Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Blogging Through the New School Year

My school district has adopted Journeys by Houghton Mifflin as our new reading books. The little crates below are from our previous book, which was Houghton Mifflin Reading.

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, these 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.

July 26, 2012 Posted by | Education, Technology | , | Leave a comment

Adding Photos to Your Classroom Blog or Website

For the past three years I have been participating in a photo a day project.  During 2010 and 2011 I was very faithful about it, and I posted a photo every day of the year.  This year my posting has been much more sporadic.  While photography is a personal hobby, I also use a lot of photos for school.  Last year we even had a classroom photographer who was responsible of taking photos and posting pictures on our class blog.  Using photos is a great way to share things that we are doing with parents and others at school.   They can see the projects and activities that we are doing, even if they don’t have time to come to school.

If you are going to use photos that include students, be sure to check out your school district’s policy on this.  Our parents sign a release at registration each year, but I take additional precautions by having parents sign a permission slip  just for my class.  I let them know how I might be using photographs, so they can be fully informed.

If I do post photos of students on either our class website, class blog, or my professional blog, I never put a name with a face.  Depending on how the photo will be used, I sometimes photograph students from the back or side, so they are not easily recognizable.  If a parent does not want their child’s photo included, I simply leave them out.

When you have 28 kids in a class, it’s hard to pick just one or two photos to share with parents.  For a big project like our castle project, I photograph each child with and without their castle.  Students may use the castle only photo on their own Kidblog.  I usually make an Animoto, which is a slide show set to music, to show all the castles and kids.  Here is our Castle Animoto for 2012.

Our Castles for 2012.

I have been having some fun experimenting with several on-line photo editors to create photo collages or mosaics.  This is a great way to share several photos at once.  My families and the kids seem to like this.

One of my favorites is Big Huge Labs.  This is the first website of this kind that I learned about.  This website has lots of ways you can use photos.  I have made mosaics.  You can also easily create motivational posters, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, and lots of other things.  This website is easy to use, so check it out. This mosaic of our Medieval Paper Doll Project was made on Big Huge Labs.

Photovisi is another Photo Collage maker.  It has some different layouts than Big Huge Labs.  You can also add different backgrounds. During the last few days of school, we used M&Ms for math. We sorted, graphed, and worked with fractions with our M & Ms. Here is a collage I made on Photovisi with some of those pictures.

Sometimes a photo doesn’t come out the way I would like.  There are several websites that allow you to edit or enhance photos.  One that I learned about recently is called iPiccy.  You can crop, change colors, add special effects, and add matting and frames.  This is a photo of the mastadon skeleton that I took on our field trip to the Iowa Historical Building.

Here is the photo after I have played with it a bit on iPiccy.

Funky Photo is a website for adding special effects.  It has less options than some of the others, but it is fun to play with.  This is one of my students at our Valentines Party.  He doesn’t usually look that. He has on a plastic mustache and lips.  His photo has been cartoonized on Funky Photo.

Recently I have been experimenting with a website called PicMonkey.  This website lets you edit photos, create collages and add special effects.  You can either upload photos, or there is a drag and drop option.  This collage of the flowers in my front yard was made on PicMonkey.  This website has lots of options.

Whether it’s for personal photos or school pictures, check out the possibilities with these websites.  They are fun to play with, and the photos add a lot to a classroom website or blog.

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Education, Technology, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Teaching Fourth Grade Math In 2012

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week I attended school district professional development for teaching multiplication and division.  Much of it was not new to me, but some of it was.  It left me with many unanswered questions and I wondered what is going on in math instruction in other parts of the country.

During the first part of the class we spent time looking at the NEW Iowa Core Standards, which is really just the Common Core Standards.  Up until now, Iowa has had their own set of standards.  I remember asking two years ago why we didn’t just go to the Common Core Standards then, if that’s where we were headed anyway.  Well somehow in the two weeks since school dismissed for the summer, we have moved to the NEW Iowa Core Standards.  I’m not sure when.

