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Gold fever! It's what drew thousands of men to California in 1849 and it still sparks student excitement and dreams of wealth today!
It's difficult for students to fathom the tedious process of finding gold. After examining pictures of gold mining equipment and learning how each tool was used, as well as watching "how to mine" videos, students brainstorm for improvements they would make in mining equipment.
Using everyday materials from our STEAM box and recycle bin, kids worked in groups to design new and improved mining equipment. It was amazing how creatively they problem solved! This group below decided to combine a long tom with pan because they felt too much gold was being swept away in the river and the pan (with mesh) would catch the extra gold dust.
This group below felt a mining pan needed handles and a lid so when they vigorously swirled the water, sand, and dirt in the pan, the gold wouldn't fly out; LOL!
 After designing and building their new and improved mining tool, students used SketchUp to digitally create their tool. SketchUp is a 3D modeling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications.  Kids seem to pick it up intuitively!
 Next, each student wrote about their new design and the improvement features.
Click HERE to download Gold Mining Equipment STEAM Challenge planning sheets.

Be sure to visit the blogs below for more terrific teaching ideas!


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We are in the home stretch! Once state testing is over, it's time to start winding down the year. Anyone else ready for summer?!
This teacher meme made me laugh out loud because it definitely reflects how I'm feeling at this time of the school year! LOL
What's the best way to deal with teacher tired? #thestruggleisreal  Let your students take over! Huh? Over the last couple of weeks of school, each student signs up to teach the class a lesson.  I love telling my kids that I'm done teaching and now they get to be the teacher. Their eyes open wide and they immediately begin thinking of all the things they know and are good at.  Students write a lesson plan (teachers in training!) and submit it a couple of days in advance of their lesson. I can review it and foresee any possible problems. Grab your FREE lesson plan pdf  HERE or by clicking on the image below. If you want a Google Slide version, click HERE
Every year I am simply amazed at my kids' talents, interests, and the range of topics. This is the perfect opportunity to allow students to shine in non-academic ways! In the past, students have taught their classmates how to draw anime characters, how to shoot a 3-pointer in basketball, how to fence, make slime, make bread with homemade butter, and how to fold origami!

One year, a student wanted to teach piano to the class. Undaunted by the fact that there was just one piano, she surveyed the class about their experience with music and piano. Based on the results of her survey, she categorized students into novice, beginner, some experience, and experts. She selected specific excerpts of sheet music for each student (!): the novices had only two notes that required only the right hand and she labeled their paper keyboards with notes. She differentiated for each student, up to those who take piano lessons by giving them sheet music that required using both hands (treble & bass clefs, that she labeled: right hand & left hand) and paper keyboards with no notes. After circulating while students "practiced" on their paper keyboards, she called students up to the piano to play their piece. Oh my goodness!! That lesson planning must have taken hours!! 
And don't you love your outside-the-box thinkers? When this student proposed his idea of teaching the class "How to be Awesome", I thought he was trying to be a smart-aleck. Wow, did he ever surprise me! He was completely prepared with a powerpoint presentation on the definition of "awesome". After introducing the dictionary definition, he asked for examples from students. Each slide built on the idea that you make yourself awesome because the definition is as unique as each individual. He also emphasized how awesome it is to be kind, caring, and treating others as if they are awesome! I was practically in tears, as he was teaching! Classmates were cheering :) #bestillmyheart 
Students get such a kick out of taking over as the teacher (& a better understanding at how difficult it is to teach when kids talk and blurt out!) and they gain new respect from classmates for their unique strengths! We all learn so much! (And it makes the end of the school year a whole lot more fun, as well as re-energizing the teacher!)

What special activities do you do to wrap up the school year? We want you to end the year with a celebratory bang! Check out these other free ideas for your upper elementary students and let us do the planning for you!
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Health always seems to be one of those subjects that is either hard to fit into the curriculum time-wise or I’m unsure how to assess it.
Our health standards not only focus on the more obvious physical parts of health, but also on mental and emotional, or family and social aspects of health. I'm blogging over at The Walking Classroom today to share ideas for all aspects of health. Walk on over! Click HERE or on the photo above.
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Although I don't sew much, other than the occasional hemming of pants or jeans (yes, my legs are short) or sewing badges onto my daughter's Girl Scout uniform, my sewing machine does get a lot of use for BOOKMAKING!
First of all, bringing a sewing machine into the classroom is amazing to kids:  it's a machine!! Plus having a hardback book with pages that are sewn makes it valid as a "real book", just like the hardback books in our class library! Since I tend to be lazy and try to eliminate steps, using contact paper saves the gluing step. Watch the video below for simple steps to creating these fabulous books! 
Sewing Contact Paper book - YouTube

