Friday, October 14, 2016

Makey Makey Exploration: Collaboration Day #1

It's hard to believe it is already the middle of October. It seems like just yesterday, that the incredible Mike Mohammad and I were spending an August afternoon at Panera, planning out the upcoming year's collaboration days. I think we would both agree that these days are some of the best days of the year, and we were going to head into the school year with multiple days in the books. As we booted up our computers and nibbled on our lunch, we started to talk about how the 5th grade curriculum and his physics curriculum could overlap. We shared thoughts about how the expertise of him, and his high schoolers, could support the learning going on at Swanson. Some of our units aligned beautifully...others not so much. During our short lunch time together, we were quick to realize that with or without alignment, collaboration days were going to take place- several of them!

Like usual, Mike is always on his A-game. He's ridiculously intelligent, highly creative, fun, and organized. Plus, he always makes Angela and I feel like rock stars...honestly, it's quite humbling. At the end of last week, he sent me an email reminding me of the upcoming days together and the expectations he had for his learners. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little intimidated and freaked out. I knew our students would be exploring Scratch...that didn't worry me so much, we've done coding in our learning environment, and our 5th graders are pretty savvy in that department. I can even hold my own if needs be. What worried me a bit were the boxes of Makey Makeys that I had yet to unpack. I had seen them in action before, knew the premise behind how they worked, definitely knew the kids would love programming them and exploring. The problem was I didn't have the first clue as to what to do with them. Mike, being the gracious gentleman that he is, reassured Angela and I that we would be just fine. I put my trust in him and took another sip of my morning latte.

Well, today was Collboration Day #1. As the morning bell rang, 25+ juniors and seniors walked through the doors of our classroom. Did I mention they're really big? They smiled at the 5th graders, and quickly made themselves comfortable on the couches around the room. I loved it. Every minute of it. The enthusiasm and excitement in TEAM Togetherness was contagious. Our 5th graders L.O.V.E. our collaboration days. They can't wait for them! Quite frankly, so do the grown ups! Within seconds, I quickly recognized several familiar faces...faces that took me back 7+ years in my teaching career. In the faces of those 6 foot tall giants were my former 4th and 5th graders. It's amazing to me that in those moments, names can still slip off your tongue. Kennedy! Tyler! Nick! Breanne! Regie! I can look at them, all grown up, and see them as a 10 year old. Besides the amazing interaction with my current students, seeing my former students several years later, on the cusp of their adult life, is so incredibly rewarding. I called them by name, was quick to hug (and probably embarrass) them, and then proceeded to find their school picture from way back when...not sure if they love or hate those moments, but honestly it doesn't matter.

After a quick trip down memory lane, the students were organized into groups and the "bigs" shared the Makey Makey creations they had brought from BCHS. Our 5th graders had the opportunity to check out the programming and play, knowing that in no time they, too, would be creating alongside these high school kids. Angela and I could NOT believe that we had 75+ students in our room. The room was relatively quiet. The loudest ones in the room were her and I...surprise, surprise! Our students were enthralled and hanging on every word that those big kids said. Initially they were a little shy, but in no time, they were digging in and knee deep in FUN!

After seeing what the big kids could do, we pushed their creations aside and dug into Scratch. Many of our students have used Scratch before during coding, but they loved the pointers from the high school friends and soaked up the attention. Realizing that we could offer little to no support in this department, Angela and I instantly felt the need to try to control something. You give up a lot of control when you teach in a PL environment. That is actually something we are completely okay with. Typically though, we know deep down, that if necessary we can jump in to offer help and support. This morning, that was not the case. This was one of those moments in our learning environment when our students are more knowledgeable in a subject area than we are. This is a very gratifying moment for a teacher...we usually love it. Today, though, with almost 100 kids in our room, we felt the need to control something. So, we quickly turned to the one thing we can always control- organization. We had to organize something...anything. This time, it was the Makey Makey boxes. By labeling boxes and bags, I was reassuring myself that my 5th graders would be able to crack open the contents and WOW us with their creations. Once everyone was feeling good and ready, each partnership picked up a brand spanking new Makey Makey (in it's appropriately labeled bag) to get to work.

Within seconds, the boxes were torn open, the contents were dumped, and the students were at work. Before you knew it, we heard drums drumming, cows mooing, and even a "TEAM Togetherness Rocks!" coming from all corners of the room. The kids were quickly searching for cardboard, bananas, water, gummy worms, candy, aluminum foil, cups, anything and every thing you could think of to invent something. That was the moment we exhaled and realized it was all going to be okay. Our High School Super Heroes swept in and saved the day...they read the challenge off the board and helped the kids code, program, and create. Mike, Angela, and I just sat back and took it all in. It was another amazingly wonderful morning!

In the blink of an eye, it was 11am and our high school friends had to make their way back to Brookfield Central. We sent them off with HUGE thank yous, knowing they'd be back at Swanson in less than a week so our kids could show off their creations. Our room was buzzing and our students were all smiles as they cleaned up their inventions and organized their supplies into bags. I know they are going to be super excited on Monday when they get to dive back into their Makey Makey creations.


 This is Zach's way of saying he's in heaven :) This video pretty much sums up how we were all feeling today! Somehow it got left out of the movie, I had to include it in the post! 

Thank you, Mike, for another incredible day of collaboration. Angela and I are so fortunate to have you in our personal learning network. You push us to think outside of the box, and you help us grow in our practice in ways you'll never realize. Can't wait to see you guys next Thursday.

Next up...Sphero Ball Mini Golf!

~ Kate

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Hosting a Book Tasting

Kate and I follow a lot of blogs. We LOVE learning from others! And when we started seeing this activity pop up on a few of our favorites, we knew we HAD to try it out! And, boy are we glad we did! The first one we read was TEACHING WITH A MOUNTAIN VIEW. If you don't follow SHOULD! She's amazing! This activity was a PERFECT way to launch our Reading Workshop this year! We will definitely repeat this one probably mid and end year! We ran ours a little bit differently than Mary did, but you really have to work with what you have and what your needs are! So, here's the deal:

The premise is that you are "hosting" a "book tasting" for your kids. Kids will get to "taste" or sample different books from different genres. They reflect on what they liked and didn't like in their "menu." They were given opportunities to read, write, and discuss their "tastes." From this activity, we launched our Reading Workshop with a fantastic discussion about "Who are you as a reader?" Our next step will be to set some goals (but we didn't get that far yet). 

We really played this up and welcomed them to the "TEAM TOGETHERNESS Restaurant!" in the hallway by handing them their menus before they even walked through the door. I even wore a paper chef hat and apron (thank you to my kindergarten friends with their endless dress up materials) Check out this incredibly unflattering picture Kate snapped of me. The kids really thought I was crazy...remember...we did this on the 2nd day of school! :) Thankfully, we have looped with this class up to 5th grade, so they all already know that we have a flare for the "dramatic" and are never afraid to make fools out of ourselves!

After this, I explained the process. They were going to experience a "5 course meal" of books! Each course would be a different genre. I went over the menu, the timing, and put them into random groups of 10 (we have 50 kids). Then, we got started!

We completed all 5 rotations in about an hour. I gave each "course" about 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes included:

  • 5 minutes of pure stamina reading
  • 2 minutes of jotting down their thinking in their "menu"
  • 2-3 minutes for discussion and clean up to move to the next rotation

At the end of the "meal", kids wrote down their "must reads" on a bookmark to keep. Then we followed up the activity with our lesson of "Who are you as a reader?" The discussion was absolutely amazing!

Have we piqued your interest? Are you ready to try it yourself? Here is what you need to do!
1. Purchase THIS RESOURCE from "Head Over Heels for Teaching"! It is worth it! Everything you need to print out is in it! She also has lots of pictures and examples! She even provides multiple options, so you can pick what you like! Print the resources from here that you want! We used the teaser posters, the "menu", the table numbers, the place mats, the bookmarks, and the genre descriptors.

2. Head to your local dollar store. I purchased 5 table clothes, 5 plastic platters, and sets of battery operated tea lights

3. Decide on what genres you want your kids to "taste"--the resources has LOTS! We used her posters as mini anchor charts and hung them in our room. We ultimately only had time for 5, but you could always do more. We chose: Realistic Fiction, Fantasy, Biography, Mystery, and Historical Fiction for our "tasting". Collect enough books for each table. We had 10 kids per group, so I made sure to pull 10-12 books per genre. We are fortunate to have a fantastic classroom library, so almost all of our books were from there. I pulled a few copies from the school library of titles I have "lost" over the year and need to replace.

4. Set up your room. Each table had a table cloth, a "serving platter" filled with books, a table number, and a genre description. I put a few of the tea lights around for effect, as well. I also put a few of the place mats from the resource on the tables. We did this after lunch, so I could surprise the kids when they came back. It was so much fun to see the looks on their faces. We don't have a lot of "traditional tables" in our space, so we made the best of what we had. We also didn't have "seats" or "place mats" for every kid. With 50 kids in our space, we certainly don't have 5 tables of 10! The main genre table was set up, and kids sat anywhere near that table. Some sat on the floor or other cushions. They were only reading for 5 minutes, then they got up and joined their group again.
5. HAVE FUN! Fun is a HUGE part of our school this year! We want our kids to have fun with learning. We need to have fun, as teacher, too! Dress up! Be silly! Use a funny voice! Even 5th graders get a kick out of it!

6. Follow up with a discussion. This was critical. Debrief. Share. Use it as a launching pad for your year! Or, possibly, a check in mid year. Or even an end of year reflection...have your tastes changed? Have you discovered a new genre that you love that you didn't think of trying before? What do your tastes say about you as a reader? Where could you stretch yourself?

