Friday, April 25, 2014

Giving Students More Independence

Lately, I have been thinking about how my teaching has evolved with my students since the beginning of the school year. 

I have taught many different reading comprehension strategies, and how to implement them DURING and AFTER reading. I feel like every one of my students has a really good grasp of the concepts. In order to guide the class throughout the year, I always provided some sort of outline or graphic organizer to ensure they were "on the right track". They would work in groups or independently at home and then come together, discuss, and work. 

At this point in the school year, I am asking my students to organize their thinking on their own, though still within a cooperative group. In other words, without graphic organizers or me modeling any sort of strategy, but with each other to use as references and guides.

My teaching has gone from:

1. Watch me do it
2. We do it together
3. You do it on your own 
4. Reflect on your successes and struggles


1. You know how to do it now so I will tell you the objective
2. Work on your own (or with a group)
3. Come together and reflect on what was successful, let's talk about what you learned!

This week was the first week that I implemented this "new way" with them. It was interesting to see my students' growth during their group work and essentially with no assistance. Of course, I am still circling the room to check on their progress and stimulate conversation when needed, but surprisingly (and maybe it shouldn't be so surprising!), they are doing a great job on their own! I could just sit back and watch with a big, proud smile on my face!

What it Looks Like 
Each group was assigned a different book by Seymour Simon (Bones, Brain, Heart, or Muscles). One at a time, they read a page from the book. After each student had read once, they looked back and decided which ideas were MAIN ideas and how to support the main idea with details. 

I noticed that some students were using post-it notes to jot something important down. I also saw students either reread a section or they would ask a group member to explain what they didn't understand. It was really wonderful to see this! It was a very awesome 'teachery' moment for me! One of my students told her group that she didn't really understand the paragraph she just read, so another student used the diagram in the book to explain the concept in his own words. I was thinking, "Yes!! This is what I am talking about!" 

Reflection Time
When everyone was finished, we came back to the carpet and discussed the wonderful moments I saw during their work time. I think it is extremely important to compliment, so when I need to focus on a growing edge, students are open to listening and will see that it is important. I also make sure to ask them to reflect and share what they noticed while working - what was successful, what wasn't. 

How has your teaching evolved since the beginning of the school year? 

*Image background provided by Mrs. Bearfield's Class 
Heart provided by Krista Wallden

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day Celebration! Making Products from Recycled Materials

To celebrate Earth Day today, the students came in with their Earth Day Homework Projects! I found this great idea from the store, Literacy Loves Company on Teachers Pay Teachers! I assigned this project to be completed during the long weekend that students had off for Easter. Their job was to find recycled materials and create a functional product. The packet includes a timeline to keep track of their progress, websites for ideas, and a rubric! I love that my students are really creative and smart, so I knew this would turn out amazing! It was also a great way to transition back into school after so many days off (we were on a 3 day trip even before our 4 day break!)

*Beware of TONS of pictures!
I posted below some of the ideas students came up with - 

Her dog always ate her cat's food! So she came up with "The Food Station" Her cat can get up there, but not her dog. (She tested it out) The second picture came from home when she was experimenting with it. 

"Easy Build Mason Bee House" to keep Mason Bees safe until they are ready to hatch.

"Cup Boat" floats in the pool and even has a dock station for your ipod!

"Weather Vane" made with a measuring vile to collect rain and determine how much rainfall and a Pringles cap to determine the direction of the wind! He demonstrated it's effectiveness with a fan!

"Sock Sprouters" A place to keep your socks so you don't keep losing the other one! Made from a plastic egg carton!

"A Toy Guitar" made from cereal box, paper towel roll, and rubber bands!

"A Watering Station" made from a used milk container, an old water bottle, and a straw!

"A Mother's Day Tray" for breakfast in bed! Made from a box top, old magazine pages, bag handles, aluminum foil for the feet, and tissue paper. He made that flower himself from used materials!!

"Can Do Robot" looks like decoration, but can also hold specials things inside!

"The Winkler Sprinkler" to water plants with. Made from a milk container, old paint and rocks. She poked holes in the cap to make the water come out like a sprinkler!

"One Step at a Time: RECYCLE" game. Made from an old pizza box, bottle caps, and aluminum foil. This game has you help the environment as you play! For example, you might land on a square that gives you one minute to find a can that was littered outside and put it in the recycle bin!

"Fabric Shapes" is a game that replicates 'I Spy'. The directions tell you which shapes are inside the jar, you have to shake the jar and then try and find the shapes!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dogfish Dissection! Making Connections between our Digestive System and Theirs!

This week was an important week for my 5th graders. We took a 3 day/2 night trip to Bald Head Island, NC. There, we met up with one of my parents, Suzanne who is the director of the island's conservancy. She guided our class through amazing explorations. One in particular was directly related to what we are learning in the classroom: The Digestive System!

Students were each given a Dogfish to dissect and learn from. Suzanne showed the students exactly how to make incisions down the shark's torso in order to explore its insides. I was very impressed by my students' ability to do this!

First, the students identified the stomach, esophagus, and then the liver! They made connections that the dogfish liver is very similar to our liver; it is the biggest organ in the dogfish and it helps produce fat (though ours produces cholesterol, they were able to see that strong connection.) One group even found the gall bladder! They were so excited when they found an organ that they had learned about. It was fantastic!

Next, students opened up the Dogfish stomach to see what it eats to survive. We learned it eats crab! One group found a just eaten crab leg!

The Liver!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Learning How to Read Food Labels

Moving from the Digestive System to Nutrition felt like a perfect transition. To introduce Nutition, I found this great (free) PowerPoint presentation on Teachers Pay Teachers. You can find it here. I have never taught with a PowerPoint before. I thought it was effective as an overview for the students, but I am not sure I will do it again. Nothing against PowerPoints, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

So we did a quick overview of nutrients, minerals, and the different food groups. I like using "My Plate" ( to determine the amount of each food group.

Afterwards, I gave the students an article from a health magazine that explains each part of a food label and how much of each category is considered healthy. The article also discussed labels that can be deceiving, such as, low-fat (might mean more sugar).

I gave students different food labels and each had to determine whether the food was healthy or unhealthy. And if the food was healthy, what makes it healthy? I.e. is it a good source of fiber? Protein?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Liver & The Pancreas Posters!

This week, we focused on the functions of the liver and the pancreas. I was able to teach about the organs by reading the book, GUTS: Our Digestive System, by Seymour Simon (love his books!). While I was reading, students were completing a chart about the organs. The chart helped guide the discussion during the reading. 

The next day, we took another look at certain pages in the book, and the students helped me to list facts about the liver and the pancreas on the easel. Afterwards, I gave groups a blank piece of 11x17 inch paper and asked students to create a poster that depicts the functions of the two organs. 

Here is what they came up with:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Having Fun with Fractions - seriously!

In fifth grade, we have been doing A LOT with fractions - how to add, subtract, convert to a mixed number, convert to an improper fraction, and compare. This week, we are taking things a step further with the subtraction and working with two fractions that have the same denominator, but the first numerator is LARGER than the second numerator. It looks something like this:


Even this little equation which threw them for a loop at first:

Whenever I share with the class an equation that they have never seen before, I love to first ask, "What would you do?" before I model or explain a solution. Most of the time, we can get to a solution (or two, or three!) and I end up not even teaching it! When a student suggests a strategy, I have him or her walk me through the steps and I model what they say on the board. The other students comment on whether or not they think this is correct, why or why not? Sound familiar? Our math class has morphed into a similar version of Investigations Math. I will pose a problem, and students discuss different ways of solving it. Some of those ways are correct, some are not, but in the end, we all decide on which (correct) way makes the most sense for each of us. Very rarely do I have a classroom full of students who are solving a math problem the exact same way. I LOVE IT! I am thinking about doing a full blown Investigations week with our next concept with posters, markers, and presentations. 

