Sunday, September 25, 2016

Engagement Strategies: Beanbag Toss

Welcome to my blog series on quick & easy engagement strategies that can be used for any lesson, starting tomorrow! Missed out on the previous posts? Start here.

Engagement strategy #4 is beanbag toss!

What is it: In this strategy, you pose a question and toss a beanbag (or other item) to a student. They catch the beanbag and answer. Then they toss the beanbag to a new student.

How to use it: Ask a question and have students raise their hand to answer. Call on a student and toss them the beanbag. They answer the question. Ask a new question and have students raise their hand. The student with the beanbag will select someone, toss them the beanbag and then they answer. Repeat as desired.

How I used it this year: I used this strategy to have students brainstorm math workshop behaviors for our anchor chart. I had students sit in a circle and then asked them what it should look like/sound like during math workshop. I called on a student, passed them our emoji beanbag and they answered. I wrote their answer on our chart. Then they chose a different student, tossed the beanbag, and that student answered. We continued until we ran out of room on our anchor chart.

Why it works: Students want to answer so they can catch/toss the beanbag. They have to be listening to have something to say so they can get a turn. Tossing the beanbag made it feel more like a game and helped students stay engaged throughout this activity.

Bonus tip: Make sure you tell them they have to toss underhand. You can decide if you want students to volunteer by raising their hand or make it more of a "popcorn" style where students can pick anyone.

Your turn! Comment below how you've used this strategy. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Engagement Strategies: Freeze!

Welcome to my blog series on quick & easy engagement strategies that can be used for any lesson, starting tomorrow! Missed out on the previous posts? Start here.

Engagement strategy #3 is freeze!

What is it: In this strategy, play a song. While the music is playing, students are walking. Pause the song - students have to get with a person close to them and freeze.

How to use it: When the music pauses students get with a person close to them and freeze. Then pose a question for them to answer or discuss. Give them time to answer, then play the music again. When the music starts, they start walking. Repeat as desired!

How I used it this year: We've used this strategy a few times as a reflection at the end of math workshop. When the music stops and the students pair up, I would put a number up on the board (ex: 4,892,319,490) and they would both read the number to each other. Then I would call on one student to read it aloud for the class. Then I'd hit play and the kids would start walking again. We repeated a few times - as much as we had time for.

Why it works: Music makes everyone happy! Especially when you play a popular song that the kids like. The kids are moving which helps with their engagement. They also love the anticipation of not knowing when the song will pause - it gives the activity a game-like feel.

Bonus tip: If you have access to YouTube at school, use it to pull up practically any song for free. You can also search for kidzbop if you're worried about the lyrics. I used Happy and Can't Stop the Feeling because I like those songs. Make sure you stress the importance of walking - if they start running, they have to sit out.

Your turn! Comment below how you've used this strategy. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Engagement Strategies: Four Corners

This is the second post in my blog series on quick & easy engagement strategies that can be used for any lesson, starting tomorrow! You can check out the first post here.

Engagement strategy #2 is four corners

What is it: In this strategy, number the corners of your classroom 1, 2, 3 & 4. *you don't have to physically number them - just tell the students which is which* Students will move to a corner of a room depending on their answer to a question.

How to use it: Pose a question and give 4 answers. Assign each answer a corner. The question can be unrelated to the lesson. Students then move to the corner that matches with their answer. Once they're there, give them something to discuss or do as a group or in pairs.

How I used it this year: I asked a random question and gave 4 choices. (What sport do you like best: (1) soccer, (2) baseball, (3) gymnastics, (4) other). They moved to the corner of their choice. Once they were there I posed a question related to our lesson on science tools. Example: which science tool do you like the most? Which tool have you used in the past? They discussed the question with someone in the same corner. I had a couple of students share out. Then I asked a new random question, they moved corners and I posed a different question related to our science lesson. We repeated this a few times.

Why it works: Students are standing and moving which helps with engagement. It also forces them to work with various people without you having to be the one to choose pairs. Finally, it allows the students choice in where they move and they love when the questions reveal new information about them.

Bonus tip: If you end up with only 1 student in a corner have them pair up with someone else. Give them a short amount of time to choose a corner and move. I would count down and they had to be in the corner by the time I finished counting or I chose a corner for them.

