Thursday, September 27, 2012

Exploration Thursday - Sept. 27

This week I am knee deep in doing beginning of the year reading assessments (DRAs).  While I value the information I glean from these assessments, trying to keep the classroom in a workshop situation that provides the best environment for the students trying to either orally read with me, independently read their assessment text, or finish comprehension activities on their own, has left me with no time to have "exploration" time this week.

But that doesn't mean I've been idle preparing for life with technology for my students.  Quite the opposite.  This week, I scheduled two morning meetings with some of the district's tech PD folks for our 5th grade team, and we learned quite a bit.

We are trying to set up a learning environment that allows for learning to take place both inside and outside of the classroom.  More importantly, we're trying to use the technology we are so fortunate to have in our classrooms plus the devices students are bringing themselves, in very meaningful ways.  Last week in my post, I talked about the three apps we explored: Skitch, Popplet, and Explain Everything.

This week, we are organizing smarter ways to help us monitor student progress through quick formative assessments.  The tool we are using is Google Forms which is part of GoogleDocs.  Wow!  Through our PD and then the ability to play with Google Forms on our own, we were able to come up with some very valid formative assessments.  One of my teammates is studying place value with her students in math, and designed a 2 question form to check in on what they know so far.  Another teammate decided to use parts of the QuickCheck assessments that are already part of our district's math program and design her own Quick Checks.  After talking to a small group of online cohorts trying to wrap their heads around Evernote (a whole different conversation), I borrowed Susan Dee's idea of doing status of the class as a Google Form.  And that all happened on our first day!!

What will be so user-friendly about using GoogleForms is that our tech PD folks have shown us how to convert our forms into QR codes.  For some of you this may be old hat, but for me it was very new learning.  We will have a QR reader on each of our grade level's iPads and iTouches, so that students just have to scan with their device and it will take them right to the GoogleForm they need to complete.  The two teammates that created the math assessments printed out their QR code, hung the QR codes around the room, students used their devices to scan the code, were sent to the website, and completed the assessment in class.

And for students who don't have devices or want to retrieve the information in a different way, a fourth teammate figured out how to embed the GoogleForm onto his teacher website.

The power of GoogleForm is that it gives you all the information in a spreadsheet so that, as a teacher, the information for differentiation is right there, and you can address the needs of each student.  Beyond cool, right?!!

I'm really excited about next week as we begin to do status of the class in a different way, and I start to look at quick assessments I could use in either reading workshop or writing workshop.  I think one of my next GoogleForms will be on genre - having students correctly identify the genre of different books.  Another thought is about word study; we will be finishing a unit in word study on nouns and plurals soon; our final assessment is actually this Friday.  But, it would be good information for me to go back and take a look in the near future, and design an assessment on plurals.

I'm thrilled with what we've learned so far, and how that in turn will really benefit students.

I think our next learning will be about how to make our class wiki interactive and a place to store student learning and thinking.  Stay tuned!!

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - Sept. 24

I love my classes this year, but another part of me is really missing those lazy days of summer when I read at will, whenever and wherever.  But as I've spent so much time learning about my students through beginning of year assessments, reading has taken a little bit of a backseat. 

But in the last three to four weeks, I have managed to get a few things read:

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker - My blog partner, Bill, had read this and recommended it. I loved it! The author is Sara Pennypacker, of Clementine fame. I really enjoyed this read, and since I sometimes judge a book's success by how many tissues I use while crying at happy or sad parts (even when they're predictable), I can tell you this book had a 5-tissue ending. :) (middle grade)

Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy - I actually read this a few weeks ago, and forgot to record it on GoodReads. This will be a book I recommend time and time again to students, especially girls. I love the unusual element of the main character, Lilah, being able to hear ghosts. She then spends time trying to help them help the loved ones they left behind. Delightful. (middle grade)

The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford - I can't wait to get this book into the hands of many of my students, especially girls this year.  The concepts of how friendships can change and morph as middle school approaches, the idea that everyone wants somewhere to belong, and the concept that communities look out for one another.   This book has all that and a little voodoo and revenge wrapped up into a delightful bundle.   (middle grade)

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness - A really good ending to The Chaos Walking trilogy. Down to the wire, but the ending left me with hope. This one was probably the hardest for me to comprehend because of a group of characters; I had to really wrap my head around their being and their language. (YA)

 The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani - This was my adult book club read for tonight's meeting. I'm so happy we read this for several reasons. First, if you've never read anything by Adriana Trigiani, you're missing something special. She is closely tied to family and her Italian heritage, and that comes out in much of what she writes. In addition, the last book our club read was Elizabeth Street, which also dealt with Italian immigrants and heritage. What a great comparison we can make between the two books! Finally, our hostess for the evening has strong Italian heritage herself, and she found a cookbook Adriana Trigiani wrote with her sister of Italian recipes, and Chris will be preparing some of those foods for us to sample at book club - yum!!  (adult)

Please join Kellee and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts, who are the cohosts of this wonderful Monday event!  I love finding out what others are reading, and start planning my next week's reading using some of the participants ideas. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Exploration Thursday

A good friend, Andrea, has a day she calls "Expedition" day in her classroom.  Her students explore topics of nonfiction and wonder on these days.