Depending on the pattern of contact paper you find, it makes the end papers look fancy!
This is the what the sewing binding looks like: (just like a "real book"!) 
Don't worry; if you don't have a sewing machine, you can use your trusty long-arm stapler! It is one of my "can't live without" classroom tools!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Let me know if you try this Sewing Contact Paper book!
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Geometry was a daunting subject for me in high school. So when I started teaching, I was determined to think of a way to teach geometry that was fun and interactive. 
25 years ago, I sewed wide strips of elastic to form giant bands. Students use these bands and their whole bodies to form geometric shapes and angles. (A friend later mentioned that Chinese jump-ropes would work just as well!!) Well, that would have saved me hours of time! LOL Anyway. . . I love the higher level thinking these elastic bands lend themselves to: geometric proofs!
A group of three to four students has one elastic band and as I call out various shapes or angles, they use their body parts to form the geometric term. My one rule is that each student in the group has to be touching the band. This becomes tricky when there are more sides than arms or legs! They have to get creative!
The language and conversation between kids as they explain, argue, and form each shape or angle is fantastic to eavesdrop in on! I sure wish my teachers had done something like this when I took high school geometry!

Another great way to promote higher level thinking and interaction with geometric terms and attributes is Geometry Riddles. You can read about them HERE.
You may also be interested in this fast-paced review game of Geometry I Have, Who Has.

How do you teach students the relationships and attributes of geometric figures?
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
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It's almost that time of year: state testing! Egads! I always struggle internally with not wanting to waste precious teaching and learning time on teaching to the test, yet wanting my students to be prepared. 
The good news is that if you teach using a workshop model (Reader's Workshop and Writer's Workshop), much of what is tested is already what we teach throughout the year. And we often ask our students to delve deeper than limiting answers to multiple choice tests. Stamina is one of the most important factors in test-taking. The ELA tests often require students to sit and read pages (screens) of information, sometimes taking over an hour! However, if your kids are used to reading independently for long periods of time, this will not be as daunting for them. Having substantial time to read "just right" texts throughout the school year is a great way to build reading stamina. (The same goes for developing writing stamina during the writing process!)

I know many schools spend weeks, even months on "test prep" but I do not have time (nor the desire) for that! The couple weeks before our testing week is spent on test PREP, not test practice. It is not a time for drill and kill worksheets, but for preparing students for what to expect and how to create a plan of action. In comes Test Prep Boot Camp! Similar to workout boot camp, the teacher is the trainer/coach and it is our job to develop the right muscles and stamina to help our kids succeed.


To familiarize students with the format of the test, google your particular state's test. There are plenty of samples of past tests and practice tests. Select 5 fiction and 5 non-fictions texts (in a variety of genres) with questions. These "packets" (I cringe. . .) will be the texts during boot camp. Some great resources for non-fiction texts are NewsELA, Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic for Kids, Readworks. Begin the week with teacher modeling and full support, and gradually release the support throughout the week.

When getting students ready for daily learning and practice of narrative pieces, they must understand the elements of a particular genre. This is a good time to revisit your genre anchor charts made earlier in the year (or to quickly brainstorm with your class). Students must also need to be able to read the question and and predict the answer BEFORE looking at the answer choices. Here is what a fiction boot camp schedule may look like (based on Lucy Calkins, 2011):
While students practice reading and answering questions, the teacher circulates, coaches students, and supports them. Just like during Reader's Workshop, pull students in small groups or have one-on-one conferences. More importantly than finding the "right answer" is the discussion leading to HOW to think about what each question is asking. To help your students tackle multiple-choice questions, teach them to read each question and ask themselves, "What does the question mean?"  "What is it asking me to do?"  Grab your free copy of a question sort HERE to help students identify what the question is asking them to do (find the answer in the text or to give examples that infer the answer)

Be sure to listen to We Teach So Hard podcast, episode 30: Standardized Testing and Your Sanity! Or click on the image below:
Need more test prep strategies? Check out these other great ideas for your upper elementary students!


Sorting Reading Test Question Stems // Tarheelstate Teacher

Test Prep Boot Camp // Tried and True Teaching Tools



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Spring . . . the time of year when the school year feels never-ending; especially when spring break is still 2-1/2 weeks away! Teachers are tired and kids often start regressing in behaviors.  Morning meetings and read alouds focus back on conflict resolution, anti-bullying, kindness, tolerance. 
I'm blogging over at The Walking Classroom and talking about revisiting character lessons. You can read about it HERE.  Come visit!

You can also read more great ideas about bullying prevention HERE or click on the picture below.
How do you teach character values with your students? 
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Anyone else tired of reading acrostic poetry? It seems as if it is the only "poem" format that my students know and resort to again and again! There are so many other forms of poetry: haiku, cinquain, diamante, bio-poems; the list goes on!
And yes, while I like the ease of teaching a specific format, I really love free verse poetry. Students choose their topic and play around with their lettering and explore using white space on a page to create a mood.
Regie Routman is one of my educational gurus. She has been advocating for authentic literacy practices since I first started teaching. Many of her books, videos, and workshops are what have kept me grounded in my teaching practices. So of course, I was thrilled when she published Kids' Poems: Teaching Third and Fourth Graders to Love Writing Poetry. (She has also published Kids' Poems books for kindergarten, first and second grades!) From Amazon: "Regie Routman shares her delightful selection of free verse poems written by third-and fourth graders that will inspire your third-and fourth graders to think, I can write poems like this too! Regie provides strategies for using kids' poems as models to guide children to write poems about things they know and care about, from eating french fries to secret places and family trips. She describes the way she invites children to study the model poem, beginning by asking kids, What do you notice? She shows how she demonstrates the poetry-writng process to children: thinking aloud and drafting poems about her own life, and then inviting children to write on their own."
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
 
Look how this student used capital letters and repetition to emphasize his emotions!
Using photos is another great way to elicit observations and descriptions. You can grab this set of tree photos HERE or by clicking on the photo below. Each photo is of the same tree, taken from different viewpoints.
Students naturally want to write about people, pets, and issues that are important to them. I love the humor and play on words this student uses, when writing about her dog:
And this student varies the font to emphasize how AWFUL she feels electronics are! Although not a popular viewpoint among my class, but WOW, what a powerful observation about kids and adults around her!

During National Poetry Month, everyone has to walk around with a poem in their pocket, to recite to each other on the playground, or in passing.  This student wanted to write her own poem, rather than carry a published poem and she even wrote it in rhyming verse!
Designate a tree as your class' poet-tree and have them hang poems to be read. (Okay, don't laugh at our wimpy tree; we had to be very gentle when tying on our poems!)
You can read more about teaching poetry HERE or HERE or by clicking on the titles below.
  
Click HERE or on the photo below to purchase a set of 24 close-up photos of nature: plants, leaves, flowers to inspire your students' creativity and wonderment.
For even more poetry fun & freebies, be sure to visit the blogs below! Happy National Poetry Month!
From top left image, clockwise:
Be sure to tune into We Teach so Hard, episode 32, where we share more poetry ideas!
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Next up in our bookmaking series! I love bringing in my electric drill and watching my students' eyes light up! LOL
Don't let the drill scare you; it's actually easy to use (and I'm not all that handy) and makes for stunning books! Materials needed:

  • electric drill 
  • drill bit (experiment a bit; it needs to drill a hole large enough to thread your raffia or yarn through)
  • 2 pieces of stiff paper or cardstock for the cover
  • raffia or yarn
  • scissors

How to Make a Raffia Sewing Book - YouTube
The cover for this book below was two sheets of manila tag, covered with ripped pieces of tissue paper and starch. It gives it a very artsy look (and easy for all kids to do!) Add the raffia to bind the book and they are gorgeous!
The book below was so much fun to make! Instead of two separate covers for front and back, we took one sheet of corrugated cardstock (double the length of of the inside papers plus about 2-3 inches extra). We wrapped the corrugated cardstock around the papers, then folded the extra as a flap. After drilling the holes on the left and hand-sewing the yarn to bind it,  kids sewed a large button and elastic to hook the cover closed. 
 Have you tried having your students sew books by hand? Give the drill a try;  I felt like Rosie the Riveter!
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It was my first year of teaching and I was a little nervous and very excited about my first parent-teacher conferences. 3 parents out of my 27 students showed up. Three. Other experienced teachers at my school said that wasn’t unusual. What?! Something was wrong. 30+ years later. . . I have 100% parent participation.
How to get 100% parent attendance and participation? A slight shift in the traditional conference: conferences run by students instead of teachers. “When students must report to their families what they're learning—what skills and understandings they have, what areas still challenge them, and where they hope to get to—they must understand their own learning and progress. They take pride in what they can do and take responsibility for what they need to work on. Education stops being something done to them and begins being something that they are leading.” (Educational Leadership, Vol. 71, No. 6)

Although students are initially shy about leading their conference, they develop their leadership skills, build critical thinking and reflection skills. Their families are more connected to the growth of their child and students have more buy-in to their own learning.
My students take charge of their learning through the use of portfolios. They are continuously examining and reflecting on their work, comparing the quality of it to the standards. How to select learning goals and develop a plan of action is explicitly modeled and taught. Their portfolios reflect their progress toward their self-selected goals with tangible evidence such as student work, photographs, and even letters signed by classmates (if they were working on a goal such as teamwork or sportsmanship). It is so exciting to watch and listen to fourth graders lead their parent conferences; sharing their self-report card and proudly discussing their growth! Areas of need are shared as goals, as child, parents, and teacher also give input. Kids are usually brutally honest about their progress (often much harder on themselves than I am!), yet they take pride in all that they have accomplished. Although I allot a few minutes at the end of each conference if parents want to speak to me privately, but they usually do not have questions about grades after their child has shared. Parents always leave the conference impressed with their child’s honest self-evaluation. It is so heartwarming to see each student shine!

As students learn about setting goals, we use this acrostic GOALS sheet and put into the back cover of their portfolios. To grab a copy of this GOALS sheet in color and B & W, click on the image below or click HERE
To read more in-depth "how to" initiate student-led conferences, click on the links below.
For the complete Student Learning Portfolios resource, click HERE or on the image below.
Visit the blogs below for more terrific teaching ideas!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter
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