Your turn! Comment below how you've used this strategy. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Engagement Strategies: Inside/Outside Circle

This year I have a very energetic class (read: chatty, low attention span, busy bodies). I'm having to reach far into my tool belt to keep them engaged during my lessons. Which led me to the idea to start a blog series on quick & easy engagement strategies that can be used for any lesson, starting tomorrow!

Engagement strategy #1 is inside/outside circle.

What is it: In this strategy, have half your students form a circle facing the outside. The other half of your students will line up in an outer circle facing them. Don't worry about who they're facing - you're going to move them. is it weird I get a sick sense of satisfaction when they think they get to be partners with their best friend, only to be moved??

How to use it: Give a direction for moving (example: outside circle move to the left 2 people; inside circle move to the right 3 people). Then have the pairs (people facing each other) share or discuss something. Move again and discuss something new or repeat with a new partner. Repeat as many times as needed.

How I used it this year: Students individually brainstormed a list of science lab rules. Then we watched a quick cartoon over lab safety and they checked off the rules they heard in the video. Afterwards, we used inside/outside circle to reflect. First they shared a rule they heard in the video that they had written down. Then, they shared a rule they had written down that wasn't in the video. Finally, they had to find 1 new rule from their partner and write it down.

Why it works: Students are standing and moving which helps with engagement. It also forces them to work with various people without you having to be the one to choose pairs. Finally, you can quickly move them to a new partner within the same activity - this helps with short attention spans.

Bonus tip: Not enough room in your classroom? Me neither - I took my class outside for this! We were only outside about 10 minutes, but the extra burst of sun and fresh air also helped with focus. Plus we used the circle in the middle of the basketball court on the playground to form our outside circle.

Your turn! Comment below how you've used this strategy. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The First Day of School PLUS My Class Schedule

I love getting to see other teachers' classrooms. Almost as much - I love to see their schedules. It's amazing to me how different all of our schools and classrooms are. So tonight I wanted to share my new class schedule for this year, along with what my 1st day of school looks like.

A little bit of background - I teach 4th grade math and science. My students have 2 teachers - 1 for math/science and 1 for language arts/social studies. So I have two instructional blocks. This year I have 20 students in each class. Our school day is 7:40-2:55.

The First Day of School

7:35-7:40 When students come in, there is a word search & a pencil at each spot. The word search has everyone's name in it. 
7:40-7:45 School announcements
7:45-7:50 Discuss hallway behavior
7:55-8:45 Specials - Art
8:45-8:55 Bathroom break - discuss expectations
9:00 Circle Up morning meeting - everyone will share their name and one word to tell about their summer
9:15 Technology lesson (we are a 1 to 1 campus - each student will get an iPad): go over iPad trust card and consequences for misuse of iPad
9:45 Brain break - play the clapping game (1 student goes in the hall, the rest choose 1 object in the room - when the student comes back in we have to help him/her find the item by clapping when they're close. No talking or pointing!)
10:00 Snack & Read Aloud - I'm reading The Most Magnificent Thing 
10:15 I'll show this clip on failure and have students connect it to the story. This will set the stage for our work on growth mindset later in the week. 
10:30 Sort school supplies - I use a slideshow that I made to help students know how to sort all of their supplies. This is my least favorite part of the day!
11:30 Rules - we'll have a class discussion about our school rules and the consequences/rewards that go along with them. 
11:45 Get ready for lunch (more rules!)
11:55-12:50 Lunch/Recess
12:55 Students are going to make a time capsule - they'll fill out a sheet about themselves that we'll add to a class time capsule. 
1:45 Switch classes - my other class will come in for an hour. We'll sort supplies and repeat the read aloud and failure video from the morning. 
2:45 Switch classes and get ready to go home
2:55 We made it!! 

I'm exhausted just thinking about all of this....

Okay here is my regular class schedule for 2016-2017:

7:35-7:40 Students arrive, unpack and read
7:40-7:45 School announcements
7:45-7:50 Circle Up (like a morning meeting, but following a district mandated format)
7:55-8:45 Specials (Art, Music or PE depending on the day - this is my planning time)
8:50-9:40 Personalized Learning Time (this is our intervention/enrichment block. This is when students who receive special services like G/T or dyslexia get pulled)
9:45-11:45 Instructional Block One 
11:55-12:50 Lunch/Recess
12:50-2:50 Instructional Block Two (math/science with the other class, an hour for math & an hour for science)
2:55 Dismissal

What does your schedule look like this year? Tell me in the comments below!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Going Digital with Google: Student Portfolios

The last two years I piloted student portfolios for my district. After some trial and error, what we found to work best for student portfolios in upper elementary school was to use Google Slides.