Last year, I borrowed her idea, and had Wonder Wednesdays in our classroom where we used nonfiction texts and websites like Wonderopolis to dig deeper into topics of interest.

This year, I decided to have a day I call Exploration Thursday, which was originally just meant to be a Wonder Wednesday transplant, but due to an exciting opportunity for the 5th graders in my school, Exploration Thursday has become a day where we launch new thinking, and it has become much more than that as well.  Truly every day is a day for exploration.

Let me explain.  This year, my forward-thinking principal decided to give all the 5th grade classrooms a variety of technology tools to use in the classroom.  Each room has 3 iPads (grateful for a PTO grant that jump-started those acquistions), 4 desktops (they were previously in our room), 6 laptops (one of the school's laptop carts was broken down, and redistributed to each 5th grade classroom), and 5 - 6 iTouches (a teacher wrote a grant several years ago for these and decided not to use them so they have been redistributed to us as well).  As you can see, a wonderful situation to have.

But talk about needing to change my mindset -- even though students weren't always composing the same things in previous years, everyone did use the same tools - Pages, Keynote, KidBlog - to demonstrate learning.  Now, we are in the fabulous position of having even more tools that demonstrate learning, but we can't all use the same tools for the same things.  So my thinking about tech tools needed to evolve.

Luckily, we have an amazing tech team in our district who come out to work with individuals on needed PD, and the conversations that have already occurred regarding this new learning have been wonderful.  I've already had conversations and personal meetings with 4 of the tech personnel and I love how supportive they are of this learning opportunity.

Exploring Popplet
Last Thursday, I was just going to introduce the iPads to the students.  Well truthfully, they are fairly tech-savvy, so it would be more accurate to say I introduced the 3 apps that I thought might be new to them.  I quickly demonstrated some very simple "how to" regarding the apps Explain Everything, Skitch, and Popplet.  Then students were paired up and asked to produce a product in each app.  I know this won't come as a surprise, but the students taught both me and the two district tech folks in the classroom things we didn't know.  It was so fun as we plugged their iPads into the SmartBoard to see what they had discovered and produced.

Students taught me you can pictures to Popplet boxes!
However, once again, everyone was showing their learning using the same tools.  I know there was purpose behind spending this time early in the year getting to know the new apps so they will know the various tools available to them, but now it's time for the "what's next".

I've very excited about the next steps proposed by two of my tech friends, Trish and Beth.  We're going to think about each of the devices in the classroom, and brainstorm all the possibilities for each to show learning; we'll be building a toolbox of many tools, no matter what device we use.  I'm really looking forward to all the Exploration of Learning that will occur in our classrooms this year.

And we're going to look at authentic rubrics to assess some of this formative information the students will be creating.  I promise to share more about that next week; I have 2 more meetings scheduled with my tech friends as we think through authentic use and assessment.

I know this will be a topic for several blog posts throughout the school year, so stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cybils Time Again!!

I'm so very excited to be involved with the Cybils Awards for the 4th year in a row!  Incredibly, I have been a judge in the same category for all four years - nonfiction picture books.  I've served on both the first and second rounds of judging and have enjoyed both, but I will be a first round judge again this year.  I think the months of October, November, and part of December will be jam-packed with reading some great new nonfiction, and I can't wait!

I love that these awards exist; they are such a nice complement to the ALA awards.  We get the opportunity to focus not just on literary merit, but also on kid appeal.  That last being said, I'm the most popular teacher as I constantly share these new nonfiction books with my class.  And this year, having 52 students/critics, will help me fine-tune my own thinking about what actually has kid appeal.

I'm excited to work with some amazing people in the coming months:

Round 1
Janssen Bradshaw
Everyday Reading

Deb Nance

Amy Broadmoor
Delightful Children's Books

Ellen Zschunke
On the Shelf 4 Kids

Karen Terlecky
Literate Lives

Susan Murray
From Tots to Teens

Laurie Thompson
Laurie Thompson

Round 2
Jen Fukuyama
Perogies and Gyoza

Shirley Duke

Roberta Gibson
Wrapped in Foil

Mandy Robek
Enjoy and Embrace Learning

Amy Uptain
Hope is the Word

Looking forward to what will be the finalists in all the judging categories, and then finding out the ultimate winners sometime after the first of next year.

