Using Bitstrips for School

Information Highway

For the past two years I have been blogging on Blogger at Day’s Class Notes.  Here is a little bit of information about my most recent post.

Earlier this school year I ran an after school Digital Story Telling class for 4th graders.  One of the tools we were using for that class was Bitstrips for Schools.  You may already be familiar with Bitstrips through Facebook or by using www.bitstrips.com.  For my students, I use Bitstrips for School.  There is a charge for this website, but it is worth it to me to be able to monitor what they are doing.  Bitstrips for Schools lets you make assignments.  As students create their avatars, they are added to a class picture, which I think is hilarious.  There are lots of instructional ideas on the website that you can use for assignments. There is also a 30 day free trial, if you want to check it out before making a financial commitment.   

If you would like to know more about the way we use Bitstrips for Schools, please visit my current blog, Day’s Class Notes by clicking here. 

Blogging Plans for the New School Year

This post is a duplicate of my post for today on Prospecting for Treasure. 

This week is registration at school.  I haven’t been in to work on my classroom, because our custodians are still cleaning and waxing, but I will be going on Monday.  When I do go in, boxes holding our new reading materials are waiting for me.   The last week in July is usually about the time that I begin my gradual transition into thinking school thoughts and  beginning work on school projects.  This year I did not work a summer job, so I’m feeling more ready than other years to get started again.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not eager to give up those extra hours of sleep in the morning or the leisurely cup of tea that I get to enjoy this time of year, but I miss the kids, and I like being in my classroom.

July is always a time that I re-evaluate how I’m spending my time and money, what has worked effectively, and what needs more improvement.  One of those areas needing improvement is the ways that I’ve been using technology.  I want to consolidate and improve my blogging, both for me professionally, and for my students.

Last year I had a class website, a class blog on Blogger, two class wikis, and all my students also had blogs on KidBlog.  This was too much, and it really became unmanagable.  This summer I have revamped our class website, and next year we will use the blog attached to our Weebly website.  Our class website is here.  My kids will still use Kidblog, and writing on our blogs is going to be an important part of our daily work.

I also need to consolidate my professional blogs.  I love the way WordPress blogs looks, but I’ve been frustrated by how difficult it is to embed material in a post.  I’ve also had problems with school district filters and losing formatting of posts.  This year I am moving to a new blog, titled Day’s Class Notes.  It is on Blogger.  There’s nothing easier to use than Blogger, so hopefully that will help me to resolve some of these issues.  Please look for new posts there.  Here is a link:   http://daysclassnotes.blogspot.com/.  I hope to see you there.

Hands On Activities for the American Revolution

Phillips is a Core Knowledge school, so in fourth grade, we always spend time learning about the American Revolution. For the past two years we completed a webquest, researching and writing about the causes of the revolution and the impact it had on families. This year we took a whole new approach. I always integrate fiction and non-fiction reading into our learning, and we write about the things we learn. We still enjoyed reading great books, and we wrote lots of our own books.

My lesson plans were based on this book, American Revolution, Hands On History, by Michael Gravois. I’ve actually had a copy of this book for several years, but this is the first time I’ve really looked it over. I found it listed on Amazon.com, but I’m afraid that it may not be available on Scholastic anymore, so snap up a copy if you are interested.  Here is the link.

 

Our first activity was to create a Domino Time Line.  This a timeline for events leading up to and causing the American Revolution.  Students kept this at their desks, and as we learned about each event, we wrote it under a domino.  For this activity students had a copy of the page with the dominoes and a piece of cardstock.  Students designed their own path and glued the edge of the domino to the path.  Next year I will give more guidance about this, because some of our dominoes crashed into each other.

As we studied the revolution, we learned new vocabulary.  I loved this idea for a vocabulary bulletin board/display.  Since I am limited on bulletin board space, I just hung bulletin board paper on my whiteboard.  As I introduced new words I added soldiers to the battle field.  In addition to learning new words.  It was easy for the kids to see the disadvantage that the British, with their bright red coats, had in their approach to battle.

Some of our introductory activities were completed together, like the French and Indian War lock book.  Most of the time, students read about an event using pages from the student book of The American Revolution, edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. or using internet resources.  So we still maintained many of the aspects of a webquest.  You can see our resources on our Explore Earth Wiki.

As students completed each activity, they filed their finished page or small book into a hanging file with their name on it, with the plan that we would put together a book when the pages were finished.  I also helped them keep track of the assignments by posting the assignments on a piece of construction paper.