Along with the standards we looked at the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practices and the instructor referred us to the Thinkmath Website. Here is a link to the Math Practices page. She repeatedly tried to impress on us that everything is going to be different now.

The Math Practices  for Elementary School are:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Go to the website for explanations and examples.

Is this different from when I started teaching fourth grade math, fifteen years ago?   Yes, but I don’t see that it’s much different from what I’ve been doing for the past two to four years.  We do lots of problem solving in our classroom, and students take a big role in presenting their thinking to the class.  Despite popular opinion, most classrooms do evolve, at least the ones I’m familiar with do. The teachers at my school and throughout the district have devoted a lot of time to “unwrapping standards” and developing an understanding of Common Core Standards in every subject area.

The big difference comes in the way people view and interpret the standards.  I view them as minimums.  I must be sure that my students can do at least this much by the time they leave 4th grade.  As I read the standards, I don’t see that there is only one way to teach these skills. In this training we were explicitly told that we are to stay within our grade level and to go deep.  So they view standards as limits, not minimums.  What this means for kids is that my 4th grade students are not to be taught the traditional algorithm for either multiplication of large numbers or long division — AT ALL!

All of the materials shared with us at this training, and at any I have taken in the past two years come form the book Teaching Student Centered Mathematics, by John Van de Walle. 

We were advised to begin with about fifteen minutes of review. Lessons are to be set up so that students work on solving one or two word problems during a class period.  We spend about seventy-five minutes on math each day.  They should use “Invented Problem Solving”.  In other words, they figure out how to solve the problem on their own using whatever works for them.  I am not supposed to teach students “Key Words for Problem Solving” because that limits their creative thinking.  After they have worked individually on the problem, they will work with a partner to solve this same problem.  After everyone has solved the problem, we are to have everyone show their work, being careful to explain their thinking to the class.

After I have followed this plan for quite a while, I can teach students how to use the Area Model for  solving multiplication problems.  The same goes for division.  I can eventually teach them Partial Quotient Division, but I am not to teach them the standard long division algorithm.  They won’t learn that until sixth grade, if they need it at all.  I am only to teach them the area model and partial quotient division near the end of the unit. Despite the fact that parents and most of the world know the more traditional algorithms, my students are not to learn them.

Teachers will need to write most of these real world story problems for their students, because we don’t have materials that have been provided for us.  When it comes to writing problems for students to solve, we were told to choose problems that force kids to think beyond simple concepts.  We are not to start with easy problems and progress to harder problems. Kids need to plunge right into the more difficult concepts. I have always believed in building a foundation before moving into increasingly complex concepts.

I worry about what all of this means for my students in the future.  Will they have the necessary skills to move on to higher mathematics in high school and college?

I spent the first day of class thinking a lot about retirement.  By the second day, I had developed a plan for my classroom that I can hopefully live with.

So, have things changed this much in your state?  What’s going on with math instruction in your school district?  Is this happening everywhere, or just here in the heartland?  I am really prospecting for some ideas here.

June 16, 2012 Posted by | Common Core State Standards, Education, Math, Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Independent Study

Image

During the final weeks of school, my students conducted independent studies.  They picked the subject area.  The rules were that it had to be school appropriate, it had to be something that they could find both books and internet resources about, and it had to be okay with their parents.  If it was about a sport, it had to be about an athlete, or new information that helped them to learn something.

Along with picking their own topic, they also got to choose how to show us their learning.  It could be on-line; creating a Glog, a Storybird or blog post, or it could be with pencils, markers and paper.  I thought most of the class would choose on-line work, so I was surprised when only nine chose to use technology.  The rest either created posters or made books.

The independent study was in-class seatwork as well as homework.  During the last two weeks of school everyone presented their learning to the class.  After their presentation, we took time for questions and comments from the class.

Students presented on all kinds of subjects, including Pigs, Hamsters, Indonesia, Hawaii, Mexico, and dogs.  If their work was on-line, they used the Elmo to show their work.  Posters and books were displayed in the room.  We even had a hamster guest.

This was a great way to end the year, and I really wish I had done it earlier in the year, because I learned new things about my students by learning about their interests.  The kids learned new things about each other as well.  One of my students presented on Mexico.  Even though most of my students have gone to school together since kindergarten, they were unaware that she is bilingual and speaks only Spanish at home.  They were in awe of her knowledge and experiences.

This was not an original idea on my part.  I was inspired by the Identity Day that George Couras created at the school where he was Principal.  Other educators have held similar events.  With all the the demands of district curriculum, testing and standards, I just wasn’t sure where and how to fit it in.  So we squeezed it in during these final weeks of the school year.  My goal was to give students an opportunity to choose something they were interested in to read and study about.  I hadn’t counted on the additional benefits of letting them be the leaders and teachers.  They were very proud of the work they did, and it was a great time for students to be able to appreciate and celebrate the talents and accomplishments of others.

Next year, I would like to try this twice.  Early in the year, I want my students to share something closely linked to their own identity; their heritage, a special interest or hobby, something they believe in.  Later in the year, I’d like them to choose an area of study as we did this year.  Kids need more opportunities to take center stage and shape the learning in our classroom, and it gave me the chance to step back and enjoy their talents and gifts.

June 5, 2012 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Schools Out!

Thursday was the last day of school, and I have already stripped the bulletin boards, name tags, and posters out of my classroom.  The books and materials are all safely stowed away for the summer.  Summer vacation has officially begun.

Despite what many people believe, teachers never really take the summer off.  I have reading and math classes I will be taking this summer. We have a new reading series coming in, so I will be exploring that when it arrives.  I am already wondering where I will store all the necessary materials. As I wrap up activities and store materials away, I begin thinking about how to make things better and be more effective for next year.  I already have a three page list of “to do’s” for this summer.  At the top of my list is to make a re-commitment to my own writing and blogging.

This poor little blog has been sadly neglected over the past two years. During that time, I have been posting to my blog on Edublogger, called Day In the Classroom  and to be honest, I haven’t been posting very often this year.  I had planned to devote this blog to writing about our reading work, but that never happened. Now I’m planning to do some budget cutting, so I will be moving back to this blog as my main blog.  Edublogger costs me money.  In the coming weeks I will be reviewing and reflecting on the school year, and I plan to do it right here.  My first big change was to change the name.  Now Prospecting For Treasure has become the new Day In the Classroom, because that’s who I am, Barbara Day, in the classroom.

Speaking of our classroom, we had a lot of fun during these last two weeks of school.  The kids conducted and presented independent studies. I’ll write about that next week.  We ended our year with M & M Math.  There are some really great resources on line for ideas to do math with M & M’s.  The kids were all for it.  I asked students to bring an individual size bag of plain chocolate M & M’s to use for math.  A couple people showed up with large bags.  If you buy the big bag, you end up with a lot more work to do.  It made for a very colorful lesson.  At the end of our class, everyone ate their math. Here is a link to the activities that I used for our lesson.  M & M Activities.   If you don’t find what you want here, do a Google search, and you’ll find loads of other ideas.

June 2, 2012 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Focus

I finished reading the book, Focus:  Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, by Mike Schmoker. It was given to each of the teachers in my building, by our principal for summer reading.

Schmoker advocates Simplicity, Clarity and Priority.  By this he means we need to simplify our curriculum by cutting the number of standards down, selecting only the most important, and then teaching them thoroughly, using recognized good consistent teaching.  I don’t agree with everything he has to say, but there are definitely some things I will take from this book.  I talked about it in my last post, and shared my plans for writing about the books we are reading here.

Please visit my other blog, Day In the Classroom, and read my review.

July 26, 2011 Posted by | Reading | , | 1 Comment

A New Look and New Goals

As you can see, I’ve changed the look of my blog.  I thought it was time to give it a little facelift.  Over the past year, I haven’t added much to this blog.  I’ve been thinking about ways to better use it.  For a long time, I’ve also been thinking about sharing some of the books and more of the writing projects I use with kids.  I plan to do that here.

There are about four weeks before my new school year begins.  So far it’s been a great summer, although the past week has been way too hot!  That always serves to get me in the mood longing for fall and going back to school.

This summer I’ve been working on a few school projects, and doing some summer reading.  Before we left for vacation, my principal gave everyone a copy of the book, Focus, Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning by Mike Schmoker.  I’m going to write a little more about this book after I complete my reading.  Already I can tell you that it is going to have an impact on my reading instruction in the coming year.  Schmoker says that students need to spend their time reading and responding to that reading in writing, not reading a basal and completing worksheets.

After a year of following my school districts list of “Non-Negotiables” I had already decided to return to more time spent reading and discussing good books.  You can read about the “Non-Negotiables” here.  I want my kids to grow in their reading skills, but I also want them to love reading.  That only happens when you introduce them to the magic of a good book.  Fortunately, after the year of the “Non-Negotiables” our district is going to give us a little more flexibility in the coming school year.

Over the years I have written many study guides to aid me in discussing a book with my students.  I have to decided to give this blog a little face lift and share some of our reading work here.  As we work on a book or project, I plan to share what we did here.   I will add books and discussion questions and writing ideas, as I develop them.

My other blog is called Day In the Classroom, think of this one as Day At the Reading Table.

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Education, Reading, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Making Our First Glogs

One of my goals for this school year was to learn how to make a Glog. I had heard about them, and seen a few, from others on Twitter, which is where I get most of my technology ideas. It took me a while to get around to doing it, though. I have been gradually working my way through the new Being a Writer materials. This is our first year with these materials. In March we began a new unit on writing non-fiction. The first project was to research and write about countries around the world. This seemed like the perfect place to try out the Glogs.

If you aren’t familiar with a Glog, it is an on-line poster. You create a Glog on the GlogsterEdu website. They can be embedded into wikis and blogs. As I read about GlogsterEdu from others in my PLN, I was very intrigued. With advice from others, I watched a couple YouTube videos to learn how to do this, and I created a sample poster to show to my students. I had the kids partner up to get things started, but ultimately each student made their own glog.

We started out with pencil and paper. We did our research by reading library books to learn about other countries. Students were able to choose whatever country they wanted, and several chose the same country. I created a organizational web so students could collect and organize their information before we moved to the computers.

When I began to look at the developing Glogs, I realized that some kids were into adding lots of unrelated animated graphics, but were not including much content. At this point I created a Making a Glog poster with my expectations and a checklist for students to use as they edited their work. Later, I used this checklist as a rubric to evaluate our finished Glogs.  Check out my file cabinet for PDFs of these documents.

This turned out to be a really wonderful project, and I was very impressed to see what the kids did with it. Their Glogs were way better than mine. They figured out how to find and embed photos and links in their Glogs. To make it easier for people to see our work, I created a wiki for this project and embedded all the Glogs. I also embedded the Glogs on each student’s Kidblog.

We had Core Knowledge Night, which is an open house type event, on May 5th. One of the problems with on-line projects is being able to display them for visitors to see. I set up three laptops with display boards. I also talked to the class about showing their work to their parents and other visitors. We had lots of people that took the time to see our work.

I will definitely be using Glogs in the future. The kids really enjoyed making them. It was a great way to demonstrate their learning. I also found that several students who often struggle academically really excelled with this project.

