Saturday, October 8, 2016

National Treasure: Constitution Edition

How do you make the Constitution a fun thing for 5th graders? Why make it an adventure of course!

During Constitution week in September I decided to teach about the constitution. During Guided Reading we read about the Constitution and its parts. I found out quite quickly that my students knew very little about the branches of government, so we spent some time on that. My students were less than excited about it, but these are things that they need to know being US citizens. I decided to create something to spark their learning.
First, I bought some things from TPT to help in my teaching because under such a short time frame I decided not to pull my hair out by making all the readings myself. Below are links to the two TPT items I used in making my National Treasure Quest.

To start with, earlier in the week,  I challenged all of my students to memorize the Preamble of the Constitution. I printed copies of the Preamble for each student and during Morning Meeting we read it together. I also had them watch a few music videos including my personal favorite, School House Rock. The students try to memorize it and say it independently during morning meeting. If they can accomplish this challenge they can earn the class 5 minutes of recess, their name on the Constitution Hall of Fame, and a chance to hear their name on the announcements. The students get so excited to accomplish this and the excitement they have for one another is just amazing!

So after doing some reading on the Constitution and its parts I decided to create a challenge. I wanted the students to feel invested and excited. I created a file that I put all the items the students will need to solve the quest. Students each got a laminate badge with their name on it. I wrote a letter from the head of the FBI instructing the students on what they need to do and enlisting their help in stopping the criminal Henry History from getting away with stealing the Constitution. I even enlisted an amazingly theatrical teacher to deliver the file to the classroom which got the students even more excited about the quest. The best part is that they were learning! Students during this activity were using their comprehension skills and learning about US history at the same time as solving a crime.

I used the Constitution Scavenger Hunt as the base. I printed the pages on card stock and laminated them. Afterwards, I took the answer key and labeled it with the Cards Letter ( instead of numbers these cards have letters) where students can find their answer to that question. I wanted to make sure I could help the students if they didn't know where to find an answer to a question. I then posted them up and down the hallway by our classroom. I tried to keep them away from our classroom door so students don't get suspicious and were surprised. After that I took the Preamble puzzle and printed 5 copies on card stock.. I then numbered each piece, so all the pieces on of the first puzzle were labeled 1, all the pieces were labeled two on the second puzzle, etc. I wanted to make sure no pieces got mixed up. I also decided to right out a riddle on the puzzle. So I went with this riddle I found online "When you come to school you enter through this gate, you might have to sign in if you are late." I put two or three words of the riddle in order on each set of the Preamble puzzle. The goal is that each group would have to work as a team to put the puzzle together, then they would have to read the riddle clues written on each puzzle in order to figure out where to go next. The riddle leads the class to the office where I have a lock box that I put a copy of the Constitution in and some "reporter" style small notebooks for each student. The notebooks were the class reward for solving the case. You would be surprised how inexpensive things, like  notebooks, can be an amazing reward. The notebooks were like gold to them. They went around the rest of the day telling every teacher that they solved the case and showing their reward to everyone. My class definitely enjoyed this!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So Many Tech Tools....So Little Time!

There are so many different ways to incorporate technology into the classroom and so many different applications or websites to use. I will never claim to be a technology expert, but one thing my years of experience has taught me is that you just need to jump in. Take on one or two different tech tools during a year. At first start small, you want to become comfortable with the tools you are using. Then start trying out different features or looking up different ways to use the tech tools. I know for me just playing around with something, being hands on, helps me to discover how to use something and how I want to use something. Know that just because it is out there does not mean it is the best tech tool or just the best tool for you and your class. I try to limit the number of websites I use just so I don't overwhelm my students or myself. As teachers we are spinning enough plates we don't need to spin more than we need to.

So with all of that said I'm going to talk about a few tech tools I use the most in my room and which ones I'm going to play with this year.

  1. Google Classroom- Google classroom is amazing and there are so many ways to use it. I have typically just made one class and used it for multiple different purposes. I post videos and ask students to comment or answer questions on it. I post links to games or websites we are using in class for the students to use or reference. I mainly use it as a way for students to open, create, and answer assignments. One of the great things about it is that students can access it from home or anywhere as long as they know their email.
  2. Cami- This is another Google app that you can use with Google classroom. After your students download this free app they can open documents in Cami. I love it because it allows me to scan in worksheets, outlines, etc and the students can write on them with Cami web tools. When I open them back in Google classroom I can grade them on the spot. It's just so awesome! It cuts down on paper and makes planning lessons that much easier.
  3. Classroom Dojo- I won't say much about this app because it's so great that I already wrote a blog entry on it. What I will say is that it is a great app for classroom management and family connection. It allows parents a better view of what occurs in the classroom and what their student is doing in class. Click Here to read more.
  4. Flubaroo- This is an add on for Google sheets/forms. Recently, Google has become more teacher friendly for creating and grading Google forms. Before all of these new features I have been using flubaroo and have loved all the possibilities. This add on allows you to grade Google forms and send them back to students. It can grade multiple choice questions and one word answers quickly. It also allows a hand grading option where you can give any amount of credit you want to the longer answers the students give. I have used them strictly for quick check ins and spelling tests. It has been the easiest and most painless way for me to grade of course I love it!
This year I plan on trying just a few different tech tools. 
  1. Class flow- Classflow looks like an amazing way to make lessons and power points more interactive. Students can respond to examples and teachers can pull them up on the board to go over them. Also, the teacher can share slides or the entire powerpoint with the students so they can follow along during a lesson or reference the information. I can't wait to dive into this free tech tool and try it out with my class this year.
  2. Google Expedition- Google is amazing and constantly developing programs to make the classroom an engaging place. This program is one of those that got me sooooooo excited. I had the chance to try out Google Expedition with Google Cardboard at WITcon and it took my breath away. It allows us to take our students around the world on many different VR adventures. The app is free and my class will be seeing the world soon!
  3. Kahoot- I have used Kahoot this past year, but my hope is to use it more. I want to try and create my own Kahoot quizzes for my class, which I haven't done yet. If you don't know Kahoot is a website that allows teachers to create fun, multiple choice, timed quizzes. Students can log in with a code given by the teacher and take the quiz as a whole group online or I have seen teacher give the quizzes on the smart boards with the students showing their answer with a colored piece of paper. The Kahoot website is awesome because they have a library of quizzes you can use or you can create your own. It's a fun way to review for a test or practice skills in class. As a teacher, Kahoot allows us a quick way of seeing who is getting a concept and who is struggling.
  4. Weebly- I have just recently started my first Weebly Website. It is pretty user friendly and a great way to communicate all the amazing things going on in your class. The website will be my digital newsletter, a place to find resources, updates on our classroom, and so much more. I'm excited to use this new website to make my classroom more digital and accessible.
What Tech Tools have you used and liked? What Tech Tools are you going to try this year? 
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Excitement and Engagement Starting Day 1!

The first day of school is coming up. I know typically for students it's a time to be sad and disappointed that summer is ending. Heck, I know I'm even disappointed that I can't sleep in and relax on a beach chair, but alas all good things come to an end. So even though this is a little bit of a depressing time for both teachers and students it doesn't have to be. It should be a celebration of learning and making school a fun and exciting place to go. If your not excited about something, not passionate, things become a chore. But, if you show your passion and excitement it can be contagious and what was once a chore is now an exciting journey.
It seems like an idea that should be common knowledge, but it took me attending the Ron Clark Academy and learning of their first day activities to really know how impactful the first day of school can be. I visited a year ago and last year was the first year I decided to change it up. Last year, I sent postcards out to every student that was registered for my class. We don't get class lists until about a week before school starts, but I sent them out hoping the students would get them in time. (Which they did, Go US Postal!) I simply found a free postcard template on TPT and printed it on card stock at home. I chose a Dr. Seuss quote, "Oh, All the Places You Will Go!" I thought it meant a lot for 5th graders and he is my favorite author. I wrote hand written notes that were similar to each student, that I tried to personalize, welcoming them to my class and showing my excitement for the year.

This year I am excited to go a little further. I created classroom invitations that go with my hockey themed classroom. On the front is just all the information about the first day and when it is, but on the back is a QR code. Now, I start by saying I don't use QR codes in my class, just because  1. I haven't used them before and I'm not sure how/ when to use them 2. It seems more difficult if the students don't have iPads or IPhones. So creating a QR code was new to me, but I was very excited to try it out. The QR code it's a link to my first ever classroom website that I created through Weebly. Weebly is really awesome and easy to use on the computer. What I will say is that if it's your first time creating one do it in chunks because it can be time consuming if you try and really go big. I was able to make a really great site with a few different pages for contact info, about the teacher, and resource links.
My favorite part is the riddle page I designed. I decided to start the year working on reading skills. These skills focusing on inference and context clues.  I also plan on doing a mystery in the first few weeks of school as a review project for context clues and inference skills. So when creating a website and thinking about engaging my students at the very beginning of the year I decided to have them solve a riddle using inference skills. So one page on the website is dedicated to this first day riddle. I asked the students to solve a small riddle and fill out a google form after they think they have the answer. The Google form also has a few questions that help me to get to know the students better and what they did over the summer.
This is my first time trying this and I plan to send a fun letter with the invitation to explain to the parents and students what the riddle task is and how to use the QR code. We will have to see if and how this all works out but my hope is that it goes well.

Our building will also be having a grand opening of sorts for the school year. The plans are still being made but the idea is still to celebrate the beginning and make a strong impact of excitement for school and learning. We are thinking music, balloons, maybe a performance or something fun after a few words from the principal. Like I said it is still in the planning stages but it will be something different that the students will probably never expect.

How do you plan to start the year? What will you do to welcome your students?

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Student Portfolios

This past year I started creating Student Portfolios. It took sometime to begin, but it was SOOO worth it!

I will say I didn't know how to start and I searched the internet for some ideas. I ended up setting up my binders in a way that was the easiest and best way for me, but if you are looking for places to start check out Pinterest. Many of the pages you will see in the pictures are actually ones I found on Pinterest and TPT. I LOVE Laura Candler and she has a great pack to get you and your students started CLICK HERE to check it out.

Ok, my students, as part of their school supply list, brought in 1-2 inch binders. The students created cover pages and decorated them as they liked in their own time.

The first page we completed together. As a class we discussed what a mission statement is and what our class's mission statement should be. Together we discussed the importance of education and what our roles are. Below is what we came up with.

