Switch" is a popular strategy in my class as well.   Kids get into small groups of about 3 or 4.  I make enough task card sets for about 4 groups to share.  Then, I split those task card sets into groups of 3 or 4 cards.  Each small group of students get a little group of cards.  They solve  them.  Then, after a few minutes, I call time and everyone switches their group of cards for another group of cards.  After 4 switches, all of the kids have gone through all of the cards.

These task cards are from Teaching with a Mountain View :)
Finally, there is the "Individual Grab".  This works well when I use my Story Elements cards.  I set all of the cards up on the board and the kids walk up and grab whichever one they need at the time.  Then, when they are done, the kids put that one back and grab another one.  I always make sure to copy several sets of the cards so that all of the kids can be working at the same time.

So there you have it.  A few easy ways to get the kids involved with task cards in your classroom.  Do you use task cards?  What strategies have you used to get the kids more actively engaged with the cards?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Colonial Science and Making Butter

Well, it is official.  My kids think I am the best teacher on the planet.

OK....that is a little exaggeration, BUT we did have a great time exploring colonial times and physical/chemical changes, while working on reading for evidence. 

So, what did we do that put me on track to be voted into the hall of fame of teaching?  We made butter.  Yes, you heard me.  Making butter in class is the equivalent to winning the Super Bowl.  But I am ahead of myself.  Let me run you through the lessons so that you too can be the best thing since sliced bread.

We are in crunch time before the big TEST, so reviewing all of our past science standards is a must.  Physical and Chemical changes is a big standard that is so hard for the kids to really grasp.  So we began our lesson by watching the StudyJams video on Physical and Chemical Changes.  We discussed and took notes, all the while jogging their memory to what they already knew.  Using the video and their own notes, the students helped me to make a list of what constitutes a physical change and what denotes a chemical change.

Then, I segued into Colonial times (our social studies unit) by pointing out that everyday things that the colonists did contained hidden science and many, many things resulted in chemical and physical changes.  (To which one student raised her hand and said, "They had science back then????" completely amazed :)  )

I passed out a reading passage called The Story of Butter (which I found at this fabulous site here.)  Just as we do for all nonfiction reading passages, we determined our purpose for reading and wrote it at the top.  In this case, I wanted the students to find evidence of either a chemical or physical change.  Then, the students worked in pairs to read the passage and underline evidence of making butter being either a chemical or physical change (spoiler alert:  it is a physical change.)

After a whole class review and discussion, ultimately determining it was a physical change, we set about to prove that it was indeed physical.  I passed out jars of heavy whipping cream to pairs of students, who then took turns vigorously shaking them.  This motion caused the cream to turn into butter....and created an overnight sensation with the best teaching ideas ever out of me.  :)
Physical science in a 5th grade class by making butter!

By doing this, the kids could clearly see that a physical change had occurred because there were no signs of a chemical change.  The kids took what they read and applied it to actual, tangible science investigation.  Then they got to eat it.

Here is where we stopped for the day.  Tomorrow, we will read 5 more passages to determine the type of change.  Then, we created a bulletin board to show our discoveries.  I will share that with you soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Unshakeable: Do Your Part to Create a Positive School Culture

Right about now is when school becomes one big stress ball of emotions for me.  Between testing and report cards and looming culmination....not to mention the senioritis that hits the fifth graders....April is really a hard month in which to teach.    And it isn't just me.  It seems like overall the staff (not just at my school but at all schools in my area) just tend to be a bit more stressed and down.  So when I read what Angela Watson of The Cornerstone for Teaching had to say in Chapter 7 of her new book Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day...No Matter What , it really struck a chord with me.

This chapter is all about how you, one person, can affect the entire school culture.  The big takeaway for me was to stay positive.  In all of your interactions with colleagues, remain steadfast in your positivity.

I have to admit, this is hard for me sometimes. It is just so easy to give in to the complaining as a way to destress.  But, as Angela points out, it is actually more stress making to do that.  Staying in the negative is perpetuated by being negative. If you give in to the complaining colleague, you are helping them to stay negative as well as to bring yourself into a negative space.  By finding just one thing that is positive about the situation, you can instantly help not only your complaining colleague, but yourself, to enter into a more positive zone.  

The chapter goes on to give quite a few examples and suggestions as to how you, one person, can turn a negative school culture around.  Creating fun food days or starting a social bash day to celebrate birthdays are just a few of the easy ways to help bring your staff together.  Here are some of the other ideas that I thought were particularly doable:

Put potpourri in the staff bathroom.  

Write thank you notes to your fellow staff members for something they did to make your day easier. 

Acknowledge each other with a Teacher of the Week recognition. 

Compliment each other on lessons that went well or bulletin boards that are outstanding.  

All of these ideas can help to make people feel more appreciated at school and bring in a more positive climate.   I know that tomorrow, when I go back after Spring Break, I will definitely be doing some of them.

What are some things that you have done to help make your school a more positive place to be?  How do you deal with negative people?
If you would like to follow along with the rest of this book study, please click the image to the left.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Homework.  It is definitely a love-hate relationship that I have with that word.  On the one hand, I think the practice time is incredibly valuable for the students.  On the other, I know that with after school activities and the fact that the kids spend 6 + hours at school, they need a break.  With this in mind, I have formulated a homework plan in my room that is quick, to the point, easy to follow, and, most importantly, useful.

For me, as I am sure is the case with many of you, homework consists of pages that I *would* assign during class if time allowed.  It is not busy work.  It is useful items that I believe provide consistent and necessary practice of skills that we are learning in class. 

So what do I assign?

Nightly, the students have the following.

Read for 20 minutes.
Complete a reading log response for the reading.
Math Review Page
Paragraph of the Week
Root Words

I know...looks like a lot.  But it actually isn't all that much.  Let me break it all down for you. (25 minutes a night)

My students read for 20 minutes each night.  They can read anything they wish, as long as it is something they enjoy.  Then, they have to fill out a reading log response.  This isn't a simple fill in the title and mom sign it log.  The kids have to actually respond to their reading.  There are 5 different response to choose from each week, asking the kids to use their comprehension skills and strategies to respond in a meaningful way.
Math (10 minutes a night)

I have written about my Spiral Math Homework many, many times.  This is a 10 problem, cumulative spiral math review that I have written for my students.  They practice a problem or two from the lesson that day, but more importantly, they practice everything else that they have learned over the course of the quarter/year.  It is truly something I am passionate about.  I believe with the whole of my being that my students outperform others on state tests because of this homework.  No matter what grade I teach, it is this homework that carries me through.  Math is just better because of this constant review.  

Comprehension (10 minutes a night)

I have the students practice the test taking strategies we learn on this page nightly.  I pull from many different sources, but lately I am really loving  The passages are free and are based upon skills and strategies that the kids need.
Paragraph of the Week (5 - 10 minutes a night)

I assign one page a night to the students.   The pages progress each day of the week to create a clear, cohesive paragraph by Friday.  Each day, we go over various strategies that they can use to make their paragraphs better.  The sheer repetition of it all has made my kids better writers.
Root Words (5 minutes a night)

We start a section of this trifold in class each day.  The kids then finish it at home.  We review the next day.  It is an easy, fast way to get the kids thinking about the roots and word structure of vocabulary words.

What is KEY about all of this is that in class EVERY.SINGLE.DAY we review the work.  It is worked in to my schedule that we go over the homework.  That way, if students don't understand something, we will have a chance to review it.  They also then see that homework is an important part of our school day, since I am making it a part of our school day.  It isn't just busy work that will never be looked at again.  Kids know that it is necessary for our daily routine and class structure.

What does your homework assignment look like?  How do you incorporate it into your day?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Read to Write

Analyzing nonfiction text is something that we have been focusing on this year with the full implementation of CCSS.  I am always on the look out for new resources to help me with this, and when Zaner-Bloser contacted me to review their new "I Read to Write Kits", I jumped on the opportunity. 

Disclaimer:  Zaner-Bloser sent me a class set of these kits in exchange for an honest review.  Though they did send them to me, the thoughts on the program below are my own and not influenced in any way by this.

The I Read to Write kits are consumable workbooks for the students to use to dive into text.  There are three units in the 5th grade level, one about Space Exploration, one about the American Revolution, and another about Sports that use math.  Each of the stories are highly engaging and very relevant to what my students are interested in (and what I am interested in as a teacher....hello American Revolution!!) 

I have been using these with my class to get them to read closer in the text.  We annotate the text, writing purpose questions, underlining key details to support main idea, answer text dependent questions, and construct short answers about the text.  There is also a writing portion that has the kids writing either a narrative, opinion piece, or informational text based on the three reading passages in the unit.

Here are the pros to this program:
*  The Teacher's Guide is included.  This is really, really awesome.  While I was still able to teach them my own strategies (ie: writing the purpose of the reading and finding main idea each time), the TG gave me additional strategies specific to the story that I could incorporate.

*  They are consumable.  The students could write directly on the book.  The pages are in full color, making text features easy to see and gave the close reading a sort of novelty for the kids.

*  They are aligned to common core standards.  With the CCSS being so new for everyone, having something that hits multiple standards, as well as helps get them test-ready is very welcome in my classroom.

Here are the cons to the program:
*  They are consumable.  While I really do love this feature, that means that I can only use them with one class of students.  As a teacher, that could get very costly for me if I am purchasing a class set on my own.    

*  The writing portion is a bit unscaffolded for me.  There are writing organizers, but I would have loved if there was some help getting the kids to actually show text evidence in their writing.  This could definitely be a personal preference issue, but I would like a bit more help here in this area with my students.

Overall, I am so very happy to have had this program to use with my students.  I feel like it was very beneficial and truly did help my kids to have another set of texts to use to dig into.  I liked the text dependent questions and the fact that the kids had to write short answers as well as answer multiple choice questions.  I feel that these books have been a good resource to have in my room and have added to my repertoire of what I can use with my students. 

The Kits are $29.95 for a set of 5, or a class set for $175.  You can also request a FREE SAMPLE HERE!
If you would like more information about the I Read to Write kits, which are available in grades 2-6,  you can find visit their website here