Saturday, April 2, 2016

Creating Themed Reading Units

Recently I wrote a blog post for Graphite about creating themed reading units that directly relate to student interests.  In fact, I took the unit themes from the results I student polls.

Here's a link to the post.

Monday, March 21, 2016

BreakoutEDU in 2nd Grade

Back in December I heard (from a source I can't recall) about an activity called BreakoutEDU.  The context in which I heard about it was related to high school.  While it sounded cool, and the website looked interesting, it was something I decided not to invest in because I had a difficult time determining the usefulness for 2nd graders.

A few weeks ago I attended EdCampSV and one of the sessions I attended was about BreakoutEDU.  The session participants, in fact, had to solve a BreakoutEDU puzzle.  It was a lot of fun and being able to experience the activities firsthand made it easy for me to see how I could apply the idea to second grade.

In addition, when I returned to the BreakoutEDU website I discovered several games had been created and added specifically for younger students.

Last week my students completed a leprechaun BreakoutEDU from the website (I made a few minor modifications).  They completed the puzzles whole-class so I could guide them more easily through the process of having clues and objects related to several puzzles all available to sort through at the same time.  In general I wouldn't recommend having 24 students all do the same activity at the same time simply because that means that a few students are activitly participating at any given moment while most are waiting for their turn.  However, it was successful in that everyone had a turn or 2 or 3 at different points in the challenge and by the end of the activity everyone understood how a Breakout worked.  Plus, they successfully opened the box and found some candy!

Pictures show items arranged for easy photographing, but in reality the items were spread around and not grouped together as shown.

Today the students completed another BreakoutEDU challenge.  This challenge was basically The Swamp, found at BreakoutEDU, with a few modifications to relate to the book My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza instead, because I had read that to the class last week.

They completed the challenge in a center format with 6 students in a group and I gave them 20 minutes to open the 3 locks.  Three of the 4 groups were successful.

Despite comments I made directing them back to the clues (have you found anything that could help you with that, what do the clues say), many of the students preferred to use a "guess and check" strategy or random searching of the area instead of really thinking about the clues.  That's something I'll have to keep in mind in the future.  Since we were working in centers only a small part of the classroom was used the BreakoutEDU so this method was fairly successful.

I am excited to find time for our next BreakoutEDU activity and I'm very grateful for the creators and all the teachers who have posted ideas.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

New Uses for Sown to Grow

Using Sown to Grow in class has been popular with my students.  In a class vote, they preferred Sown to Grow 20/23 students for tracking math facts and Raz Kids data.

Last week we expanded the use of the website to 2 new applications.  Students are now tracking their writing score on paragraphs.  When they meet with me to discuss their writing they enter the rubric grade they've received.  Based on our conversation they also add a note about 1 thing they can do better in their next writing.  For example, they might need to capitalize sentences, add a topic sentence, turn fragments into complete sentences, or add more varied verbs.  Before they write the next assignment they check Sown to Grow to see their specific goal.

Also, students are tracking kindness.  Each Friday they will either mark "completed" or "not completed" as their status (hopefully never the latter).  In the notes they will describe one specific act of kindness from the week.

Speaking of which, The Great Kindness Challenge starts Monday.  Find more information here.  My class was lucky enough to have Melissa Dyrdahl from Ella Health visit a few weeks ago to talk to students about kindness has impacted her career and they shared their thoughts about kindness with her.

Growth Mindset Lesson

Classdojo has created a series of 5 short videos to teach students about growth mindset.  The videos use the Classdojo characters.  The first video is available and the rest will be released once a week.

You can find the first video here.

My students enjoyed watching chapter 1.  The video is about 2 1/2 minutes and gives a specific example of growth/fixed mindset without being heavy-handed in the message delivery.

After watching the video my students paired up and interviewed each other using the iPad camera (so I haven't included samples).  They worked as a whole class to create 3 questions they though were most relevant to the video.  The directions I gave them were to create questions that would show me they understood the video's message and could relate it to themselves.  We arrived at 3 questions after brainstorming a list of ideas and then voting.

The final questions...

1.  Explain a time when you had to exercise your brain.  Give specific details and tell how you felt.

2.  Give Mojo some advise.  What are 1 or 2 specific things he could do to help him understand math better (pretend he is having trouble with the subtraction regrouping we're learning now).

3.  Who do you think is correct about being smart, Mojo or Katie and why? 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Trimester One Updates

I haven't written much this year.  This seems to be the year of correcting non-compliance issues for my district so there has been a lot of energy spent making changes to get into compliance.  For example, I now have to teach 100 minutes of PE each week rather than having PE taught by a PE specialist.  Since I have never been athletic, and dreaded PE for my entire school life, this has not been something I've been excited about.

I have had my students using GoNoodle more than in the past.  If you're not familiar with the website, GoNoodle has a variety of videos related to exercise and movement that can be done in the classroom.  Most of the videos are 1-6 minutes, although there are some that are longer.  GoNoodle has calming videos, yoga, dance, exercise and more. They add new content on a regular basis and create content that tie to holidays.  For example, before Halloween there was a dance related to different bones in the body, sung by a skeleton.  Recently they've had some thankful songs and a turkey dance.

As far as daily activities we are generally following activities from last year with tweeks here and there that are small enough not to write about.  So, read through my blog posts for the last 2 years and you'll know what we're up to.

Digital GoMath has not gone well.  The students, parents and I have suffered through enough frustrations in 2 months that I finally set it aside in favor of paper and other digital providers such as TenMarks, Front Row Education, Splashmath, and Zeal.  In a recent meeting Houghton Mifflin reps did say they are working hard to improve the experience, so we'll see.  Right now, though, I'd say that the above 4 free companies are all a better bet.

My students and I have started using a digital "data binder".  It's called Sown to Grow and I learned about them at an Imagine K12 event at the end of September.  Right now my students are using Sown to Grow to track addition/subtraction math fact tests and also RazKids reading comprehension progress.  Here are some screenshots to show what I see.  For RazKids the scoring is set up to reflect number of questions answered correctly out of 10 and for the math timed test it's set up to reflect a % correct.  I can set these parameters as well as color gradients.

It's easy for students to enter scores after they complete a RazKids quiz or math test.  Here's what they see when they look at their own progress.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Recently I learned about Zing, an app with free books, by Schoolwide Inc.  I created a class account which my students joined.

Right now I am using the free account.  This week all my students read a book about bridges prior to a bridge building challenge and they read about sound prior to a series of sound and vibration experiments.  As they read Zing gives students the opportunity to take notes and highlight within books and it has a dictionary feature.

There are 1000s of free books I can add to the class library for students to read.  I can browse by topic/category as well as reading level.  Some books have quizzes associated with them.  There's a good mix of fiction and non-fiction books to choose from.

I plan to use Zing throughout the year in combination with Epic to provide my students with a varied set of books on different topics of interest at a wide range of reading levels.

Google Expeditions

Yesterday my school was lucky enough to have Google Expeditions visit to pilot their program.  Students in grades 2-5 all had the chance to experience 1 or more Expeditions.

Google Expeditions is a set of virtual "field trips".  At each location students get a 360 degree view as well as being able to look up and down.

My second graders enjoyed several sessions throughout the day and "traveled" to the Amazon, the ocean, CA state parks, Yosemite, and different landforms.

Students had a fantastic time.  The app made it easy for me to control what the students were viewing.  I could highlight specific parts of what they were viewing by using an arrow/bullseye feature and thus direct everyone's attention to something I wanted everyone to see.  The app included specific details about the location, which I could relay to students.  This made it easy to share facts without having to do any research myself.

Thanks for the visit Google!