Prior to creating the binders with my class I decided to create three simple sections to start. The first section was the goal portion. Students at the start of each quarter created at least two goals for themselves. I spent sometime each quarter talking about good academic goals and how to create a plan to achieve them. In this coming year, I would like to have check points during the quarter or goal buddies to help students achieve their goals. At the end of the quarter students evaluate their goals and decide if they need to change their action plan to achieve them next quarter or create a new goal.

One Student's goal sheet

The same student's review sheet
The second section was where the students monitor their progress on our checkpoints throughout the year. This is where my students kept benchmark scores on AIMs Web assessments, but this can be used on classroom assessments, sight words, timed tests etc.

The final section is the student portfolio section. This is where the students had a chance to compile all of the work they were proud of. Many students kept tests, quizzes, and projects that they completed during the year. Some students even kept assignments that they enjoyed or ones they did better then they originally thought they did. The students would also fill out an entry page to explain why they chose the piece and what grade they thought they would get and what grade I actual gave them.

Like I said I really enjoy using this binder portfolio for my students this past year. It was great way for the students to take charge of their learning and see their growth during the school year. I will say that it does take some time to set up and work through at least twice a quarter, but I think the pay off is worth it. Now, I know that we are starting to move more into technology based learning, with that being said there are some really great portfolio options for students via the internet and apps. Most require tablets, a computer with a camera, or a teacher who has access to a camera/smartphone at the very least.

One option is the Class Dojo Student Portfolio that was just launched the other day! It is an amazing add on to the Class Dojo App that allows students to post photos of their work allowing parents and teachers to view it as well. It is currently called Student Stories and you can check it out here.

Another option is Seesaw. I don't have a strong knowledge of Seesaw because I haven't used it before, but from reading about it and looking into the possibilities it is a strong portfolio option. If you have more information or have used it before please comment or message me, I would love to learn more about it.

How do your students show what they learned? Do they have a binder or use an electronic portfolio? Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!

As always you can message me on:
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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bags of Good Feelings

Everyone loves to feel good and there comes a point in the year when we really need to focus on the positive...this point might come sooner than we would hope. This activity is a great way to help refocus your class and help build on a positive classroom family. The activity is called Bags of Good Feelings and is super simple to set up. The materials you will need are paper bags, art supplies to decorate with, and scrap paper to write notes on. Ok, to start each student gets a paper bag. They must write their name large and neatly so other students can read it. I have done it where I personally have written them on the bags first or had the students write them on labels of some sorts to add to the bags. The students can decorate the bags as they would like with drawings and colors. I then tape them to a part of the wall so they can be seen and reached. After all bags are completed and taped up you can move to the written activity.

This is a bag I created two years ago during the winter Olympics. 

Students are instructed to write positive notes to one another that are more than,"you are nice." I explain that students need to write complete sentences for each student and that they MUST write their name on each note. The notes need to point out something nice that person did, a personality trait you noticed, or an awesome character trait you witnessed. They should be different for each student and hand written. We do a practice one together on the board based on a teacher in the building (This year I plan on making the practice teacher a real bag and we will drop it off as a class. It might be a nice way to spread positive energy through the building). We talk about how we would describe this teacher and why we would describe them this way. What is special about this teacher? Have they done things for the school? Have they done things for you? Once we brainstorm the students write their own note to  the teacher and we share them aloud. We discuss what we like about the student written notes and ways to improve them. Afterwards, the students get a class list and start working on class notes. I tend to set a due date for all the notes and only set aside maybe 10-20mins on the first day to work on it. I explain to the students that they need to work on them during their extra time after they complete class work and quietly during read aloud time. The majority of the students do a great job at  writing and really enjoy doing them. They also can't wait to take their bag and read their notes.

There are a couple of ways to do a note reveal. I tend to just let my students take their bags home to read, but you could make a reveal party where they can read them in class. You could also have students share one during a morning meeting at random. Students could also read their notes before placing them in the bags during Morning Meeting or just the last 10mins of class. There are so many ways to modify it to your class. I would highly suggest this as a fun classroom, group, team building activity. It might take some time out of the class day, but it is so worth it to see the students highlighting each other's positive characteristics. It definitely helps me as a teacher when I read my own notes students send me. It refreshes our class and gives a positive lift to our classroom.

What do you do in your class to build a positive atmosphere?

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Positive and Negative Consequences

In life there are positive and negative consequences, students need to understand that with every choice there is a consequence.

Poster that hangs in my room. It shows natural consequences to not doing you best in class.

In my classroom I try to establish a classroom that is has a family dynamic. We cheer for one another, listen to one another, and learn together. That doesn't mean that their aren't days where the students, like all siblings, aren't at each others throat and driven to the edge by sounds, words, or just one another's presence. Every family has their good days and bad, but the key is making the students aware of their choices. From the beginning of the year onward I constantly talk about choices. By 5th grade students become more aware of choice. Their minds and body are growing to the point where they want to be seen as older as well as have more control. Giving them choice can be hard as a teacher, but sometimes a student needs to have the opportunity to crash and burn so they can learn (look I rhyme!). I try every year to set my students up for success and I will work with students if they are willing to work for themselves. Students need to know that you, the teacher, will do everything in your power to make each day amazing. That you will help them in any way you can, but they need to have the drive to work for themselves. I have told my students more times then I can count that I can give them everything, but I can't make them learn. If they try to learn, no matter how hard it might be, they will receive positive consequences in the form of support and knowledge. On the other hand if they decide to reject and give up they will have consequences that will make class and life harder.