It truly was a magical hour of reading fun! The kids loved it, and I'm sure they will remember it for quite some time ("remember that time when Mrs. Patterson dressed up like a weird chef??") I hope they remember that it felt good and was FUN!

I hope you all have had a great launch to your year, as well! Rest up on this long weekend!
Happy Teaching!


Friday, September 2, 2016

Writing On Google Slides

Have you ever had one of those moments...where you accidentally do something, and it turns out to be one of the best things ever? Today, my friends, was one of those days! Kate and I were literally jumping up and down and cheering (all while our students laughed hysterically at us!) Now, perhaps some of you already have figured out what we did today, but if you haven't...for us...this is LIFE CHANGING!

We have always been frustrated with the fact that you "can't" write on a Google Slide Presentation when it is in "Present Mode" on our SMART board (I'm honestly not sure if it is the same problem with Promethean boards?) We absolutely LOVE the ease of making our mini-lesson slides with Google. We love that we can share them digitally with our kids...Kids can work through things at their own pace, view from home while sick, traveling the world, out of state for an athletic meet, or just for review. BUT...when we are can't write on the board while in present mode. You can't model things. Write problems. Have kids draw something or share. It has always frustrated us.

Today...on complete accident...we figured out THIS:
What? You don't see it yet in that tiny tool bar? Let me blow it up larger for you...
When you click that part of the tiny tool bar, It takes it out of "full screen", but still keeps it in "present mode." The main difference is that you see the "tabs" in your web browser. It looks like THIS: Still WAY larger than in your regular view (before you hit "present") and only slightly smaller than full "present mode."
Voila! And just like can WRITE ON YOUR SMART BOARD! Because it isn't in "full screen", I think it somehow tricks the SMART board into allowing an "ink layer." It won't "save" your writing on the slide like it would in SMART Notebook software, but it is still LEAPS AND BOUNDS better than what we were dealing with before.

Maybe we are the last teachers on Earth to figure this out. Maybe we aren't. But seriously, friends, this was a highlight of 2016 for us! Total game changer in how we work with kids in the classroom!

So, in case you didn't know either, we hope you are as excited as we are! If you did know about it...SHAME ON YOU for not showing us all sooner ;) 

Hope everyone's first week back was amazing! We have LOVED looping with our kiddos!

Happy Teaching,


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rethinking Student Goal Setting

Photo Credit
Kate and I have been doing a lot of reflecting about how how we have done student goal setting up to this point in our Personalized Learning Journey. It was great for a helped us helped our previous students gain some metacognition felt like we could do it better. It felt like something was missing. We wanted to push ourselves more, as well as our students. In all honesty, it sometimes felt like "busy work", rather than pushing our personalization further.

Up to this point, we had always required WEEKLY goal setting with our students. They need to write quality goals using action steps, as well as reflection for each and every subject area. We set new goals on Mondays, and our students wrote reflections on how they did that week by Sunday night. We would check their goals. Give them feedback. It was part of our Digital Portfolios. It was...a lot. Not only for us, but also for them.
Kids, by nature, have difficulty setting goals. It isn't something they walk into our classroom automatically knowing how to do. We did A LOT of modeling and coaching. The problem often ended up that our students did not meet their goals by the end of the week. We talked about carrying over goals to the following week, and that could be noted in their reflections, but some goals took weeks to work on. This is normal. This is still okay. But, nonetheless, hard for 9 and 10 year olds to wrap their heads around. For many of our kids, it became "one more thing" that they "had to do," not the meaningful metacognition we were hoping for.

In our reflection, Kate and I were looking for how we could do this differently. How could we make it more developmentally appropriate and meaningful for our kiddos. We started exploring the option of Unit Goal Setting. 

We pre-assess for everything we teach. This helps us set up different pathway with our kids. It helps us know what they know, what they don't know, see gaps, and more. But the pre-test was really a "teacher tool." It was meaningful "Assessment For Learning"--but primarily for us. We have been discussing assessment a lot over the last few months. How can we get kids more involved. How can we help them "drive the bus" of their learning. It was then that we had one of those "a-ha" (or possibly "duh!") moments. Why do we only see those results? Why have we never put those pretests back in the hands of the kids? Ultimately, this conversation really forced us to re-evaluate our practices.

So, this year, we will be tackling UNIT GOAL SETTING with our students. We created new "Personalized Learning Plans" (PLPs) that we will be supporting students with. 

Our plan: Each unit we will still pre-assess and score the results. We will then put the pretests back in the hands of the kids and help them set UNIT goals with action steps on what they will do to meet their goals. This will help them work with us to set personal pathways for their unit of learning. For a large chunk of our kiddos (your typical 80%), their goals might be similar. They need grade level materials/instruction. They need the largest group mini-lessons. They might work through things in different orders, but there will be large chunks of them that have similar needs. The last 20% will need gaps filled or challenges to go deeper and beyond. We are eager to see how these conversations go and how the pathways play out. Students will then complete a reflection on their work at the end of each unit. When we confer with kids each day, this will become a touchstone in our conversations. We have decided that we will do this in Math, Reading, and Writing this year.
Click me to see full tool. You can "FILE, MAKE A COPY" of it, to tweak and make your own!
This PLP is also in the same Google Sheet as the reading one!
Click me to see full tool. You can "FILE, MAKE A COPY" of it, to tweak and make your own!
Each of the images above link to the Google Sheets that we made. You are welcome to "FILE, MAKE A COPY" of these documents and make them your own. The Reading and Writing PLPs are part of what we are calling our "Digital Literacy Binder" this year (a twist on our Digital Reading Binders from years past). This updated digital "binder" will also house their book log, journal, and personal literacy data. 

We are confident that we will make tweaks as the year goes on. We need to see how they do and what they think their needs are. We want their input in improving the tools. These tools will also be significant links within their digital portfolios this year.

We'll keep you posted! How are you goal setting with your students? What have you found to be the most successful? Would love to learn with you!

Happy Teaching!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Last Literacy of the Year

Again...better late than never! This summer has been CRAZY busy for Kate and I! We've been attending and presenting at different conferences and supporting teachers all over the state! All other time has been spent being moms to our littles! August?! When did you get here? Geez...time flies.

At the end of our school year (May-June), we tackled our final literacy units of the year. Our focus?--Author Study & Literary Essay! I love this unit. I love exposing kids to authors that they might not have known before. I love the excitement when I wheel a cart full of books into our classrooms. I love the buzz of "Oh. My. Goodness! Have you read this one yet?? You HAVE to!"

This was our last unit of the year, and we chose to organize it as a book club unit...more "Author Club." We co-planned as a 4th grade team, and brainstormed various authors that we felt would be meaningful to our kids. We wanted authors that had a wide range of levels, which wasn't always possible, but we tried our best. We ended up with mix of chapter book and picture book authors. Our goal, was for kids of all levels to be in each author club, to really add to the rich discussions. This was not going to be a traditional "book club" where all kids read the same book--the kids in these clubs would all be reading different books by the same author. With this kind of format, our lowest readers wouldn't be "bound" to be together, as often happens.

Our other major focus for this unit was theme and theme development. Due to this, we really wanted strong authors and texts. Why theme?--so we could tie their reading work to writing. Our last writing unit of the year was Literary Essay. They could use all of the texts they read and discussed with each other to develop an "author theory" to write about within their literary essay.

We launched our unit by introducing the kiddos to the various authors we had selected. We did take their suggestions in developing this list, but we also had kids after the launch that came and wanted to study different authors. We were pretty flexible and open to all ideas presented by the kids.

Following this introduction, we provided them with a Google Form to vote on their top choices.
Click to see the full form.
We also developed an "Author Hub" website (Using Weebly for Education) for the kids to use throughout the unit. It included author home pages, interview videos, book trailers, and more! Kids found others along the way that we later added to this collaborative site.
Click to see the full website we created!
Once we had their votes in, we looked at their top choices and got them into "author-alike" groups. We found that some authors had NO votes, and others had SO MANY, we didn't have enough texts. When this happened, we moved to their 2nd and 3rd choices. All of our kids ended up getting one of their top 3 choices. We also had pretty mixed-ability groups, which was awesome!

Then came my favorite day...BOOK DAY! Kids got into their Author Clubs for the first time, selected their first books, wrote the "norms" they wanted to follow as a club, and set their reading calendar! The "buzz" that is in the room on these days is so contagious!
We provide each kiddo with a packet of "templates" that they can use to track their thinking throughout the unit. At this point in the year, some choose to use it, and some choose to make their own. We love seeing what they come up with! They now know themselves so well as learners, that they know how they learn best and what they need in order to be the most successful in literacy! <proud teacher sigh>
This is the packet of templates that kids could choose to use. Click  to grab this from our TpT store!
Here are a few pics of different templates our kids created! Many chose various digital tools like: Slides, Sheets, or even Google Keep!
As the unit progressed and kids had made their way through multiple books, we started to tie in writing. We brainstormed theories we were generating about our author:

  • Did you author write about similar themes?
  • Did your characters face similar struggles?
  • Did your author have a particular style? How do you know?
  • And more!
The kids discussed these different theories & trends in their author groups and collected evidence from each other. Each of these graphic organizers are linked to the Google Docs we used! Feel free to snag them and make them your own!
It was our last big writing project of the year...they were a little burned out...but we were SO impressed with the deep thinking they did and the end results!

It was another amazing unit and a great way to end our school year! How do you teach Author Study? Literary Essay? We'd love to learn from you!


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

New Tech Tools!

So, my summer to-do list today is ridiculously long, but while prepping for some upcoming PD work, I got a little excited about some new tools and figured now was as good a time as any to share!

Angela and I love stumbling upon new tech tools that make our lives easier. This summer, after presenting at and attending our first GAFE Summit, we were introduced to a few new ideas that we are excited to use this fall.

