Tag Archives: writing

End of Year Ideas

Keeping your sanity during the tornado of paperwork and checklists at the end of the school-year can be tough. Sometimes the time spent in the classroom can just slip away. It’s important to have designated times when you create something as a cohesive group. This can be anything from group parallel play to a project that requires costumes and collaboration. Depending on your group dynamic, that choice is yours. Do whatever they can handle, and it will be memorable.

Harlem Shake Videos:

Last year, the Harlem Shake was all the rage. Basketball teams, groups of friends, news crews, casts, and more were getting together to create their own Harlem Shake videos. We decided that, as a class, we would make costumes, and take turns being the one in costume. The kids absolutely loved it, and now they have a video to remember their time in our class. There are free apps that make it easy to create your own Harlem Shake video.

Bubble Party:

To celebrate ending the 6 days dedicated to the NYS ELA and MAth assessments, we decided to have a bubble party. Shockingly, the exams still require students to “bubble in” their answers throughout the tests.

Later on, we also made sure to get our co-workers a bottle of champagne to have them also celebrate the end of bubbling in names and codes.

Classroom Stories:

One idea is to have students create their own stories using the kids in class as their characters. The level of support given to this activity depends on your students’ age and needs. This activity will give each student a chance to be creative, while at the same time, creating something that will allow the child to always remember his classmates. If your students need more support, you can help the students generate ideas. If the child struggles with writing, you can type up most of the book, but leave some words that the child can write in themselves. On the back, you can include the picture of the “author” with a short blurb about the students, giving the story the look and feel of an actual book. You can then choose to combine the stories into one big book to send home or give copies of each child’s story to the students to bring home.

Time Capsule:

In the beginning of the year we had students fill out various items for a time capsule. Each student wrote their a few of their favorite things, such as their favorite book, food, school subject, and what they want to be when they grow up. We even took a picture for them to glue on the cover, traced their hand size, and wrote how tall they were. During the last week of school we complete the same activities again and compare the results! It’s so fun to see the growth of students over so many dimensions.

Video Clips:

My students love the opportunity to be on camera. Any activity is instantly more exciting once students find out the end result will be a video. I plan on brainstorming students’ ‘favorite thing from this year,’ together before writing some ideas down on a ‘script.’ Students can share their favorite memories on camera, then we will watch the videos together as a class. As an added bonus we will post the videos on our class blog for students to watch at home with their families.


This post was collaboratively written by Jess, Caitlin, Anthony, and Katherine.


Image Libraries for Digital Citizenship Lessons

Working to integrate technology into classrooms has been so incredible. With the fifth grade group, I’m working on building general computer fluency skills as well as a deeper understanding of the integrity of their work. Through mini-lessons and research assignments, I’ve taught them how to legally find pictures that can be used for their projects.

Here are the image libraries I used:

Wikimedia Commons is great for finding photos to accompany written work.

Find Icons is a fun site with great icons for free.

Edupics is great for coloring pages for younger grades and images for lessons. I have also used this site as a visual dictionary.

Pics4learning is also great as an image dictionary and great for finding pictures for presentations.

Next time this group is in the computer lab, they’re going to find images related to the curriculum and related to their interests. They have demonstrated that they can easily find pictures on their own online, but they had no idea that there were laws surrounding pictures. This is such an important skill for them to have; I’m looking forward to seeing how they do with this project and how well they are able to generalize the idea.

What It Takes to Be A Teacher

When I tell people what I do and who I teach, they say, “Wow, you must have a lot of patience.” I nod and smile and say, “It’s understanding I have.” There’s an article I read in graduate school that has had an incredible influence on who I am as a teacher– I even remember the professor who assigned it. “Food for Thought. Patience or Understanding?” was written by Nancy Weber-Schwartz in 1987 with the conviction that good teachers aren’t patient, they understand the whole child.

I follow this, as is evident in a few of my previous posts– it’s my mantra as a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have felt frustrated working with children. When I do, I step back and reflect, sometimes catching eye contact with another adult in the room to indicate I need a minute away. In these times of frustration, finding different ways to approach the situation is imperative- I make a visual for the next time, chat with the student when he or she is not upset, or make an incentive plan based on the child’s goals. Knowing exactly what impacts a child’s ability to complete a task or follow a direction is key to providing the necessary support for the child to be successful. Providing the support is what makes a good teacher.

Good teachers who work with toddlers understand that they touch everything because they are curious and discovering their world, so they give them the tactile input they need. Good teachers who work with teenagers understand that their rebellion is something to be embraced, so they ignore the fact that they were late and instead give them a reason to be on time. Good teachers who work with children with special needs discover patterns of behavior, so they can preempt behaviors with necessary support. All of these good teachers have something in common; their work is centered around understanding the child.

Stemming from what can sometimes be crippling compassion and understanding, there’s a high level of dedication and follow-through that good teachers have. Sometimes this follow-through means dreaming about the classroom, not being able to sleep at night, working late and early hours, needing multiple venting sessions in a day, and needing someone else to tell them it’s time to take a break from school. If school schedules didn’t dictate vacations, teachers would rarely take the time for themselves. Most of the teachers I know drag themselves to work when they’re sick because they are overridden with guilt if they miss a day.

I think about the perspective required to understand teachers, and there are few outside the profession who have it. Unfortunately, the ones who really don’t understand are the ones making decisions in schools. Successful teachers aren’t measured the way they should be. Schools get graded based on text scores and test score improvements, not on actual growth of the children. What will it take for our system to recognize what we’re doing to both teachers and students?

Response: Hackschooling: Is This the Future?

I read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog called Hackschooling: Is This the Future? about a TEDtalk by a teenage boy about redefining schools.

He has a valid point. Learning comes from passion.

The whole picture is not just about making schools centered on individual interests without the training– there’s a fundamental point that he makes about the relationship of his teacher (or guide) to his work. He chooses the topic and someone teaches him how to explore it, question it, and master it. Logan clearly has teachers who work with him to learn the necessary skills to execute research, write about it, and then deliver an eloquent speech. Redefining does not mean taking teachers out of the equation; it means that the child’s passions are merely vehicles for teaching skills.

Continuing the Flipped Math Class

Math has been on my mind a lot lately, which is evidenced by my series of recent math posts. The idea of giving the children work to do on Khan Academy on Fridays is working out really well. Clicking around the site has helped me to see how well-differentiated I can make this flipped classroom. Each child has his or her own login, which helps me to track their progress. In addition to tracking the progress, I can coach them and suggest specific strands to work on.

What this does is free up our time to solve real-world problems in the school during math. As we’re working on measurement, I had them do a project in the art room to measure for a tech installation. They came up with two solutions, and we did a shared writing activity to describe the solutions. After that, they each drew diagrams illustrating the solutions and gave reasons to go with their individually chosen solutions.

This complex, real-life problem was so illuminating to me as a math teacher. It allowed me to coach them through the process and see exactly where the challenges were– more so than any dry word problem in a book. They were also very motivated to be at the head of this meaningful project for the school. I’m looking forward to continuing this kind of work with my group.



Reflection- Part 2

Writing has encouraged me to think deeply about my craft as a teacher. In addition, my break has given me more time to reflect on my way of working. Combining writing and time away has helped me to further reflect on my previous post I wrote about taking time for myself to both enjoy my work and avoid burnout. An extension of this reflection is the connection to a few articles, this one in particular, I read about a changing the presentation and delivery of professional development to engage more teachers on a meaningful level. Basically, no one looks forward to a lecture at the end of the day– no one wants to watch someone else click through a Powerpoint after a long day at school.

In this digital age, we have changed our way of learning. Most learning happens through our individual drive to learn (as it always has), but it looks different now. It has become more accessible from home, which results in less face-to-face interaction. Teachers seek on their own what they know they want to know. The problem is that teachers want (and need) to talk with other adults who share their interests and have similar experiences– it can be done online, but there’s value in being able to converse with colleagues in a physical setting. Being able to be fully honest in a place where confidentiality is not broken is important.

What can motivate teachers to want to have PD after school within the school community? There’s no question in my mind that teachers want to learn; that’s not the issue– it’s everything else on their plates– being stuck in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute and missing out on the bigger picture. It is only natural for many teachers to work like that, but there is a need for exposure to new ideas, bigger ideas, conversations, and reflection.

Here’s the test idea that we’ll try: a small group of teachers will meet regularly to continue a school-betterment project that was started by all the teachers earlier this year. This smaller focus group will continue work on the project, which will deepen our understanding of the flow of academic goals for children and will help create a more consistent reference for the curricular goals for reports, IEPs, conference notes, etc.

The project is intense and will require dedication, motivation, and energy. What’s going to be different is the presentation– we’ll have snacks, coffee, and even a little wine. So, instead of a forced collaboration with only goals and checklists, we’ll get together and work on the bigger ideas– our common interest fueling our learning in a more social and fun context. It seems like it will be more productive this way, and we’ll also feel better about it– not dreading the time we will spend on the project but looking forward to the time we spend on it. The sense of accomplishment at the end will hopefully also come with an interest in doing another project of the same magnitude. We’ll see!

Differentiating with Technology

When I was growing up, my computer classes were focused on typing and how to use specific programs. As the Technology Coordinator this year, it’s my job to facilitate lessons using technology. My focus is not on the smaller skills like how to save a Word Document, but on the bigger picture: to use computers to extend learning. The skills are absolutely needed, but children learn those skills through use, not through direct instruction (just like language). Every time I’ve gone to PD on a computer program, I find that I already knew 90% of what was presented because I’ve played around with computers. The creative aspect of technology is the part that’s harder to learn and harder to teach.

So far, I’ve worked with two classes in the lab. Our focus has been research on a topic they’re learning in class. One group is a fifth grade group and the other is a second grade group. It is so easy to differentiate the instruction with they way I have it set up. Some children are writing based on their research, and some are having their learning recorded on video. They’re each having a chance to express what they’ve learned in a way that is just right for them.

Before getting to this point, I needed to work on infrastructure– some of which is constantly evolving. The students have a student login with a student email account that I facilitate. I write the students an email as my prep for the lesson. Each child opens the email with their name in the subject, and they have a detailed list of instructions for their assignment. I can find appropriate resources based on their reading levels. My time with the group is maximized because I don’t need to give group directions– children are motivated to understand how to use computers.

Next week, I’ll have headphones for each computer, and I’m going to install a text-to-speech program for the children who will need sources read to them. This will make finding resources so much easier, as I will need to find resources for the child’s listening comprehension level instead of their decoding and comprehension levels. Many more resources will be accessible to them.

It’s amazing to have children creating instead of just filling in blanks on worksheets. They are excited and more invested in their work. I have more to think about for K-1, but maybe we will be able to do something similar with videos instead of writing. I want to move beyond the mindset of repetition and rote learning.