This is my Penalty Box. When a student makes a poor choice they move their name up a level. They move it back down after serving their time.

Students have choices to make and especially when they get close to jr. high those choices seem to quadruple. They key is to teach students that they have choices and they need to choose wisely. Students need to coached on how to make positive choices that lead to positive consequences, sometimes they even need to be bribed. YES! I said bribed! LOL...In my class bribery comes by way of letters. Letters? Strange form of currency, but trust me it works. If my class makes positive choices when out in the hallway, in public, or with visiting adults they can earn letter to fill out words. Only compliments given by other adults can earn them a letter and those letters create words like: brownies, recess, games etc. The students can earn these positive consequences, by just being the amazing students that they are. It helps because the students have to work together to earn these compliments, but it also gives the students positive consequences to aim for. Its theirs to win or lose.

Positive consequences can be earned by the whole class for compliments and making good choices.

But back to my point about coaching...students need a coach. They need to have someone to push them, yet a coach needs to help them call the right plays. We have to help students make positive choices by modeling and championing those choices. It's important to practice and role play these situations in the classroom. Like how to pick a partner: How should they pick a buddy? How do you ask? What makes a good partner? What makes a bad partner? Asking questions and talking about situations allows students to know right away what you expect and allows them a chance to be championed for positive choice answers. When a student makes a good choice we have to make a big deal about it! We need everyone to understand how awesome that is. I don't care if you stop the class, get on the desk and announce that James made a great choice by giving up his spot to someone who wanted it more! DO IT!!! Play Music! Be excited and be wacky! Students want to impress you! they want to be wanted and liked so no matter how embarrassing that moment might be for them make it more embarrassing for you! If you are willing to put your self out their for one positive consequence students will be excited to make more positive consequences just to see what happens.

How do you coach your students? Do you give them the freedom of choice?

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

WITcon! (Watever It Takes Conference)

So I had the chance to not only attend but present at WITcon this past week. It was an amazing opportunity because I got to pick up so many ideas to run with and push my classroom even further into the 21st Century technology based world. I thought I would reflect on some on the ideas and creative things I learned over this 3 day conference. So let's start rambling shall we...

Day 1: This was by far the most anxiety ridden day if for the main reason that I was presenting in the first session. I had a good turn out and I talked about Classroom Dojo basics as well as the fun features I learned as I became more familiar with it. Honestly I probably babbled more than I should and my pacing wasn't the greatest, but it's a learning experience right? Lol! Nevertheless, I did it and that's a new challenge I conquered and can tell my students about.
I had the opportunity to attend two other sessions following mine which were both awesome in their own way. In the first session,  I was able to learn how simple things that I do in Google Classroom can apply to the Danielson Rubric(teacher evaluation) as well as what are other ways to use some Google apps. The last session really had my mind flowing with ideas. It was focused on 21st Century learning and how to integrate technology in a number of ways into your school and individual classroom. Let's just say this girl is going to be doing everything in my power to push social media: Facebook, Twitter, hashtags, and Weebly pages. I'm excited to create more items with my students and get the community to see the amazing things our school is doing!

Day 2: Wow! What a day! If you haven't checked out you NEED to! It is an amazing resource the cost a one time fee of $100 for supplies, but it is amazing experience with so many possible games to play that it is amazing! It is a great way for students to work on communication and teamwork skills while solving an educational mystery. I actually did one this year in my classroom. It was  purchased on TPT(Teachers Pay Teachers) and it was exciting! The students enjoyed the mystery element, but also the hands on approach to review.
Working on the word lock

We Broke Out!!!

I will be definitely doing more in the future! I also had the opportunity to talk to two amazing teachers: @bsandstrom7 and @kimthomasILSTOY. Kim is actually the teacher of the year for IL and has such an amazing energy that motivates and inspires me beyond words. Both of these amazing women are creative in their own right and have such an amazing way with student engagement. I know it inspired me to do more out of the box lessons this year. I think if I had to narrow it down to two things I learned it would be 1. It is okay to be crazy. I dress up quite a bit for lessons, but it's ok to make lessons even more elaborate and let students have a role in teaching the class. 2. Students need to know you have common interest and that you believe they can and will learn. One thing I will steal from Kim is I'm going to stop asking what is wrong with a student when they are upset. They don't have anything wrong with them, but instead ask how can I make them happy. It's about focusing on the positive and what can be done now, not on the negative past.