Adobe Spark merges graphics, text, stories, and even videos into an amazing visual presentation. It is a quick and easy way to create a video, presentation, parent newsletter or even an invitation to your class Wax Museum. Like many of you, we are also always looking for new publishing options for our students. The templates and font options are endless, and your students will have a blast creating their own Sparks! Check out the newsletter I quickly created to send out to our students and families below.

Welcome Back to School

Our colleague, Michael Mohammad from MoPhysics MoProblems, created a great tutorial video to help his students get started. It's a great resource for students AND teachers! Thanks, Mike!

Collaboration, creativity, critical thinking...these are skills crucial to truly engage and empower our learners to be innovators in the classroom. I'll be honest, initially when I heard about Hyperdocs I wasn't overly excited. It seemed like a Google Doc with a few links embedded throughout. That was something we had been doing in our classroom for years. Then I started following the Hyperdoc Girls on Twitter (my favorite personalized PD option), and I quickly realized the power of these interactive tools. When thoughtfully created, these Hyperdocs will help you shift the way you use tech tools to teach! Give Hyperdocs a shot! 

GOOGLE CAST FOR EDUCATION is a new Chrome app from Google that gives teachers and students the ability to share their screens wirelessly. Screens can be shared out to the entire class, or just the teacher's computer. It's an incredible way to increase collaboration and interaction between students and/or teachers!

Learn more about it here!

And, finally, learn about the new Google Sites update! Not gonna lie, friends, this is a GAME CHANGER, in my opinion! Sites has always been my least favorite GAFE is cumbersome and not user friendly. We went away from it with our digital portfolios in the past due to this. This update is a total overhaul of the old program, and it is now SO easy to use! Check out our buddy, Mike Mohammad's blogpost and his great video to see its ease of use! Thanks, Mike!

Alright, now back to the to-do list! What new technology tools are you excited to use this fall? We'd love to hear about them!

~ Kate

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Now Presenting... Our Wax Museum! I'm a little late on this blog...I actually wrote this MONTHS ago, and for some reason, never published it! So sorry! I don't know what happened there...

So, we have finished the culminating activity for our "Historical" studies that we have been doing for the last few months...OUR WAX MUSEUM!

When we started our Historical Fiction book club unit (previous blogs HERE and HERE), we knew we wanted to tie in some sort of nonfiction writing component. The NEW Teacher's College Units of Study recommend the spiral "Bringing History to Life." This connects to the new reading unit about the Revolutionary War. Since Revolutionary War is sort of a 5th grade "baby" in our district, we wanted to explore other options for topics. We decided to allow kiddos to research an important person that lived during the historical era that they were reading about in their book clubs.

We had kids meet in large "era-alike" groups (multiple book clubs together). They were given a piece of construction paper, and asked to brainstorm a list of important people that lived during their era. At this point, they had experienced quite a bit of nonfiction reading throughout their book club work in order to learn more about their era. They generated these amazing lists:

From there, they picked which person they wanted to really dig in deep with. For some eras, we had to draw names out of a hat (Adolf Hitler, for example...we had about 10 kids that wanted to research him...wasn't ONE Hitler enough for this world? ;)

They, then, began their research. They used various graphic organizers to help plan their ideas and put together all of the rich information they were learning. We discussed reliable sources, citations, strong transitions, tone, and more! It led to some amazing conferences and classroom conversations!
We discussed text features, layout of our text, and all the other amazing nonfiction goodies! To be honest, their final papers were some of their best all year long! We were SO impressed with all of the little "teacher voices" that we read come through!

From this point, we discussed first vs. third person. They were tasked with taking their amazing nonfiction pieces and converting them to biographical sketches that utilized 1st person narrative! They also had to pare down their pieces, as they were given a 3-minute time limit!

Another important feature that we added to this modified piece was a "heart" of their story. What could an important life theme be that could encapsulate their historical figure? Was it determination? Perseverance? Grit? Tenacity? Putting others before themselves? They were challenged to weave this heart like a thread throughout their piece. This was the hardest part for many of them!

Once they had their biographical sketches was planning/practicing time! What props would they need? Would they dress up? Could they incorporate a technology component to support their presentation? A photo slide show? We encouraged all kids to just use what they had at home. We did not want anyone feeling like they had to go out and buy a fancy costume or special prop! In the end, some chose to have these items, and some didn't. We were okay with either!

It was so fun to see what this project brought out in many of our kids. Some really thrived and it bought out sides to them that we hadn't seen before. Some really struggled, which also surprised us. But in the end, the final wax museum was PRICELESS! We invited other 4th graders and our families. It was a truly magical afternoon!

Here are a few examples of the fun!

Have you ever done a wax museum? What worked well for you? We'd love to learn from you!

Happy Teaching!


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Closing Out the Year with Collaboration & Coasters

It's the last week of school! Incredibly hard for Angela and I to believe that this amazing year is over. This new group of 4th graders WOWED us again with their energy, hard work ethic, and collaborative efforts. We are already looking forward to our time together in 5th grade!

This past Monday, was our last collaborative activity with Mike Mohammad @Mo_Physics and his INCREDIBLE Brookfield Central High School AP Physics students. We are SO FORTUNATE to have such a close relationship with Mike. Without his amazing efforts, and his students' willingness to give it their all, our students would not have had the experiences they had this year. 

We could not close out the year without one more collaborative day of fun! This week's design challenge was for the groups to build a marble coaster with at least three obstacles. These obstacles could include hills, loops, and/or jumps. We had 10 groups of 4th grades, along with 3-4 high school students serving as coaches/mentors. The high schoolers outlined the challenge to the students, kept them on track, and supported our kids during the building process. Mike had reached out to me earlier last week to get the specific scientific terminology we use with our students during STEM time. This common language allowed our students to jump right in since this was the same way we had been communicating all year! 

The teachers in the space documented the event on Periscope, Twitter, and encouraged creativity. We let the groups use whatever materials we had on hand. The students grabbed foam tubing, tape, and marbles and got to work. Initially, the AP students took the lead and started the building process. In no time at all, our 4th graders stepped up and found other useful materials- funnels, xylophones, chairs, stools, Klennex boxes, Iced Tea bottles to add to the coasters. You name it, and they found a way to incorporate it into their design! As the "bigs" and "littles" interacted with each other, the building process became much more collaborative. The AP students took a bit of a backseat and let our 4th graders take control. It was so incredible to watch! ALL of the students quickly learned that there roller coasters would fail many times before ever reaching success. It was a proud teacher moment when there was no complaining, the groups just carried on with a growth mindset. They persevered, knowing the failure they felt would move them forward in their building process. In the end, ALL of the groups met the challenge and had successful coasters! 

The Learning Lab was abuzz with excitement and student engagement! The entire morning was amazing and a perfect way to kick off the last week of school! The students (who am I kidding? and the grown ups) had A TON OF FUN! 

A HUGE thank you to Mike Mohammad for an incredible year of collaborative learning! We CAN NOT wait to see what we can put together for next year!!

The high school students, along with Angela, Mike, I were busy Tweeting and Periscoping the morning of fun. Mike introduced us to Storify, so I figured I would use this opportunity to give it a go!

~ Kate

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Diving Deep into POETRY!

Ahhhh...spring! April is here and with it, we got SNOW! Not exactly the fresh face of spring here in Wisconsin that we were hoping for! Still wearing hats and mittens after spring break was a bit of a shocker, but the weather is starting to look up!

In addition to the hopes of spring weather, April also brings us state TESTING month! In 4th grade, we have 7 and a half hours of testing to work around! YIKES! We did not want to lose too much momentum with our instruction, so it was a perfect time for our reading and writing poetry units!

Poetry units are so great, because kids can pick up a new poem or anthology at any time, without losing plot or character development. So, this unit has been a wonderful thing, as we lose blocks at a time of different subjects due to our state testing schedule.

We always launch our poetry studies in reading. We blogged about how we did this last year in 5th grade, as well! This year, we are fortunate, because the Teacher's College released new curricular calendars for poetry! We are Teacher's College district, and we were so excited to dive in and see what TC had to offer! We were pleased to see that their ideas did match up with what we already believed for poetry. We combined their ideas with some that we felt our kiddos needed and developed a rich, creative unit!

Teaching kids how to read poetry is so much fun! Poetry is full of inferences, imagery, and creative sentence structures. So many kids try to tackle it the same way they tackle a chapter book! And they run into trouble! To start this work, we spent two reading blocks just immersing ourselves in poetry. What did we notice? What did we like? What stood out to us? What confused us? We had a grand conversation about our initial thinking. We logged in on an anchor chart.
After our immersion, we teach them how to annotate and read a poem right away. We chose a Langston Hughes poem for this work ("Dream Variations"). When Kate and I were planning it out, we were a little hesitant on choosing it. We were worried that they wouldn't "get it." We questioned our choice and had a more literal poem on standby ("Since Hanna Moved Away" by Judith Viorst).

We read the poem all together, and we only told them that Langston Hughes was a famous author. Then we sent them off, independently, to try to capture their thoughts. After about 5-7 minutes (or when they started to get squirrely), we had them get into groups of about 3 to compare their ideas. Kate and I moved between groups and kept catching each other's eye...we couldn't believe what they were discussing! 
Following this group share, we came back together for a final grand conversation. I kid you not, this was one of those "goosebump moments" in teaching for me. Their interpretation of this poem left me speechless. I was even on the verge of tears at one point. #unbelievable #proudteacher #loveourstudents
If you follow us on Twitter, Kate periscoped this conversation. All of these were THEIR words! I still can't believe how well they did! It really helped us to reflect on when we doubt their capabilities...DON'T! They will always surprise you with what they can do and handle! Give them the challenges! They will RISE to the occasion! 

After this, we created a new anchor chart of all the different things we can think about or look for when studying poetry.
We did this, initially, but then went back and revisited each of these skills (and more) in our mini-lessons.

We give our kids a lot of choice in our room. One of the ways we try to incorporate their voice, choice, and personal learning styles, is how the respond during independent time. We have a lot of kids that struggle with organization. For them, we have a packet full of templates that they can use to track their thinking. Many of our kids know their own learning style and preferences so well that they create their own. They use everything from Google Slides, to Docs, to Google Keep, to regular old sticky notes or journals.

So, we continue to support them as they explore mood, tone, themes, and speaker point of view! We absolutely LOVE conferring with kids during this type of exploration. Each kid approaches a poem differently and interprets it in their own way. We also find that "share time" is incredibly crucial during a poetry unit. Kids not only want to discuss their poems with others, but they need to! They have theses ideas swirling around in their head or they found the most perfectly hilarious poem and they absolutely MUST share it with a friend!

We are going to be using all of these skills in analyzing poetry to help them write their own poetry anthology tied to a theme! Check back later for a future blog post! :)

In the meantime, we hope your April is sunny, and that your room is filled with the sweet sound of engagement and LOVE of poetry! Happy Poetry Month!
Happy Teaching,


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wrapping Up Historical Fiction

We made it! What an amazing unit that was! The kids impressed us with their passion to learn new information and how they could connect the "dots of history" from book to book! We just finished up our Historical Fiction unit in Reader's Workshop. You can read about how we launched it HERE

This unit has been so much fun! We loved meeting with the book clubs each day. To help manage our time in Reader's Workshop, we used a rotation system for this unit ONLY. Now, we are not "centers" teachers. That being said, in a book club unit, kids will talk FOREVER if you let them! Not that that is entirely a bad thing, we wanted to make sure they still had time for independent/choice time during this unit. Due to this, we created three, 15-minute rotations to support this work. This allowed for book clubs to meet every day. It also limited the noise level in the room to not have every club meet at the same time! :) Below is an example of a daily rotation chart:
This was made in a simple Google Slide Presentation. We had a different slide for each day of the week...why, you might ask? Because we met with groups on different days. You might notice the letters in the book club rotation are black and some are red. The red letters are the groups that meet with an adult that day. We are fortunate to have 3-4 adults in our classroom during our Reader's Workshop block. This allows us to have much smaller groups to provide much more tailored support. Some groups meet with us every day. Some groups meet with us every other day. And a few group only met with us twice per week. It was all based on the individual needs of  our students. You might also notice that Group B meets with an adult for two rotations every day. They are our neediest ELL readers that benefited from extra vocabulary and graphic organizer support each day.

Topics we tackled in this unit included: Character development and tracking, Theme development, Power struggles, Secondary Characters, Literary point of view, Character Perspective, and even Connecting nonfiction topics to our historical fiction texts. Kids created double timelines to show where their books fit within the actual historical timeline.
Kids tracked their thinking in multiple ways throughout the unit. We provided them with a packet "template" that had various ideas, etc. They could house their sticky notes in there and find helpful graphic organizers. Some groups chose to use it daily. Other groups created their own way of tracking their ideas. Some through Google Keep, others through Google Slides, and even a few through Google Docs. We allowed them to choose the best way to document that met the needs of their groups/individual learning styles.

Again, we also utilized Google Forms as a formative assessment check-in system. About every week and a half, we sent out a new Google Form that targeted a skill we had been learning about. This allowed kids to have time to come across a part in their book(s) where this might be applicable. So often, when we teach a new skill, kids aren't at a perfect point in their books to apply it. This gives you that "guarantee room" to have had it come up!
A sample of one of the Google Forms we used. 
The nice thing about Google Forms, is that we set it up to have every weeks' responses go to the SAME Google spreadsheet! This allowed us to view our unit in one glance. It also allowed us to score the responses right in the spreadsheet using a simple 4,3,2,1 system. This let us sort them lowest to highest (or vs. versa), and immediately pull strategy groups or have immediate 1-on-1 reading conferences with kids to address needs!
We always give kids multiple days to complete the form, as well. Due to this, we encourage our kids to type a "draft" in a doc first. If they don't finish in one day, they can continue the next. If they try to type it in the Google Form directly first and don't finish, as soon as they close their computer, they lose their work! Word of caution to prevent tears/frustration! :)

To wrap up our unit, in addition to the Paper Pencil Teacher's College assessment we use, we give kids the opportunity to show their learning in any way they would like to using a Learning Model style. Now, this was the first literacy Learning Model that our students completed. The format is very similar to our Math Learning Models, but definitely requires more typing! I started it off by providing every kiddo with a copy of this GOOGLE DOC:
I also shared with them my own example that I made using emaze.

Powered by emaze
We went over the expectations on the rubric with them, answered questions, then the kids then got to work! I have to say, we were super impressed with their final products! Here are a few kid examples:

This was such a fun unit! We had a blast, and so did the kids! How do you teach Historical Fiction? We'd love to learn from you!

Happy Teaching,


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Go-Cart Collaboration Across Levels: Take Two!

Yes, I know it is the middle of March and I just realized this collaboration day took place almost a month ago :( I am embarrassed it has taken me this long to post this...Angela and I will both agree that the month of February was a crazy, whirlwind of activity in T.E.A.M. Togetherness. Between the end of the quarter, parent teacher conferences, visitors, guest teachers, amazingly fun activities, even an extra day, the month flew by and this post sat in our "drafts" for far too long. 

About a month ago we had another awesome morning with Mike Mohammad's AP Physics students from Brookfield Central High School. After our first collaboration day back in December, Mike and I knew we wanted to get the "bigs" and "littles" together for another day of Physics Fun! Knee deep into our Models and Designs unit, Mike came over to Swanson to observe what we were learning and help me figure out how we could make the connection. When he saw our students would be designing and building self-propelled go-carts, he quickly found a perfect fit!

4th Grade Go-Cart Challenge
Use the supplies provided to design and build a self-propelled go-cart that can move 2 meters on its own

Our students were divided into groups and given their baggy of supplies. They were super excited about the challenge and were quick to design conceptual models and jump into the self-propelled challenge. Within minutes, Angela and I began to see the students' frustration grow. They could easily design a go-cart that could roll down a ramp, but they were stumped when facing the self-propelled challenge. We let them struggle for a while and listened in for glimmers of hope. As the conversation and collaboration continued, students started to figure out that the rubber bands in their bags would be the most realistic item to get the go-carts moving on their own. Other groups decided they needed larger wheels. 

After a day or two of working with their small groups, we met as an entire class to discuss the problems we were facing. We then shared out solutions! That is when the magic started to happen...groups started listening and coaching each other. They started sharing ideas, creative juices were flowing, and the go-cart creations started coming together. The grown ups in the space took a back seat and we let the students take over! We had one group of young ladies quickly meet the 2 meter challenge. We celebrated their success, and then encouraged them to share their design with the other groups. They then went out and became our resident experts on self- propelled carts. Within 4 days, all of the groups when from bags of supplies to functioning, self-propelled carts. They were ready to video their cars in motion.

All groups were able to get their go-cart moving on it's own, so they each had the opportunity to have their go-cart video taped for analysis. Some of the go-carts traveled beyond the 2 meter challenge, many did not. Regardless of the distance, the videos were then sent to Mike's students. They used an app called Video Physics to measure the velocity and acceleration of each go-cart vehicle. The high schoolers then created detailed reports that were tailored to each group's go-cart and, more importantly, comprehendable to our 4th graders. They included graphs and explanations that related directly to our Models and Designs learning. The conversations between the engineers from BCHS and Swanson were amazing, to say the least!

Along with investigating the motion of our student's go-carts, the high school students orchestrated five interactive motion stations. Mike, once again, AMAZED all of us with his creativity and work with his high schoolers. Our kiddos were exploring, learning, and in heaven the entire time! If only my high school science courses were this engaging and fun!!

Station 1: Speed Tubes
In this station the BCHS students showed our 4th graders the basics of speed using color tubes filled with air bubbles. The bubbles rose at different rates and our 4th graders used collaboration, and mathematics of course, to measure the speed of the bubbles.

Station 2: Acceleration Cars

What kid doesn't love a wind up car? Using fun pull-back cars, our 4th graders learned the difference between acceleration and speed. They looked at ways to measure acceleration and they even explored how mass affects acceleration.

Station 3: 1st Law Pucks
Newton's First Law of Motion is often stated as An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Using Air Pucks and a TON of interaction, our 4th graders learned more about Newton's First Law of Motion. The Air Pucks, hovering on a cushion of air, helped bring this difficult concept to reality.

Station 4: Energy Coasters

What 4th grader doesn't love roller coasters? This station showed our students the affect gravity has on roller coaster movement. They also discussed free-fall acceleration on other planets. Our students used an awesome simulation tool to build their own skate tracks on different planets. So cool!

Station 5: Motion Sensor Graphs
Our 4th graders have been working with graphs all year and learning the difference between the X and Y axis. At this station, our kids developed a deeper understanding of the X and Y time graph. They learned what different shapes on the graph mean and they used a motion sensor to graph their own movement. They also used this station to practice their Whip Nae Nae!

As I type up these station descriptions, I am thoroughly impressed at what our 4th graders are tackling (and UNDERSTANDING!) with the help of Mike Mohammad and his amazing high school students. I am incredibly thankful for this collaboration time and I LOVE our time together. Also glad that Laura, from Epiphany Learning, was able to pop in and see our two groups in action! One more science unit Mr. Mohammad...the Human Body! I can't wait to see what we come up with next!! 

~ Kate