Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Google Calendar for Lesson Planning

Google Calendar will be my plan book of choice for the 2013-14 school year.  Why not?

I live by the calendar.  It keeps my professional and personal life ultra organized.  I look at my calendar throughout my entire day.  I set reminders for myself so I'm never late (insert sarcasm here), share events with family members or friends, and even embed calendars in our class website.  It just makes sense to my brain to use Google Calendar for my lesson plans.

There are many options available within Calendars that I'm confident that no matter the situation I'm sure I'll find a solution.  You can:

  • insert links
  • move plans in case of snow days
  • multiple views - day,  4 day, week, month, and yes even yearly view
  • share
  • embed
  • color code

Actually, I will have a couple calendars this year for school.  One for the students and families that will be embedded into our class website and the other for my detailed lesson plans.

If you're interested in this idea check out the endless tutorials to get ya started.  Below is the video that helped me out.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Mrs. Pierson - Every Kid Needs A Champion

"Can we stand to have more relationships?
Will you like all your children?
Of course not and you know your toughest kids are never absent.
You won't like them all and the tough ones show up for a reason.
It's the connection.
It's the relationship.
And while you won't like them all the key is they can never ever know it.
So teachers become great actors and great actresses.  
And we come to work when we don't feel like it.
We listen to policy that doesn't make sense.
And we teach anyway.
We teach anyway because that's what we do.
Teaching and learning should bring joy.
How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risk who were not afraid to think and who had a champion?
Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them who understands the power of connection and insist they become the best that they can possibly be.
Is this job tough?
You betcha! Oh God you betcha but it is not impossible.
We can do this, we are educators, we were born to make a difference!"

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai had finally made it to the top of my "Books to Read" pile and I was immediately drawn into Ha's story.

Perhaps it was the author's succinct prose poetic style of writing that gave me a chance to create crisp images of Ha's story that drew me in.  Or perhaps it was my personal connection with the Vietnam War and reading this story from a little Vietnamese girl's perspective.  Because of these reasons I give this 5 out of 5 stars and would gladly recommend this book to my fifth grade students.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"Mother says,
People share 
when they know
they have escaped hunger.

Shouldn't people share
because there is hunger?"

"Whoever invented English
should have learned
to spell."  

"Oh, my daughter
at times you have to fight,
but preferably 
not with your fists."

If you get a chance get a hold of this book, you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Steps Towards Organizing our Classroom Library

After reading "I know that book's here somewhere!"  How to Organize Your Classroom Library by Hollie Brooke I have taken a few more steps towards organizing all the books in my fifth grade classroom.

At this point I already have bins of books organized by genre however, Hollie suggests and I agree, that creating a database of all the books in a classroom will prove to be an incredibly useful tool for students when selecting books.  

So, the students and I are typing in the title, author and genre of each book in a Google Spreadsheet. I will print off 2 or 3 copies of this list and have it in the classroom for a reference for students to use.

Because it's Google, I will also be able to share this database in a variety of digital formats.  Once it's complete I will post a link on our classroom wiki and even be able to send the link to parents and students in an email.

I do have high hopes of creating hyperlinks of each book where kids can click the book title and quickly get a glimpse of what the cover looks like, read a summary of the book and even possible read reviews.

Another advantage is the ability to sort any of the columns alphabetically.  This will allow me to get a sense of the different genres and authors I already have and identify any gaps in our classroom library.

For instance, when I sort the genre column alphabetically I can quickly see that I have over 100 biographies but hardly any autobiographies.  So, now I have identified a gap and can begin fillin' it. 

The kids are actually pretty excited about helping create this database and are especially interested to see the number of books continue to grow.  We are currently at 350ish and only about half way through. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I am enjoying using the website Goodreads to keep track of all the books that I have been reading.  It's also been a great way to get book recommendations and to see what others have been reading.

Like most websites these days, there is a social component where you can "make friends" or share what you're reading on your facebook page.

There is also a "Group" section that I have yet to really delve into but when time permits, perhaps over the summer I will see what that's all about.

Another neat feature that I have started using is the ability to create book shelves.  So for instance, I have my fifth grade reading books separated from my own adult interest books.

The final point that I will mention is that Goodreads has developed a "goal setting" feature.  So, my goal, which is separate from the reading goal I made with my students in September, is to read 50 books this year.

What are you reading these days?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Let Go For But A Moment...

I've been thinking for a few days now about how to craft this story that I am about to tell.  The more I talk with other teachers about these lessons the more I am realizing how really very powerful this learning experience has been for the kids... and myself.

I would start by not claiming any mastery in all of this.  To be brutally honest, I had not planned on teaching the lesson this way until literally 10 seconds before I started.  The idea struck me and so I dove in and gave it a whirl.

Here it is in a nutshell:   
"Either on your own or with a partner, read pages 186-191 in your Social Studies text book about the Plymouth settlement.  You will stand in front of the class and teach the rest of us about Plymouth once you are done.  Are there any questions?"

No questions.

The kids hemmed and hawed for a bit on who their partners would be, some wanted to work alone, others wanted groups of 3 or 4.  I allowed all requests.

The kids dove in with enthusiasm and started digging through the text.  As they were reading they were deciding what to write down, who would say what and then they began asking me a few questions.

  • Mr. Howell can we create a play and perform the Plymouth story?
  • Mr. Howell, can I use the Smartboard and take screenshots of Google Maps to show the Mayflower route?
  • Mr. Howell can I watch a few videos on History.com to add to our notes from the text book?
  • Mr. Howell can I create a quiz to give to the class after my presentation?
  • Mr. Howell can I download images and insert them into our presentation?

The questions don't end there but you get the idea. Almost instantaneously this lesson took on a life of its own.  The kids claimed the learning and were deeply engaged and invested in this process like I hadn't really experienced before.


Here are a few of my thoughts on this:

  • They knew they were going to be in front of their peers
  • They had a choice on how to deliver the Plymouth story
  • It was social.  
  • It was different.

I suppose it's hard to put my finger on any one reason as to why they were so engaged however, they were and I loved being a part of it.

The paradigm shift:
This style of teaching/learning forced me into a different role however.  I was no longer the "sage on stage" delivering an energized, humorous and thoughtful presentation.  I was now the "guide on the side" going from one group to another asking probing questions.

With one group I would review the work they had already done, clear up any misconceptions, ask a few probing questions and then move on.   I would help another group figure out how to insert images into Microsoft Word that they were going to use.  Another group needed help determining the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  Another group needed help figuring out the username and password for Britannica Online so they could find out more information.

I was busy - real busy just in a very different way.

Here's the other dilemma I was faced to deal with.  The noise.

This type of learning is messy.  Kids are moving about, talking with each other, debating on what to say and what not to say.  An onlooker not involved in this process may have thought, "What on Earth is going on in there with all that noise?"  But upon taking a closer look would have seen that every single student was deeply involved in the learning process.

So in the end I realized this:  
I let go for but a moment.  I let go of the control and gave it to the kids and they handled it very well.  For over an hour, at the end of the day mind you, these kids were grinding through a rigorous piece of text right up until the very last second of the day and beyond...and enjoying it.

They owned that learning experience and most definitely took what would have been an otherwise dry and dull activity and turned it into something much much more ~ a personalized learning adventure.