Kim giving an amazing speech

Day 3: A shorter day but still very informative. Things I gained was a better understanding of technology and it's impact. I have always been a fan of the Flubaroo app for Google Forms. It allows you to give a test, quiz, exit ticket etc. and it will grade it for you (as long as there is only 1 correct answer). This is such a great resource for spelling tests and tests which speeds up grading time by far. Google has even incorporated pre-made templates for you to use and a grade by hand feature that allows you to grade the short answer/ essay questions manually. Google is also hard at work creating virtual field trips that allow your students and yourself to dive the depths of the ocean and climb the highest mountains. The google cardboard app is awesome and I will be trying to outfit my classroom with this resource if I can. I love that it can bring places to life for my students and give them a chance to experience things first hand. I know the power of technology can truly transport our students and I'm excited to use it to take my students across the globe. Check it out yourself! Google Expeditions
Anne Nash giving a Google Cardboard Presentation

Google Cardboard

Me playing with the Google Cardboard

Ok sooooo maybe that was a lot for one blog, but there was a lot to learn in those three days! I'm more excited and ready teach after attending this conference and I know technology will be a huge part of my room this year. If you haven't considered attending a conference I would highly suggest coming the WITcon next year!

What conferences have you been apart of? Where are you getting ideas to spice up learning in your room? Share with me!!!

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Escaping Boredom: The Last Few Days of School

So something new I tried this year was an end of year countdown with my students. This was the first year in the three years that  we dismissed in early May. This of course brought on excitement, pressure, and utter panic. It felt like the end of the year just snuck up on me and there was so much to do and so little time. Since my students had plenty of end of year testing to do...sad face, I wanted to do something that made learning fun again and kept them engaged for the last few weeks.

I created a countdown of sorts with paper and balloons. First I created some fun activities that the students might enjoy doing, then I planned out my week of school. Like I said time got away from me but next year I hope to do 2 weeks and not just one. I then created paper cards with the different activities on them. Following that I rolled the cards and placed them in the balloons. After blowing up the balloons with the cards inside I labeled the balloons with a permanent marker. I wrote the different days of the week, but you could do letters, numbers, dates, etc. then on each day we popped one and read the card inside.

This was so much fun! The students couldn't wait to pop the balloons and see what the surprise was. It was also a great classroom management activity because I told the students they had to earn each balloon. If the whole class was not on task or being positive and respectful then I wouldn't pop the balloon. Also, if I felt that a student wasn't following the rules that day they couldn't participate in the activity. I didn't have to do either and I believe this is primarily do to the excitement surrounding the balloons and the activities. Escape the Boredom Countdown is just simple, small activities that allow students to bond and be engaged the last few days of school. I really enjoyed doing these activities and seeing the growth in the students from the beginning to the end of the year.

I'm currently in the process of making a TPT store and posting this as one of my free products...but since I'm not as computer savvy as I thought it might take a while.

So you might be wondering what activities I put in the balloons? Well, they were all planned out based on the time I had in the day to do them and slowly built in excitement.
I started with a Rock Paper Scissors Tournament where students competed the best two out of three then would cheer for the winner. The winner would then search for another winner and the cycle would continue until there was only one winner and everyone cheered for them.
I also had write a letter to a future 5th grader, which became our A-Z book for a successful 5th grade year. We had sit next to your friends day, which was clearly a favorite, and game day where we had an intense escape the room game which the students loved. We also had extra recess which is one of my favorites. You could definitely do others like: movie day, minute to win it day, class outside day, hour of code day, Kahoot tournament, a theme day. There are so many options to keep your classroom busy on the last few days and the surprise will keep them engaged.

What does your class do on the last few weeks of school?
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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tech Tools: Classroom Dojo

I'm a HUGE fan of Classroom Dojo!
If you haven't set up an account please do! It is an awesome way to not only keep track of student behavior in the classroom but also bring parent involvement into the classroom.

Prior to his year I heard about Classroom Dojo, but never used it. I had my classroom clip chart that seemed to be working well and I didn't think I needed anything else.
This was my old clip chart, students were suppose to keep their name on superstar all week to pick from the prize box.

Every year I take on some new and different changes to my lessons in my classroom, so why not try Classroom Dojo?

This past year was my first year using it and to be honest I LOVED it! It was a great program to use and there are so many ways to use it. The program is free and they give you a demo class to play with before you start which is great. I started my class and used it like my clip chart. I would take points for no homework, not following the rules, bullying etc. I also gave points when students were being helpful, participating, and following the rules. They allow you to control the points so they can range from 1-5. The goal is that students earn points throughout the day which in my classroom we spend every quarter based on a classroom dojo menu I created. With that being said there are many other ways to use the points. I have seen some teachers set class goals, benchmark point prizes, even focus more on weekly or monthly student or classroom points. It really is whatever works best for you.

I believe I got this from TPT and edited it to my own needs

Student have their own monster avatar and a login that allows them and their parents to monitor their points. I tend to update points during down times throughout the day or when I need to bring attention to the classroom. For example, if the students are suppose to be working independently on something I might give points to students I see focused and working hard and take points from students who are talking. The Dojo app makes specific noises for positive and negative points, so more often than not when the students hear the negative point sound they get on task.

But one of my favorite pieces is the parent connection piece. Parents can create an online account or download the free app on their electronic devices. This allows them to see their students points throughout the day. It also allows quick text like communication between the parents and the teacher, which comes in handy for setting up meetings or keeping each other in the loop about sick students. I love his so much! It has made life so much simpler throughout the year and parents have told me they check it as often as they check Facebook. Another great piece is that Dojo just recently added a classroom story page that is similar to a Facebook feed. Teachers can post pictures, videos, and announcements to show parents exactly what is going on in the classroom. This is great for 5th grade because if you ask them what they did at school they often give just a one word answer, but now they are dying for me to take photos and post them on Dojo for their parents to see. Needless to say, I am using Dojo this coming year and tweaking a few things on my part to make it work for me. I highly suggest anyone who works with children to consider using it this coming year. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

If you want help getting started or want to know about some more advanced options with Dojo please contact me. I am a Dojo Mentor at my school and I try to stay up to date with all things Dojo. This app is constantly updating and adding more possible ways to use it to fit your classroom needs. I'm in love with their Growth Mindset videos and discussions! So take a look and let me know what you think!

*I am not in anyway sponsored by Dojo....I just love it and I wanted to share!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Classroom Banner

A classroom tradition I started in my first year is the creation of a classroom banner. This currently is a classroom affair that involves a review of the year and a parting gift from my class to me.

The first year I taught I wanted to remember my first class in a fun, creative way. I'm a sports fan so I decided to create a class banner. I wanted something that my students could help create to commemorate the year and hang from the ceiling like a championship banner.
On the left is the 3rd Grade banner and on the right is the 5th grade banner.

The first year I taught third grade so I decided to have the students create paper banners and I would use their images and ideas to create the final class banner. On the back everyone signed their name. It was a super simple and cute item that I proudly displayed on my wall the following year.

The next year I taught 5th grade, once again I had them design rough drafts but they debated the items placed on the banner. They had to be things that they wouldn't forget such as memories, activities, and lessons. I wanted them to decide what the final banner looked like and be proud of it. Sadly, I forgot to get them to sign the back....sad face. I drew The final design and once again hung it up next to the first year banner. It's a simple and nice tradition that goes great with my hockey themed room. Every year is a winning year, but for different reasons. The best part is having the students reflect and decide what truly stuck with them this year.

The banner we created this year (not pictured) I allowed a student to design, needless to say she did a GREAT job! If you are looking for a simple end of the year activity for your whole class to do or maybe just a memento for you to keep then I would highly suggest this activity.

Linked below you can find the banners I use, but you can also use pennants.
Banners I Use

Square Banners


I'm sure no matter your room theme you can find a way to incorporate it into your classroom. I love having something small to remember my students by and I like putting them up to display. The students from my past years love seeing them and my future students get excited because they like seeing all the strange, fun, crazy memories my classes have made. So as your year comes to an end think about creating something simple for the students to leave their mark on.

What kinds of things have you and your students created this year? How will your class leave their mark? Comment below or tweet me your ideas!

As always check me out on twitter and periscope!
Twitter @teaching_play
Periscope: @mlee97622

Monday, May 23, 2016

5th Grade Walk Out

5th Grade can be a fun and trying age to teach. Students start to develop their sense of self at the same time the curriculum gets harder and the hormones kick in. Needless to say it has its ups and downs, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

When I started teaching 5th Grade I actually came at a great time because so many things began to change and new traditions were just beginning. One of the veteran 5th Grade teachers had started a tradition now known as the 5th grade walk out. In the early stages 5th graders, on the last day of school, paraded through the halls with their backpacks as teachers, staff, and students lined the halls to clap and congratulate them on their last year in the building. Since then it has started to take on a life of its' own.

Last year a neighboring college had a dance professor and a student come in work on connection skills. Then they taught the entire 5th grade a choreographed dance to proceed down the hallway to. The dance itself was created to an empowering song, Hall of Fame by The Script. Too be honest it seemed like a GREAT idea at first, then we had to think about the logistics of actually teaching the dance and making sure students could travel down the hallways safely. All in all it worked! We had all the grades line the hallways and the parents line the gym to watch as the students danced down the hall. It was the first event of its kind and the students loved every minute of it!

This year we decided to continue this fun tradition. When I said decided, we really had no choice. The students who were 4th graders and watched the 5th graders do their dance last year told us just how excited they were to do a dance so.....kinda have to do it. So with limited time and a group of excited students I was tasked with finding a choreographer. I called JT but he was busy and so was Jlo. So with 3 years since the last time I danced I dusted off my notebook and dance shoes and got to work. I selected some songs for the students to vote on and they selected Gavin Degraw's song Fire. It was a great choice that had plenty of energy and great lyrics! I created the eight counts to go with the song and twice a week for 4-5 weeks the students learned the steps. It did take about 45mins out of the day, but it was so worth it. It allowed all of the 5th graders to bond and work together to make something AMAZING that was all there own! Students couldn't wait for this part or the day and I heard many parents say they would come home and practice. Some would even teach their younger siblings!
Students Making their Way Down The Hall

This year we also changed how the walk out was set up. K-1 students sat in the cafeteria for a better view, while the remainder of the school lined the halls. The students did the dance about 4-5 times around the school, but they enjoyed every minute of it. The parents were the last stop in the gym and following the dance they got to take pictures and dry tears. It was a great moment for the kids and  school. It got me tearful knowing this will be their last moment here in the elementary building, but they sure went out with a bang. This is a new tradition for our school, but one that I'm sure will last as long as I'm teaching.
Students Cheer 5th Graders On Down the Hall

What End of Year Traditions does your school or classroom have? Let me know in the comments below!

