Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Using Bitstrips for School

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

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

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

April 2, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 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

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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

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

End of Year Technology Survey for May 2011

School is officially out for the summer and my classroom is closed. Before the kids left for vacation, however, I had them participate in a survey about the technology we used in our classroom this year. I wanted to know how they felt about the projects and websites we used. To administer the survey I created a Google Form, which I embedded in our class wiki. Read about our survey and the projects they liked and did not like by visiting my blog, Day In the Classroom.  You can find it at http://dayintheclassroom.edublogs.org/.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Our New Class Photo

This is our new class photo.  I know we look a little different than we did in our previous pictures.  These are our Avatars, and we created them on the cartooning website, Bit Strips for Schools.  We are using it in connection with our Being a Writer curriculum.

The unit we are working on now is called, “Functional Writing” and it focuses on the everyday ways we use writing in the real world.  This includes, among other things, writing directions, recipes, and cartooning.  I wish I would have gotten started earlier with it, because we are having a lot of fun.

I had used the website Toondoo to create cartoons for my blogs, but I remembered seeing some cartoons that Aviva Dunsinger’s  students had created, (@Grade1 on Twitter), so I asked her about it.  She recommended Bit Strips for Schools.

I like the fact that I was able to set up a class account for my students.  This enables me to more closely monitor the content they are creating and are exposed to.  The added bonus is that this website has ready-made assignments for students that you can use.  The first assignment is to create an Avatar, and then create a comic strip with your avatar as the main character.

We are having a lot of fun!  We will be embedding these on our Kidblogs when we’re done.  We will also be drawing our own cartoons this week.
This is a great way to end the school year!

This is a duplicate of a post from my blog Day In the Classroom.  Don’t forget to visit this blog to see some of the things we did during the 2010-2011 school year.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a 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

Our Castle Project for 2011

This school year I have been writing and posting on my new blog, Day In the Classroom.  I recently realized that some people are still visiting this blog, so I am going to double post to both blogs.  This post includes  some  material from a post last year about the castle project that I do with students.

Phillips is a Core Knowledge School.  We are also a public school, so we teach the regular school district curriculum, and in addition we teach most of the Core Knowledge Content.  Core Knowledge is based on the writings of E. D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy.  You can learn more about it by visiting the Core Knowledge Foundation Website.

Our first graders learn about ancient Egypt, the third grades can tell you about the Roman empire, and in fourth grade we learn about the Middle Ages.  As part of our study, my students build castles.  We  completed our castle project last week.  It is completed as a homework project, and it is one of the highlights of fourth grade, or so some people tell me.

I have done this project for fourteen years.  I did quit for a few years because the castles had become so elaborate and huge, and they had become “Dad Castles” instead of “Kid Castles”.  I make it a point to tell families that they may assist, but it should be mostly the child’s work.  When students bring their castles, we always interview them about how they planned and built their castle.  When asked what they liked best about the project, many respond with something they did with their parents, so I do allow family help.

I have restrictions about the size of the final castle.  It had gotten to the point that some castles were the size of two or three student desks.  I now request that they are no larger than the top of a student desk.

Because I didn’t want to cause a hardship for any family, for a few years I offered the option of making a poster instead of a model.  Only one or two students per year ever chose to do that.  When other students asked them why they made a poster rather than model, the answer was that they thought it would be easier.  Since I don’t want to offer a “lazy option”, I dropped that this year.

We begin in class by learning why castles were built, and how they were built.  Castles weren’t just houses, they were war machines.  We learn about the planning that went into the defense of these castles, and children are encouraged to include these details in their models.

I am a big consumer of manilla folders, and I use them for this project.  I staple step by step directions for the project on the left side of the folder.  You’ll can find a copy of these directions in the file cabinet.  On the right side I include diagrams labeling  the parts of the castle.  We do several in-class lessons about the parts of the castle, and whether it was for offense of defense.   I also include ideas about possible ways to construct a model. Most of my ideas come from the books, Knights And Castles, By Teacher Created Materials and The Middle Ages Independent Learning Unit, By Lorraine Conway.  You can read more about the resources I use in my previous post on this blog, titled Medieval History for Kids.

The kids and families never cease to amaze me with their creativity.  I have seen castles made of wood, cardboard, styrofoam, sugar cubes, marshmallows, sand (that was not such a good idea), clay, craft sticks, and rocks.  Every year, there is some new idea that I would never have thought of and have never seen before.  This year one of my girls brought the mold that they used to make all the blocks that they built the castle from.    She explained to us how she mixed the “cement”, formed the blocks, removed them from the mold, and let them dry.  It was fantastic.

We do a lot of writing.  We write about why castles were built.  We write about the kids’  thinking and planning for their castle.  Kids write a description of their work to be displayed at Core Knowledge Night.  At the end we write fairy tales about what happens when an evil wizard shrinks us and our castles become real.

On the day the castles are due, we invite students from other grades to come see them, which is why kids come into 4th grade asking when we’re going to build castles.  All the castles pictured in this post were created by my students from this year.  I made this Animoto to celebrate our castles and Core Knowledge Night.

Our castles were due Wednesday, May 4th, which was the day before we had our big school celebration, “Core Knowledge Night”.  Now we have them displayed in the office, library, and above our lockers.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment