April 19, 2014

Meaningful Map Facts

Hello! I wanted to share a little activity that has helped in a big way in our class this year. This activity complements one I shared back in February, Utilizing Those Nonfiction Text Features.

During our unit on explorers, our class encountered numerous helpful maps. The only problem? With so much information on the textbook pages, I wasn't sure my students were really analyzing the maps carefully.

So we devoted one whole lesson to strictly analyzing a map.

Doesn't that always feel nerve-wracking? Like you should be covering more in a lesson? But I've learned that these really focused lessons are the ones with the biggest payoff in the end.

taking a look
At first glance, it looked at though it showed a bunch of famous explorers and their routes (I'm thinking like a 5th grader here...you can tell, right??):

then a closer look..
But upon closer analysis, we noticed so much more. We began with a turn and talk. The partners identified tons of additional information to what we had already known so far. Explorers who had chosen similar paths. Others who claimed lands. Treaties that had to be drawn up. Unique routes to Asia. The list went on and on.

taking note
We then turned to a simple template to record a bulleted list of facts we could pull from the map. Meaningful facts...ones that tied into our prior knowledge of these explorers.

Soon the pencils were flying, filling the page up with all the things they had learned from this one map.

After sharing our findings as a whole class, we were amazed to see all we had learned from this map. 

And it gets even better!

 unexpected benefits
We had accomplished what I had hoped for in this lesson...my students had analyzed the maps collaboratively and independently. They made and noted key observations, extending their understanding of this topic.

However, I didn't realize at the time how much the information would stick!

Weeks later, as we were working on our informational texts (all about explorers!) I conferenced with student after student who recalled details for their research from this map. "Remember how Magellan found that waterway in South America to get to the Pacific Ocean? It was on that map we looked at," they told me.

I couldn't have been any happier!

These connections and understandings are the kind I'm always striving to achieve with all of my students, especially my newcomer English Language Learners. Knowing that the information had stayed with my students proved how meaningful the lesson was.

I do have some more to share about using maps in Social Studies, but I will save that for next time. In the meantime...

would you like to try it out?
If you would like to grab a copy of the fact template, please click on the preview image below:
I hope it is as helpful in your classroom as it has been in ours! Thanks for visiting! :)
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April 12, 2014

Don't Answer Questions

Sounds kind of unteacherly, doesn't it?

But I promise it isn't!

Before I tell you though, I must share the exciting news...it's a new month of Bright Ideas!
And, just like last time, I'm linking up with tons of my blogging friends to bring you another month filled with teaching ideas. In a crazy-hectic year, this linky has truly become one of my favorite things to look forward to!

So. Back to the questions.

There are a lot of questions that come up during the school day, aren't there? And I love that my students are always thinking critically and know they can ask these kinds of questions during all lessons.
But I had been wondering lately...was I really answering them in the best way possible?

Sure it's great my 5th graders are asking thought-provoking questions...but in the fast-paced frenzied feeling of the school day, I felt like I wasn't taking the time to do these questions justice. I felt like I was just giving an answer back automatically.

Then, one day during a math lesson, it hit me:

Don't answer all of their questions.

So a student raised her hand and asked a thoughtful question.

I opened my mouth, stopped, closed my mouth, and hesitated.

Then I said, 

"That's a great question...I'm going to turn that back to the class."

"What do you think?"

There was a brief moment of quiet, maybe of a bit of surprise at being asked to reflect on a classmate's question. But then they got talking...and solving!

It didn't take extra time I had feared losing. It was actually quick and engaging for my students. I realized then I had a new strategy to utilize in all subjects.

Turning student questions back to the class has helped them in so many ways. This type of discussion has allowed my students to:
Students are asked to think critically about answers and solutions to these questions. What background knowledge do they have? What known strategies can they apply to answer this?

This type of questioning and answering lends itself so naturally to a Turn and Talk format (which my 5th graders are VERY fond of!). An engaged class makes a happy, learning class and THAT makes for a very happy teacher!

Student-led questioning and answering also brings a sense of belonging to an academic, collaborative community. Students know their questions are valued. They are a guiding force in the learning. I have noticed an increase in the amount of high-level, thoughtful questions asked since we have begun this format.
I realize this is probably something many others do and I do not wish to act like I've invented something new...but what I have learned from this experience has impacted my teaching in all subjects.

I've learned to listen even harder, take more time, and let my students guide their way in learning when the questions call for it.

It truly has been one of the best experiences this school year...one I know I will carry with me into the future.
So...are you ready to read some incredible bright ideas? I have been waiting all week for this!! Just click on any of the wonderful blogs just below:

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April 5, 2014

Make a Digital Plan (with Planbook.com)

Hello dear friends! 

I have to tell you, every time I look at my blog I get this horrible-pit-of-sadness-feeling over my lack of blogging this year. 

I miss it terribly. I miss YOU all even more!

But you know how it goes I'm sure, more than anyone else does. New standards to implement, lesson planning around the clock, falling asleep in an armchair before 9:00 PM.

I know I'm not alone in this!

Anyhow...about that planning part I mentioned.

One thing has made my teaching life so much easier this year:
Oh, how I planbook.com!

There are so many thing you can do with this site, starting with one of my favorite past-times...color-coding:
(as you can see, ahem, I've yet to fill out my plans for next week. But I am blogging!!!)

Each class you create has an option to choose a color:

I set mine to correlate with my students' color-coded subjects and I gray out the non-academic times like lunch and recess:

Classes can be set up to run once a week (which is ideal for our specials) or daily:

Now for the fun part (ok, the color-coding is a fun part too but THIS is my true favorite).

There are drop down menus to copy and paste lesson formats!

For instance, I have worked really hard this year to include an essential question in each lesson I teach. I also have all of my classes set up in a workshop format. Planbook.com makes it really easy to copy and paste this format. All you have to do is click on the little arrow on the right side of the lesson box:

Choose copy from the menu:

Then go to the next lesson and select paste to place the same formatting in this next area:

You can also select "extend" to continue a lesson into the next day:

This will make a copy of your exact plan which you can place in the next day's box, so you can continue on!

I type up all of my plans on planbook.com on my laptop and access them with the app on my iPad at school. THIS is really cool because I can view my plans without lugging my computer in my bag:

It's just perfect!

I'm not blogging about this on behalf of planbook.com, just out of love of the site on my own. For $12.00 a year, it is a dream of a bargain considering how much easier it has made my planning life!

I hope this was of help if you did not know about this site yet!

How do you like to set up your lesson plans?
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March 9, 2014

Color-Coding the Classroom

Happy Weekend!! Today I am joining tons of my blog friends in sharing some bright ideas...from our classroom to yours!
The bright idea I would like to share is definitely bright...as in bright colors!

So, I've been decorating my room with black and bright for three years now. I love the happy colors and my students do too (we always laugh when the neon clothes they wear match the bins in the room!).

But in the back of my mind, I was always a bit worried about the amount of color in the room. If you've read my blog since the beginning, you know I used to be pretty one or two-toned when it came to color schemes. 

Was it too much color?
Was it distracting to my students?

I want my room to be vibrant and energizing, yet remain calming overall. So this summer I reworked my scheme to be more purposeful in its use of hues:
Suddenly all the colors had a purpose. Now the room looked more cohesive, less scattered.

And I could keep all of my decor, I just had to rearrange it a bit so all colors were together to represent a particular subject.

Each subject in our class has the same basic elements to keep it color-coded and organized. Here's a peek at our color-coding for Writer's Workshop:
1. Bins: Students pass in any assignments during the day in these bright buckets.

2. Charts: I use large pieces of bright chart paper that I've laminated to create our anchor charts (I am NOT the best chart-maker...working on that one!). We create the large ones together on these laminated sheets, then I type them up onto smaller sheets to refer to later.

3. Markers: We use coordinating chalk markers to mark the following on each bulletin board:
  • essential question
  • key vocabulary
  • our strategies
I'm honestly not sure if I will use these markers in the same way next year or not. They are pricey, but they do pop nicely across the room. It's been a great visual for my students this year.

4. Notebooks: This was such a lucky find this summer!! Walmart happened to have all the colors I needed to coordinate my notebooks to each subject area! The best part? I didn't have to make any labels for any of our notebooks...it's so clear which notebook is needed for which subject just by glancing at it!
It's amazing what this color-coding has done for our classroom! I've been able to keep all of our color, yet make the room much calmer and more cohesive.

And the best part?

It has been so much easier for my newest English Language Learners to find the resources and materials they need for each lesson...and that has been wonderful to see.

I know my room evolves a bit each year, but I also know that I will stick with color-coding by subject in the future.