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Classroom MVP

So it has been an eventful week between the Great Shake Competition and the field trips to visit the Jr Highs in town. One thing we made time for was to award a classroom MVP.

If you are unaware an MVP is considered the Most Valuable Player and is given out to athletes in team sports. Since my classroom is hockey theme (check out my classroom link at the top) I decided to create this award to honor students who are doing amazing things in the classroom.

This is my first year doing this activity and it has developed into something that is not only an honor, but it is really student driven. At first I selected students who I noticed working hard in small groups or improving in a subject, such as reading. I announced them in front of the whole class and awarded them the MVP necklace, which is just a beaded Blackhawks necklace. The students would clap and the MVP would wear the necklace all day. It started as a way for me to point out those students who I noticed were trying or those students who are constantly doing good things. After I had a group of three students I began to try something different. I put all the past MVP's in charge of choosing the next MVP. This could have crashed and burned or turned out great, and luckily the students really took it seriously. I told them that they had to nominate someone who followed the classroom rules or truly stood out as a superstar. I decided to call the group of students who earned the MVP award the Hall of Famers. Those who earned the MVP award would join the group and be able to help nominate the next MVP. The students would nominate a person and say why they thought they should be considered the MVP then there would be a vote. All members had to agree for the nominee to get the award. We tried to award students on Thursdays. Sometimes the group couldn't agree or wouldn't meet to discuss so some Thursday's we wouldn't have an MVP.

When an MVP was selected it was kept a secret. On Thursday mornings, typically after our class had morning meeting, the Hall of Famers would line up in order of induction at the door. The newest member was at the end. I recently got a mini Stanley Cup and decided to do what Hockey Players do and pass the cup after a lap around the ice. I would play a song, currently One Direction's Drag Me Down, and the students would walk laps around the classroom with the cup. The leader would hold it for a lap then pass it back. Once they pass it the the next person in line they would go to the end of the line, thereby making the second person the leader. This continues till the person who was originally was last in line has the cup. That person would then do a lap the give the cup to the newest MVP. It can get pretty exciting as the kids are waiting on the edge of their seats to see who will get it next. I then give the MVP the Blackhawk necklace and they wear it all day. I've tried to choose music that is considered a pump up song to build excitement and I've even recently added a police light to give it sports ambiance.

I've enjoyed doing this because it build students confidence and gives them something to push for. I have also enjoyed watching my Hall of Famers select students because they never put anyone down but instead select students to celebrate and often give great reasons. They get to run the show and I rarely if at all give input. They enjoy getting to be in charge and have that responsibility especially for something so positive.

Recently outside the classroom I have showcased the Hall of Famers Club by taping up their picture with the MVP award necklace (sample picture above). This is a tribute to them but also a way to get other students to ask them about it. I think too often we get bogged down in the negative, whether it's what we need to get to in the subjects we teach, why students aren't completing their work, or the endless playground drama saga that replicate the last Days of our Lives episode. It's time that we make time to celebrate those students who always give their all and those students who are making gains. I always tell my Hall of Famers, the MVP award isn't about straight A's it's about who is trying.
I'm sure you all have other amazing ideas you do in your classroom to celebrate the positive, so feel free to leave some of your own ideas below!

Hope you have enjoyed reading about my classroom and our MVP awards! Until next Week!
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I will be Periscoping live in Tuesday April 26th at 5:30 CT. Follow me at mlee97622
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Great Galesburg Shake

Handshake is just the start

One thing I have been working on with my students is something, often times, we forget to consider in the mist of lesson plans and EVERYTHING we have to get accomplished in one year. I have taken time the past few months to really work on presentation skills, conversation skills, and just overall presence. Personally, I never really had the opportunity to work on these when I was in school and looking back I wish I did. I remember having to give a speech my 8th grade year and just shaking in my boots knowing that I had to stand in front of my class, students I have literally known all my life, and speak. Since that experience, and many more throughout high school and college, I have started making presentations a strong part of my class. During the school year I have them present on things they have learned and have them share during morning meeting. I also push for students to ask questions of each other and teach them discussion techniques to use during Lit Circles. All of these things prepare them for spring when the toughest challenge arises, The Great Shake.

What is this shake? No, it's not the newest milk shake found at your local Steak and Shake, though their shakes are quite delicious. It is a new competition that had its inaugural year last year. So get to the point Megan, what is it? It's a competition that involves students from 4th to 12th grade putting their ability to converse and present to the test. Students compete in rounds that consist of them meeting and conversing with community members and professionals. Each round is different and students are eliminated as it progresses. It all starts with each school selecting 10 students to represent them.

Now to how I prepare them for this amazing competition. I typically have students practice eye contact and handshake to begin. It's surprising how hard it can be for students to do these two things. The students who typically do the best are the ones who already have that inner confidence. So to help those who are struggling I normally stand outside the door of my classroom every morning, starting at the beginning of the school year, and shake every students hand saying good morning. This is great practice and a great way to start the morning.

Another way I prepare my class is I invite a few community members and college students to my classroom to interact with my students. I always prepare my students and let them know that I am bringing people from the community to help them practice their ability to have a discussion. Students are typically nervous, but after finding common ground such as talking about t.v., food, or sports they tend to relax. They often surprise me  with the questions they ask the visitors.

