Monday, January 20, 2014

Can Teachers Allow Students to be Quirky (Creative) in Our Standardized Schools?

Flickr -
I recently discovered this picture from Bill Ferriter (William M. Ferriter on Flickr) and it got me thinking. I teach in a public school where high stakes testing drives so much of what we do. We are fully implementing the Common Core State Standards this year, but are still tied to our state's LEAP test for accountability. My fourth graders must score Basic or above on the ELA and math portions of the test if they are to be promoted to the 5th grade.

Is standardization really the best thing for the kids in my classroom? Sure, many students tow the line and learn how to "play school" well. They do the assignments, prepare for the tests, and for the most part follow the rules. But what about the "quirky" ones - the free spirits, the ones will very little support from home, the ones who like to test the status quo? What happens to the ones who don't "play school" well?

I pride myself on being an innovation educator. My students have tech-infused lessons on a daily basis. We communicate and collaborate with other classes around the country and around the globe. But are Mystery Location Calls, commenting on each other's blogs, and shared projects enough?

There have been so many days this year that I feel I am sucking the life out of my students, especially the "quirky" ones. I want to give each and every one of them Genius Hour to pursue their passion project. I want to let each one create awesome digital stories or paper slide videos or Minecraft projects, but that is not preparing them for "the test" that will arrive in the spring.

How many of our students remember us as the one who helped  prepare them for the standardized test? I have had former students visit me and talk about the bread we baked and the butter we made, the pumpkins we scooped out and the seeds we roasted, the time we all cried at the end of the class novel I read aloud to them, the holiday card exchange we participated in and all the places we pinned on our map. Not one ever mentioned learning the times tables or the parts of speech.

I want all the kids in my classroom, especially the quirky ones, to feel valued and not to feel that I am trying to make them a data point that supposedly validates them as a learner.  I want them to know that their opinions and ideas matter. I want them to believe that anything they dream is possible. So how do I accomplish that in this day of standardization?

How do you manage innovation, curiosity, and creativity in your classroom?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

BC5 - "Flipped" Homework

My district requires our students to take four interval assessments during the year leading up to state testing in April. While these assessments provide lots of data about how my students are progressing in math, I like to do lots of formative assessment to track how my students are doing on a daily basis. Since we are fully implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) this year, I want to make sure my daily lessons are properly aligned to the fourth grade math standards so that my students are properly prepared to move on.

I decided to create weekly homework sheets that address the CCSS. I also added a very important twist. Homework would be mostly done in the classroom. Basically, I was "flipping" homework. Each Monday my students receive their weekly math homework sheet which has problems for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on it aligned to the CCSS. (Click here to see full size Google doc.)
Here is another example of one of my homework sheets that has new skills and review skills on it. 

I have two math classes that I teach for 90 minutes each day. After I teach my lesson for the day, my students rotate through math stations. I use the word MATH to set up our stations. A and H are done every day by every student. M and T are done as needed or as time allows. 
       M - Manipulatives - Students work with hands-on materials or play games to reinforce skills.
       A - At the Computer - Students complete work on websites such as IXL, LearnZillion, TenMarks
       T - Teacher Time - This is where they meet with me for small group instruction.
       H - Have a Go - This is where they work on their assignment and homework for the day.  

By allowing my students to work on their math homework in class, I am there to offer support and correct misconceptions that arise. If for some reason a student doesn't finish their homework in class then it must be completed at home. I have my students show their homework to their parents each night and have the parents sign it.  Each day we check the previous day's work via our interactive whiteboard. I pull up the Google document and we annotate right over it to show solutions. 

Using this type of formative assessment is really allowing me to see each day how my students are doing in math. It has also eliminated so many of the stresses that traditional homework can cause. Each and every one of my students is having their needs met on a daily basis. Once a skill is taught and tested, my students know they will be held accountable to remember it. 

Have you considered, or do you "flip" homework? What do you use for formative assessment? Please share in the comment section below. 

(This post is part of the blogging challenge being hosted by Kelly Hines.)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

BC4 - A Project I Will Repeat This Year

We aren't in school this week so I'll share a project from last year that I plan on doing with my students again this year.

I learned about Thinglink from Susan Oxnevad. It is a website that allows you to turn any iamge into an interactive one with hotspots called nubbins. (Just scroll over the image and the interactive nubbins will appear, then click on it to be taken to another site.) You create an account, upload an image and then link anything with a URL to your image. here is one of my first Thinglinks.

After I played around with this tool, I thought of a way to use it with my students. I would have them create animal reports using Thinglink. Since they are too young to create accounts, I created another account on Thinglink and used my classroom name on it. I then went over the requirements of the report with my students.

They had to find an image of their animal that was licensed for reuse, and the first nubbin they would add to their Thinglink was the link to the original image. They then had to find three online resources where they would gather facts for their report, and one non YouTube video about their animal. All of these sites where added to their Thinglink. The next step was to write their animal report as a post to their kiblog and embed their Thinglink into the post.

Check out Chloe's Hedgehog Thinglink. (One of the nubbins takes you to her report on her blog.)

Here is Mariam's Butterfly Thinglink.

After we finished the animal reports, my students begged me to let them do other projects using Thinglink. Here is one by Joshua that he made as part of his Passion Project.

My fourth graders and I will definitely be using Thinglink to create some projects this year.

Have you ever used Thinglink? What is a favorite project you will repeat with your students? Please share in the comments.

My dear friend, DEN Guru Kelly Hines, posted this blogging challenge. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

BC3 - A Website I Can't Live Without

It is so hard to pick just one! But since this is today's challenge (thanks to Kelly Hines), I choose Twitter. Why you ask? Well, because of Twitter and the amazing PLN (personal learning network) I've created since joining in 2009, my teaching has been transformed.

Twitter offers me professional development (PD) 24/7. If I need a resource for my classroom, a read aloud book recommendation, have a tech question, need to understand the lastest tool or app, I turn to Twitter for help.

Because of tweets sent out by members of my PLN, I've been able to attend conference sessions that are being lived streamed while I sit in the comfort of my home. I've learned about the newest innovative strategies such as the "flipped classroom".  I've been invited to participate in webinars, podcasts, and presentations far and wide. I've been lead to the best resources to help me implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I've learned how to use webtools in my classroom such as Edmodo, Thinglink, animoto, and Google Hangouts.

I love participating I edchats on Twitter. I am a moderator for  #4thchat on Mondays at 7 PM CST and am one of the hosts for #DENchat on Thursdays at 7 PM CST. Through these chats, which are focused around a weekly topic for discussion, I am continually learning new things which I can take back to my classroom.

My friend, Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom), shared a very helpful hint for those of you who aren't on Twitter, or who have an account but don't "get" Twitter. He suggests to go to and enter a hashtag such as #edchat, #4thchat, #engchat, #CCSS, and just view the tweets that hashtag will generate. In seconds you have a stream of tweets organized around a hashtag which relates to something you what to know more about. The tweets will often include links to articles, websites, blog posts, etc. which will help you learn more about the topic.

Some resources to help you learn to love Twitter as much as I do:

  1. An Educator's Guide to Twitter (Livebinder) by Steven W. Anderson @web20classroom
  2. How to Participate in an Twitter Chat (blog post) by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
  3. Index to Educational Hashtags (Google Doc) by Chiew Pang @aClilToClimb
  4. Cybrary Man's Educational Web Sites - Twitter by Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1
Do you love Twitter as much as I do? Why/Why not? What is you favorite website? 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

BC2 - A Classroom Organizational Tip - Lost and Found

I'm not sure what is it about 4th graders who change classes during the school day, but beware if they find someting at or near the desk they use in my classroom. Just as I am starting that wonderful hook to get them pumped up for today's lesson, a student will want to interrrupt to let me know (s)he found something left by a previous student.
This use to happen a lot in my classroom, but no more! I put a small bookcase just inside my classroom door. It only has two shelves. The bottom shelf holds reference books for my students to use while doing research projects. The top shelf stopped the interruptions about "Found" items. How? I put a big label on it "Lost and Found". Now when a student finds something belonging to someone else, they simply put it on the shelf. I teach each class procedures for using the shelf and it was ended the problem of interruptions. One of my classroom jobs is a Lost and Found Custodian. At the end of each day, that student is responsilbe for returning all items to their rightful owners. This is usually very easy becasue all of the teachers on my team make a big deal of our students labeling everything they own with their names. Sometimes an item has no such label, so it is returned neatly to the shelf and is eventually "found" by its owner. 

There are many times when my classroom door has quietly opened, a student has entered as quietly as a mouse, and a missing item has been collected without causing any kind of interruption to the class because every student I teach knows exactly where to look. I love how well my "Lost and Found" shelf works. 

Do you have a designated Lost and Found in your classroom? What is one of your favorite organizational tips? Please share in the comment section.

(Thanks to my dear friend, DEN Guru Kelly Hines, for hosting this blogging challenge. )

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

BC1 - My Favorite Book

My dear friend, DEN Guru Kelly Hines, posted a blogging challenge and I decided to accept the challenge.

When I taught reading my favorite read aloud for my 4th graders was Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner. While I no longer teach a reading class, I have decided for the New Year I'm going to do read alouds with my social studies class, and I will begin with my favorite.

Why? First, I believe reading aloud to students helps build a strong sense of community within a classroom. Second, every student should understand that reading is not just for reading class. Third, nuturing a love for reading should be happening in every classroom.

So beginning when we return from our winter break, I will be reading Stone Fox to my students. I know that I will not get through the last few pages without crying, because I do so each time I read it. Stone Fox is such a great story of how determination can help you archieve a goal. Willie, Searchlight, Grandfather, and Stone Fox are all literary characters that I want my students to know and learn from.

I will tie the reading of this novel into my social studies curriculum by using the project ideas posted on this ThinkQuest from Oracle.

Have you read Stone Fox? What is your favorite read aloud for this age group? Please share in the comment section.