Hi! I am Stephanie, an upper elementary teacher(a 4/5 split class), who is obsessed with creating rigorous, engaging, and long lasting lessons for my students. I share practical ideas that can be implemented in the classroom immediately.
I don't know if you spend a lot of time over on Instagram, but I have to say, the teacher community there is full of amazing ideas. I am always being inspired to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. This little review game (though I use that term loosely) was one of those things I saw on IG, tweaked, and used in my room...with much success! So I thought I would share here on my blog with you so that you could replicate as well.
My friend Katie at Adventures of Ms Smith posted about how she had her kids create a tower of index cards using math problems to earn those cards. I thought that was genius! I mean, I had heard of creating tall towers using index cards only, but to have the students EARN each card they used was the perfect twist. So I got to work to see how I could use that idea in my room.
We have been working on the various fraction operations, with subtraction specifically our focus for the week. So, using a simple table on PowerPoint, I created 24 "task cards" with subtracting fraction problems on them. There were three levels of problems. The easy ones were straight like denominator problems. Medium level were mixed numbers with like denominators (and no regrouping). The hardest were unlike denominators. Each level problem, once solved, could be redeemed for a certain amount of index cards.
Easy (which I put on pink paper) = 1 index card
Medium (which I copied on blue paper) = 2 index cards
Hard (copied on green paper) = 3 index cards
I had the students get into groups of 3 and gave them all of the math problem task cards. Solving them at their own pace directly on the task card, the students would walk their work up to me when they thought they had the correct answer. If it indeed was correct, I handed the student the proper amount of index cards. The students worked together to solve the problems, helping each other to make corrections along the way. If the problems were solved incorrectly, I simply handed the task card back and told them to try again. I did not give any hints or clues as to why it was wrong, as I wanted the collective brains of the group to work it out. For most of the students, the problem in this particular case was that they were adding instead of subtracting OR that they did not simplify (which was specified earlier as a requirement.)
Once the kids started correctly solving problems, they then had the index cards on their table. They could work at the building and problem solving at the same time. The kids had to work together on the building as well, as index cards are rather flimsy, so finding the perfect way to stack them proved to be challenging. I did not show them how to bend the cards, or even tell them to do that. Trial and error reigned supreme once the building portion began.
Some groups decided it was best to solve all of the problems first, then build with all of the materials at once. Others decided to hold off and see if they could build a tall tower without all the cards available to them. It was a group choice.
After about 45 minutes of math solving and tower building, I told them time was up and the tallest tower still standing (as there were MANY falling towers throughout the work time!) was the winner. The kids who won got a pat on the back and the satisfaction of knowing that they built the tallest tower.
And that was it. The kids reviewed the math concepts and had a little fun while they were at it. They were engaged and focused the entire math block. What is really great though is that this game can be used for anything. No topic is off limits here and the game rules can still be applied. I foresee us playing this game many more times this year.
On January 14, 2019, the teachers in my school district went on strike. There are many reasons why I, along with 30,000 of my fellow Los Angeles teachers, decided that walking on the picket lines in front of our schools, in the rain, to fight for the future of public education was our only option.
We were striking because our kids deserve smaller class sizes in which they can receive more individualized attention to meet their learning needs. We were striking because our kids need full time nurses and librarians. We were striking because our kids need less testing and more teaching. We were striking because public education is at a crossroads. There are those around us who would like to see public education crumble and who would love to see charters take over and let public education fall by the wayside.
But we, the teachers of LAUSD, think differently. We set out to walk the line to fight for our future and the future of the schools and the children we hold so dearly. Because a Los Angeles without public education is a Los Angeles we don’t want to see. Our children deserve more. And we walked the line for them.
The following is my day to day reflections on our strike efforts. It is written diary style, in a sort of stream of consciousness and captures my own thoughts as to what occurred that day on the picket line with my fellow educators.
On that first day, in the pouring rain, I walked outside my school with my signs on my umbrella, wearing my red poncho, and chanting for my students. I walked for smaller class sizes. I walked for more nurses and counselors. I walked for less testing. I walked for charter regulation. I walked to save our public schools. And the support I felt was electric.