I spent some time at the Cybils website this evening, and I was reminded once again what a terrific website it is as a resource for great new titles.  I will be sharing it with my staff again this year, and hope that they will spot a great book that they are dying to share with students once the nominations start pouring in!

Let the Cybils fun begin!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Greatness Is... Slice of Life Tuesday

Wow!  Every time I've been away from blogging/writing for a period of time (like these first few weeks of school), and I come back to it, I feel so happy to be writing again.  It does make me wonder how to make writing a daily part of my life.  As my online cohorts from Opening Minds would say, "I'm just not there... yet."

But regardless, I'm glad to be back because I have some amazing stories to share about both of my language arts classes this year, and this story seems like a "great" (you'll understand soon) place to start.

The summer is when I have more time than normal, like most educators, to spend time reflecting on my teaching and refining my practice.  Much learning from others takes place during the months of June, July, and August.  One of the people who made a big impression on me this summer was Katherine Sokolowski -- she has been the author of many thoughtful posts on her blog (Read, Write, Reflect), but one post that really caught my attention was her post about having conversations regarding what makes one great.  In this post, she has collected several video clips that share what greatness can be, many of them Olympic-oriented.

I knew that this was a conversation I wanted to have with my 5th graders as well - what is greatness and how do we get there as individuals and as a group?  The videos and this question became the "meat and potatoes" of our morning meetings for the past 3 weeks. 

I started with the video clip about Michael Phelps -- incredibly short, but powerful in looking at the greatness of the most decorated Olympic athlete ever.  The conversation didn't have to be personal at first, but rather thinking about someone else's greatness.  But the beauty of the video clips Katherine put together, is that each video pushed my students' thinking deeper and deeper into personal greatness.

At the end of 3 weeks, after much conversation, writing in writer's notebooks, and re-viewing the videos, I asked my students to fill out a notecard with one of the following sentence starters:
  • Greatness is...
  • I can be great...
  • To be great I need to...
  • What does greatness mean?
  • What is greatness for you?
Many students chose the first one, but no matter which starter they chose, they all had to look within to think about this concept of greatness.  We compiled our thinking, decorated a little (I have many students who love colored pencils), and they are now publicly posted on this closet door and other places so that we can all learn from each other.  

This is early in the year, and some of the thinking about greatness didn't totally develop into deeper levels... yet.  But I know that with this theme as our backdrop, conversations will continue to evolve throughout the year.

Thanks so much to Katherine for such "great" thinking and sharing!!

Thanks also to Ruth and Stacey for hosting us on Tuesdays -- I'm delighted to be continuing my membership in this writing community that meets every week for Slice of Life Tuesday

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Summer of the Gypsy Moths is a Wonderful Read

I have always been a fan of Sara Pennypacker, especially her Clementine books.  She just has a way with creating characters that I think really connect with her readers.  So I was excited to find out that she had written a book for older readers, middle grades, called Summer of the Gypsy Moths.  I was even more excited when I found it on the new shelf at my local library.

Two twelve year old girls find themselves staying with an elderly foster parent near Cape Cod.  Both come from tragic backgrounds.  Stella never knew her father and her mother was incapable of taking care of her.  Angel's mother was killed in a car accident and her father drowned at sea.  Stella's Great Aunt Louise takes them both in even though they come from very different backgrounds and don't get along at all.

When Aunt Louise dies of a heart attack while the girls are at school, they have a choice to make.  Call the police and both get sent to yet another foster home, or learn to handle the summer vacation cottages on their own and stay independent.  They choose the second and go to some pretty drastic actions to keep the death of Louise a secret.

The owner of the Linger Longer vacation cottages, George, comes around and teaches the girls what it takes to change the cabins over for the next round of visitors.  The girls tell George that Louise has fallen and hurt her ankle and wouldn't be able to help for a while so the girls handle it all.

Angel works harder than she ever has, learning survival skills she has never had so she can earn enough money to get to New York to live with her aunt, a recent immigrant.  Stella follows her collection of Hints From Heloise articles and keeps the Linger Longer cabins running smoothly.  She dreams of her mother coming to live in Cape Cod and together the two of them taking over the care of the cottages from Louise.

The girls learn to live and work together and then become the closest of friends.  Each learns from the other how to do things they never thought they could.  Throughout the story the girls worry about the secret in the pumpkin patch and in a way grow even closer to it.

It will take a pretty strong middle grade reader to understand this book, but when we kick off this year's version of the Bailey Newbery Club, Summer of the Gypsy Moths will be one of the title I put on the reading list.