Monday, September 16, 2013

Goal Setting, Bubble Art and More Pumpkins

As a participant in the Classroom Champions program, one of the things we did at the beginning of the year was give our kids a survey about how much they set goals, how hard they work for them, etc.  Most of them had a hard time knowing what a goal is.  So, we've been talking about it.  This morning as I was greeting my kids at the door, one of my little girls stopped as she went in the door and said, "Miss P., you know what?  I have a goal!"  Then she went on in.

I had to continue greeting everyone else, and then (shame on me :( ) I lost track of the thought to follow up until after school was out and it was too late.  I am just so excited to see the beginning of what Classroom Champions is doing for us!

Today we watched the second video from Emily Cook.  She talked to the kiddos about how to reach goals and gave them a graphic organizer to work through. Check out the video here.  The kids' assignment tonight is to come up with the goal that goes at the top of their pyramid.  If any one of them comes up with something about pumpkins, I may not be responsible for my actions!

On another note, I finally got to see the display of the Bubble Art we did when we did our bubble experiment.  It turned out great!  Have a look:

We made these by mixing tempera paint with bubble solution and blowing bubbles onto the paper.  I'd give you the ratios, but there really wasn't one.  I'd just mix in enough paint to make it leave a mark when the bubble popped.  The danger is that it can mess with the bubble making ability of the bubble solution.  The blue didn't work so well.  What you see is mostly drips as they tried to blow the bubbles.  

When it works correctly, you can see the rings from the bubbles.  This shot shows more of that than most.

 Fair warning - it's messy!  Make sure you are working on something that can be cleaned easily with soap and water.

Finally, I've solved the mystery of the pumpkin!  Well, sort of.  At least I figured out where they got the idea.  I still have no clue why they thought it was the answer to everything.  :D

I also came home to a surprise in the mail.  Look what my sister-in-love gave me! I opened up the envelope and couldn't figure out why on earth she had sent me a pumpkin lawn bag.  Maybe a hint that I need to rake my leaves?  Then I put it together.  (I'm only a little slow  :D )  I laughed and laughed.  She also sent two wonderful cards with it.  It's so nice to have someone who a) gets you and b) encourages you - even in craziness!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

First World of Adventure journey of the year!

And we're off!  The first of my World of Adventure animals is off to a new adventure!  Jed is has been delivered to Ms. Jeannine and is headed for a sailing trip.  He is very excited.

Lady Washington

This is the Lady Washington, where Jed and Ms. Jeannine will be spending some time.  Doesn't it look great?!  They will be sailing for two weeks along this route.

It's going to be beautiful, and I'm not worried about his safety at all.  This ship has experience with pirates, as it has been in all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  I know if there are any problems, they are prepared.

Jed and Ms. Jeannine will be participating in some educational tours while they are on board, and they will be dressing in appropriate garb.  I was unaware of this until I gave him to Ms. Jeannine, so I am grateful that she purchased appropriate clothing for him.  I can't wait to see him.  I hear she found him a pirate outfit!  We'll be following along on his trip at  They report for duty on September 29th.

I did forget to let Ms. Jeannine know that Jed gets a little confused sometimes. I hope he manages the sailing ropes a bit better than the clothes line.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Day in the Classroom

My goal this year is to blog about what it is really like in my classroom. I created this blog to focus on my work as a teacher without getting tangled up in the politics of education.  Mostly.  I have another blog for that. Hopefully this one will give some people inspiration to try something new and others the knowledge that they aren't alone in the crazy world we teach in!

Teaching my way is messy.  I believe that most things worth learning require some digging and moving and rearranging.  They require failure and change and trying again.  I try to give my students that chance as much as possible.
This is what my classroom looks like when we get started.  I love my tables!  They are old cafeteria tables, so when I need open space I just fold them up and roll them away.
This is one of those tables after we were done:
This was our first experiment of the year and it was all about bubbles.  How can you learn about bubbles without making a mess?!  As we go on, I'll teach them how to keep their work neat, but for now?  It'll dry.  They cleaned up their own mess afterwards, and they learned what they needed to.  They also had a blast doing it!

I'm so glad we have days like that, because they balance out days like today.   
This is what my classroom has been like today. All day. 

Find the page in your science textbook that has an illustration of a plant cell.
*observe students flipping through pages one by one*
Me: No, please don't flip through the pages one by one until you find it. Use the tools we've talked about to find the right page.

*observe students flipping through pages one by one*

Please don't flip through the pages one by one until you find it. Use the tools we've talked about to find the right page. Yes, that's right. The index is a great tool to use. (Repeat for about 30 minutes)

*all are now on the right page and we have discussed the difference between plant cells and animal cells*

Who can tell me what the purpose of the chloroplasts is?

Student: (Note, I use student to mean any of the many who answered, not just one) They are in the plant cell.

Yes. What is their purpose.

a pumpkin

A pumpkin? Think about the question and the response together. "What is the purpose of a chloroplast? A pumpkin." Does that make sense?


Okay, good. So, what is the purpose of the chloroplasts?


*Repeat above conversation re: pumpkins for animals, skin, pumpkin again and other assorted nouns.*

They have chlorophyll.

*Mentally singing the Hallelujah chorus because at least we are on the right track* Yes! So what is the chlorophyll for?

*You aren't going to believe it. Just wait. Really* A pumpkin.

*music dies a quick death in my head, repeat earlier conversation multiple times*

It makes food for the plants.

*music starts a bit softly this time* Great! And because plants have this chlorophyll, they are what color?

*You know what's coming, don't you? You don't believe it, but you do.* A pumpkin.

*Repeat previous discussion re: pumpkin, animal, purple, leaves, and trees*

Yes! Most plants are green! Green, I say. Green!

Fortunately for me (or for my students, I'm not sure which), pumpkins did not come up for the rest of the day. However, all conversations went a similar route. Tomorrow is another day! My kiddos are terrific, and they are smart. We are going to have frustrating days like this, but they are so willing to try unfamiliar things.  That is going to make all the difference.  The jump from 2nd to 3rd grade is so hard!  We will all make it through the week, and by golly we will learn something! Even if it is only that "a pumpkin" is not a good shot in the dark answer.

Vision 2020 Presentation 2013

Apparently I needed more room in the classroom they assigned me to for my Vision 2020 session!  It was very exciting to see how many people came to hear what I had to say.  However, there were so many that many were turned away because of the fire code.  The room monitor collected contact information and asked if I'd send them my presentation information.  This was the best way I could think of to do it.  It also seemed like a good way to start my classroom blog since it gives a good idea of what I will be trying to do in my classroom this year.

I know this will be a long post, but it was a 90 minute session!  At least it won't take you that long to read it.

With all of the talk about Common Core, there has been an increase in the amount of discussion about literacy in Math, Science and Social Studies.  In my opinion, it only brings a focus to something that already needs to happen, and in fact has happened in classrooms forever.  It is less a matter of doing something new than it is a matter of recognizing what you already do and improving upon it.

One of the things about Common Core that has been discussed frequently is the 70/30 split of reading focus.  Seventy percent of what students are reading should be non-fiction and 30% from fiction.  That does not mean that the English teacher needs to quit teaching so much fiction and start teaching non-fiction primarily.  What it does mean is that when you consider the entire set of classes a student takes, 70% of what they read IS non-fiction.  Math, Science, Social Studies, even elective classes - they are all mostly non-fiction.  What we need to do then is change the focus of what we do with that non-fiction reading in those classes.  We need to get the students working with the information they have and communicating their results in different ways.

Does that mean you should be doing five paragraph essays in math class?  No.  Of course, I don't believe anyone should have to write a five paragraph essay.  All writing should be designed to communicate exactly what is needed - no more, no less.

Does it mean that you should be writing paragraphs daily or research papers weekly in Science and Social Studies?  Again, no.  Some days you are just going to be teaching content.  However, you should be requiring those things of  your students frequently.  Include creating graphs or illustrations in your assignments.  Focus on text structure when you are looking at your textbooks.  Ask questions, discuss the way content is written and why it is written that way.

 Let's talk about literacy for a minute.  What is it?

*imagine you are sitting in a group of fabulous educators discussing this question*

What did you come up with?  Some of the suggestions I received were: reading, writing, presentation of information, the combination of reading and writing, and understanding words.

Those were all great ideas.  I am going to expand on them a bit.  This is the definition I used in creating this presentation.  However, my focus wasn't on the reading and writing.  It was on the second part.  We need to be able to use language proficiently.  Great!  We have a definition.  Now, what does THAT mean?

I'll give you a second to read this one.

*waiting, waiting....*
*hears giggles and outright laughter coming from the audience...was that a snort?*

Yup.  You see the problem.

We need to be able to communicate.  That includes understanding what other say and write as well as getting them to understand what you say and write.  Clearly someone here missed something.

Incidentally, I do NOT recommend visiting  At least not unless you have a few hours to spare and have a solid foundation of believing that the majority of the world (at least the ones you educate) would never have their work end up on the site.  Certainly I do not speak from the experience of spending many hours laughing too hard to speak.  Really.

In the book "I See What You Mean," the authors discuss a day where they had someone write down everything they read in a day.  I created this Wordle so you can see that while words are a big part of that, there are many other items that are just as important.  Graphics, maps, symbols, icons, graphs, photographs and others are all things we see and communicate with every day.  Think about how many words are on your iPad or smart phone.  Now think think about how often you look at those words vs. how often you just click the icon.

For those of you who have not used Wordle, it can bring out some very interesting things in your reading and writing.  It pulls out the most commonly used words and puts them in a graphic.  The bigger the word, the more it is used.  I love using it for summaries.

Most of you have probably seen this problem at one time or another.  If not, take a minute to try it.  Grab a piece of paper and see what you come up with.  I'll wait.

*humming and wandering around my living room while you work*

Okay, everybody have it?  I knew it.  Please note that I have now successfully demonstrated the ability to give every one of you the exact right amount of thinking/working time.  You should now be able to do this in your classrooms.

Those of you who have seen this before and those of you who just successfully worked this out yourselves (because you are just brilliant that way) will recognize the solution to the problem.  The point of the exercise is to emphasize that we need to be able to think outside the box.  Nothing in the instructions said you can't go outside the lines created by the dots, right?

As teachers, we are required to do things like this all the time.  We have to look outside our comfort zone.  But what if I said that this doesn't go far enough?

 What if I pointed out that you could go farther outside of the box and solve the problem with three lines?  If you remember that both the line and the dots have width, it can be done. 

What if I told you that you can do it in one line if you roll the paper?

Did you think that far out of the box?  Because that is what we need to do if we are going to reach every one of our students.

Lest you think that I am a genius and fabulously creative all on my own....wait...why am I wanting to dissuade you from that?  Oh, you know that it's always good to be on the lookout for those who can help you to that next step of creativity.

Anyway, I got this illustration from this guy.  I have no idea who this guy is other than that he has a blog.  I don't know what his beliefs are, and I've never read another thing he's written.  Although he does look like a fun guy.  Maybe I should.  But back to the point.  The last part of this slide is what we need to remember:  "And the things we fear to initiate are always not in the instructions."  We can't be afraid to try new things, to think new things, to have our students do new things.  We may fail, we may break some "rules" of tradition and training.  We still need to do it.  It isn't going to be easy.  I wish I could say it was, but then I'd be lying to you.  I'd hate to do that.

Grammar and vocabulary are also a big part of communication.

Go ahead, take a second.  Process.

*hears more giggles and laughter*

See, I know when most of you are ready to go on when I hear all of the laughter.  The good news is, I am not going to worry about either of these things today.  I am going to assume that you all know proper grammar and require your students to demonstrate a sufficient grasp of both grammar and vocabulary to communicate their ideas.  Note that I don't say that you require it to be perfect.  That would be nice, but I believe that the emphasis should be on the communication part, not the technical part.  Unless you are an English teacher.  Then teaching the grammar is just as important.

These are the three books I used when preparing this presentation.  All three are fabulous.  If you had been able to attend my presentation, you would have been able to look through them and see what they were all about.  Since you couldn't, I highly recommend and the "peak inside" feature.  It won't have all my pretty highlighting and notes, but it's the next best thing.

The next part of my presentation focuses on Essential Questions.  We need to be doing some deeper thinking about the focus of our classes, and we need to be allowing our students to question and develop that focus.

Why am I spotlighting those?  Can the kinds of questions we ask increase literacy?  Why don't you turn to your neighbor and discuss that for a minute.

*Listening.  Hearing the door open and close*

I suppose for some of you that was more difficult than others.  I hope your neighbors are nice people and didn't mind the knock on the door for such a strange question.

What if I changed the question to look like this?  Does that change the kind of answer you give?

*Walking around the room, nodding and commenting here and there.*

Well, my cat thought that was a bit odd.  However, I heard some great things.  Many of you pointed out that it opens up the kinds of answers we receive.  One word changes it from a "yes" or "no" question to one with multiple answers.  Although it does direct the answer more to the positive, you could still answer this with a "no."  It would require some defense, but that is a good thing.  That is what we are trying to encourage.

Again, this kind of questioning isn't going to be easy.  It is going to require giving up control to the students.  It is going to require developing their skills and making them step outside of their comfort zone.  There will be much work involved, and not everything you do will be successful.

