Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Civil War Informational Text

One of our Arizona standards for Social Studies for third grade is "Discuss contributions of people during the Civil War (Abraham Lincoln, Ulyssess S. Grant, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass)".  As I've said in previous posts, our social studies book is all about Communities.  So, in order to teach this standard, I either need to create something, buy something, or just ignore the standard completely since it's just social studies.  I can't find any informational text on TpT about these specific people written at a level my 3rd graders can understand, so I decided to write it myself. I chose everyone on the list except Lincoln, and I included Robert E. Lee as well because I thought he was interesting.  I figured there were enough books written about Lincoln that I can use those, and we talk about him every year for President's Day.  Here are some pictures.

You can get the freebie here.  It goes nicely with the Civil War Interactive Notebook that's also a freebie on TpT.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Chris Van Allsburg Interactive Notebook

     I have loved Chris Van Allsburg books my whole teaching career.  I love his style of illustrations; I love the stories; I love the little twist or magical elements that always appear in the books.  Heck, I even love searching for Fritz in all the books.
     So, when I moved from Kindergarten to 3rd grade I this year I was so excited to finally be able to read his books again with my students- (Kindergarteners totally miss the finer points of his stories LOL).
     And, when I decided to venture into the world of interactive notebooks with mentor text read alouds, he's the first author that came to mind.  You can get it in my TpT store here.
     When I get started on a project, I work for hours and hours on it practically non-stop.  Amid all the holiday stuff this week, that's what I've been doing!  I chose four of his books to focus on at first- The Wretched Stone, The Sweetest Fig, The Wreck of the Zephyr and The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. I chose vocabulary from each book and created a vocabulary activity that is the same for each book (just a different way of representing it in the notebook).  Then I created at least two different activities that can be done for each book.  Most of the activities focus on character development or how the characters' actions contribute to the sequence of the events.  Here are some pictures of final products.

I am very excited to try this out with my 3rd graders when we return!  Coming soon: Patricia Polacco and Eve Bunting!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Civil War Interactive Notebook

     I missed out on the beginnings of the interactive notebook craze.  But, it's not too late to jump on the bandwagon is it?  I am a little nervous about my first interactive notebook activity.  It's about the Civil War.  We teach it in 3rd grade in Arizona, but really only have two standards to teach. Recognize that there were issues associated with the Civil War (slavery, states' rights, South seceded from the Union) and Discuss contributions of people during the Civil War (Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass).  Pretty basic, right?
     Except that our social studies textbook is all about Communities and has NOTHING about the Civil War... so, once again, I am forced to create something in order to teach what I am required to teach. (See previous post LOL- no soapbox today).  
     So, I decided to jump on the Interactive Notebook bandwagon and try my hand at creating activities that I can use to reinforce things I will teach.  It's my first try at it, so be nice.  It's a freebie on TpT Civil War Mini-Interactive Notebook.  It has 5 different activities.  The first one focuses on characteristics of the North and South prior to the Civil War.  The second one lists 5 main "issues" that were key to the conflicts.  The third activity is a map of what the U.S. looked like prior to the Civil War.  The 4th activity is a cause and effect about secession.  And the last activity focuses on important people.  I think I hit both standards with these five activities. YAH! Here are some pictures of what the final product looks like. ( I apologize for the one sideways picture...)
     Look for more interactive notebook stuff coming soon- they are FUN to create!  I think I'm hooked.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