Our grading period is made up four 9-week periods, so we had our students select a piece of work for each grading period. My district really emphasized that students should have ownership of their portfolio. We talked a lot about how to choose quality work, but at the end of the day the kids had complete freedom to choose something they were proud of.

We created a template for students - you can check it out here. At the end of the 9 weeks the students selected a work sample. Many times this was something digital that they already had saved in Google Drive. If they selected something that was on paper, they took a picture of it. Then they had to reflect on why they chose that piece of work.

The whole process didn't take more than 30 minutes and at the end of the year, they had a collection of 4 meaningful pieces of work. It was great to share at Open House and spring conferences.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Peek at My Math Workshop

I feel like there are a million and one different ways to do math workshop. I *love* seeing how other teachers structure their math block, so today I want to share what my math block looks like in my fourth grade classroom. Hopefully, you'll take away some tips you can use in your own classroom. Just remember, every class is different! So do what you know will work best for your classroom.

So what does my math block look like?

Warm-up (10 minutes)
We spend the first 10 minutes working on a spiral review sheet and fact fluency. We use a Texas resource my school purchased for spiral review. The kids complete half a page and then work on their Fact Master on Moby Max.

Class Meeting (5-10 minutes)
After the 10 minute timer goes off (*hint* use a timer to stay on track!), the kids meet me at the carpet for a class meeting. Depending on the day, I use this time as an introduction to the skill, to explain the workshop activities or do a quick mini-lesson. I don't let this time go over 10 minutes.
Tip: Start a stopwatch when you start your meeting so you can quickly see how long you've been talking.

Workshop time (35 minutes)
This is the bulk of my math block. For my math workshop, I put all of the student directions in a Google Slide that I share through Google Classroom (read more about that here). The students work through the activities at their own pace. I try to follow the concrete -> pictorial -> abstract model for student activities. I also build in extension activities at the end for students who are early finishers.

While the kids are working, I pull small groups. During my small groups, I teach differentiated guided math lessons. I keep these lessons to about 10 minutes each.

A few more notes about workshop time:
* All of the students start workshop by watching a video lesson that I have previously recorded. They have an anchor chart they have to fill out as they watch the video. This way I know every student has heard the lesson before they start any of the activities.
*I give students 2 days to complete the activities for a skill. One day they'll spend part of their time working with me and the other day they'll have the entire 35 minutes to work.
*Every year I have students who have more difficulty working at their own pace. I give them some modifications to make sure they stay on track with the activities.
*Want some help finding materials for your math workshop? I've got some resources available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can find them here

Closing (5-10 minutes)
After workshop time, we clean up and come back together as a class. During this time, students may reflect (individually or in pairs) about their learning that day, complete a quick formative assessment, or we may do a small lesson together (especially if I saw them struggling during workshop time). I have found this closing time to be crucial so I always make sure to include it. If the beginning class meeting goes long, then I do a quick closing activity.

A guided math group

Student working during workshop time

Watching a video lesson

Creating a video during workshop time

Workshop activities

A partner activity during workshop time
 In the comments tell me what your math workshop looks like!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Going Digital with Google: Google Slides (plus a link up!)

If you've been following along for a while, then you know my math workshop has been digital for the last 2 years. You also know that I've been using a website called Blendspace to house my math workshop directions. I even did a blog post you can check out.

I thought Blendspace was the greatest thing ever. And it still has some redeeming qualities, but it also had some downfalls. Like some days the site was reeaaaally slow to load. When I included sites to visit within blendspace it was a bit glitchy on the ipads. My class didn't have usernames so they were still recording work other places and both the kids and I were constantly clicking back and forth.

Now let's fast forward to January 2016. I discovered a great group of teacher-authors on Teachers Pay Teachers who introduced me to using Google Slides in place of Blendspace. Now I knew all about Google. My kids were using Google Drive to back things up and we used Google Classroom. That being said, it had never crossed my mind to use Google Slides in a new way!

So here are my top 3 things I love about using Google Slides for math workshop.
stay with me people, there's a link up at the bottom : )

I can house EVERYTHING in one place. My directions are in slides. Any links or videos are in slides. Ask a reflection question? They type their answer right on the slide. Building something with manipulatives? Take a picture and (you guessed it) put it right on the slide. Seeing a theme here? This was a game changer folks. For me and the kids. In fact, when I asked what they liked about Google Slides, the #1 thing was no longer having to click back and forth or keep up with separate papers. 

It works seamlessly with Google Classroom. I love that I can click the magical make a copy for each student button and voi la! Every kid has their own editable copy. Huge time saver! Google Classroom also automatically backs everything up to their Google Drive so it's a built in student portfolio. 
 What in the world is Google Classroom?! Read about it here

I love that using Google Slides is teaching my kids valuable computer skills. These are skills that I think they will carry on for many years. Sometimes I forget that I need to teach them basic skills because they seem so tech savvy. 

Yeah that all sounds great, but what does it really look like?? Here's a sneak peek into my latest Google Slide on Comparing and Ordering numbers.

Congrats! You made it to the end. As's a fabulous link up hosted by Mrs. Beers, Danielle Knight and The Daring English Teacher for Innovative Classroom Learning Day. Check out the links below to find other blog posts and digital products to check out.

Leave a comment and let me know how you plan on using Google in your classroom this year!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Going Digital with Google: Google Forms for Quizzes

One thing I love about Google is that they are constantly updating their apps. They just released an update that makes it even easier to use Google Forms for quizzes.

I made a video tutorial to show you how easy it is to create, score & analyze quizzes using forms.
Click on the video below to learn more!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Going Digital with Google: Google Classroom

This is my 2nd post in my Going Digital with Google series. Check out my first post to find out how I use Google Forms to assess my students.

This post is all about Google Classroom. This is my first year using Google Classroom with my 4th graders. Last year we used Edmodo, which I liked. There are some pros and cons to Google Classroom that I'll share with you below.

If you're brand new to Google Classroom, I'd suggest searching YouTube for some videos that explain what it is and how to set up your classroom and get started. This is a great video to help you get started.

Pro #1:
Classroom works *almost* seamlessly with Google Drive. One of my favorite aspects of Google Classroom is that I can create an item in Google Drive - using docs, slides, or sheets. Then I can create an assignment in Google Classroom and upload that item. There is the option to have Classroom automatically make a copy for each student. Y'all that's amazing. No more having kids mess up your original document. Classroom even names the document with what you titled it and the kid's name. AND it's automatically added to their Google Drive.

Con #1:
This goes along with what I love about Classroom. If your students use iPads, like mine do, they will encounter some glitches. My kids access Classroom through safari, as opposed to the app, per district request. They also have the Drive app and the apps for Docs, Slides & Sheets. Let's say I uploaded a Google Doc for each student to edit, the kids will click on the link for the doc in classroom. Then the ipad inevitably freaks out because it's unsure of whether to open the drive app or the docs app. At first, this made us freak out too! Now the kids - and myself - are used to the fact that they need to be patient and let the ipad do it's thing. If it doesn't do it's thing correctly, they can still find the doc in their docs app. I know this sounds a bit confusing, but if you try it out on the ipad you'll know what I'm talking about.

Pro #2:
When I make an assignment, the kids are able to virtually turn in the assignment. There are some cool features here. I can quickly see who is done & who isn't. I can enter a grade & return the assignment to students. I can view the grades in a Google Sheet. I can also open a Google Drive folder with all of their assignments in it. No more lugging home giant bags filled with papers to grade, I can do it all from my laptop!

Con #2:
When I used Edmodo, I was able to create groups within my classroom. I was also able to assign things to a select group of students. As of right now, that's not an option in Google Classroom. I've been able to work around it a little bit. For example, during my RTI time I have students working on some independent study projects. I created a google doc for the different independent study groups. Then I shared the doc with the students in that group. They went to it straight from Google Drive, instead of going into Classroom. I've heard rumors that this con is on Google's radar, so hopefully an update will be coming soon.

Pro #3:
Sometimes I just need to share a link with my students, but it's not anything they'll need to turn in. Classroom has assignments & announcements. Assignments have a button for students to submit, announcements don't. I use announcements to share links, directions, or anything else that doesn't require students to turn work in digitally.

Pro #4:
When students turn in a Google Doc/Slides/Sheets/etc. they lose the ability to edit it. This means that they are no longer able to make changes to the assignment after they've turned it in. I like this feature. I've also discovered that if they unsubmit, they can go in and make changes and then turn it in again. This comes in handy when they turn it in, then realize they messed something up.

All in all, I've been really pleased with using Classroom. My 4th graders have figured it out very quickly and it's become our 1-stop place for all things in our class. Stay tuned to this series to find out more about how I use Google Docs, Slides & Sheets in my classroom. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Going Digital with Google: Google Forms for Assessing

Have you caught the Google Bug?? I have! We are using Google in new ways everyday in my 4th grade classroom. This is the 1st post in my Going Digital with Google Series.

Read on to find out how I'm using Google Forms for quick math assessments.

In the past, I've used Google Forms for surveys, but that's pretty much it. Then I discovered Flubaroo - a free Google extension. Flubaroo will automatically grade your Google Forms. 

I like to use Google Forms for quick, formative assessments.You could use them for any type of grading assignment - they work best with multiple choice questions or questions where there is only 1 right answer. I prefer to have the kids answer with a number so I don't have to worry if they spelled it wrong.

I'm going to walk you through how I create a form and use flubaroo to grade it. I made a quick, sample quiz - you can check it out here:

To get started, you need to be logged into Google Drive. You're going to want to create a new Google Form. As of right now, the add-ons are only working in the old version of Google Forms, so you'll want to stay in that.

Once you create the form, you'll be able to add your questions.

Some tips:
  • Make sure that your questions are all required so they don't accidentally submit the form before they're done. 
  • You can reorder the questions by dragging them around after you're done adding.
  • Make sure to have a question for the students to type their name. 

When you're finished, you'll want to share the link with your students. I copy the link into Google Classroom, but you could share it anyway you're already sharing links with students (including QR codes). 

Next, you're going to need to "view live form" and complete the form yourself. This will create the answer key. I always put "Answer Key" for the name question.

Once the form is finished, click on the option to "view responses". This will take you to a spreadsheet.
  • It bothers me when the text runs over the boxes - to fix this, select the boxes, then go to format -> text wrapping -> wrap text

Now you're going to add Flubaroo. This next step you'll only have to do the first time. You're going to click on add-ons -> get add-ons

Type Flubaroo in the search box & click free to download. You'll also have to click "allow" on the next screen that pops up. 

Now go back to the spreadsheet, click "add-ons" -> Flubaroo-> Grade assignment

 Flubaroo will walk you through the next steps. You can decide if you want to grade every question and if you want to grade them equally.

Then you'll select which response to use as the answer key. This is where naming it "answer key" comes in handy : )

Once you're done, Flubaroo will create a new page in the spreadsheet for you. Here's an idea of what it looks like (with fake entries). Not only does it show you the grade, but also how the students do on each question & if there are trends. You can even create graphs to go along with your data!

Another option is to have Flubaroo email students their grades - for this you'd have to include a question where students type their email address. I've used this option with kids, and they love being able to get such quick feedback!

I know this seems like a lot of steps, but once you get the hang of it, it's very quick - much quicker than grading 40 (or more) papers!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Solving Word Problems in a Digital Classroom

Last year I spent a couple of weeks teaching my kids how to analyze word problems. You can read all about my lessons here .

This year I did the same lessons, with a digital twist. I am really trying to incorporate more digital activities now that I'm in my second year of going 1:1 with students to iPads. 

The first day of our problem solving unit, we created a key words chart. Last year, I had the kids write on a a recording sheet like this:

This year I created the recording sheet in Google Docs and shared it with my student in Google Classroom. In Google Classroom you are able to make a copy of a Google Doc for each student. As we acted out word problems using manipulatives, we added to the Google Doc. The students each added to their own chart - this kept them more engaged than if they watched me create the chart. Now instead of having a copy in their math journals, they have a copy in Google Drive. 

On the second day of the unit, I had students sort word problems by the 4 operations. They had to write a number sentence and an explanation for each problem. Last year it looked like this:

This year instead of using paper/pencil, the kids took pictures of the word problems and put the number sentence and explanation into a pic collage. So now it looked like this:

Now, not everything lends itself to a digital activity. Sometimes I still need my students doing paper/pencil activities. However, when I'm able to make something digital I see an increase in engagement and ownership. The reduction in copies and paper is an added bonus. 

How do you incorporate digital activities into your math block?

Interested in my word problem lesson plans? The first 3 days are available in my Teacher Pay Teacher store: