Ready, Set, Blog!

We did it.  We’re officially online!

After a little technological hiccup yesterday, we set today as the day for our first “real” blog posts.  Remember how I’m always saying my kids are amazing? Well, today they did not disappoint. 🙂

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I know you will want to read what they’re doing, and I know they will love to have you read it!  And, as most of them remembered to add to their posts, please remember to leave a comment!

Check us out at!


10 Things I Learned Today

I have always thought that good teachers are also learners.  I try to learn something every day.  And today was one of those days when I was learning a lot.  Here are just a few of those things.

1. My students are ready for Winter Break.

2. Many of my students like to argue–I mean debate. 🙂 

3. My friend Melissa is really sneaky.  She left me a really great Christmas gift on my desk, right under my nose.  And it was perfect–partly pink, partly related to writing, and mostly made from a cupcake.  YUM!

4. My students are ready for Winter Break.

5. My kids are amazing bloggers, even though they just did their first post today.  I knew they were great writers, but I LOVE seeing it in action.  And I chuckled out loud at some of what they wrote.  This will definitely be a great way to get to know them better as people, not just writers.

6. If you eat too many Oreo Cookie Balls, you will get a stomachache. But then you might keep eating them anyway because they are so amazingly yummy.

7. My students are ready for Winter Break.

8. If you’re walking in a parking lot and there are two paths–one through a big puddle and another on dry pavement–you will walk on dry land and the kids around you will stomp through the puddles every time.

9. There are many people in my school I don’t talk to often enough.  I got to have a great conversation this afternoon with two friends I don’t see very often because their roles are different than mine.  Our paths don’t cross unless we make them, and I need to learn to do that more. Thanks Rochelle and Erika for chatting today.  I learned from you in that short time and enjoyed myself, too!

10. My students are ready for Winter Break.  But so am I. 🙂

Entering the Blogosphere

If you would have asked me last school year if I’d ever have a blog, I’d have said you were nuts.  I knew what they were, but didn’t see myself as a blogger; I didn’t have a story that anyone wanted to hear.  I wasn’t really sure what I’d write about–up to that point I’d only written for myself as the audience in my notebook.  So then if your next question would have been if my kids would be bloggers, then I’d have considered you certifiable.

So I guess you’re all crazy–and I am, too!–because my class has a blog, and my kids started their blogging journey this week, too!

Before I go any further, I have to give a shout-out and a thanks to Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) and Karen McMillan (@mcteach) for providing many useful blogging resources to teachers like me who have a great idea but don’t really know where to start.  Their assistance via Twitter and their own blogs has been unbelievable!

Now for the story:

I have been talking up blogging since pretty much day one.  I started the class blog that you’re reading in July, after talking alot with my brother, who teaches high school math and just finished his Masters in Educational Technology (or something like that–sorry if I got the title wrong, Chuck!).  I have been writing for a long while now, but I needed another outlet.  At this same time, I also joined Twitter, and have been learning much from my “tweeps” ever since.  That’s actually where I got the idea for blogging with kids.

I was noticing that so many people were tweeting about updated posts by their kids, and so I started reading.  I soon learned that there a tons of kids out there who are learning super important lessons about writing and internet safety (and too many more to name) because they are blogging.  Even kindergarteners.  Yep, 5 and 6 year olds.  So the more I read, and the more I thought about it, the more I knew I wanted my kids to join them.  And so I began planning on how my 5th graders would enter the blogosphere.

We started on Wednesday, with a lesson that I called “Blogging 101.”  It was funny that I had to explain the “101” part to my kids–they had never heard of that before.  We talked about what background knowledge they had for the word LOG, and discussed how a log is a place where someone (like a pilot or ship captain) writes down important things that happen, organized by dates.  They were able to then transfer that idea to web-log, or blog, and we were in business.

They already have experience with this blog that I write, because we read it together almost everyday, and many of them have been following and commenting for months now.  I showed them several of the other blogs I follow, like Make It and Love It, the Candy Blog (that one is one of my hubby’s favorites, actually), Bake at 350 and Daily Daisy (and Caleb, too!).  We talked about what we noticed about both the appearance and theme of each one.  At this point they were chomping at the bit to get going–but there was another very important thing we had to talk about next: safety.

Thanks to an idea I found from Pernille Ripp again, we talked about why internet safety is like the mall.  While my students, who are 10-11-year-olds, don’t spend a lot of time at the mall or other places by themselves yet, they knew some really smart things to do and not do: not talk to strangers, not share their personal information with random people, only go where you tell your parents you’re going and stay there the whole time, and so on.  I was really pleased, because I knew I was going to be talking about how the very same things would keep them safe while they were on the internet on their own.  We talked through an internet safety plan, that they were to take home to share with their parents and have signed.

Next step: first blog post.  But not online, on paper.  They created a rough draft to tell about themselves, then edited and made a final draft on 9X12 oak tag.  This was serious business in our room.



After two days’ worth of work, we had finished paper blog posts and we were ready to learn about what makes blogging interesting: commenting.  I shared some guidelines, and we talked about what they were thinking.  I gave them some ideas for comment starters (shared by Karen McMillan on her blog Notes from McTeach), and my kiddos were great to connect some conversation prompts we already use in our classroom to this new learning.  Each student was given a pad of sticky notes, and the were off.  I turned on some quiet music, and they went to work.  They read, they thought, they commented.  For almost 45 minutes!  Yes, you heard right–45 minutes of silence and students focused on sharing their thoughts with their friends.



After a while, everyone’s blogs started to become a beautiful rainbow of colored post-its, each containing kind and constructive words from their classmates.

Once everyone had had a chance to comment on blogs (and comment on other comments), we took some time to read what others had written, and then sat down to debrief and celebrate.  As we gathered in a circle on our carpet, I asked them to share with each other whatever they were thinking about what we had just done.  Here were some of their words:

I liked it.  I think this was a good experience for knowing what we’re going to do on our “real” blog.

I think it’s cool because we were talking with paper–kind of like having a conversation, but definitely different.

I think that it was really fun.

It was fun because you got to pass notes and you don’t get to do that in class normally.

It’s great that we got to learn something new while we were having fun together.

This reminded me of Harry Potter–like passing owls–we got to come back and reply to a note that someone wrote.  I really felt like someone was noticing me.

I was excited when Kelsey was replying to my answers, I had to reply back!

So we’re on to the internet on Monday, to be introduced to our blogs.  We hope to have our first “real” posts up by Wednesday.  I have to say I’m impressed.  I am amazed.  I knew it would be good, but it went even better than I anticipated.  It was so cool how engaged they were, how eager they were to share their thoughts and read the thoughts of their classmates, how kind and generous they were with their words.  I didn’t have to censor anyone’s comments; they were completely honest and gracious as they told each other how much they liked what they had read, asked questions to dig deeper and to encourage future work, and to make connections to what the blogger had written.  They commented on each others’ comments, too, and we even ended up with one long string of sticky notes that was about 10 long!  I was so proud of my students once this was completed, and am so excited to see what they do next.  I know it will be amazing.  Because they are amazing. 🙂

Enjoy our first finished projects:











Wordles in Math

We’ve been busy this week.  We’re always busy, but I think for some reason we’ve crammed more than usual into the last fives days.  And it seems that a lot of what we did was new.  And very cool.  And involved technology.

We tried making Wordles again on Monday.  It was the start of a new unit on 2D geometry in math, so I needed to get a feel for what they remember from 4th grade.  Rather than do a pencil/paper pre-assessment, I had them create a Wordle to show me their background knowledge for this unit.  We brainstormed some words we might use and explain in our Wordles, and then got to work.

I should stop saying I’m amazed with their final products–by this point they’ve shown me countless times that they can do amazing work.  But that’s what I was: amazed.  And I learned much about what they already knew.


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Just Let it Happen

We were in the middle of a really important lesson yesterday, when we saw this out our window:


What could we do next but this?

It was one of those moments as a teacher that I really hate–like when it starts to snow or rain really hard and kids act like they’re never seen weather before–but I decided I just needed to go with it. We do indeed have a construction site right outside our window, and it was, in fact, interesting to see a big crane carrying a massive slab of concrete or metal (or whatever it was) to put into the building that will hold our new gym and several new classrooms next year (yay!).  So rather than be annoyed and fight what was going on out there, we decided to stop for a minute.  And just let it happen.  Learning occurs in many ways and many places, and sometimes it involves stopping to watch a big crane.  🙂

“There Are Two Kinds of People in the World…”

“…people who like marshmallows in their hot chocolate and people who like whipped cream.”

I’ve decided that there’s actually another: the kind who likes BOTH!

Are you confused?  Or maybe you’re just thirsty now.  Let me explain. 🙂

Of course you already know about how much I LOVE read-aloud, and how it’s such a big deal in our classroom.  I tell you all the time.  But I’m going to tell you again, because yesterday we had another great read-aloud experience together.

We’ve been reading Who’s Stealing the 12 Days of Christmas by Martha Freeman.  I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, and this is actually the second of her books that we’ve read this year (in October we read Who Stole Halloween?)


So there’s a part in the story where the characters (who are trying to figure out who’s been stealing the birds from their neighborhood’s holiday yard displays) are chatting with old Mr. Stone.  He is making cocoa for them, and starts to tell them about how “there are two kinds of people in the world: people who like marshmallows in their hot chocolate and people who like whipped cream.”  What else could we do but see which one of those people we were?

I conveniently got some hot chocolate for my birthday (thanks, Archie!), so we were already a step ahead.  Then I made sure to bring the rest of the fixins’ with me that morning:

For most of the morning, the cocoa warmed in the big ‘ole Crock Pot as we waited for read-aloud after lunch.

When my kids came back from recess (on a rather chilly day), this is what they saw:

I had already gotten marshmallows ready in half of the class, because I guess I figured that there would be an equal amount people who wanted each kind of topping.  Just for the record, I believe our class was 9 Team Marshmallow and 16 Team Whipped Cream.  Oh, and then there was me–I can never decide, so I took both. 🙂

Then we sat down to read.

Ok, so I know there are some of you who are yelling at me about how this isn’t really related to read-aloud as a teaching time, which I am always making such a big deal about.  But I disagree.  No, the lesson today wasn’t about word choice, fluency or inferences, but there was learning happening.  We were learning about each other, and we were sharing an experience.  We were building our community and having fun while we were doing something we’d normally do anyway.  We were loving a story and making a connection with the characters in the book.  And in some ways, I think those lessons can be even more important than just the reading parts.  We’re enjoying a good book together and enjoying each other, too.

Missing Wordles Pictures

As I was so excited about Wordles the other day, I started the post before I realized that they were saved on my computer at school, and I sit with my laptop at home and blog.  Boo! 😦

So here they are–finally.  Remember, they’re about the Ancient West African kingdom of Songhai.  And they’re pretty great.  Hopefully you can tell what they’re about by the way kiddos prioritized the size of the words.


Riley, the Apple Man

Another project our school was involved in these last few weeks was a canned food drive to benefit Kirkcare.  As I wrote in my post about it, we have really been learning alot about hunger and how it affects kids and what we can do about it.  Thus a simple holiday project became a service-learning project.  If you haven’t read the comments on these posts by my students, be sure to see them–their words are proof that they’ve really been touched by the work we did.

So, then on Saturday I was able to extend the learning with my son, Riley, when we helped out at Kirkcare.  At first we thought we were going to be loading food from our school onto a truck and then call it a day.  Then I found out that we would actually be giving food to families that needed it and I was totally excited!  This was exactly what Riley and I had been talking about when we were shopping, and he was going to see it in action!

The set up was pretty simple: A person or family would come and check in, and they would be given a number to tell us how many boxes of food they were to receive (based on the size of their family).  We would then get that number of boxes together, add a ham and a bag of apples (and a bag of candy if there were children in the family) and then help them load it into their car.  Simple set up, but with amazing results.

At first Riley and I helped take food outside, but then Riley was given a really important job.  He became Riley, the Apple Man: he added 2 bags of apples to each cart that we were loading.  Again, simple job, but totally appropriate and special for a 4YO boy.  He was able to interact with the families as they came in, and to talk with all of us as we got boxes together.  There was a really nice lady from Kirkcare (I wish I had gotten her name!) who took a special interest in Ri, and helped him in his work.  She was known as the “Candy Lady” and of course, shared some with him.

Riley when we first arrived.  “Look at all this food, Mommy!”

A better view of the room of food!  I thought it was so cute that Riley went around and found all of the things he knew he had bought to put in the boxes.  He was so proud that he had helped!

Riley, the Apple Man! (He really is jazzed to do this job.  Just not about me taking a picture of him doing it.)

Riley putting apples in a cart with Mrs. Frierdich.

I am so happy that I was able to do this with my little buddy.  Even though he’s only 4, and he doesn’t understand what it feels like to have a hungry belly, and he doesn’t know anybody that does, he totally gets that one little person can make a difference in the life of somebody else.  He knows that he is lucky to have the things he does and that there are others who don’t.  Even since this food drive, we’ve wrapped gifts for a Stuff the Stocking project at his daddy’s school, where he knew that he was getting gifts for kiddos who wouldn’t have had any, and he noticed that his own preschool is having a canned food drive now!  Before last week, he wouldn’t have even known what that was, or what he was supposed to do.  Now he knows how to join in and do important work–work that many adults don’t participate in.

My hope is that I can continue this work that we started in him this week.  I want to always help him to ask “What can I do?”  I want him to be involved in helping others, not just at the holidays.  I want him to grow up to think of others before himself, to always look for ways to be involved in his community.  Even one little person can make a difference.  And some day that little person will be a bigger person, who hopefully makes an even bigger difference. 🙂

Wanna join me?  How do you help promote this with your own kids? What do you do to help others?

More Than Community Service

Many schools participate in service-learning projects.  Ours is one of those.  But I’m not sure that until recently that I really knew what service-learning was.  I think that in years past, I’ve said that I did a service-learning project, but really it was nothing more than a brief activity we did related to a holiday food drive or because there was a hospital next door to our school and we thought it was a good idea.  Not until last month did I learn what I should have been doing in order to really call something service-learning.  And now we’re actually doing it.

Even though the name really does imply its definition, I think it’s easier to start by saying what service-learning is not:

  • It’s not just a one-time episode when you help someone.
  • It’s not an add-on to your curriculum.
  • It’s not logging in community service hours just because you have to.
  • It’s not just something big kids or grown-ups do.  (taken from information on

Service-learning is a strategy that involves meaningful, authentic service to address a problem or issue in your community, where your students learn and then reflect on what they’ve learned.  It benefits both the volunteers and the recipients of your service.

Ok, but how to you do it?  How do you make sure that you effectively combine the service part and the learning part so that your students benefit as well as the ones you are serving? Service-learning includes several important components to help make this happen:

  1. Preparation: As you prepare to do a service-learning project, your class (or school or Girl Scout Troop, etc) should identify a community need that you could address.  Brainstorm possibilities and then choose one.  After your need is chosen, then you will need to work to investigate or learn more about the need.  This can be done through internet research, reading books about the subject, talking with people or groups that might be involved in the work already, or a variety of other methods.  In the service-learning project we just did at our school, we focused on Veteran’s Day.  We had an assembly on Veteran’s Day where we learned more about what veterans are, listened to a current serviceman speak about his experiences in Iraq, met people in our community who were veterans, and sang patriotic songs.  We also read picture books and watched videos to help us get more information on the meaning of Veteran’s Day and why it should be important to every citizen in our country–even elementary students.
  2. Action: Not surprisingly, this is the step in which students actually do the service part of the project.  Again, this should be related to the identified community need, and based on the foundation built while you learned more about the topic during the preparation phase.  For our action step, we wrote letters to veterans.  Most kids in our school wrote to veterans in homes or hospitals.  We were lucky enough to have the name of an airman currently serving in the Middle East.  He was a friend of a classmate, and so we wrote to him and told him how much we appreciated what he does for our country to keep us safe.
  3. Reflection: Part of what makes service-learning more than just community service is the reflection stage.  Once you have completed your action step, it is important to step back and look at what has happened, what you have or can learn from it, and pay attention to the effects your project has had on you and those you were serving.  The reflection step of our Robinson service-learning project actually started with every student in our school receiving a letter of their own in the mail. Every member of our staff wrote letters to students–in their own handwriting, in a hand-addressed envelope–and then there were mailed home.  Later in the the same week, our class (and the rest of our school) sat down to reflect on how it had felt to receive a letter in the mail with their name on it.  The hope was that students could then apply how that might have felt for the veterans to whom we had written. My students did a great job of identifying how special and “noticed” they felt to have gotten mail addressed to them; usually the mail was for the grown-ups in their house or was bills or junk mail.  We had a great discussion about how our airman friend Mark might have felt alot of the same things when he received a big packet of letters from our class.  Our hope was that it helped him to realize that he was doing a good thing and that we had noticed.  We wanted him to feel proud for what he was doing to serve our country.  Many connections were made during our conversation.
  4. Demonstration/Celebration/Evaluation:After you’ve done the amazing work of your service-learning project, take time to celebrate it!  You could do this in a variety of ways, like by writing about what your students learned, in a journal or in a PowerPoint presentation.  You could create banners or posters around the school highlighting the project, coordinate news coverage about your project or post the project on the school website.  Here you also evaluate how the project went, and begin steps for doing your next service-learning project based on what happened this time around.  The celebration phase of our Robinson service-learning project is ongoing, really.  We have shared it on our website, and we are planning a schoolwide assembly in the spring at our school to highlight all of the projects that we will have been involved in throughout the year.  Our class may create Wordles about it (related to my post from yesterday), or blog about it (once we start this next week!).  No matter what we decided to do, it’s vital that we stopped to notice the work we had done and the difference we made!

So what will you do to participate in service-learning? Everyone can make a difference.


I mentioned last week how we had a great day in Social Studies on Monday.  Then on Tuesday, we discussed how to make the change stick during our class meeting.    So on Wednesday, it was really cool when we had another amazing SS time.  Not cool because I didn’t expect it, but cool because I did expect it to go well and then it did! (If you’re a teacher you know what I mean–a well-laid plan doesn’t always work out the way it’s supposed to!)

I had taken some advice from my friends as I planned Wednesday’s lesson: choosing their partners/groups, working together with them first, and doing the reading part of the job in Reader’s Workshop.  We proceeded much like we had the previous two days, but with the focus being Songhai (or Songhay) rather than Mali (remember: we’re studying kingdoms of Ancient West Africa).  But I added one thing: a new piece of technology that my kids didn’t know.  We made Wordles!

If you haven’t heard of a Wordle before, you’re not alone.  I hadn’t heard of one until I read about it from someone I follow on Twitter over the summer.  (Yes, I’m on Twitter.  More about that later.)  In a few words, it’s a word cloud that you create about whatever topic or concept you want.  I’ve seen them used for spelling words or other subjects, as well as to describe yourself.  The size of the words is determined by how many times you enter that word in the box, and then the bigger size implies bigger importance.

This is a wordle I made about me:

So fast forward to our Social Studies application of Wordle.  Each group met with me again during group time in Reader’s Workshop to read, discuss and pull out important information that they could use on their Wordle.  They had a plan, and then worked with their group to create a word cloud showing the important facts related to Songhai and their specific discipline (history, civics, economics, culture, geography).  Just like on Monday, they were busy, they were quiet, they were engaged.  (I know it sounds like my class is never any of those things.  That’s totally not true!  They really are an amazing bunch of kiddos!)

I have gotten such great feedback from my kids on this day!  They loved learning something new–both about Africa and about how to create a Wordle.  They’ve already asked when we can do it again, made suggestions for other places in our day we could try it, and want to try it at home on their own time.  Love, love, love what’s happening in this unit now. 🙂

(Ok, I realize I didn’t post pictures of the actual Wordles they made, but that’s because I just realized their on my computer at school and I didn’t want til Monday to post this!  I’ll add them later, I promise!)