Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Service Learning

Do you participate in service learning opportunities for Make a Difference Day? We do. We have participated for many years. We have helped out numerous organizations outside of our community. A few of our past projects were raising money for Grand Isle school after Hurricane Katrina destroyed books and equipment, providing shoes for third world nations, and providing books and activities for children at Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Our fifth graders plan and run the activity. This year's theme for us was Places to Go and People to See.

The idea for this year's project came to me last spring when our kindergarten buddies had to cancel a field trip to the local zoo. Admission and transportation costs were going to exclude a number of students. Students that could not pay the full cost could not go. They came up with a last minute replacement activity, but teachers, students, and parents were disappointed. With that in mind, and our own outdoor education experience ahead of us, we decided to collect change to help defray the cost of the transportation and some of the admission price for each grade level's field trip. We sent a note home inviting parents and/or businesses to sponsor individual trips as well. Our kindergartners had parents and grandparents sponsor their transportation costs, so they will get to go to the zoo this year.

We are still collecting money for a few more days so we don't have a total yet. My students did "bag" each grade level's money, and were happy to report that the fifth graders needed a second bag!

Students got the opportunity to see the impact they can have on our community by collecting loose change. It is truly amazing how quickly change can add up. 

If you don't participate in service learning projects, consider one, it can have profound impact on students and the community.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Spelling Update

I have used Spelling City for a couple of years. I used only the free version until this year. I think there were enough options available on the free version to satisfy most students.

This year I decided to take the plunge and buy a subscription to Spelling City because I have three spelling groups, a below grade, at grade, and an advanced group. The subscription helps me track assignments and tests. 

The only bad part is that I give Challenge words that add to the score, but don't penalize students that miss them. The scoring on the site wasn't working to my satisfaction, so I have students take the spelling test online, print it, and then add the challenge words. I just look over the challenge words when I go to record scores. I love that I don't have to decipher illegible writing. Most of the grading is done for me. Students like the game format for studying words. Parents like it, too. I think the cost ($49.99) for a classroom of twenty-five students is worth it. Keep your eye open, as they offered a sale in August this year, for 33% off.

I also decided to alter my spelling contract to reflect the additional Spelling City activities for students. I am including it for any that are interested.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Appreciating our Heritage

We have a Heritage Day celebration, a day set aside for students to learn about our past. This includes demonstrations of lost arts, like weaving, spinning yarn, folk dancing, story telling, and a dulcimer concert.  Students enjoy dancing to accordions, eating fresh fry bread and tortillas, churning butter, shucking corn, and pressing apple cider. The wood carvers and scrimshaw artist were favorites, along with the civil war/revolutionary war camps, and World War II parachute demonstrations. We only celebrate Heritage Day every other year, and our fifth graders were happy it occurred in their last year in the elementary. Students were respectful. The weather was wonderful, being close to 80 degrees this late in October. We are thankful to Mrs. Miller for organizing this wonderful event. Students enjoy learning from our older citizens. The demonstrators enjoy visiting with the students. It's a win-win situation.

Enjoy pictures of our wonderful experience.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blissful Year?

I have been reading many posts lately about blog anniversaries, and feel like such a slacker compared to many of them. I have been so inconsistent with posting. I  post when I have something to share, or when I join a linky party. I haven't been very concerned with growing my following. I guess this next year will be dedicated to those two things. Maybe I will venture into a linky party of my own. Until then, I will continue to link up with other bloggers, including Michelle, the 3AM teacher. She is celebrating her first anniversary in the blog world with a linky. If you don't know Michelle, she is a very talented artist that has beautiful clipart, often with freebies. The poster below is just a sample.

Michelle's linky wants you to share a favorite memory from the first year as a blogger. I have many wonderful memories, including getting that first comment and follower, having a request for an item I made, or getting an award. But, my favorite memory from my year of blogging has to be winning a blog design. Like so many of you, I started reading blogs, and soon became hooked. I had to have my own. I didn't know how to set up my own blog, but found so many bloggers giving advice. I learned to create my own background and button. I tweaked and tweaked and tweaked my design, but still didn't love it. I may have been learning, but it wasn't always bliss!

Just when I was ready to scrap the whole thing, I won a free make over from the lovely ladies at Honey Bunch Blog Design. I love that my design is unique. I still want to learn to add things to the overall design to improve the look and function. I really want to add a custom Melon Headz version of me. With my own anniversary this week, I just may have to splurge!

Don't forget to link up with Michelle and share your memories.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What a problem!

One of the most successful ways I have tried to motivate writers is to give them an authentic audience. This can be achieved many ways, but the one I like most is blogging! Last year I used Blogger.com with my students. They had to be guest writers on our class blog. It was okay, but not great. I had to use a separate gmail because our school doesn't have Blogger enabled. I don't like my school and personal accounts to be linked because most of my colleagues don't know I blog. (I'm not sure I want the administration knowing it either, although I know they could find this blog by a Google Search if they wanted.)

This year I am using Kidblog.org for student blogging. I love it! Although my first post was October 14, most students already have two or three blog posts. Two that I said were mandatory, and the third is just because they love blogging. (See comments in the yellow above.)

With Kidblog, you sign up for the free account. You add students. You can assign user names and passwords. This makes it easy if you are using several online programs with logins. Students find the class site and then login.

The program works much like Blogger, as the screen shot shows. When I student completes their post, they have to Submit for Review. The teacher then approves or disapproves of the posting. Students can also post comments on other student's posts. This is where my problem developed. Faster than I could approve a post, students were posting comments. Comments also have to be approved by the teacher. Several students post several comments daily. I have told them that at this point, I will not approve posts or comments that are not proof read and spell checked.

On Friday, I showed students how to used Word to do the word processing (spell check included) and to copy and paste to the blog. We also added photographs.

My students are quite techy. Many changed their avatar (from a list) and switched blog backgrounds without saying anything. I was surprised. They love when we have the iPads. This lets them all blog at once. This regular Kidblogging has quickly become a problem that I can live with.

Monday, October 15, 2012


We usually do the game of "I've Been Boo-ed" at school. Not this year, as there is nothing usual about this year, with the principal not here. So, when I was "boo-d" by a blogger, it helped get me in the mood for Halloween.

Cynthia is having the great Linky Party above! Head on over and check it out!!! I was actually boo-d by Cindy Lusk at All Things Teachery.

The rules are: Choose a fellow blogger that has MORE followers, another that has about the SAME number of followers, and last, someone that has LESS followers.

Highlight their blogs with links to encourage others to check them out.  Don't forget to let your fellow bloggers know that you shared about them. 

Classroom Compulsion Rebecca at Classroom Compulsion always has such cute things. Right now she has a moon unit. Sure wish I still taught science.
 Teach on a Limb  Teach on a Limb  has the same amount of followers. She has only been blogging since June, but has quickly gathered a following with her blog. She has a variety of information she shares.
Button Marie at Beach Lovin Teach is a new blogger, having started in August. Please check out her blog.

I would love to share an item from my store, but I haven't had time to start one.

I do have a fun idea to share. Being a rural school, pumpkins are never in short supply for us. We have the students do Character Pumpkins. They can either be patterned after themselves, or after a character in a book.

Don't forget to check out the blogs and join in the fun.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reading Fun

I love learning new things. One thing I learned from fellow blogger Michelle White at Mrs. White's 5th Grade Class was how to use QR Codes. I previously learned how to make a QR Code which linked to my professional webpage, but wanted to use them with students.

Michelle's decimal activity

Michelle took the concept of QR Codes and applied them to an activity for her class. Students use a QR Code reader on an iPad. The QR Code takes the student to a website where they do an activity or watch a video. Michelle has one for adding and subtracting decimals. She even made the video (Show Me app works great for this). See her website for the activity. My students loved her math activity.

Online quia quiz

I took this concept and worked on a fun reading activity with cute videos and activities only to find most of them blocked at school. I tried Keepvid, but that wouldn't work either. Frustration set in, but didn't deter me. Since I had the class set of iPads for Monday and Tuesday, I was determined to use them effectively. I simplified the activity and reduced the number of sites to visit. I am finding replacement sites to use on Tuesday. This should be a welcomed break between MEAP test sessions.

Gathering background knowledge
Google Maps of West Virginia
I also decided that since I was starting two novels, one with each of my reading classes, I would add QR Codes to my reading packets for The Midnight Fox and Shiloh. I started with The Midnight Fox and added background knowledge on black foxes and Kewpie dolls, including a video clip of a black fox from England. I also added some codes to help with vocabulary.  By the time I started on my Shiloh packet, I had been at it for hours. My enthusiasm was waning. I did add a QR Code for Google Maps so students could find Friendly, West Virginia. We live in an area without much change in elevation, so I wanted them to see the hills. They can see the Ohio River meandering, and learn about the area. I also have them searching recipes to include zucchini (related to the story).

They are having fun, and using iPads effectively. Can you take this concept and apply it to your own situation? I would love to see your activity, maybe even "borrow" it as well.

***Warning worksheets with QR codes cause havoc with Google Docs. Too many codes cause redirects. Limit codes if you are using Google Docs. Microsoft word doesn't have issues with the codes.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fiction Friday, or Not!

I have been looking for ways to encourage independent free reading with my two reading classes. I have also been mentoring a colleague, who has never taught reading before, struggling with the same issue. I decided to do a "Fiction Friday...or Not!" activity. I don't think this is a unique idea, as I was inspired by some of the blogs I follow that do "What I am reading" posts. It was also inspired by a "Good News" activity I do to help students make personal connections.

On random Fridays, my friends take turns telling about the book they are reading, but haven't finished. They talk briefly about why they chose the book or what they like about it. Some may have only read the first page, but are curious if others had read it. It takes less than ten minutes to get to everyone.  At fifth grade, most students choose to read a novel, but there are those that prefer non-fiction, thus the "Not" part of the activity. They get a kick out of being able to say they are a "not" when it is their turn.

Later, when their assignments are finished, I notice students stopping to peruse the covers of a friends' books, or to search for a book on our shelves. So simple, but rewarding! Later, their completed books can then be added to our recommendation tree which was also blog inspired. More on that in a future post.

What do you do to motivate independent reading? I would love to hear.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Currently October

I can't believe how quickly time is flying by. It is October already which can only mean two things...It's time for Farley's Currently, and MEAP testing is quickly approaching.
I love the fall season, being outside, the colors, cross country... We don't do Halloween at out school because our town does a big to do. I use this book to compare our little town's celebration to the fictional Herdman's celebration.

How are you preparing for the Autumn? Love to hear. Link up with Farley.
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