I recently invited a few college students from a multicultural club to my class. They shared the importance of education and their back story with my students. When I asked my students if they had any questions they said nothing. I then grouped my students into 4 small groups, one group for each of the visitors. The students had to introduce themselves, shake hands, and ask questions to provoke discussion from the visitors. I know it can seem simple, but some students have never really done anything like this before. I could tell they were nervous, but to be honest it made them great listeners. They wanted to impress and really tried hard to come up with questions for the guests and think before they spoke. One student even ask, "What degree will you end up graduating with after your final year?" What!!! That is an incredibly awesome question! I was beyond impressed with them.

Every year I try to find ways to insert practicing these conversations and presentation skills into my classroom. They are so vital and are such a big part of future plans like getting into college or getting a job that I feel students need to learn them early. Not only that it creates a sense of respect and recognition for the students. No matter where they stand academically or what is going on at home they, themselves alone can take pride in their ability and growth. They can make people take notice, not with straight A's or even bad behavior, but instead with the words that flow from within.

I do have to say that we borrowed and put our own spin on this competition based on an extraordinary one put on by the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Ga. If you haven't heard of it you definitely need to look it up! No seriously, please do!
If your interested in following our students journey this year follow on twitter @205GreatShake !!!
So excited and truly can't wait to see how far they go! I am excited to say 3 of my students were chosen to advance and be apart of our schools top ten students! YAY! Go Superstars!!!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Classroom Rules!

So as you get started with a new school year one thing to consider is your classroom rules. Classes are constantly changing and so are the students so take a moment to consider your rules and reflect...don't worry I will wait. When I started teaching I remember a few simple rules of the Rules that were spoken to me: keep it simple, model them constantly, and make sure the students have a hand in them.

In my first year of teaching I felt like the rules were such a huge deal that I didn't write them until a day or two before school. I wanted them to be perfect and I remember going back and forth with the idea of the students making up the rules...but I decided I would pen them myself instead. I guess I wanted some sense of control and as it was my first year I wasn't quite sure how to start the year sooooo I faked it till I made it, lol. Honestly I didn't do too bad at all, looking back my first year was full of fears and nerves but also big ideas and connections. You don't really know unless you try and that year I did a lot. My Rules started off as four simple, yet overarching commands: Be Respectful, Be Ready, Be Responsible, and Do Your Best. The last of which is my favorite because it's not about getting an A, but giving it your all.

As the years passed these rules have honestly been the same up until last year, in which I added one more....Be Positive. Why? Well, I wanted to find a way to say that it's important for the students to support one another, to have a positive attitude about themselves, and rise to any challenge. The rule Be Positive seems to say  that. I used it this past year and  loved it. I was able to reference it way more as a rule and I got to support it with positive points on Class Dojo. In an age where growing up too soon and negativity is an epidemic students need to be taught not only the subjects of math and reading, but how to be respectful citizens as well.

Now how do I teach my rules? The first month seems like it lasts forever because we go over them constantly. The first week alone I teach them and model them daily. Even for 5th graders they need the repetition for it to make sense and sink in. One activity that I love to do is a skit. I break the students into groups and make sure every rule is covered. To start they have to show how not to follow the rule and how to follow the rule. They get 20 minutes to work to prepare and then they show the class. I have also done it where the students have to act out a rule from a hat like charades. At the end of the week I have created a "I Solemnly Swear to know, understand, and uphold the rules to the best of my ability." There is a bit more to it, but you get the idea. The students sign it and it is posted under the rules poster in my classroom all year. It works almost like a contract as the students can never say,"I didn't know."

When we are having a rough day or after break we will go over the rules and maybe make posters.This year after break the students made posters to remind students how to act when doing certain activities such as read to self, working in groups, working independently, lining up etc. That seemed to help remind the students and over all allow them a chance to reflect. I feel like it's important to be dramatic and show case the rules in a way that is fun or over the top. It catches the students attention and gives them a chance to be crazy, silly, or just be bad for a moment then show all the good they can do. Even the toughest student can show what the rules truly mean and if they can do that they are capable of more then we know.

What are your classroom rules?

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Welcome to Teaching Power Play!

Ok so here goes nothing. After much back and forth thinking, and very little experience, I'm going all in. "Go big or go home!" is what my dad always said so here it goes. I'm excited to take my chance to share my ideas in what already is a field full of amazing teachers!

I have been teaching for three years as of now and it has been a crazy ride. I have had the opportunity to teach both third and fifth grade during that time and loved both dearly. In three years I have come into my own as a teacher and pushed myself harder than I thought I could. That being said I have also felt burnt out at times and like maybe this isn't the job for me. Yet, I keep coming back day after day and the truth is I can't see myself doing anything but this. I love helping students, especially in those moments where they feel as if they will never get it. I love making a fool of myself to get a point across and seeing their growth over the course of the year. I am in love with this profession and every year I push myself harder and build on the lessons I have created. In the end this is worth it. In this blog, I hope to share  some of the crazy ideas and lessons I have created. Some I have borrowed from other amazing teachers and put my own spin on them (don't worry there will be plenty of shout outs). The best advice I ever got as a teacher was:

 "Beg, Borrow, and Steal every chance you get."

Feel free to borrow and steal from me!

I hope you enjoy what you read and stay tuned for more posts soon.