We’re Connecting with the World. Again. :)

If you’ve been here for a while, then you know about the map that hangs in our classroom.  And then how it changed after some really good suggestions from some really smart 5th graders. If you’re new here, or you haven’t read those past posts, then let me tell you about it.
Blogging is a great activity for so many reasons.  I read blog post from fellow teacher and blogger Pernille Ripp the other day that really summed up everything I wanted to say about the “why” of blogging.  One of the really important benefits, which goes along with Common Core beautifully, is the global connection that blogging brings with it.  Children have the opportunity to reach outside themselves, sometimes to “talk” to people from places they’ve never heard of or don’t know much about.


In our classroom, we have this map.  Right now it looks really sad and empty:

But it doesn’t have to stay like that, and that’s where you come in.  On this map, we’re going to keep track of the places from where all of our comments come.   As readers leave comments–and tell us where they live–we’ll put in pins to show us all the places where we’ve made a connection.  We’re hoping to be able to reach as many countries and continents as we can!  So far, we actually have had comments from several places in Missouri, Alabama (thanks Mrs. Clark!), Kentucky (thanks Mr. Browning!), Argentina (courtesy of @gret in Buenos Aires!), Alaska (thanks Ms. Girard), and Australia (from Mr. Mannell, who is a regular visitor to our blog!)!  I’m a little late in getting those in, but partly because I was hoping that after this post, we’d have tons more to add!
So…if you are willing, after you read this blog, or our kid blogs, leave a comment and tell us what you think (and maybe if you’ve already commented, but didn’t tell us your location, come back again)!  Please tell us where in the world you live, so we can add you to our global connections!  We’re excited to see how our knowledge of the world grows as our pins are added and we continue on this journey!  Thanks in advance for your help!  We’re excited to meet you. 🙂

Cahokia Mounds!

On Friday, we took a 5th Grade Field Trip to Cahokia Mounds!  Remember how we had just had a Social Studies unit on Mental Models and the Mississippians at Cahokia?  Well we topped it off with a trip to visit the site, since it’s just a short bus ride from our school.
Probably best to tell about it with some pictures!

This must be our bus–it’s #202! That’s the same as our classroom! It seems that that number is everywhere lately. It was the room number in two of the last chapter books we read, and now on our bus. Funny.

Getting on the bus. Jack’s excited, can you tell?

We arrive at Cahokia! The weather ended up being about 50 degrees, windy and rainy. Not what we had expected earlier in the week, but we survived. At least it wasn’t 90 degrees outside–which it very well could have been! This was better, even if we were a bit chilly and wet.

See that? It’s Monk’s Mound! We learned all about it during our study, and now we were going to be able to climb to the top! Talk about history in action!

View from the top: way in the distance you can see the St. Louis Arch. Maybe. If you squint. I promise, it’s there.

Inside, at the interpretive center, there was a museum with many artifacts (or replicas of them) that we had talked about during our study. Again, how cool to see what we had read and talked about. Here are some examples of chunkey stones, which are from a game that the Cahokians played. Many chunkey stones were found in the graves of important people from their society.

How to Play Chunkey. In case you were wondering.

Model of an archeological dig

We studied this pot during our unit. It looks like an ordinary pot, but the fact that it has a face on it is important. This meant that they must have had time for art–to make things pretty, not just practical. This tied to the fact that the Cahokians must have had a surplus of food; hungry people don’t take time out for “extra” stuff like this.

Exhibit that showed all that the Cahokians farmed and grew in their city. Some of us were surprised that they were farmers. Many had the mental model that Native Americans were only hunters who ate buffalo.

Mrs. McChesney’s group shot from the top of Monk’s Mound

Thanks, Mrs. Edwards, for being a chaperone! Your group had a great time, I’m sure.

Mrs. Cseri and her group outside. They look warm and cozy, don’t they, even though it was wet and chilly out there!

Mr. Browning with his group in the museum. Again–they look like they’re having a great time learning on this trip!

Before we went back to school, we had a picnic lunch. Yep, outside. In the wind and cold. These kids have never eaten so fast!

Headed back to the nice, warm bus. 🙂

Despite the less-than-perfect weather, we had a great day!  We’re lucky to be able to get to see examples of the things we read about in our books.  This personal experience made much of it make a lot more sense, and it is solidified for us, now.  Thanks to all the adults who made this day possible for us!

We had a great day at Cahokia.  Have you ever been there?  What did you like?  What did you learn?  What other field trips have you gone on?  Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

5th Grade Class Meeting

So we did it.  Remember last week when I explained our most recent class meeting?  Well, the class meeting that we wanted to have with the rest of our grade happened this afternoon.