However, think about everything your students have to communicate in your class.  If you can narrow those things down to a set of questions to focus on, it will help them process information through that lens.

This is going to require some planning.  You are going to have to really think about what you need your students to be able to do.  For Science and Social Studies, you are going to have to step away from rote memorization.

*pausing for the laughter to sweep through the audience as they finish reading the slide*  I do love the Far Side.

The students need to be able to use the information they have to defend their position on a topic or to explain the results of their experiments. In Math, they may need to spend a great deal of time learning the skills of math, but they need to spend an equal amount of time applying those skills to problems they will relate to.  I don't mean the usual word problems.  As much as I have traveled, I have never had to figure out how fast Train A was going when it left Chicago or how fast Train B was going when it left L.A. because our railroad engineers are smart enough to put them on different tracks so they don't crash.

This slide wasn't in my presentation.  It is a bonus just for you!  However, isn't it appropriate?  I mentioned to those in the session that I can't imagine anyone going to the grocery store to pick up 60 watermelons to divide equally among his friends.  Clearly my imagination isn't good enough!

The point of Essential Questions is for them to apply both to the content and to the world outside of school.  They must be relevant to the students.  Ideally, it won't matter what subject you are teaching, the Essential Question will apply to all of them.

How do we come up with these questions?  First, you have to know your students.  It is impossible to make things relevant to them if you don't know who they are.  Second, plan in advance.  Make sure you have thought through exactly what you want them to focus on.  Get input from your colleagues and your PLN. 

Once you have a set of questions, let your students know what they are.  It will allow them to set their focus for your course, and it helps balance the power in the classroom.  You want them to feel in charge of their own learning.  You aren't evaluated on unknown criteria for your job, and they shouldn't be evaluated without knowing what they are supposed to be learning.  These questions will allow you to guide them without boxing them in.

When creating your questions, keep these things in mind.  Although that last line says there MAY be several acceptable answers, it really should read that there SHOULD be several acceptable answers.

Remember, this kind of teaching is different.  It requires an emphasis on getting to a well-defended answer instead of a single, correct answer.  You will need to practice correcting faulty thinking without giving your students answers.

*deliberately not re-typing this slide word for word*

I never just read from my slides during a presentation.  I figure re-typing them has to be just as annoying!

 This is a list of some Essential Questions.  For my 3rd grade class, the question of how to find out what they don't know is an important one.  Learning how to separate what they know and what they need to know is a difficult skill, as is learning what resources to use to find those unknowns.

In this time, where most information is found online, being able to distinguish between reliable sources and unreliable ones is a skill students of all ages need.

I will certainly be using that last question.  However, I can see it being equally applicable in any 12th grade class.

 I am only going to cover Science and Social Studies briefly.  Because these subjects already require much reading, discussion and experimentation, increasing literacy in these classes mainly requires focusing on the ways you ask them to develop, defend and communicate their answers.

Science notebooking is one of the best ways to increase literacy in any Science class.  They can be used at any grade level and in any discipline.

If you look at the examples on this page, you can see that these journals allow the students to write, illustrate, reflect and gather all of their information in one place.

The illustration on the bottom left is obviously a younger child, but it is an accurate representation of how the balance scale works.  In fact, they will see something just like that on their OCCT tests.

The examples on the top right and left and the bottom right are included to show the combination of writing, sketching and labeling that is so easy to do with Science notebooks.

I have not yet met a student who can come up with a Science notebook that looks like the middle picture.  I included it for two reasons.  First, to show you what a truly excellent example looks like.  Second, to suggest that if you DO have that student you should be telling him, "Get thee to an art class immediately."  Just sayin'.

I love this example because a) it can be used for any subject, and b) it is a great example of using text based evidence, note taking skills, illustration and reflection all on two pages.

This is one of my favorite examples of bringing a different kind of reading to Social Studies.  I used these two poems with my 3rd graders when we were learning about the Dust Bowl, and they had great discussions about the similarities and differences.  They talked about point of view, the historical events, the "picture" they saw in their head, etc.

We followed up with some primary source images.  The Library of Congress has some terrific images to use in our lessons.  Also, the Virtual Vault by the National Archives is terrific.

Again, the point is to show your students how different types of literacy are used for different purposes and to help them understand how to use them in their own communication.  Sometimes a poem or a picture or a diagram is far more effective than words.

Although it is not the focus of my session, it certainly is possible to use fiction literature in both Science and Social Studies.  "Commander Toad in Space" is an elementary level book about a toad who lands his spaceship on a planet made entirely of water.  Think about the discussions you could have about how habitats would change, what kind of adaptations we would have to make in order to live there, etc.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth" could make an interesting read during a unit on Earth science.  What about "The Homework Machine" when talking about simple machines and physical science?  What else would need to go into such a machine?  "Guns for General Washington" would fit either Social Studies or Science.  It is about a young man who has to get canons to General Washington in the middle of winter.  Great discussions to be had about how environment affects our actions.  "Lyddie" is about a young woman who moves from a rural area to the city to work in a factory.  Finally, "The Hunger Games."  Just think about the discussions you could have about environment or politics.

*Deep breath*

Believe it or not, all of that was the first 50 minutes!  So, this was our 10 minute break.  Okay, it was the chance for the maintenance people to come in and fix the lights.  Yay them!  So, you have 10 minutes and then we will begin again.  The good news is, this session is heavily front-loaded.

Welcome back!  I don't know about you, but that was a very productive 10 minutes here.  I managed to cook and eat a lovely dinner of lemon chicken, rice and veggies.  Yum!  I am now ready to tackle the second half of the program.

In this section, we are going to take a look at the CC math standards and the CC literacy standards.  Of course, I say "we," but I mean "you."  Fortunately for you, the folks at the Vision 2020 session did some work that is going to help you out.

I created this Wordle by pasting the CC math standards into the box.  As you can see, the most commonly used words are number(s), real-world, context, apply, find, solve, write, solving, understand.  Think about those words in terms of literacy in your classroom.  Those are the ways your students are being asked to think and communicate.  That word "understand" is one of my least favorites.  For my own planning, everywhere the standards say "understand," I substitute the phrase "demonstrate understanding."  That's really what they mean.

Now let's look at the ELA standards.  Obviously they are more about the text instead of the numbers.  They also include emphasis on claims, ideas, analyze, conveyed, determine, evidence, structure, evaluate.  Aren't these things you already require your students to do or use?  ELA is not a separate world.  It is integrated into everything we do.

Now we are going to take some time and look at these standards in detail.  I handed out copies of the standards in both ELA and Math for every grade level from Kindergarten to High School.  What I want you to do with them is highlight all of the verbs in the set you chose to work with.   I'm sorry?  Oh, you didn't get a copy.  That's okay.  Here are the links for ELA and Math.  Both are in PDF form.

 This is an example of the 7th grade Math standards.  As you can see, the verbs on this page include approximate, predict, develop, compare, explain, use, develop, find, represent, and design.  Keep these in mind for the next part of our exercise.
This is the ELA set for K, 1 and 2.  Unfortunately, it's not as easy to read here.  However, the verbs are ask, answer, identify, describe, name, define, engage, clarify, distinguish, know, locate, explain, compare, contrast, read and comprehend.

As you look through your particular set, note how many similarities you see.  Which ones are the same in both Math and ELA?  Which ones are similar?  Which ones can you apply to the other discipline even if they aren't listed specifically.

For example, you could compare and contrast different shapes in Geometry.  You can locate information in tables and graphs in math.

I am going to give you some time to work with your chosen set of standards.  Use the chart paper I handed you with your standards and just chart them out side by side.  Make notes about the similar or connected verbs.

*circling the room, observing, occasionally stopping to chat*

Great job, everyone!  Once again, please note my amazing ability to give everyone the exact amount of time they needed to complete the task.  Let's hang those results on the walls and take a quick gallery walk through them.  I'll give you a minute to hide the dishes in the oven so you won't be embarrassed when strangers come walking through.

Look at the connections!  At every grade level, the actions you are taking are related.  The connections are there.   You all did a great job!

This illustration gives a good idea of the kinds of literacy you are looking to incorporate as you begin planning your lessons this year.  If you look at the bottom two, it shows the understanding of concepts and the application of procedures.  In my mind, this follows the assumption that part of the time you will be focused solely on the teaching of those concepts and procedures.  Those will more than likely be unique to your subject.  It's those top two that give you so many opportunities to incorporate literacy into your lessons.

The slides following this one give you an example of a text based math lesson.  It uses Social Studies curriculum as the foundation, but the questions are math based.

Whew!  That took longer than I thought to write.  Hopefully it is a shorter read.  Didn't I tell you that it was heavily front loaded though.  Tht last 40 minutes was a breeze.  So, any questions?  If so, please leave them in the comments and I'll be glad to answer what I can.

Here are the links to the standards and some helpful resources.