 We finished by creating Circle Books of four important events from the war.  These included Washington Crossing the Delaware, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Winter at Valley Forge, and the Battle of Yorktown.  Before writing, we organized our information with word webs.

 

 

This hands on approach was much more engaging than just taking notes or completing worksheets, and I was very impressed with the outcome.

 

I plan to include mini-books and foldables  into our upcoming unit on Medieval Europe.

All but a few students completed all the work.  We all learned a lot, myself included, and we were proud of our work.  And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it.

 

Foldables and Anchor Charts for Geometry

We used Cheez-Its to explore area and perimeter. Any square cracker would work. Afterwards we ate our math.

I haven’t been doing very well with my blogging this year.  In fact my last published post was in January, and I started this one in January as well.  I’ve been trying lots of new things this year, but instead of them all being tech based, lots of them involve hands on pencil and paper used in a more creative way or edible manipulatives like the Cheez-its we used to learn about area and perimeter. My school district requires pretesting and post testing for each unit in reading and math, and the tests are changing each year as we move to teaching the Core Standards.  Our math tests are now 100% problem solving so the text books we have are no longer helpful in preparing students to be able to pass these tests. Therefore I was at a loss this year, as to what to use for instruction.  Then I joined Pinterest, and I started seeing examples of foldables. When it comes to geometry, most fourth graders struggle with the vocabulary.  There is a lot of it!  Giving them a hand out does not engage the student, and most do not retain the information.  Note taking can be tedious, and very difficult for some.  We created anchor charts to get us started. I like the foldables because they serve as a good organizational chart, but they are engaging to make.  By doing the writing themselves, students are more likely to remember what they are learning. They are also a good reference to come back too. There are several great websites and blogs that share great ideas for foldables.  The Foldables Are Wonderful Wiki  has foldable ideas for every subject.  Check out Fabulous Fourth Grade for more foldable ideas.  Or this idea from Tales of Frogs and Cupcakes. I also found this great video for remembering how to figure area and perimeter.

 

Picking Partners

In our classroom, we do a lot of partner and group work.  Sometimes it can be tricky matching kids that will work well together.  There are times that I let kids choose their own partners, but we often end up with more play than work that way.  I have a name box that I often use for these situations.  Sometimes I randomly group students by drawing their names, but that can waste time.

I like the idea of a partner wheel.  I set this one up so I could pair stronger readers with those who need a little more support.  We all have those students who are better off not working together, so just put their names on the same wheel, and they will not ever be partners, no matter how many times you turn and use the wheel.  I saw this idea on Pinterest.  The original blog by Karen Moler has templates to easily make your own partner wheels.  They didn’t work for me, because I have 28 students so I needed to put 14 names on each wheel. I had a little trouble getting the wheel divided up evenly, so if you can use the templates that will be a real time saver. You can find her blog post here.

There are lots of ways to organize students for group and partner work, including using craft sticks and other tools. You can read about some other ideas here.  What secrets do you have for grouping students in your classroom?

 

Mountain Trek WebQuest

I have not been doing very well keeping up this blog this year.  My last post was on October 25th.  That’s because we have been so busy.  We have already completed our first Core Knowledge Unit about mountains, and we are now learning about the American Revolution.  I started writing this post about our Mountain Trek webquest on October 29th, and I’m just now getting back to it.

Our classroom may be located in the midwest, but we’ve been traveling the world virtually to learn about the world’s mountain systems.  Our Mountain Trek WebQuest is always a good way to start the school year and introduce my fourth graders to reading and writing about non-fiction.  This is part of Core Knowledge World Geography, and it also ties into our science Earth Materials unit. It’s a great way to review map skills as well.

This is the third year that I’ve done this webquest, and this year I made a few changes.  Instead of Quest Garden, where the webquest was previously hosted, I moved it to a wiki.  You can see it at www.mountain-trek.wikispaces.com.  I updated and added additional resources.

The kids love doing the research and visiting websites to learn about mountains, but I have not been satisfied with the quality of the writing.  In the past I have had them put their own Field Guide together with plain paper and a construction paper cover.  This year I decided they needed more guidance.  I realized I was making a mistake in assuming they could read non-fiction material, synthesize the information, and write in their own words.  I knew that with more guidance on my part, they could do this.  I created more of a framework for them to use with guiding questions on each page.  I tried to set it up as a word document, but I ended up doing some cut and paste to satisfy my perfectionist tendencies.

Mountain Trek Field Guide

I also did more modeling to demonstrate how to read and than select important details to support a main idea.  We created word webs for each part of the project.

The result was the best writing I have seen in the three years I have done this project.  I learned an important lesson about not withdrawing support prematurely.  The children were able to be successful independently only after they had sufficient practice and experience in report writing.

 

On-line Math Practice With TenMarks

My class just started using a website for math practice called Ten Marks.  You can find it at http://tenmarks.com.  It was mentioned by several people in the 4thchat on Twitter last Monday.  I had looked at this website before, but I hadn’t really moved past the home page.  That was a mistake, because this website has a lot to offer.

First of all, it is free to teachers.  It was easy to set up my entire class, and you can easily tailor assignments to meet the needs of students.   It’s a great way for my students to get additional practice, and it is aligned with state core standards. It has curriculum for grades 2 through 8, and algebra and geometry. You can meet the specific needs of students by including skills from other grade levels.

 

One of the things I like about it is that each question contains hints for students to use, as well as videos that give instruction.  So even though students are working independently, they have many tools at their finger tips.

Each student has their own ID and password, so they can continue to work on exercises from home.  There is also potential to include parent e-mail addresses and include them in messages to students about assignments.

As students progress through the problems, they can have immediate feedback by clicking on the solution.  When they end their session, they are notified immediately about their progress.

Management and assessment is made easy for the teacher because the website includes in depth graphs and charts that enable you to see how many exercises each student attempted and answered successfully.

Books, Blogs, and Tests

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the middle of October.  We had parent/teacher conferences this week.  The fall party is coming up in two weeks, and before you know it, we will be into the holiday season.  Our classroom has been a busy place. In fact I’ve been so busy, that this blog has been sadly neglected.

We have been spending way more time than I would like doing testing.  This year students are taking pretests and post tests for each unit in both math and reading.  The reading tests are being taken on-line.  That has been time consuming, first, to learn how to do it, then to help each student put in their unique code, and to share iPads with other classrooms so that we all have access to the necessary technology.   The positive side to these tests is that students immediately see their results, but I do worry that students will hurry through them.  I also wonder if reading comprehension is different when reading on-line as opposed to on paper.

It’s been slow going, but we still have managed to get started with our Kidblogs.  Before we put anything on line, however, we wrote paper blogs.  We learned about blogging and how blogs work.   Students wrote their first blog post on paper.  They glued their post to a poster and decorated it to make it look like a blog.  Then we hung them around the room. On top of the bulletin boards, on the white board, taped to bookshelves. To learn how to make comments, we saw a video created by Mrs. Yollis and her students in California.  Here is a link to Mrs. Yollis’s blog.
Armed with pencils and sticky notes we all moved around the room reading each other’s blogs and writing comments on the sticky notes.  We stuck the sticky notes to the blogs.  Some people tried to sneak back to their own blogs to read the comments, but they had to wait until the end.  When we were finished, everyone got their own blogs back and got to read the comments that had been left for them.

This was the first time I tried the paper blog idea, but I will definitely do it again.  The original idea comes from middle school teacher, Karen McMillan.  You can read about it on her blog, Notes from McTeach.

In an earlier post I wrote about Organizing My Classroom Library.  It  is working great!  I’m really impressed with the job my class librarians are doing in selecting new books for the class to choose from.  At the suggestion of Tracy Mercier, I adopted shopping days, and that has solved the problem of people who browse for books all the time, but never read.  On top of those advantages, I really love the way it looks.  It’s easier for students to put books away and much less cluttered.

Monday begins our 8th week of the school year, and we will be taking a writing assessment this week.  What’s going on in your classroom?  Is testing as big a part of your school day as it is ours?

Pinterest; A Treasure Chest of Inspiration

Have you checked out Pinterest?  It’s another social networking site, but with a twist.  You really don’t interact with other people as much as you do with their ideas and interests.  Pinterest works like a virtual bulletin board.  You create boards about things you are interested in, and when you find websites, blogs, ideas or photos that you like, you pin them to your boards.

Like other social networks you follow other people, but in this case you follow their boards.  In other words you see the things they have pinned to their boards.  If you like it, you can repin to one of your boards.  I have boards titled Ideas for School, Food Ideas, Owls, Math, Dogs, Craft Ideas, and photography, to name a few.  If you are a visual person, you will love it!

Pinterest is a gold mine for teachers.  During the month or so I have been on Pinterest, I have gotten some great ideas for things to try in my classroom.  I have also been introduced to some fantastic blogs.  It has also made me more creative, as I work to put my own spin on things.

We’ve only been in school a week and a half, but here are some of the new things I tried, because of ideas I first saw on Pinterest.

Class Name Puzzle

The original idea for this puzzle poster came from a blog from Germany.  While I had a year of German back in college, it wasn’t enough to enable me to read the blog post. I managed to read the picture well enough to come up with this “getting to know you” activity for our first day of school.  It was a perfect fit for our “Capturing Kids Hearts” plans to engage and get to know students better.

It was a great illustration of the fact that everyone in our class is unique, but without everyone, our class would be incomplete.

I used a large piece of manila oak-tag, which I divided into 30 pieces (29 kids plus me).  I have student desks grouped, so to make it easier to reassemble the puzzle, I cut the puzzle into five sections with 6 puzzle pieces per section.  I traced the section on my dark blue mounting board.  I had the kids cut out their individual puzzle pieces.  I didn’t realize until I was ready to hand the sections out that I needed to mark the top of each piece, so students would draw and decorate their name upright and on the correct side.  When it was time to put the puzzle together, we called one group at a time to come up to fit their pieces.  It worked amazingly well.

Top Ten Posters

This was another great way to get to know students.  I saw a poster similar to this in the Really Good Stuff catalog.  Later I saw those posters pinned on Pinterest.  I decided to design my own.  I got out my scrapbooking “how to” books, to help me with the lettering.  I drew the poster free hand, then took it to a local copy place to have 11 x 17 copies of the poster made.

I tied the project into our Writer’s Workshop and grammar lessons.  It was a good way to review sentence structure and talk about writing complex sentences using vivid language.  I modeled the writing process, and designed my own poster, demonstrating how to add designs that added meaning to the poster.  If I hadn’t taken time to do that, I don’t think I would be getting the quality work that I’m seeing.

Each child is presenting their poster to the class a’ la David Letterman.  We’re having a lot of fun, I’m learning a lot about the kids, and it will make a nice display for the hall.

Good Bye Poem

I was looking for something to use as my Launch at the end of the day, (more Capturing Kids Hearts stuff.)  I saw a handwritten copy of this poem on Pinterest.  Later I saw where someone had created a poster with different colors and fonts for each line.  At first I just printed that one, but it did not have all the lines that I wanted to include.  That’s what gave me the idea to recreate it myself using Printshop Deluxe.  I found all the graphics in the Printshop library.

After printing off a small copy of the poster, I scanned it and made it into a jpeg, which I uploaded to Walgreens.  I was able to have the poster made for about $11.  I am very pleased with the results, and the kids and I are having a great time learning the lines to this poem.

Where are you finding inspiration as you begin your new school year?  What new things are you trying this year?

 

Tricks of the Trade

This is the beginning of my 25th year in the classroom.  During that time I have been responsible for setting up a classroom for eight different groups of first graders, one group of second graders, a group of third graders, and now my fifteenth group of fourth graders.  In that time I have learned a few tricks and shortcuts that have made this job easier.

When you teach elementary school, you write your students’ names dozens of times.  Student names are needed on desk tags, locker tags, nametags for students to wear the first few days of school, names on notebooks, names for folders.  This job is made easier for me by using the software program, Printshop Deluxe by Broderbund.

Once I get my class list, I use the software to create an address list with the kids names.  This list is important because I will insert student names in many of the projects I create.  Because I have used this for at least fifteen years, I save my templates from year to year.

 

I use various size labels to put names on notebooks and folders.  My really favorite trick, however, is to use the label templates but print on cardstock to make desk name tags, names and labels for my classroom jobs chart, the Daily 5 chart, and attendance charts.  I also make my locker tags this way.

You can use the Printshop Software to create posters. I use it to create signs for the classroom, vocabulary cards for the pocket charts, labels for my library and work tubs.  I use the postcard setting to make Homework passes, and other rewards.  I also create my back to school cards using the greeting card part of the software.  This year I used my rubber stamps for the graphics, but the text and the speed bubbles were created with Printshop.

If you enjoy desktop publishing, you’ll enjoy this.  I’m very visual, and I like the fancy fonts, photos and graphics that I can easily add to our classroom.  You can even upload your own photos.

Sometimes I use labels for story starters, or other information that I want to include in student planners or writer’s notebooks.  I usually only do this at the beginning of the year, because using labels can get expensive.

I have a very basic product, but you can get as fancy as you want.  There are many other brands out there as well.  I create my nametags and signs at home, and when I go to school I can quickly put them where they belong in the room. I do it at home, because I don’t have access to a color printer at school.  So it involves a small investment for ink, cardstock, and labels, but it’s well worth it to me.

Printshop Deluxe for school, is like duct tape and bungy cords for around the house.  I don’t know what I’d do without them.

What are some of your tricks of the trade that make beginning a new school year easier?  I am anxious to learn about them.