Even with 80 people in the room, we tried to follow the same class meeting protocol that we normally use.  We used a general flipchart list, since each 5th grade does things a little differently, but still put dots for things they liked and things they learned the most from during the week.  After those two rounds, our chart looked like this:

I loved how all those dots around “Weather Unit” ended up looking a little bit like a cloud.  Most of us started a big storm project in science this week (which I’ll write about soon!), and our kids are really jazzed about it.

Normally round three would be based on the question “What do you want to talk about?,” but in this case, we had gathered to discuss recess, so we didn’t need that one.  We started into the problem solving phase of our meeting, after laying a few ground rules:

As they shared their concerns about what was going wrong, we made a list of what was mentioned.  After our 5 minutes was up, our list had some pretty yucky stuff on it like people being left out, some kids being rejected when they ask to play, arguing, poor sportsmanship, pushing and shoving, interrupting games just to be funny, and worrying about who’s popular and who’s not.

We spent some time trying to problem solve around this topic, which proved to be pretty difficult with such a large group.  Kiddos explained what they meant about how some thought they were more popular than others and wouldn’t let them play or tried to show off and always be the best at every game they played.  We all agreed that our behavior did not match up with what we know to be true about Robinson’s 5th grade–that we are leaders, and that we support each other and rally around causes to help make everyone better.  We agreed that this was not ok.

The teachers did a little more in this meeting that we normally would–again because of logistics–but also because we wanted to make it very clear to our friends that this would not be tolerated.  At Robinson, you are expected to be respectful to others no matter where you are–the playground in addition to your classroom or anywhere else you are at school.  We left the meeting with a call to have each kiddo think about how they fit into this yucky puzzle of disrespect that has been happening outside.  Everyone has something they can do differently on Monday.

After we got back to our classroom, I had my kids do their regular Friday Note that always follows class meetings.  As always, they could tell me whatever they wanted to, but I also had them add their goal for what they would do to make recess better on Monday afternoon.  They understood that they each play at part in making our grade the best it can be, and I know that they will take the charge to change something tomorrow.   Can’t wait to see what it is!

Math Warm-Ups Oct. 8-12, 2012

This week we were working with volume and surface area, so our warm-ups had to do with those topics.




This one was interesting.  I asked it purposely because of the work we had been doing with The Box Factory investigation  for the last week–which is all about how to build boxes that hold 24 objects–and was about volume.  We hadn’t named it as volume yet, though, and I wanted to see how many people would make that connection.  Many of them did not.  I saw many “thinking faces” as they struggled with how to answer this one.  I heard someone say, “I don’t remember what volume is…” and then several people answered with what it was, but didn’t tell how you’d find it.  We had a great conversation about this one, and I heard lots of “oh!” when I told them that they’d been working with volume for a whole week.



This one was again related to the work we’d been doing during Math Workshop.  They are used to seeing this kind of equation, since we’d spent a couple of weeks on order of operations recently, and we had been using this kind of equation in our volume work–the parentheses told the equation for the bottom of the box, and the last number told how many layers there were.  But I wanted to see if they could explain the formula for finding volume, and tell how they multiplied length x width x height.  They don’t need to know this yet, but I thought they were ready for it, so I threw it at them.  And many–probably most really–figured it out.  We brought the rest of them along through the conversation we had around it.



There was not a math warm-up on Thursday because we needed those ten minutes to work on our volume projects.



The dimensions on this warm-up were from three boxes we’d been working with this week.  We’d talked several times about how this was really the same box, turned two different ways to make a new base, so with different dimensions.  We’d already talked about the Commutative Property in warm-ups, and so I wanted to see if anyone knew about how this illustrated the Associative Property. Again, a great conversation and many connections were made as we talked.  Have I said before how much I LOVE these warm-ups?  So many great things happen in just a quick discussion.  Love it!

Happy solving!  What do you know about volume and surface area?  What can you teach us? 🙂


Today was a great day.   It was Thursday, which for some reason is my favorite school day of the week.  It was sunny and crisp outside, which is perfect for fall.  I didn’t have any meetings scheduled during the day or after (come on, you know that’s nice!).  And the date was 10-11-12.  How cool is that?  And really–we won’t see that again for another whole year when it’s 11-12-13.  So let’s celebrate it, right?

I just have to add that another thing that made today great was that we got to celebrate the birthday of a very special friend in our class.  But again, besides it just being her birthday, it was her GOLDEN birthday, so she turned 11 on 10-11-12.  A. Maz. Ing.  I’m jealous.  No really, I am.  My birthday is in November and has no hope of ever having any cool all-the-numbers-in-a-row things.  Oh, well, at least I have one, right?  Anyway, Happy Birthday, ZB!

How did you celebrate 10-11-12?  Was it your birthday today, too?  If so, Happy Birthday to you!

Must Dos, Can Dos

There are many, many days where at the end of the day we stop and just have to sigh because we’re so tired.  We have done so much in so little time that we just did to sit and rest.  Really–we are going nonstop from the very beginning of the day all the way to the end.

I love, too, that that “busy” can be so many things.  It might be a group project or a math investigation, reading a great book or writing, but we are always doing something.  What I love about my class is that they are so into whatever we do.  They dig in deeply and give their all.  They are also pretty good at managing their time and getting things done within a certain time frame.
And so on some afternoons, rather than chunk our activities into the regular “subjects,” I take a large amount of time and just give them a list of things to do, at their own pace.  The only “rule” is that it all has to get done.


So there are Must Dos and Can Dos:

Now, this doesn’t happen all the time, just every few weeks.  Obviously on most afternoons there is something specific I need to teach them for each subject and therefore we all follow the same schedule together.  But some days, often Fridays or when we’re towards the end of a unit, I may just say “you need to get these things done.”  I give the list and the time constraints and they get to work.  When they have finished an assignment they initial that step.  When they are done with the Must Dos, then they choose a Can Do.  Ok, so I guess that’s a rule:  you have to be doing something.  So really the Can Dos are Must Dos, too, just not everyone will get to them.  Does that make sense?

Anyhow, this class does superbly on days when I whip out charts like this. They love it actually.  And I love it, too, because I think it values that we all move at different paces and we might need different things to get to the end.  I take these times to have conferences, catch up on other assessments I may need to do with kids, or meet with small groups.  I often will rotate around the room just checking in, too, in a more informal way as they work.

Tomorrow’s Friday again, and I’m still not sure if we’ll be doing a Must Do Can Do chart.  But if we do, I know I’ll have a classroom-full of engaged 5th graders working hard, finishing their assignments to their best ability.  And I know that because that’s what they always do!

I Told You We Were Blogging, Right? :)

Really they’ve been blogging all year.  Only it’s been on our class blog.  A few short weeks ago now, though, our 5th graders got their own blogs!

There is a long story behind how I started down the road toward kid-blogging, and I posted about it here.  We did much of the same process this time, and it went equally as well with these kiddos as it did the first time around.  Only I have a little bit of  hunch that this year’s class will go even farther with their blogs.  Partly because we started earlier and so they’ll simply have more time, but also just because this class just seems to dig into their work with such eagerness and enthusiasm.  I think they’ve already written more posts on their own at this point.  They really think in terms of what is “blog worthy” as they go through their normal lives.  I love it when I go home and there are posts waiting for me in the inbox that tell the tales of all the great things that happened during the learning day.  And not because I told them to write about them, but because they wanted to write about them!  It’s great.

But I digress…

Here are some pictures of our first days on the blogging journey, which started with creating our paper blogs:

Some kiddos got inspiration by checking out last year’s blogs before they got started on their own.

After we had our blogs created, we learned how to comment.  And got to work practicing on post-its before we went into the “real” world.  I have to say how proud I am with how great they did, remembering to be positive, tell something they liked about the blog post, as well as ending with a question to keep the conversation going.








So needless to say, they are totally rocking this blogging thing!  If you haven’t had a chance to check us out, visit our student blogs to see what it looks like live! We would LOVE it if you left us a comment to tell us what you think!

Holy Redheads, Batman!

Ok, so I have to apologize in advance for the indulgence factor of this post.  It fits into the “just-a-slice-of-5th-grade-life” category.

First let me share a picture that we took today:

See the meaning of the title, now?  We’ve talked all year so far about how many red-headed girls we have in our class.  I mean, really, if you have red hair and are in 5th grade you’re in Rm. 202.  Which I think is great!  Look at those beautiful girls. 🙂

And don’t be sad if you’re not in this picture, friends!  Don’t worry–I’ll try to find ways to include everyone in this way.  Maybe the next picture I post will be of someone make silly faces or doing something random in the classroom.

Oh, and I just have one more question:  can you tell which one of us is NOT a natural redhead?  Hee hee. 🙂

Sneak Peek!

I simply cannot wait to tell you about a project we are just about to finish.  It’s from reading and involves text features, iPads and videos!  There’s a lot of deep thinking here, and I know my kiddos are excited to share it with you!  I’m hoping that they will even be able to upload their videos to their own blogs in the next few days.  I hate that that’s all I can tell you, but believe me–there are exciting things coming soon!

Read Aloud = Another Learning Time

Read aloud is kind of a big deal in my room.  I wrote about it briefly here last year.  Hopefully here’s more to the story. 🙂

I think that reading is important.  Reading is making meaning, understanding both what the words say and what they mean.  Understanding text as you hear it is an important skill, in addition to being able to comprehend the text you read for yourself.   Time is also important, and the time we have during our school day is precious.  So being able to get extra bang for your learning buck is really great.

Read aloud–or “chapter book” time–is that time for me.  I use this time to expose my students to great literature, books that they may not otherwise have heard of, as well as to discuss topics that we need to delve into (bullies, families, respect, etc.) and introduce and then practice reading strategies that I want students to use in their independent reading.

The first RA of the year is also a fun, easy one, that everyone can easily relate to and begin to make connections around.  This year (as well as last), I started with The Boys Start the War by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  It’s a great story about kids who play practical jokes on each other, who come from interesting families and who just do typical “kid stuff” as they go through their days.  This fun, joyful story gets my students in the mood for fun as readers, and helps me set the stage for harder work I’ll have them do as the year goes on.  During this first book is also when I introduce the partner and thinking structures we’ll use throughout our time in RA.  The first one is called “say something,” and is really just what it sounds like: I stop at certain points in the story–where there is probably something that the students can react or relate to–and have them “say something” to their partner.  In the beginning there are no rules for these conversations, but eventually we structure the conversations to include thinking that good readers do, like making connections, making predictions, inferring something, reacting to something funny, telling a part that they really liked, summarizing, etc.    At the end of the first chapter book, we begin our Read Aloud Timeline.  Well, actually we start the current year’s section of the timeline, which dates back a few years with past classes.  It hangs on the wall around our room like this:

Hopefully you can see it up there–up near the ceiling.  Images taken from each book we read during our year together, chosen by the class as a whole.

The beginning of this year’s section looked like this:

Devan’s image of a water fight that breaks out while the characters are supposed to be washing the windows was chosen to grace our wall as the first picture this year!

Our second book this year was Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea.  This one is nominated for the Mark Twain Award, which we choose for the state of Missouri.   I usually read at least one or two nominated books from the published list, so that my kiddos have more of chance of having read (or had read to them) the minimum of 4 that they need in order to vote.  This one was a little more intense than the first one, and is a story of a 5th grade class and their fabulous teacher.  Because of some decisions along the way (which many deem as bad ones), an accident occurs and they are without their beloved teacher for most of the year.  I’m happy to say that the ending is a happy one, but it’s not easy going along the way.  The topics in this story allow my students to continue to connect and relate, but also helps them to reach outside themselves and think about what they’d do in difficult situations; these decisions can be made, however, within the safety of a good story.  During this second book, I add to their RA toolbox, and turn “say something” into “write something.”  Again, it’s just like it sounds–at certain times we stop and write something about the story.  This also allows me to introduce the place where they will collect this thinking.  Everyone is given a Read Aloud Journal:

What?  It looks like our cubs?  You betcha!  Those half-sized notebooks get a work out in our class.  I don’t remember who first gave me the idea of hacking a spiral notebook in half, but I love them!  You should try it!

The image for BOMT on our wall was drawn by Owen.  It looks like this:

Sorry–I have a curse of blurry pictures I think–but hopefully you can see that it’s a picture of the hospital room where Mr. Terupt spends much of the story and plays a big role in the book.

In our RA Journals, we’ll collect our thoughts about books we share together this year.  Some of it they share with others in our class, and some entries I use for assessment, as well.  See? More bang for our learning buck. 🙂

Right now we’re in the middle of another FABULOUS book called Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I found it this summer and was beyond amazed at how great it was.  A whole movement has been started around this story to help children learn to “choose kind” rather than bully or mistreat others.  This one has the same setting (5th grade in a school), the same structure as the other two (chapters and sections that alternate between different characters to show varying points-of-view) as well as themes of respect and valuing people for who they are rather than what they look like.    During this book we started another strategy for showing our thinking: a behavior-over-time graph.  With this organizer, students can show what they’ve discovered about how the characters are feeling throughout the story, using evidence from the text to support their thinking.  It’s a Systems Thinking strategy that you can learn more about here.   As with the other strategies we use in RA, this is one I hope students add to the independent reading arsenal, as well.

So, as you can see, Read Aloud is work time in our room.  It’s no rest-and-quiet-down-after-recess-time in Room 202.  Read aloud = another learning time in our world.  And we learn alot here!

What suggestions do you have for read alouds?  Have you read any of the books we’ve shared so far this year?  Leave us a comment and tell us what you’re thinking. 🙂