End of Quarter 2 Reflections and Ramblings

     Although I am convinced that no one reads my blog no matter how I try to promote it, I will continue to post.  I suppose it is my fault because I am not consistent with posting, I don't promote myself well on Pinterest and I just feel like I don't have anything exciting to say.  Or, maybe I just can't toot my own horn well enough... I don't know, but it's frustrating at times.  That's probably part of the problem, because I make these sarcastic, negative comments.  Instead, I need to be bubbly, enthusiastic and super-excited all the time about the fabulous learning that is happening in my classroom.
     Don't get me wrong- fabulous learning is happening in my classroom.  But, sometimes it's not that exciting! And, I am not sure it's always best practices.  And, I can't stop making sarcastic, negative comments... so, don't continue if you expect a bubbly, cutesy and everything is fabulous post. :)
     I've taught for 21 years, and I can honestly say that we are at a strange time in education.  I think the last time things were this strange was when we started No Child Left Behind... Hmmm, that's interesting- whenever we have programs/standards shoved down our throats without any training teaching becomes so much harder.  But, the shift to No Child Left Behind felt different that this one.  At least with NCLB, the district I was in was purchasing programs and putting money into the new hoops we had to jump through.  Now, in the district I am in (a different, more affluent area than I was in for NCLB) we are alone-sinking or swimming and not knowing how far the shoreline is, what dangers are lurking out there, and where we can go for help.  My district has provided next-to-nothing for us in terms of resources to help us shift into Common Core.  We have had maybe 4 hour total in training (shifts in common core standards and close reading).  Our district purchased the Eureka Math books for the teachers and told us it is not a required curriculum.  No resources have been provided for language arts. And, there's no plan to purchase resources.
     Teachers are left with nothing to use to teach the new standards.  Thank goodness for Teachers Pay Teachers...  But, with teachers buying their own things comes problems we're not thinking about. 1) Teachers are getting poorer if that's even possible! 2)  Teachers are getting resentful that they are need to provide curriculum for the district (My husband always says, "Shouldn't your district be providing that for you?" when he sees the credit card bills.) 3)  There's NO consistency from school to school, district to district.  I think that last one is the biggest one- and the one that will hurt us the most in the long run.  The standards are vague enough that there's all kinds of interpretations about what they mean, how they will be assessed and what students should be able to do after that standard has been taught.  The Common Core standards are supposed to unite us so we're all teaching the same standards... but I think because of districts' lack of support to teachers it is really going to backfire on us at some point.
     So, here I sit reflecting on my Quarter 2 and I can honestly say that good teaching wasn't always happening every day at every moment. (I think after reading way too many blogs that I am the only one this is happening to- or I am the only one telling the truth)  I am limited by time, resources and support.  In past years we had resources, so I had more time to supplement those resources and create better lessons.  Now, I have no resources so the time I have is spent just interpreting the standards and then finding what I need to teach.  Those things aren't perfect so I either spend time I don't have making them better or use them even though they are not always "best practices".  It's a vicious cycle that I honestly don't see an end to.  I see teachers more frustrated than we've ever been before.  I see veteran teachers saying that they don't know how to teach anymore. I see newbies wanting to quit after one or two years because it's not worth the hassle.  I see administrators putting more and more pressure on us and asking us to do more and more with less and less. I see tests that don't match the standards but we're being judged on our test scores.
     Okay, now I somehow have to bring this around to a positive and leave this post feeling motivated, excited and ready to move forward to a new year with bright possibilities and a myriad of wonderful learning experiences.  That's what I'd like to do...but not sure that I can.
      Even though standards have changed and sometimes it seems like the children we are teaching are changing, good teaching doesn't have to change.  Students need us to know how they learn best.  Students need us to know that we care.  Students need us to know that they are more to us than a percentage on a high-stakes test.  When we look out at our students, we need to see beyond the latest federal programs, the lack of resources and all the other problems facing our education system today. We need to see past that to the 25 (or more) individual students that don't care which standards we are teaching or which program we are using or which test we are taking in April.  They just want a teacher who knows what they are doing, who cares about them, and has their best interests at heart.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Retelling is such an important skill for students to master.  Teaching kindergarten we would always begin with just telling the basic facts- the characters, the setting, then problem and the solution. Then we would progress to telling a beginning detail, a middle detail and an end detail.  You would think that since students have been retelling stories since they were in Kindergarten, by 3rd grade they would have it mastered- right?  Well, they don't- at least many of them don't.  They tell too much of the story or they choose details that aren't important, or they don't tell enough about the problem and solution.
I've used this strategy- Somebody...wanted...but...so...then- for years in one variation or another.  I love it because, if they do it correctly, it tells all the important parts.  Somebody (the main character) wants (this gets to the action of the story before the conflict) but (here's where the conflict come in) so (what does the character do to solve the problem) then (what's the resolution- how does the story end) Right now we are in middle of summarizing fictional text and I use that strategy all the time to get the students to quickly summarize a story without telling every single detail.  I made this Flip Book- it's a freebie on TpT.  You can use it in an interactive notebook, at a retelling station, or as independent work. The good thing about it is that it doesn't have a lot of intricate cutting so it's a quick cutting job.
Hope it's something that you might be able to use. :) Happy Retelling!

Monday, October 6, 2014

National Symbols Informational Text

After teaching national symbols for years in Kindergarten, I really thought I was done with it.   I thought I wouldn't have to teach about the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty etc... anymore because they learned all about it in Kindergarten and again in 1st grade.  But, apparently the powers that be think that we need another year of it.  Should I get out my craft activities that I used to do from Deanna Jump's American symbol unit?  No!  Although I am sure that the Statue of Liberty craft has to be easier with 3rd graders than it was with Kindergarteners!
Because our social studies text books are completely about communities and there is no mention of national symbols in the book, I felt the need to create some informational text that is close to the 2nd-3rd grade lexile band.  And, here it is free to you!  I included bald eagle, Statue of Liberty, the White House, American flag, America the Beautiful, Star Spangled Banner, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the U.S. Capitol building You can download it here for free. American Symbol Informational Text

I am going to use them paired with Reading A-Z Close Reading pack "How does something become a symbol?"  Do you know about Reading A-Z??? It's a paid subscription but they have hundreds of leveled readers and lots of close reading/common core resources. Hope this is something you might be able to use.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Classroom Library

I have to admit it- I have too many books!  And, believe it or not, I gave a ton of them away when I left kindergarten!  It's a problem this year because I came back to my classroom after the Kids Camp had been in it all summer to find two of my own personal book shelves broken.
 And, I have spent SOOO much money on my classroom already this summer, I couldn't spend any more on new bookshelves.  So, I have to make due with the two ugly metal ones that the district provides (well, they provide one and I sort of took the other one from my kinder classroom...but don't tell).  Here's a picture of all my boxes of books on the ugly metal shelves.
My next problem is how to display them???  I bought some cute bins, but again, spending too much money, so I had to use the ones that came in the cubbies.  I think the students used them as storage boxes for their stuff because they were NASTY!!!  

After about three hours in the classroom today (Saturday), I have them looking pretty...
But they are not organized at all!  The chapter books are organized by AR levels (sort of) but the picture books are just randomly in tubs.  My next question is "How do I want to organize the books?"  I see the benefit of AR leveled tubs because students can find the tub that is at their level and choose from those... BUT, part of me wants to organize some/most of the books by author/series.  That's the  real way libraries are organized and I think it's valuable they see this organization in the classroom as well.  I think I was reading in the Daily 5 book, or somewhere, and the authors mentioned a student (I think he had recently moved to the U.S.) who had a classroom library organized by levels.  When that student went to the public library, he was very confused and frustrated because he couldn't find a book in his AR level. Funny story, but it makes you think about how inauthentic it is to organize the library that way.  On the other hand, I know how messy students can be in the library AND if the books are organized by levels (the books have colored dots on the spines) then it is easier to maintain books in the correct locations...  So, I don't know how I am ultimately going to organize the books!  But, it's a lot to think about.
One of our first week activities is to organize the library.  I give each table a couple of tubs of books and together we figure out an organizational system.  We organize the holiday books, the fairy tales, the books with animals as main characters etc...I've done this mostly with the picture books but this year I will also do it with chapter books.  Maybe I will just let the students decide- or do a combination of both- organize the chapter books within that level range by author/series but still maintain the AR level ranges.

I do this as a beginning of the year activity because it gives students ownership into the classroom.  We talk about treating books correctly and how to maintain the library. Students get to see all the cool books I have, and it's fun too!  It's a little crazy and chaotic with books all over the place, but I think it's worth it!  Once we do the organizing then I have pretty labels that will go on the bins.

Happy Reading!


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Number Talks

Last year I was introduced to a book called Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computational Strategies written by Sherry Parrish.  It is a little pricey, but well worth the investment.  It is a wonderful resource for grades K-5 because it provides chapters on how to create meaningful number talk and gives lots of samples that you can use.
So, if you've never heard of number talks- what is it? In a nutshell, it is a time to develop mental math strategies and a time to practice communicating and listening in math.  It's designed to be short, but powerful.
Here are some guidelines the book provides for Number Talks.
1.  Pick a location in the classroom where you are close together so it is easier for you to observe and interaction.
2.  Give plenty of wait time for all students to be able to attempt the problem.
3.  Accept, respect and consider all answers.
4.  Encourage students communication throughout the math talk.

In Kindergarten,  I used the SmartBoard to do my number talks.  I focused primarily on Dot Cards and different representations of numbers.  At the beginning of my math talks, I focused on subitzing and they were more Tell Me Fast kind of things where students looked at dots on a ten frame or random dots and figured out how many there were.  Here's a blog post about it from last year and a freebie.  Later on in the year, I focused on how students added to get their answers.  I would give them a dot configuration and students would see combinations of numbers and add to get an answer.  For example, if I showed this:
Students might see the top 5 and the bottom 2 and say "I see 5 on the top and 2 on the bottom.  That's 7."  or a student might see the 3s on the side and say "I see 3 on one side, 3 on the other and 1 in the middle- that's 7."  I would write down the number sentence that they did just to connect it to an equation.  Students LOVED this- it was one of their favorite parts of the day!  Sometimes I used dice, sometime I used dominoes, sometimes I used 10 frames and sometimes I used rekenreks.   You can get my dot configurations that you see above by clicking on the link.

The great thing about the book is that they give you samples of what to do!  That's such a time saver for me!

So, moving to 3rd grade I still want to use number talks in the classroom as a piece of my math instruction.  I went to the book for help!  It gives you sample sequences for addition and subtraction and multiplication and division.  I began with addition.  I made cards that look like this.

The author broke the addition into different categories:
  • Making 10
  • Friendly Numbers
  • Doubles and Near Doubles
  • Place Value
  • Adding up in Chunks

I made header cards for each of these.  I plan to print, laminate and cut out the cards and store them in those index card holders that Target has right now in back to school supplies.  We will begin easy with the making 10 cards, I think, until I get a feel for what they know.  Then we'll move wherever they need to go depending on their needs.

We will do Number Talks in our meeting area and I will write the number sentences, one at a time, on my white board/easel.  Then I will give students time to process.  The book suggests a signal that students do that shows they have an answer- like a thumbs-up in front of their chest or something like that.  Then I will ask students to explain how they got their answer and I will record their thinking on the white board.  We will talk about their strategies as a class and ask questions/discuss as needed.

I don't think students will have done this a lot in previous classrooms so it will be difficult at first to get them to share their thinking.  But once they begin number talks, it is such a powerful way for students to talk, discuss and ask questions about math.  It hits upon the mathematical practices standard MP1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. MP7: Look for and make sense of structure and a whole bunch of Speaking and Listening standards.

If you'd like to try Number Talks, you can get these addition cards here


Friday, July 25, 2014

Daily 5 and Cafe

I know there are tons of Kindergarten classes that used Daily 5 successfully- I just was never one who thought I could, so I didn't.  Now that I am moving to 3rd grade I feel like I can better wrap my head around Daily 5.  Good thing, because our administration has decided that they want us to do Daily 5 this year.  Of course, no training has been provided or information or resources- but that's a story for another day.
For the last I-don't-know-how-many-years I've been toying with the idea of Daily 5 and this year I think I am ready to make that leap.  I reread the books this summer- the updated version of Daily 5 is really good- and I think I am sort of ready to begin.  To start I made these cards to go on my CAFE wall. They go with my color scheme of navy blue, teal/turquoise and lime green. Get the freebie here.

Then I made these cards for Daily 5.  I plan to attach them together with a cute ribbon I think.  

I have high hopes for Daily 5 in 3rd grade!  I will post more about my journey and the pictures of the final product!