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Barbara’s Got a Brand New Blog

Teachers in my school district return to school on Monday, and the kids begin on Thursday.  To go with my new school year, I have a new blog.  It’s called Day In the Classroom, and you can find it at http://dayintheclassroom.edublogs.org/.  Like Prospecting for Treasure, I will be writing and reflecting on the things we are doing in the classroom.  My goal is to post more frequently, while projects are in progress and at their conclusion.  A lot of changes are taking place in our school district, so I will appreciate your input, as I work to adapt these new requirements to my classroom. 

I’ve written my first post about my strategies for getting ready for the new school year.  Check out my new blog to see the Animoto I created, to welcome my students to 4th grade. Please join me at  Day In the Classroom, and see what’s going on this school year.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

My First Technology Conference

This was everything I needed to attend my very first technology conference.

This summer, many of the people who I follow on Twitter have attended great technology conferences.  I’ve been jealous, as I’ve listened to them tweet about their experiences in Denver, Philadelphia, and lots of other places.  I am a classroom teacher in Iowa.  I don’t have a technology position, and although my principal is very supportive, there is no budget for me to travel to a conference. 

This past weekend, I finally got the opportunity to attend my very first technology conference, and it was completely unplanned.  In fact, I inadvertently wandered into my first session when I clicked on a link posted on Twitter.  I found myself listening to and seeing via webcam, Terry Freedman, an educator from the United Kingdom. 

That was the very first session that I attended at the 2010 Reform Symposium.  This was an international conference with people from 59 countries participating.  I was actually still in bed at the time, and it was possible for me to attend, because it was a free on-line conference, through the “magic” of Elluminate.

I have been exploring and using technology in my classroom for about a year now.  I have tried a lot of different things in that time, but I had never seen Elluminate before.  While others may take this for granted, I was so impressed by the fact that you didn’t just sit in your home and passively view these presentations, you participated in them; adding comments to the chat, voting, expressing opinions, and adding your thoughts to the whiteboard. 

I  attended Jerry Swiatek’s presentation, and listened to Tom Whitby and was inspired to involve my kids in sharing and teaching teachers and other students to blog and do other things we are learning to do..  On Sunday, that was reinforced by Monica Hardy and her students.

Sunday morning I got up in time to hear Kelly Hines, a teacher from North Carolina, who I have followed on Twitter for some time.  Her topic was “Tech in 10”, and was full of practical quick ideas, many of which were new to me.  I want to try the Fakebook, a template based on Facebook, to analyze a character or famous person from history. 

She talked about using Skype to connect with classes around the world, and she opened the discussion up to questions.  I raised my hand, by clicking a button, and found myself part of the conversation, when a microphone opened up to me, so I could ask my question.   This all took place while I was sitting on my couch, in my nightgown, sipping a cup of tea. I was a little unnerved at the time, but that was amazing.   This was one of my favorite presentations because there were so many quick easily do-able ideas to try.

Later that day, I was able to learn from Nick Provenzano, Paula White, and Tim Gwynn.

The downside to attending an on-line conference from your home, is that some sessions were interrupted by phone calls and other demands of daily life.  But today I was able to begin catching up on missed sessions through the archived presentations.  I’ve been able to view George Couros, Joan Young, Russ Goerend, and Nate Kogan in this manner. 

The quality of the presentations was excellent.  Most of the sessions that I attended had seventy to one hundred twenty  people taking part.  There were so many new ideas from people who are actually doing this stuff.  Many of the people presenting and participating in the sessions were people I “know” from Twitter.  It was fun to hear their voices, and learn more about their ideas.  For me, these people are the rock stars in the use of technology in education. 

Others have blogged about the high quality of the information shared, all of which is true.  I am also thrilled by the sheer awesomeness of this whole experience.  I am amazed that we have the technology to make this event possible.  I am so impressed by the vision, imagination and tireless work and dedication of Shell Terrell, Kelly Tenkely, Jason Bedell and Christopher Rogers who organized this whole thing.  It was one of the coolest things I have experienced in a long time, and right from my own living room.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , | 12 Comments