Cars were honking. People stopped to show their support for our cause and to reaffirm that what we were doing was the right thing. Parents kept their kids home from school and brought food for us to eat on the picket line. They walked with us, in the rain. They called the district to show their support.
Downtown, as we all converged together to march on the district headquarters, the sense of camaraderie was amazing. We all were there for the same reason and you could tell. It felt good, knowing we were there to fight the good fight for our students.
I couldn’t be prouder of my colleagues. Each and everyone one of us is out there on that line early in the morning, coming together to rally, and represent at our schools in the afternoon with a smile on our faces and conviction in our hearts.
We all have a common purpose for our strike. We want things that really are not unreasonable. They are what every child should have in their education. We want:
Smaller class sizes.
Teaching, not overtesting.
RNs in every school every day.
Including counselors and librarians on every campus.
Kids should always come first!
All of these things, we believe, are essential to educating our students, the children of Los Angeles, properly. Things our children deserve.
I have never felt more like a teacher with super powers as I do now.
This strike has brought out the best in myself and my fellow teachers. We are all united by a singular mission, unwavering in our resolve. Each of us out there on the line knows we are out there for the right reasons and will continue to stay out there until our voices are heard.
We are out there for our students. We are out there for the future of public education.
We know we are on the right side of this fight. History will remember what we are doing and the effects will be felt for years to come.
If that is not what it feels like to have super powers, then I don’t know what does.
Today it rained nearly all day. Each of us was wet down to the core. Our feet are starting to hurt. We are exhausted, both mentally and physically. We are all on an emotional rollercoaster not knowing if today might just be the day we get to pack up our signs and pick up our plan books. But even with all that, we are not backing down.
The support we have from the parents — those amazing, giving, wonderful parents — is keeping us afloat. They show up daily along with us, bring us food, walk the picket lines, and cheer us on. They set up Facebook groups and talk about ways they can help us MORE. They are incredible and I am so grateful to each of them.
The public, with their honks, their high fives, their fists in the air, give us that push we need to keep going. Each honk breathes new life into my colleagues and me.
And we can’t forget the kids on the line, at home, and in school. THEY are the reason we are out here and THEY are why we continue to fight. It is THEIR future we are ensuring and it is because of THEM that we walk this line.
So, when I am down and tired and a little bit too emotionally drained to stand it, I am just going to think about all of the kindness I am witnessing and reinvigorate myself. This strike is bringing our community together and for that, I am grateful.
The theme of the day was strength. After 5 days, you would be hard pressed to find a teacher out there on the lines who isn’t strong. Everyone, in their own way, is finding an inner fire to keep going for what we all know is right.
Our picket lines were bigger and fuller and longer and louder than they have ever been before. The noise and energy exudes strength.
The crowd at City Hall was bigger and fuller and longer and louder than it has ever been before. The feeling of community and togetherness breeds strength.
Our school community was bigger and fuller and longer and louder than it has ever been before. The love and hope and genuine concern we all have for each other encapsulates strength.
Today we are standing strong and holding our line. We are WINNING because of these lines, this community, and this strength. Our collective power is sending a message to the district that we have the resolve and will not back down. We have the strength to last one more day longer than those who wish to see us fall.
For more of the day to day action, you can visit my Highlights on Instagram. I have documented everything in more "on the spot" and "live" style there.
I will admit it. I didn't always speak to my kids when they came into my room in the morning.
I know...a collective gasp of revolt and judgement just went up in teacher-land.
But it is true. My kids would come into the room and I would sit at my desk (or whatever space I had in the front of the room) taking attendance, lunch count, processing notes the kids gave me, or whatever other 100 things we as teachers need to do in the morning as the day begins. My kids would get to their seats and immediately get to work on a morning packet or reading or whatever else I assigned for them as morning work that particular year. There was very little interaction between anyone in the room. Everyone was serious and got to work.
Now, this worked for me for many different reasons, not the least of which was that it was quiet in my classroom. No one was off doing anything they shouldn't be doing. No one was out of control or out of their seat. I had complete control of the room without saying a word.
But what I didn't have was any connection at all. My kids were doing what they were supposed to, and throughout the day they were learning, but there was no real connection between them and myself. I was just a lady standing in front of the room teaching them stuff.
I could have been anyone.
This year, though, I wanted to change that. So I made ONE little modification to my morning routine that literally changed everything in my classroom. I now say hello to the kids in the morning.
I stand by my door as the kids grab breakfast. One by one, as they come in, I say hello to them and call them by name.
"Good morning, Addy"
The kids then say hi back (some nod or just look at me, but they are slowly coming around ;) ) and head to their seats, unpacking, eating, reading....just as they did before.
Now, you are probably saying to yourself, how on earth did this change everything in your classroom? Well, you see, by acknowledging them by name I have let each child know that *I* know that they are present and a part of the classroom. My kids aren't wondering if I even know who they are anymore. They feel important and seen. Because they have a sense of import, the kids are more focused, more engaged, more involved throughout the entire day.
Honestly, before I started saying hi to the kids in the morning myself, I thought those who did were crazy. I mean, there was just so much noise in the morning. So much time was taken out to say hi. The teacher was just standing in the back greeting people. Surely the time could be used better.
But no. This 15 seconds I take per child in my room sets us on a positive and productive track for the entire day. My kids are more responsive and on task. And why is that? Because they feel more connected to me as a person. I am someone who notices them and cares that they are there. I am no longer a lady standing in front of the room teaching them stuff. I am Mrs. Moorman who knows they are there and cares.
Introducing the concept of volume to my students is never as easy as I always think it is going to be. I mean, I usually just assume that when I explain that volume is basically length x width x height, the kids will think, "Oh, yeah! That's like area with one more thing to multiply!" It never goes that way. I mean, never. Ever.
So this year, when I set out to introduce the concept of volume to my students, I knew I needed to do something memorable that would help the concepts sink in. So what did I do? I broke out the trusty marshmallows. Yes. You heard me right. Marshmallows.
You see, mini-marshmallows are basically a cube shape. They aren't perfect, but they are close enough that using them to help my students understand the concept that volume is the amount of space something takes up in cubic units was just what my students needed. I gave each student a quart-sized baggie that was pre-filled with about two handfuls of marshmallows. I purposefully didn't count them as I wanted all of the students to be using different amounts of marshmallows as we progressed through the lesson.
Once they had the marshmallows, I gave the students a recording sheet and we began to work. Using a whole group lead by the teacher method, we began on the first task. Each of the six tasks had the students working on ideas of volume in a progressively more difficult manner. They were introduced to the idea of dimensions, layers, "missing" cubes, and so much more. We didn't really talk about length x width x height at all, but by the end of the tasks, the students were seeing the arrays that the marshmallows were forming and coming up with that algorithm all on their own. It was amazing!
After the six tasks were conquered, I wanted the students to do a hands-on performance task, taking all of those ideas we learned together and apply them on their own. I gave them another recording sheet, this time as a performance task. They used all of the marshmallows in their baggie and needed to create rectangular prisms with specific guidelines in mind. They were to diagram the prisms, record the dimensions, and find the volumes of each. I *thought* this would be easy for them, given our work together on the previous six tasks, but I was mistaken.
Working on the performance task was quite a challenge for many of them. Having to think of their own rectangular prisms, proving they were different from each other, and visualizing this concept on their own was difficult. There was a lot of productive struggle going on as I walked around and guided the students towards creating their own rectangular prisms.
Overall, though, once the lesson was done (which took us about 2 hours), the students really did have a much more firm grasp of what volume is. Now, when I say layers or I ask them what the dimensions of a drawn 3-D figure is, the students are confident that they know. Manipulating the marshmallows really helped to solidify a firm understanding of this big fifth grade CCSS concept.
Would you like to resources I used in this lesson? You can pick them up here.
How have you taught the concept of volume in a hands-on way? Let me know below!
This year, on the first day of school, I did something that I have never done before. We broke out some glasses equipped with LEGO studs and the bricks and created representations of ourselves to introduce each other in our class.
How? Well, here is the basic run down.
This summer, I went to the Get Your Teach On conference in San Diego. While there, Hope King showed us this STEM unit that she does in her classroom. The first activity was a get to know you type thing and I instantly fell in love. I just couldn't get the idea out of my brain. So I broke down and ordered these glasses here. (my affiliate link)
On the first day of school, I told the kids that we were going to introduce ourselves to each other but first we needed to build representations of our personalities. Each child got a pair of glasses and LEGOs (that I raided from my own children's stash). They used the LEGOs to create things that might mean something to them. For example, on my glasses, I put a tall pink LEGO to represent my oldest daughter with a medium sized blue next to it and a smaller blue for my two sons. I also added a red and green piece to symbolize an apple since teachers are synonymous with apples. Once I modeled a few, the kids got to work.
As they were working, I was walking around asking them to explain some of their choices to me. It was an awesome way for me to get to know the kids. I heard about their favorite foods, details about their families, where they went on vacation, and even some made up stories that they wish happened to them. It was a wonderful way for me to begin building a connection to my students right off the bat.
Once the glasses were complete, I took a picture of them wearing the glasses. They then diagramed their drawings using a template I created (and you can find here.) I had them dismantle the glasses and put everything away. These glasses were too expensive for them to keep ;) I will find another use for them later on in the year.
The next day, the students used these drawings to write a paragraph explaining the glasses. Everything they diagramed was to be explained in the paragraph. This became their first writing sample and a wonderful assessment of their basic writing skills. Did they indent? How was the spelling? Were the sentences simple or elaborated? It gave me a baseline with which to start instruction.
Finally, I put the pics that I took of them on a shared Google Slide and each of them logged onto the computer to type their paragraph. This, again, served as a jumping off point for me to see the tech skills they came in with. Could they get online? Did they know about text boxes? Did they panic when something went "wrong"?
And that is it. Total, with the writing and all, this took about three sessions in class. Can you say BEST TEACHER EVER??? ;) Well, maybe not, but the kids did love it, got to be creative, and they wanted to come back the next day. What else can we ask for?
I am a sucker for inventive publishing. I mean, who wouldn't love taking a 5 paragraph essay and writing the final draft in a cool and different way? I do that all the time in my class. So when it came to publishing this year's biography writing, I just couldn't let them write a simple essay and draw a picture.
Now, if you have followed along with my in the past, you know that I have creatively published this biography before. I LOVE doing these Hanger People biographies but I felt like this year, since we are so into Google Slides and using our chrome books (which I have a class set of thanks to DonorsChoose.org!) we could take these biographies in a different direction. So instead of the hanger people this year, we created magazines.
To begin, we of course started with the writing. Being 5th graders, I knew that if I just told them to write a biography, they would be lost. So instead, I helped to scaffold the writing for them. When scaffolding, I use a style very similar to Paragraph of the Week/Essay of the Month in that I break the writing down into pieces. We start from the inside out, with the content of the middle paragraphs first, then move onto the introduction and conclusion paragraphs. I used these organizers to get them going.
Now, at this point in the year, we have done many lessons on research and navigating around Google, so they were able to fill in their organizers pretty quickly. However, I did notice that many of them were focusing on the minute details of the subject's life. They really wanted to talk about how many brothers and sisters the subject had and left out that the person helped to strategically win the American Revolution (or whatever they did that made them famous.) So during the prewriting phase, we started with their middle life FIRST. I wanted them to really focus not on when the person was born, but what he or she did that was vital to this time period. I did A LOT of modeling. This modeling during the prewriting really helped the students to construct nice, research-filled paragraphs that told the basic story of the life of the subject, focusing on the contribution that person made to the Revolution.
Once the writing was done (using all of the organizers), the fun part came. Through Google Classroom, I assigned the students a magazine template that I created (you can get it here.) You should have seen their little faces when I showed it to them! They couldn't wait to get in and put their written work into the space!
For each paragraph, there was a page to fill in. I wrote instructions in the "speaker notes" for the students to follow as they were typing. So even though there was a template to follow, they still needed to find pictures and adjust the fonts so that the space would be filled. The kids really felt as if they were creating a magazine when they were typing!
Then came the front cover. This page had them all giddy. The students needed to find a picture of their subject and write a headline grabber that told of the subject's most important contribution. They LOVED this part. And when the magazine overlay was put on top.....you should have heard the oohs and aahs!
I am very lucky in that I have access to a color printer at school, so we printed them all out, bound it together with some long paper, glue sticks, and a staple gun, and I laminated the cover. OH MY WORD. I could not stop staring at them. They came out GORGEOUS!
Honestly, this is one of my most favorite things I have ever made. The scaffolded organizers helped ensure that the kids were writing coherently and the magazine template just made for a magnificent display that encouraged others to read that written work. Get your copy of the entire resource here.
What is one alternative publishing idea that you have for biography writing? Please share below!
One of the nonnegotiables in my classroom is read aloud time. I build it into my schedule so that every day, rain or shine, I read aloud to my students. I get quite a few questions about how I actually do read aloud and what it looks like in my classroom, so I thought I would write about it here to give you a clearer picture of what read aloud looks like in my room.
At the end of every school day, about 20 minutes before the bell rings for dismissal, I have my students clean up our classroom using the 60 second clean up, they write their homework in their planners, we pass out papers (homework, flyers from the office, etc...) and then they pack up their stuff to go home. When the kids are done packing up, I have them join me on the rug. Since this is an individual process (some kids take longer than others) I head to the rug at this time and sit in my chair. Kids join me as they finish up and we usually start talking about the books we are reading. This is super informal and becomes a time when I can just chat casually with a few students about books. I write nothing down. I don't have a script. We just chat while we wait for the rest of the kids. This little chat I have is very enticing to the kids too. They like to talk with me about books so they generally tend to get packed up quickly so they can converse.
Once *most* of the kids are on the rug, I begin reading aloud. Most of the time, I am reading from a chapter book so I just continue on from where I left off. Other times, say if we just finished a chapter book, I will read aloud a picture book (though I generally tend to read those during lessons throughout the day to be honest.)
Here is what I get asked the most when I talk about read aloud: What are your students doing when you read aloud?
The answer is simple. They listen.
That is it.
My kids listen as I read aloud to them. They don't take notes. They don't do a comprehension activity. They don't respond to the text orally or otherwise. They just listen as I share the written words with them.
Why do I do this? There are lots of reasons but the biggest one is that it helps me to create readers. You see, the kids listen to me fluently reading, enjoying the book, and can visualize the story. They get taken away into a world that they may not have been to before. They see the joy of reading first hand. I KNOW that I have introduced books that the kids would have never picked up on their own and they become hooked on the entire series. I KNOW that I have shown kids that books are a doorway to a new land of imagination and fun. I KNOW that I have opened up channels of discussion for the kids to talk about books with me and each other. I KNOW that I have created readers in my class. All because of the read aloud.
So what books do I read aloud? Well, I tend to choose different types of novels. In the beginning of the year, usually find books that I know will engage the kids and are a part of series. The reason I do this is so that the kids then have the option to read the rest of the books in that series. If they like the book, there is something else to read that continues the story. As the year goes on, I choose books that are of all different genres. Below are a few of my tried and true favorites that are almost always a hit with my students. (the links are affiliate links that will take you to Amazon to purchase the books.)
A perineal favorite with my fifth graders. This is one that helps to set the tone for the rest of the year. It talks about bullying, empathy, and how people can change. It is a great one to begin the year.
Another book that is great for the beginning of the year. This is one cliffhanger after the other. There are giant bugs, wars between humans and human-sized rats, an underground society, a quest, and a whole lot of action. This story has all the basic elements of storytelling as well (plot, character, setting, conflict, theme) that it is a must have to get your kids just thinking about these ideas. This is the first in a series an my students are always checking out the others after we read this one.
This book is the first in a series. The story takes place in a dystopian society where it is illegal to be a third child. The main character is a third child who must hide his entire life. It is one that has a long beginning and takes a while to get into. It is one that I KNOW the kids would put down if they read it on their own. But once you get to page 41....magic. It is utter and complete magic.
An endearing story about a robot stranded on an island. The robot learns the ways of the animals and how to survive in this unknown land. It is the first of two books that my students begged me for. I think it helped that I read aloud to them using the robot voice the entire time the robot talked ;)
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I am always recommending books that I find valuable for my classroom. You can scroll down through my feed for dozens of recommendations that have resonated with my students over the years. (Follow me here if you aren't yet ;) )
So what about you? Do you read aloud to your students? How often? When? What are your favorites to read aloud?
I like to have the kids write historically from the perspective of someone who was at that event. Meaning, when I want them to write about, say a battle of the American Revolution, I don't just have them list off facts, I like them to take on the persona of a person who witnessed the battle and is telling the story.
Such was the case when I had my students learn about the battles this year. I had them research the battle using this form here. It was basic, just asking them to fill in the blanks on basic information about the battle itself.
Then I had them create a postcard (I used this template in google slides...though if you have no access to tech you can print it off and have them handwrite it.) They wrote a first person narrative in letter form to a relative explaining the details of the battle they researched.
I asked them to make up an address and create a stamp. This could be any sort of picture they thought would make a good stamp during that time period. Some kids drew one and took a pic to insert. Others found pictures online that fit with what they were going for.
Next came the fun part. The students created the picture portion of the postcard. Some of them created a picture using clipart and the shapes tool on Google Slides.
Others found several pictures online that would match what they described in the battle and used that.
Then we cut the pieces out, glued them together, laminated them, and viola....a postcard was made!
And that is it. It was a quick and easy way to have the kids research and write about the battles. This could work for any historical event really, though since we were researching the battles, we went with that in my room :)
I love using picture books in my classroom. There is just SO much that can be taught with them and through them that excluding them from my fifth grade class just because they are "for younger kids" is a travesty to me. Picture books can be full of rich imagery, wonderful lessons, complex characters....you name it, picture books have it.
There are SO many different picture books that I use in my class throughout the year, but for this particular post, I thought I would focus on 10 of my favorites and how I use them. (all of the links to the books are affiliate links on Amazon.)
In two days, my 20th year of teaching will be done. It is hard to believe that 20 years ago I was just graduating college and had been hired into my new teaching position....a 4/5 split on B track, whatever that meant. Little did I know that my first class would shape who I am as a teacher today.
You see, what I learned from that class was that teaching was going to be work for me. When I first started teaching, I was horrible at it. I was not one of those natural born teachers. I thought I would walk into the classroom, the kids would listen, and the world would be changed. It didn’t quite work out like that. It took the intervention of our school coordinator to put me on the right track. She taught me the “tricks of the trade” and helped set me on the path to the teacher I am today. She showed me how to manage my class and how to inspire the students through innovative and thoughtful lessons. She taught me that the classroom should reflect the students and their learning. Because of this, I ONLY decorate my classroom with students’ work. Everything that goes onto the walls (unless mandated by my district) has been produced by my kids. That woman, through her selfless acts to help me, enabled me to find my footing as a teacher and instilled in me this love of educating children through high expectations that I keep with me each time I walk into my classroom.
And after 20 years, when I walk into my classroom each morning, it feels like my second home. I have spent so much time there, that everything is just comfortable. To make things comfortable, I have carefully curated it over years and years of begging, borrowing, and buying. While the buying in bulk may have slowed down, I am still always on the lookout for a deal and love when Scholastic has their books on sale for $1. I know all the stores that give teacher discounts and frequent the Dollar Spot at Target. I repurpose like nobody's business. All of this has helped to create a speech I want be in for years of my life.
Now that I have been teaching for 20 years, I have seen this profession change more times that I can count, but I also know that with each change comes a chance to try something new and expand my bag of tricks. I scour blogs and IG and FB and Pinterest and try new things in my room constantly. I looks at trends and take what I know will work, try out things that I am not sure about, and leave the ideas that are really just a flash in the pan. But even with all of the experimentation and risk-taking, I still have some great tired and true lessons that I know will be a hit with any and all classes. I keep those at my disposal and am able to adapt them to the ever-changing needs of my students. My experience has served me well.
And now, as I move into the 3rd decade of my teaching career (did I just say that out loud???), I know that I must keep up the momentum I have built. I will keep moving forward, learning, and growing. My students will need to stay at the forefront of my thoughts as I adapt to an ever-changing environment in this world we call teaching. Things will keep moving. Things will keep changing. And with a lot of work and luck, I will do just fine.
This summer, I am joining with some amazing bloggers to bring you tips and tricks for your classroom. Today, we are all introducing ourselves. So now that you know a bit about me, please visit my friends below to learn about them. Then come back every Tuesday to learn a bit more that you can bring back to your classroom.