Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fantasy Update

We are swimming in fantasy reading and writing and we all are LOVING it! Even some of our reluctant readers are in love with their chosen series. 

Book Club units can be tough to manage and organize. If you aren't careful, all parties involved can start to feel like you are "drowning", instead of "swimming!" I thought I'd take today to layout how we organized our fantasy unit and a few of the day-to-day activities/tools that we have found to be super helpful. We have found this process to be really effective and hope it will help others!

As mentioned in our previous FANTASY POST, we launched the unit with a "Book Tour" of the series options for our kids. Our students could also bring up their own series suggestions, but only one group did that. Everyone else found something of interest from our "Book Tour." Click on the image below to see the full "tour" Google Presentation Show:

Following the book tour, students voted on their top 3 choices. They were guaranteed one of their top 3 picks.  We then got into our groups and set our "norms" for book club:

Each student got a general "Fantasy Book Club Packet" (available in our TpT store), to house their discussion notes, sticky notes, and other ideas about their series. The packet was aligned to the general mini-lessons that we would cover for the unit. We built other lessons in on an as-needed basis, or as kid needs arose. We also tailored our book club lessons to each individual group and their individual needs.

The next part that really made a difference in our Reader's Workshop block was a scheduled time for each book club to meet. We set up a rotation model. Our literacy block now looked like this for this unit:

Each book club gets 15 minutes per day to meet. The other 30 minutes are "independent time." They can choose to continue their book club work during this time, or they can choose to tackle other reading work that meets their interests or individual needs. 

We, as teachers, meet with our most struggling readers, daily, in whatever groups they are in. We meet with all other students/groups twice per week. We also have the support of our amazing ELL teacher, Niki, during this time. She meets with her students for two rotations, due to their literacy needs. We also currently have a truly amazing student teacher, which definitely helps out for 11 book club groups! We created a Google Presentation that includes a slide for each day of the week. It also includes a digital timer in the corner to count down and keep us on track (or we would stay in book clubs ALL afternoon! :) Student Group Letters that are colored RED, are those that are meeting with an adult that day. It has been an organizational life-saver!
Another way to help keep us organized was a collaborative conference log! We needed a way to document the different things we were working on and discussing with our groups. We created a shared Google Spreadsheet that had tabs at the bottom for all 11 groups. Each member of our teaching team has access to this document. This ensures that no matter which group we meet with, we can document our great work and conversations. And if we have spontaneous learning or discussions with groups that we are not "assigned" to, we can still document what went on! It has been an amazing tool!
We have about 2 weeks left in our unit! Then...it will be on to Fantasy Learning Models as part of their personalized assessment! We will definitely post examples when they are done! 

How do you organize book clubs? What strategies have worked for you that help everyone "keep their heads above water"? Feel free to sound off below! :)

Happy Teaching,


Sunday, January 18, 2015


We are knee-deep in our fantasy unit of study. We connected Reader's and Writer's Workshop for this purpose. In case you missed it, check out the reading connection HERE.

Our kids enjoy writing...when they have the choice! Nine times out of ten, they would choose fiction writing. That being said, we don't have a true fiction unit in our 5th Grade Units of Study kit. We have a narrative unit, but it is a personal narrative. Our kids hunger for fun, creative, fiction writing. When we began long-range planning, we knew we needed to incorporate as much fiction writing in...whenever we could get it! Our Reader's Workshop fantasy unit was the perfect time. This writing unit falls within the "If...Then..." book in the Units of Study. The section of the book is fairly wordy, so we mapped out our own lessons in conjunction with our Reading unit.

We launched the writing unit with a picture book study. We started with our general observations in partnernships, then layered in different fantasy elements. Our kiddos examined their chosen picture books for character archetypes and quest structures. We then moved into brainstorming their own ideas using things they were passionate about (example: one students is a baseball fanatic....he could write a story about a magical baseball card that transports him to the past).
They flash-drafted, selected their story of choice, completed graphic organizers, and are off and running with their drafts.

Now what??

Sure, we conference, pull strategy groups to target certain skills, model with mentor texts, and the like. But what will happen when the story is done? Sure, they could publish using Google Docs. We could print them and put them in the hallway. They could share them on paper with our kindergarten buddies. But we wanted something more and different!!

Enter the amazing resource: StoryJumper!!

Our absolutely amazing student teacher, Liz, was digging around one lunch hour while I was complaining about wanting something different for our kids to do. I wanted something more meaningful for them. She began digging and found StoryJumper. Check out this quick tutorial video. Trust me...it is worth the 7 minutes:

And the absolute best part of StoryJumper...it is FREE! I don't know about you, but we are all about FREE in our space! I love that they can upload their own images/illustrations. I especially love that they could upload a picture of themselves, and crop their face to put on the bodies from the StoryJumper toolkit! You can generate a permalink when you are done that will be perfect for their digital portfolios, too! It also offers tremendous security features to protect our youngsters!

Another great feature that ups the SAMR scale...they can share these with the world! You can publish them in the StoryJumper library for the world to read! Talk about changing the audience and motivation for writing! If parents/schools were interested, they can order hardcover books for $24.95 or softcover books for $12.95. Even cooler...they offer a school fundraising option! Who wouldn't want one of these awesome books instead of overly-expensive popcorn or wrapping paper??

Bottom line...I was SO, unbelievably excited when Liz found this! It absolutely made my day! We cannot wait to share this option with our students as a choice for publication (I'm guessing MOST will choose this amazing tool!). We shared this with all of our school peeps, as well! Our friend and amazing colleague, Lisa, from Growing Firsties, already wrote her own blog post about it! Needless this to say, this tool is FANTASTIC, and everyone should try it!

How do your kids publish? Have you tried StoryJumper? Do you have another amazing tool? Sound off below!

~Angela :)

Fantasy Fun!

I absolutely LOVE teaching literacy! I absolutely LOVE the workshop model of instruction. I also LOVE how easily it lends itself to personalized learning! Students have so much "voice and choice" on book selection and application of skills. You can really drill down to exactly what each student/group needs through individual conferences or strategy groups! Bottom line...workshop is the BEST!

In our district, we are fortunate to be a Teacher's College district. We follow and utilize their Units of Study for reading and writing workshop. We even got to experience "Home Grown Institutes" as professional development in reading and writing over the last 2 summers! We truly are blessed to be in our district!

This year, Kate and I have been really reflective on the order that we teach units and are always looking for ways to connect different subjects to get the most "bang for our buck" in whole group instruction! We have rearranged some of the units to better meet our kids' needs. One of these rearrangements included my absolute favorite genre: FANTASY! 
Click to be taken to full product at our TpT store!
During our reflections on the needs/interests of our kiddos, we decided to move up our fantasy unit. This rearrangement allowed us to align our historical fiction units with social studies. We also decided to incorporate the Fantasy Writing unit from the "If...Then..." book in the Unit of Study kit.

We planned out a joint unit together that "married" the two subjects in a Google Doc. We pulled some lessons from reading and put them in writing, and vice versa! We linked all of the tools that we created right into the document, so the members of our 5th grade team, Special Ed, and ELL could all have access to the materials.
Then...it was time to launch! I cannot even begin to describe the excitement in our room when we shared the upcoming unit with our kids. Even our kiddos that were a little apprehensive about the fantasy genre were buzzing with excitement! We began our unit launch by taking our kids on a "book tour."
Click to see the full tour in a Google Presentation
We compiled different series that would meet the wide range of needs in our space! We have kiddos reading from Level N to Level Z! We introduced each of the 15 series to our kids in whole group. We did leave it open to suggestion from our kiddos, as well! The students took notes in their reader's notebooks about series that interested them while we "toured." We talked about difficulty, appropriateness, and motivation to try harder books! We also discussed the different challenges that the fantasy genre can bring (made up words, confusion at the beginning as characters try to figure things out, etc.). This allowed them to make the best decision possible for themselves as a reader.

Then...we voted!! We used Google Forms. Kids needed to vote on their top 3 choices. They were guaranteed one of their top three.
Click to see the full Google Form
We LOVE using Google Forms for things like this, because it gives you the results in a spreadsheet that is easy to manipulate and work with. The best part....all of our kids made great book choices for themselves AND everyone got one of their top 3 choices!

We are now 2 weeks into the unit and everyone is LOVING IT (even our reluctant fantasy readers!) Kids are given 15 minutes a day for their book club discussions and 30 minutes a day for independent choice time. We, as teachers, meet with our lowest readers within their chosen groups daily. We meet with all other students twice a week. The thinking they are doing, the discussions they are having, and the connections they are making are blowing us away! There are a few groups that are having far more sophisticated conversations than my adult book club!