The next stop in the hop is Tech with Jen! Jen has a post all about Keyboarding Skills for your students and you can click on the button below to read all about it. I will see you there because that's where I'm headed first!
You can also hop around any of our blogs here:

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February 27, 2014

Giveaway Winner and the Sale Begins!

I can't thank everyone enough for entering our giveaway the other day, as well as the sweet comments you left! I am so very grateful for such lovely readers, thank you!

The winning name has been selected and it is...Marcy W!! Marcy, I am emailing you the prizes right now!

The TpT sale is officially on and this teacher is officially in shopping mode! If you would like to browse my store for any items, please click on the sale graphic below...and don't forget that promo code!

Thank you again everyone! :)
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February 24, 2014

Hurry, Hop, and Win!

Hi everyone! My upper-elementary friends and I are joining together for a very exciting blog hop...Hurry, Hop, and Win!

Would you like to join us? You could win a...

And the best part??

You can enter each of our giveaways for a chance to win this prize! That means 19 chances to win a gift card!

And the timing couldn't be any better because this Thursday marks the beginning of a sale at Teachers Pay Teachers! You will find all of my resources at 28% off, from my latest math resource:

to all of those morphological resources that have made a huge impact on vocabulary acquisition in my 5th grade class:


as well as coordinating classroom decor:
Speaking of resources, I would also love to give a product of choice from my store to the winner of this giveaway! Please see the Rafflecopter below for all the details:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Next stop in the hop: my friend Ashleigh from Ashleigh's Education Journey! Please click on the button below to hop on for your next chance to win a gift card!
Or visit any of these incredible blogs here to enter all the giveaways!

Want to be sure you got them all? Laura Candler has created a checklist you can print and check right off as you hop: Hurry, Hop, and Win Checklist

Thanks for visiting and best of luck! :)
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February 23, 2014

Print, Solve, & Explain: Equivalent Fractions

One of my main goals this year has been to really get my 5th graders writing about their mathematical thinking. How can they explain a certain math concept? What strategies do they use to solve a problem? How can they show something to be true mathematically?

I knew I wanted my students to write about their thinking in regards to our latest unit on equivalent fractions. I also knew they already had the tools they needed to do so. My students could model equivalence in a variety of ways (folded paper, manipulatives, and drawings). They could also create equivalent fractions by multiplying the numerator and denominator by the same number. Many were comfortable with simplifying fractions through division.

Now I wanted my students to take it to the next level and use their knowledge to explore the equivalence of multiple fractions...and write to explain their thinking.

So I gave them an assortment of fractions, along with five sorting mats:

Working in partners, the students began to classify these fractions into five categories of equivalence. There were 25 fractions cards, but there were not five fractions per group, in order to keep things challenging. :)

Some equivalences were easier to spot quickly:

While others took a great deal of thought and discussion among partners:

I stepped back for this part and watched my students explore and explain to one another. They made calculations, sketched out diagrams, debated over certain fractions, looked to the simplest form for several of the categories (I was over the moon when I heard that last one!). 

It was a beautiful thing to witness!

Once my students were sure of their categories, they glued their equivalent fractions in place. Then it was time to share our findings.

Groups came up to the computer projector to share a group of equivalence they found, as well as their strategies for finding the equivalence:
We kept a list of strategies that could be used to find equivalence and added these strategies to our math notes.

The next day, we came back to the activity...it was time to get it in writing.

I asked my students to choose one category of equivalence (one that challenged them!) and write an explanation.

We used two reflection sheets, a blank one for diagrams and visuals:

And a lined one as well, to write out their explanation of equivalence:

As in all other subjects in class, my students referred to our Transitional Word Posters to help with their explanations:

(I cannot tell you how much my students use these posters for all of their writing pieces, and math is no exception!)

I was delighted to read responses like "Likewise, 20/60 is equivalent to 1/3 just 35/105 is equivalent to 1/3, as shown in the diagram on the next page." 

It worked out so well my class, so I put everything together (with lesson plans, a writing rubric, student writing samples, and more) and listed it in my store. You can learn more about Print, Solve, & Explain: Equivalent Fractions here:

You can also see the Transitional Word Posters here (they really are the perfect complement to our mathematical writing projects):
I would love to give a few sets of these right now, if you are interested! If so, please leave a comment with the following information:

1. your email address (so I can send the file along)

The first three readers to comment will win! Thanks so much for stopping by!
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