Monday, April 17, 2017

3 Amazing Activities for the End of the School Year

The end of the school year triggers mixed emotions in many teachers. Some are excited that the light is at the end of the tunnel. Others panic because there is still a lot TO DO.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, having some fun and engaging activities on hand to end the year is a must. So, I am excited to share 3 of my favorite year-end activities with you.
Stem Activities
I love to use STEM or STEAM activities in my classroom at any time of the year, but as the school year winds down I like it even BETTER. There is something about working in a group to solve a challenge that keeps students engaged. The only thing better would be going outside to complete a challenge. 

This challenge required students to create a catapult that would launch a ping pong ball high enough to hit it with a cardboard "bat". They had a blast going outside to test!
Can you find the ping pong ball?
I am always amazed at the different designs that the students come up with to solve the problem!
Book Review
So, I am all about time savers. I love completing an activity that will have some staying power. At the end of the year I have students write a book review for the best book they read during the year. Then I create a bulletin board to showcase the books. On the last day of school I cover the bulletin board with paper to keep it fresh for the first day of school. My new students have a ready to go resource for book recommendations.  

Don't worry - my students complete this assignment digitally, so they still have a copy. You can find the resource here.
Memory Book
A memory book is another great activity for the end of the year. I start off by having the students brainstorm events from the year. We list school events, field trips, class moments, and anything that was memorable. 

I love this project because it sparks conversation and laughter as each student decides what they want to include. The memory books we use are created on the computer. Printing is optional. 
There is a printer friendly (black and white) version, too. Check it out here.

I hope the rest of your year is AMAZING! For more end of year tips and tricks you can check out this blog post.
What is your favorite activity for the end of the school year?
Leave a comment and let me know.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

7 Ways to Make Standardized Testing Less Stressful

The season of standardized testing is just around the corner.  It can be a VERY stressful time for both teachers and students.  Over the years I have tried a zillion different things to help students relax and get through the tests. I was inspired to ask my students what had REALLY helped them to relax and do their best.  Without further ado I give you 7 Ways to Make Standardized Testing Less Stressful:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Write Amazing Reading Responses with RACES

Teaching students to write a written response about their reading is very important.  It can also be a CHALLENGE.  Am I right?  Some of the challenges I have encountered include:

  • responses that doesn't answer the question being asked
  • responses that answer only part of a question
  • responses with an answer, but no text evidence to support it

This used to drive me crazy, but not anymore!  I implemented the RACES strategy with my students this year and it has made a HUGE difference.
text evidence

Variations of this strategy (RACE, ACE, RACER, etc.) have been around forever. I like RACES the best. It is a really easy way to organize written responses. The acronym RACES stands for the five parts needed to write the answer.
Restate the Question

This is an important part of the process. Students need to understand what they are being asked before they can write an answer. Many questions that students will be asked to answer are not even questions. For that reason, I teach my students to analyze the question. Analyzing the question includes three steps: read the question or prompt, underline the key words, and restate the question as a statement. Here's an example:
Describe how the main character was feeling at the end of the chapter
Use important details from the text to support your answer.

R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...

Answer the question
Next, students answer the question. If there is more than one part to the question students will need to answer ALL parts of the question. Example:
R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...
A - The main character was feeling excited.
The answers to the first two steps leads to the topic sentence for the written response.  Easy peasy!
At the end of the chapter the main character was feeling excited.

Cite Evidence
Using evidence from the text to support thinking is so important.  The evidence offers proof to show how they answered the question. I ask my students to cite at least two pieces of evidence unless the question asks for something more specific. Sentence starters can be helpful.  Here are some examples:
According to the text...
The author stated...

Explain and elaborate text evidence
This is where students put it all together by explaining how the evidence supports their thinking. I encourage my students to elaborate or stretch out their writing here, too.  Sentence starters are helpful for this part.  Here's a few examples: 
This makes me think...
This explains...

Summarize thinking in a written response.
I teach my students to end a written response with a concluding sentence.  An easy way to do this is to refer to the topic sentence and reword it to conclude the answer.  Here is an example:
All in all the character was very excited at the end of the chapter.

I introduce RACES at the start of the school year and usually review the strategy in the spring for test-taking purposes. (They create their own RACES organizer when we practice for this purpose.)  We are reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and the book offers many different topics to discuss.  To review RACES I posed the following question:
Why did Miranda pretend to be sick on opening night?

My students did a fantastic job!  Here are some work samples:

I created some resources that I would LOVE to share with you.  Click here to try out a 3-page freebie. The freebie includes two pages that can be used to introduce the strategy to students. The pages can fit into writing notebooks or folders.  
If you like the freebie you might want to check out my paid resource, too!  You can find that resource here.   

I love, love, LOVE the RACES strategy.  What strategies do you use in your classroom?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Day

February 14th is quickly approaching. I have been scouring the web and found some fun things to try in my classroom.  I figured I would share some things that I found along with some of my regular activities for any other last minute planners out there.



Crafts
I fell in love with this quick paper craft from Crafty Morning.  I am a sucker for dogs, so I had to check it out!  You can find this craft and many others here.

Next, I found this perfect pizza Valentine craft from Crystal at Surviving a Teacher's Salary.  Who doesn't love pizza? 

We just finished a unit on fractions and I wove pizza throughout the unit.  I may have them create a whole pizza with a slice missing to review some fraction concepts.  I think my students would love this!

I came across this image while searching for crafts.  To see the original post click here.
It was originally intended to be used as a Mother's Day card.  But, as soon as I saw it, I thought about the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I am reading it with my class right now and want to use this idea to create a Valentine's Day card with a kindness message.

STEM Activities
I love using holiday themed STEM activities in the classroom.  My class will complete a STEM project next week.  I have four Valentine's Day themed challenges all ready to go.
The challenge cards will be placed in a hat and each group will choose one to complete.  I can't wait to see how they solve the problems.

Math Activities
Math activities with a holiday theme are fun, too! There are a bunch out there!  I created a few to fit concepts that needed review in my classroom.  We are working on decimal concepts so this decimal matching game will be perfect.
If you'd like to see the rest of my Valentine resources click here.

What fun things do you have planned for Valentine's Day?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How to Make Benchmark Assessment Testing Fun


It's that time of year again!  The crazy busy whirlwind called benchmark assessment testing. I love seeing the growth that each student has made, but getting it all done can be a challenge.

What if I told you there was a way to spend a large chunk of time testing AND have your students do something productive at the same time?  I know, sounds doubtful, but it isn't.  Let me introduce you to something my grade level has done for the past two years - Read-In Day.  Cue up some happy music. Each of the awesome teachers that I teach with puts his/her own spin on the Read-In Day.  This makes it a little more fun.   

Here's the basics:
1.  Schedule a Read-In Day during the testing window. Bonus points for a Friday!
2.  Have your students wear comfy cozy clothes and bring in lots of books to read.  
3.  Allow them to read while you assess.

My class has specials first thing in the morning.  When they come back I explain the way the day will work.  I start by introducing the Read & Roll structure.  Each student will get a copy of the directions and I display it on the board.


Students are allowed to read anywhere they would like in the room. (We have a lot of flexible seating options and they are used to moving around the room.) 


They read and when the timer goes off they find a friend, the dice roll, and talking about books begin. Letting them get up, find a friend, and chat serves as a movement break.  But, more importantly, they talk about books and I love listening in.  It gives me another opportunity to informally check their understanding.  

The students read fiction and nonfiction texts throughout the day.  We use a nonfiction Read & Roll, too.  I also like to sprinkle in some fun surprises throughout the day to make reading fun.  These bracelets were a hit!  We shut off all of the lights and read in the dark.


Read-In Day is one of my favorite days! If you would like to check out my Read & Roll activity click here.   

How do you make testing fun in your classroom?


Friday, January 6, 2017

How to Organize (and Love) Math Workshop in 3 Simple Steps

Math Workshop a.k.a. guided math is an amazing way to approach math instruction.  Organizing it on the other hand can be a challenge. 


1.  Create Groups with a Purpose
In order to best meet the needs of all learners students should be grouped purposefully.  The best way to do that is to figure out what your students already know.  Give a pre-test at the start of each unit and form groups based on the data.  Following up with a post test at the end of the unit will clearly show how much each student has learned.

2.  Organize Materials in the Classroom
A clear defined space for math materials makes organizing a breeze.  I organize math work by group.  Each group has a large paper basket.  Math books and interactive notebooks are kept inside.


Keeping math manipulatives together is another way to help organize for Math Workshop.  When materials are kept together students can easily find what they need to be successful at each station.

3.  Plan Ahead 
A clear plan helps Math Workshop run smoothly.  Differentiated lessons that are targeted to each group help to keep students engaged throughout each station.  I use a folder system to keep each group on track.  Work for each group is placed inside the folder along with a set of directions for the group to follow at each station.  Here is an example of the direction sheet that I use.  The direction sheets follow the order of the math stations the group follows.  If you are interested you can check it out here.

Check back soon to read more about how I use Math Workshop in my classroom.  How do you organize for your math class?


Thursday, December 29, 2016

3 Ways to Make Math More Fun in the Classroom

Many students think that math and fun do not belong in the same sentence.  But, that's not true! There are LOTS of way to have fun with math.  Here are three of my favorites:

1.  Jenga
Everyone loves Jenga, so it is a FANTASTIC way to add some fun to math practice.  I bought 4 block stacking games in the Target Dollar Spot.  Each game has 39 blocks. I numbered each block from 1 to 39 on both ends of the blocks. Then, I created 39 questions to practice adding and subtracting decimals.

I broke my students into groups of 6.  I gave each group a game, 6 answer sheets, and a question sheet.  The first player picked a block that he/she would like to move.  All group members solved the problems.  Each student shared his/her answer. If all students did not get the same the answer they must discuss the different answers and figure out which is correct.  Then, the student can move the block and place it on top.

My students LOVED it!  Click here to grab my Decimal Addition & Subtraction Block Stacking Game for free!

2.  Scoot with a Twist
Do your students love playing Scoot?  Mine do!  I love using Scoot as a way to review concepts in the classroom.  Recently my partner teacher and I organized a large Scoot game that went between our two classrooms.  It was AWESOME!  There were enough cards for all of our students.  The cards were spread out between our two rooms.

Our classes loved the game.  They also loved traveling into another classroom to continue playing.  In fact, we had a lot of people asking us what was going on as they walked down the hallway.  I can't wait to do it again!

3.  Create a Game
Most students love playing games in the classroom.  So, creating a game would be even better!  I have done this in a few different ways.  I have had students that needed enrichment create a game to teach a concept because being able to teach something to someone else is a higher level thinking skill.

I have also done a whole class Create a Board Game assignment.  I love this assignment because it allows students to show their creative side.  They love sharing the games and we always have a Game Day after the assignments are finished. If you would like to see how I set up this assignment you can check out my Create a Board Game resource by clicking here.

How do you make math fun in the classroom?