Our next stop...fantasy stories in WRITING WORKSHOP! Check it out to see how we are incorporating the great tool StoryJumper as a choice in publication!

Have you taught fantasy yet? What things worked well for you? Didn't go well? Feel free to sound off below!

~ Angela :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Front Row Math

Front Row Math came to me by accident...It was 8:35am, ten minutes before the morning bell was going to ring, and I was having a conversation with a 3rd grade colleague about a variety of things. Somehow, within our conversation, she mentioned Front Row Math and assumed I knew of the resource. I had never heard of it before so I asked for a little more information...she quickly showed me how she's using it in her classroom and I immediately knew I wanted to give it a try in our math workshop. Did I mention the bell was ringing in ten minutes? In a matter of minutes I signed up our class, received our class code, and decided that day would be a GREAT day to introduce Front Row to students during seminar time.

For those of you, like me, that know nothing about this free resource, Front Row provides targeted individual math practice. The students take pretests for each math domain and a baseline is set for each math strand. From there students can choose a domain and work on adaptive practice based on their level, or teachers can assign practice based on the current math unit of study. Front Row isolates skills and builds on students' strengths. The questions posed help them improve in a given strand.

Front Row can be used on an iPad or on the Web. Our students use Chromebooks and we have not had any difficulties up to this point. There are a variety of tools to help the students problem solve:
- videos to support their learning
- questions can be read aloud to them
- online, virtual manipulatives can be used to help them solve
- scratch paper is available

Wondering how this fits into Math Workshop? 
- Independent practice during "May Do" time
- Small group seminar work- groups can be created that allows you to target specific standards with a small group of children
- Assigned homework

We've been utilizing Front Row Math for several months now and it's been a great addition to our workshop! Check out this amazing, free resource! 

~ Kate

Genius Hour is Back!

We are always looking for ways to bring more inquiry into our classroom. We dabbled with Genius Hour at the end of the 13-14 school year, but this week we'll be incorporating into our schedule on a weekly basis.

Genius Hour is based on Google's willingness to allow their engineers to spend 20% of their time working on something that interests them. Pinterest, and the internet in general, is filled with Genius Hour ideas, but Runde's Room is a site I found to be SUPER helpful. Her ideas motivated me to get this up and running on a weekly basis. She has links to fantastic PDF's that I will be using to introduce the project. Check out her site below!
For one hour each week our students will be given time to explore, research, and learn about something they're passionate about. Our goal is to bring creativity and more inquiry into TEAM Togetherness. This will NOT be an easy task for our students, but we're confident that with hard work and perseverance they will WOW our socks off! Our Genius Hour will take place every Thursday morning, right before lunch. The first two classes will be relatively structured as we introduce the concept and brainstorm ideas, but future hours will be more student driven as they dive into research and inquiry. We haven't determined how much time we will give our students yet, but I'm sure we'll have a better idea of that once we get started.

This week I will be creating a Genius Hour board (awesome bulletin board letters on Runde's Room website) to house our passion ideas and the students will be generating ideas and sharing those thoughts with families. The students will be creating Passion Project work folders to house handouts, project notes, design ideas and weekly reflections. We bought these duo-tang folders and we'll be using the reflection form created by Jen at Runde's Room on a weekly basis. In week two the students will be getting their two inquiry questions and possible project ideas approved by a grown up (we will require parents to sign off on the inquiry questions and project ideas as well) and by week 3 they'll be ready to dive into research and inquiry!

To help organize my thoughts, introduce this new component of our class, and support the students on a weekly basis, I created a Weebly site. The website explains Genius Hour, outlines student expectations, provides a list of possible inquiry questions and passion project ideas, and gives them a list of kid-friendly research websites. I even set up a forum for students to ask each other questions, offer suggestions, and provide feedback. This is our first attempt with the "forum" feature, so I'll let you know how it goes! I love using Weebly to organize big classroom projects!  

To say I'm excited about this week Thursday is an understatement! I will admit, I am a little nervous, how can you not be when you have very little control over the students' ideas, but I am confident that our 53 students will come up with some amazing inquiry topics that they're truly passionate about!

~ Kate

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Technology Connects Learners

Would you rather...

Tough question, right? Not for our 5th graders!:)

Have I mentioned how much I love being in a 1:1 environment? I am continually amazed, humbled, and WOWED by what my kids can do each and every day!

That being said, working with my students and in the type of learning environment that we do, I am constantly challenging myself to learn more, as well. One tool that I am working more with is Google+.  It is amazing what is out there!

A few months back, we received a message from another teacher in our district via Google+. She forwarded us a note from a community that she was a part of. It was from an instructional technology coach from Illinois, Michael Johnson. He was working with a math teacher, Tara Nunes, in his middle school, and was looking to connect with students from other states on some math problems. We reached out and became connected! A slew of e-mails and a video chat later, we were in business!

Tara's math students created these amazing real-world math problems called "Would You Rather", based off of ideas she got from this blogpost. She had her students post the problems to their Kidblog pages. Kidblog is a fantastic tool that allows kids to share their work via their own blog page. It has hundreds of different uses! Be sure to check it out, if you haven't before! It is an amazing tool!

One of the cool ways Kidblog can be used, is to connect one class to another. With some help from Michael, we connected Tara's Kidblog class with ours. Voila! Our students could now see each other's work, give feedback, and most importantly in this case--answer some tough math questions!

Now, Tara teaches 8th grade math students. Our kiddos are only 5th graders. They were pretty excited to not only hear that they were going to get to solve "harder, middle school math problems", but also that these kids were from ANOTHER STATE! :) 

For one week during math workshop, they worked in groups to solve the problems during "May Do" time in our math workshop block! They looked at the various problems posted by Tara's students on her Kidblog page, chose the ones that made sense to them, and worked to explain their mathematical thinking to "big kids" that they will probably never meet in person!

They loved it! The problems challenged their thinking! They need to collaborate, solve problems they might face in the real world, communicate their thinking, and most importantly--HAVE FUN IN MATH! We LOVED the experience! Thank you, Tara and Michael, for collaborating with us! We hope to do it again soon!

Google+ is this exciting, never-ending world! It boggles my mind how fast technology is moving and shaking our educational landscape. Because of technology, we could easily collaborate with teaching peers from another state. Because of technology, our students were given a real-world, problem solving experience. Because of technology, our students were connected with other students for a joint, educational purpose. Because of technology, our students could collaborate, communicate, and critically think about math in a brand new & exciting way. Because of technology, our possibilities are endless.

How have you collaborated or connected with others? We'd love to hear from you!
Happy Teaching,
~Angela :)

Reading Learning Model

Needless to say, we've been inspired and humbled by how our idea of "Learning Models" has spread far and wide! We recently posted about math learning models in our classroom, as well as math learning models done by our kindergarten friends. Last month, some of our fourth grade friends even tried out a reading learning model for their character unit. This got our wheels turning, as well! How could we take these ideas and apply them to our own reading? The result:

Click to be taken to our TpT store
 Just like our math learning models, we gave the students choice in how they demonstrated it.
We also introduced them to a new tool: ZOOBURST. Zooburst is a cool tool that allows kids to make their own 3-D pop up book. It is reasonably priced, as well. It cost $50 for 250 student accounts. It is a great thing to share across a grade level or two! Not many of our students chose this option this time--it might have been too much "new" at once--but they were very excited to explore it on their own!

We encouraged our students to choose two texts on the same topic. We allowed them to use books, reputable online resources, reputable videos, and magazines. They, then, needed to show proficiency in 4 main standards: 5.RI.1, 5.RI.2, 5.RI.4, and 5.RI.6. We also provided some "bonus, optional" opportunities with standards 5.RI.5 and 5.RI.8. (a 4-point rubric is included in the document for all 6 standards).

At first, it was hard for them. They struggled trying to envision how they could put it all together. We think their brains were just so "wired" to do math learning models (which are much more black and white!). So, we created an example together. Click the pic to see the full model:

Once we went over the example, they had a better idea of how to start. Off they went to put their own spin on things! They came up with some amazing projects! Here are a few examples:

Wow! They truly blew us away with their creativity, the topics they chose, and their deep understanding of the standards!

Have you used learning models yet? How do you envision connecting them to your content? Sound off below!

Happy Teaching!

~Angela :)