To practice adding and subtracting fractions with like and unlike denominators in a fun way, I created this Earth Day themed game! I always love games because I can work with students one-on-one, if need be, while everyone else is occupied with their learning. Also, I love to watch students help teach each other a concept. There is so much learning going on while I watch a student explain to a friend the way to solve a math equation. I am also doing some learning about each of the students involved in the interaction. 

To begin, each pair of students receive directions, a game board, dice, 2 cubes, and game cards (math task cards).

Students sort the game cards according to the pictures. Then Player One rolls the dice and moves according to the number rolled. Player One chooses a card from the pile that matches the picture he or she landed on. Both students solve the math problem that is on the card on the sheet titled "Work Station". Students then compare answers. If Player One is correct (assuming they are if both partners get the same answer), he/she stays at that place on the board. If he/she is not correct, then they go back to the original space on the board. Be aware of the recycle symbol, you may have to go back one or two spaces! The raindrop signifies a rain shower washed the player ahead one space! 

Students had a lot of fun playing this game and after about 20 minutes, they still did not get through all of the math problems. It was awesome practice and I was able to do my informal assessments of who is successful with what and who needed some one-on-one reteaching. 

It was a lot of fun and of course, this is available in my Teacher Store!

How do you make learning math fun in your classroom? I would love to hear about it!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

We Built the Digestive System!

We have finally started the unit that I have been looking forward to this entire school year! The Human Body and Current Events (more on that in a future post). 
How It's Being Done
First, I am explicitly teaching students about the digestive system through reading, experiments, and activities. 

The Heart, The Brain, The Muscles, & The Bones
After about 2 weeks, students will be put into reading groups where they will have a system of the body to read about, study, and complete activities on. I will have them create their own graphic organizers that draw from all of the nonfiction reading skills they have learned throughout this school year. No more teacher-created graphic organizers! This should take about 4 weeks. 

The Science in It
Each Friday, I plan on conducting experiments or having students engage in a hands-on activity that pertains to one of the four systems. Ideally, every Monday, students will rotate the books and study a new system. At the end, students will complete a class project. 

These are the books I purchased for this unit:

The Digestive System - Let's Build It!

To begin, we labeled the parts of the digestive system. Yesterday, we watched a Bill Nye video and it was awesome! Maybe next year, I will try to simulate what he did in the show which I think would be even cooler for my kids to see! Anyhow, today we only labeled each part, and will go into depth about the specific functions tomorrow. I blew up this poster and students had an 8.5x11 for their Science binders. We completed the labeling together so that they could also practice the spelling. I am usually not a stickler at all about spelling, but I do think it is important to learn how to spell each of our organs. As I said to my class, "If you are going to be a scientist one day, then the spelling of key words like this is going to be really important." 

If you are wondering how I was able to write the word "anus" on the board with 5th graders, I will tell you (mostly because if I was a new teacher, I would want tips on this!): I warned my class that this diagram was a little more detailed than Bill Nye, and that in order to learn about advanced material, we need to put our maturity hats on. (With human body books floating all around the room, this will soon become a coined term for this unit, I'm sure!) I was able to label each part with only a few giggles and my super active, totally rambunctious class did not get out of hand! I know that if I even crack a smile, I will totally lose this moment of maturity from them, and I will admit, I had to hold it in as well! (I guess since we are teachers there is a part of us that will never grow up :)) I am so glad this is not an issue!

Afterwards, I presented everyone with a bag of materials. 

Students were asked to build the digestive system. First, they worked together to sketch out their plan of action and then they went to work building. We presented the models to each other at the end and everyone had a different use for the materials. It was wonderful! Here it is in action:

Do you teach about the Digestive System or any of the Systems of the Body? I would love to hear about what you do in your classroom!

*I found this activity as a free sample on the Teachers Pay Teachers website. I ended up buying the rest of the units this teacher made because this one turned out so well! Here is the link if you are interested: