I am Loved (or Happy Birthday, Mrs. Bearden!)

I love how kids celebrate things, especially birthdays. 🙂  Remember the ice cream party from last year?

My birthday was last week, and this is what welcomed me that Thursday morning:


Wait–it gets better!  I also got a new hat and some handmade jewelry:


Fiona wore some FABULOUS glasses with a sweet message:


And my parents even sent me flowers.  Nice, right?

I somehow didn’t get pictures of the cookie treats I brought, nor did I get recordings of the compliments my 5th grade friends shared with me during my “party,” but let me assure you those were great, too!  Thank you friends, for making me feel so special!

Math Warm-Ups Nov. 12-16, 2012

With last week being Thanksgiving, I wasn’t able to get the warm-ups posted for you.  So here they are, but a couple of extra pics of what we’ve been doing with fractions in math lately.  That makes up for it, right? 🙂








Also this week, though not as Warm-Ups were these charts:


The whole focus of this fraction unit we’re in the middle of is that kiddos use equivalents–often fraction/percent equivalents–to solve problems and figure out the fractional part of a group.  It’s a pretty cool way of thinking, and makes so much more sense to many kids than the way I know I learned about fractions.  We’ve also been working on using grids to “see” how much the part is, so that we can find an equivalent or add another part to it.  We might take a 4 x 6 grid, then and break it into eighths, thirds or sixths by just drawing lines like this:


It’s pretty magical, actually, how thinking this way has made a once very negative topic make so much more sense to so many kiddos!  Stay turned for more about how we’re tackling fractions in a fun, “real” and authentic way!

No One Died Today!

But boy, I’m sure some of them were worried about it.

Yes, of course, I’m kidding!  Let me tell you about what I mean. 🙂

I wrote yesterday about the writing cycle and our recent celebration.  Well, if you remember the way the cycle works, after you celebrate, you start over again with a new project.  In this case, we’re working on Personal Narratives.  We spent a couple of weeks collecting memories and other stories in our Writer’s Notebooks and then picked a seed and nurtured it with some help from our writing partners, and then today we were ready to draft.

Here’s the basic directions about drafting in our classroom:

Now, the first time through the cycle we didn’t do it exactly this way, and maybe I even let them just use the version that was collected in their notebooks.  But this time I made them do it “right.”  At least my right way.  And that’s when they thought they would all die….

I started our mini-lesson with a reminder about how I wanted them to draft, and then showed them how to do it with the seed I had chosen.  It was based on this entry from one of my Writer’s Notebooks:

So, as they watched and listened, I read, then reread my piece to get the big idea of how I’d written it in my head.  The second time I also paid attention to the parts I really liked and knew I wanted to include in my draft.  We talked about how those were parts that we read and said to ourselves: “Man, that’s good…”  Those are the highlighted parts.  Then I read it again, and had most of what I wanted to say ready to write down.

And that’s when it got scary.  Now, I’ve told my kids that I wouldn’t ask them to do anything I haven’t done or wouldn’t be willing to do myself.  And writing is an especially good example of this idea.  I always go through the cycles with them; we write together and make mistakes together and grow together.  So today, that meant that we would draft together.

We sat in front of our ActivBoard, and I was ready to write my story using the document camera so they could see it.  And I’m not kidding when I say that I TOTALLY understood the feeling that kids get when you ask them to do things like this for the first time.  I really didn’t know what I was going to write and I had an audience waiting for me to write something fabulous!  Luckily, my kids understand how to be gracious and go-with-the-flow with me, and so they supported me through this struggle.

After what seemed like forever, I had a rough-draft version of my piece.  And just like I told them might happen, I think I liked most of the new version better:

And so after we reviewed the steps: read, reread and highlight the “Man, that’s good…” parts, reread and then start writing, I sent them off.  DON’T EXPECT THIS TO BE PERFECT, I tell them, because we’re going to work on revising it anyway.  Give yourself a break and just write your story. 🙂  But still, there were so many frightened faces in the bunch; I really did think someone was going to throw up over these directions I had just given them.

I think, though, because they trust me and they trust the process–no matter how different or crazy it seems at first–they did what I asked.  The next thing I saw were kiddos all over the room drafting in a way they never had before, and not dying.  They really were able to do it, and it wasn’t as hard as they thought it would be.  But even it if was, that was ok.  “Hard is good!” is another saying I have, because, as we have also talked about many times before, “hard” is an opportunity to learn and to do things that amaze you.

Maybe the two best things that came out of today were this:  one friend came to me and told me that even though this was hard, she was glad that she’d done it–the version she wrote today was even better than what she thought she could do; and another friend–who usually has trouble finishing a draft quickly, and who was a little unsure about this process when we got started today–finished his whole rough draft, and was able to do it in a fabulous way! I even got chills when I read a line from his piece because it was that good!

Today was another example of many that I hope I teach my friends this year: just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.  Hard is good, and many times when you persevere through something you first think is a challenge, you are amazed at what you’re able to do.  And that amazement motivates you to keep going and do something amazing again! 🙂

What have you done recently that amazed you?  How have you persevered through something hard? Do you have a writing story to share with us?  We’d love for you to share your thoughts!

A Writing Celebration!

I figure that most people teach the Writing Cycle as a means to publish a piece of writing, right?  Well, I do, and it’s kind of a big deal in our room.  I start at the very beginning of the year (after I’ve set up our Writer’s Workshop routines and introduced Writer’s Notebooks, that is 🙂 ), teaching my writers about the writing cycle–what it is, why writers do it and how it will help them as we go through the year together.
In the back of our Writer’s Notebooks we have a a place where we keep notes related to mini-lessons I’ve taught.  One of the first things that goes in there is this:

We spend the first writing cycle, then, learning about how to do each part, and end up with a fabulous piece of writing that we’ve worked really hard on!  And so what does that mean next?  We celebrate!

There are many things that our class does to celebrate our writing and “send it out into the world,” but this time, we decided to have a Writing Museum (structured much like our Reading Museum from the beginning of the year) so that we could sample each others’ writing and leave compliments.

So when the “exhibits” were set up and the music started playing, Rm. 202 writers spent the next bit (well actually it was more like 30 minutes or more!) reading the work of others and leaving kind words for our friends.  If only you could have heard how amazingly quiet it was the room during this time!  Writing is important business in our class, and we took this (as we do most things!) very seriously. 🙂

Each person set out their writing piece, along with a compliment sheet for others to write on. 🙂

I love how they’re all sitting with their heads in their hands.  Something about that seems like they’re deep in thought, doing some serious business!

How do you celebrate writing? 🙂

Math Warm-ups Nov. 5-9, 2012

This was a slim week for math warm-ups.  We didn’t have school on Tuesday because of Election Day, and then I guess since we were in between units, there were really any good questions that came to mind.  That being said, I feel like I should apologize for these; they may not be very helpful to those of you who were here to get ideas.  Next will be better.  I promise. 🙂


I think this one was from Monday.  It was related to an assessment that my friends had finished the week before.  I was out of the classroom for a meeting when they did it, so partly this question was to get a better feel for how they perceived their performance on it.  I’m glad I asked, because their words told me more than the note from the sub about how it had gone.  They felt better than it had at first seemed they did.




I don’t think we had another warm-up until Friday, and this was it.  At the beginning of a unit, I usually ask this same type of tell-me-what-you-already-know question. 🙂


Thanks for reading!

Our Class is All a-“Twit”-er

Huh? Let me explain…:)
Remember the class meeting where we talked about origami class pets?  Well, shortly after that we decided (via a class vote) that we wanted Ames to make us a bird.  And because I am crazy addicted to Twitter, they wanted it to be a blue bird.  Love that!

Ames and some other friends have been working on him for a while now, and the finishing touches were made to his blue body on Friday.  They made him blue by coloring in a huge piece of poster board that was then expertly folded into the bird shape.  And they wanted me to have the honors of doing the last few strokes to make him official. Nice, right?  At first I was confused as to why they thought I needed to do this for them, but when I figured out that it was because this made the bird–who is named Twit–officially “ours,” I had to join in.
Here I am putting the finishing touches on the blue that became his body:


And here he is, on his nest at the back of one of our meeting areas.  Meet Twit!:


And here is the note that hangs just below where he sleeps:

Man, this class is a hoot!  LOVE THEM!

Does your class have a pet?  How did you decide on what to choose? Tell us the story!

What’s All This “Box Factory” Business?–Part 2

If you read the first post I wrote about Box Factory, then you know about the investigation we finished recently related to volume and surface area.

I think that perhaps one of the most powerful parts of the unit came on the last when each group did a reflection of all that they had accomplished during the unit.  I gave them all the posters they had created during our study and asked them to consider these things with their group mates:

They analyzed and discussed, and then went to write their reflections to turn in to me.

It was really great to read about all they’d accomplished during this unit–in their own words.  Time after time they mentioned how it was hard at first, but then as they kept trying or as their group mates helped them, they figured it out.  They noted how helpful the Math Congress comments were to them, and how these thoughts helped them revise their representations for the next time.  They all agreed that this had been a positive experience, and when asked what questions they still had, many said, “When can we do Box Factory again?”  🙂

Robinson Goes HOLLYWOOD!

See the guy in this picture?:

Well, he’s a movie-maker.  A real one.   Ok, I don’t think he’s a Hollywood movie maker, but he does work at a local university as a filmmaker, and he was making a movie with footage of our class!

Our school is working on a movie to highlight the fabulous things we do each day with teaching and learning, and I was asked to talk about how technology has changed the way I teach and the way kids learn in my classroom.  I did a short piece earlier in the day, and then he came to take some shots of us as we utilized the iPads during our math rotations.  My kiddos were pretty excited about being famous!  Can’t wait to see the finished video that showcases the amazing things that happen at our school every day.  It’s a fabulous place to work and learn!

Here are a few more that I took while he was there:

I took this opportunity to introduce my friends to QR codes, which they were really excited about using!


The Story of How Alphabox Changed My Life

I love learning.  It’s part of the reason I became a teacher in the first place.  And as my kids will tell you, we’re all teachers in our room, so I’m learning every day!

Aside from learning my students, however, I learn many things from my colleagues, as well!  That’s part of what makes me a better teacher–finding out about new strategies and techniques that are working for others and trying them with my students.  And this is how I found out about the Alphabox.  Credit here needs to go to my friend and 5th grade teammate, Genie Hong.  She introduced me to this strategy the other day and it quickly changed my life forever.  Really it did.  Keep reading. 🙂

Really it’s pretty simple: and Alphabox is a sheet of paper with boxes that each have a different letter of the alphabet in them:

But then the  magic happens.

The Alphabox is an organizer that is aimed at helping students summarize information, by choosing the most important word from a text that they’ve read that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  It can be used with anything, really, but we started with some information we needed to read and digest in our Ancient West Africa unit.

A filled-out Alphabox looks like this:


The next step is to put down the book, pick up your paper and try to summarize the part you just read using only the words on your Alphabox!  The first time around this was a bit tricky (some would even say hard!), but once we got into it, we go the hang of it, and really started to enjoy it, actually.  I’ve had several kids mention that they like how this organizer helps them really focus on the important ideas and it sticks in their brains better than things we’ve done before.  I would agree.

Here are some paragraphs we wrote together with our alphaboxes (and sorry for the fact that they have mistakes–I only got pictures of the rough drafts.  I recopied them before I hung them up, I promise!):

I love it when you learn something new and it totally rocks your world! I wonder what I did all those years before I knew about the Alphabox.  It’s so simple, but so powerful.  You should totally try it.  We’re using it all the time now. 🙂

Have you ever used an Alphabox to organize your important ideas?  Tell us what you think. 🙂