Progress with Badge Activities

The due date for the badge activities has come and gone and for the most part all of the students turned in the two required activities in order to qualify for an “A” this nine weeks.  One student completed one activity and one did none.  Not bad out of thirty students.

Michelle, my wonderful Fifth Grade assistant, created most of the badges on  Several of the students took it upon themselves to create a badge using Pixie or other apps on their iPad.

The students are in the process of sharing their projects this week.  Each student is required to do an oral presentation and explain their activities.  As they finish, I email them their badges and they are required to post the badges on their blogs on the page they created titled “My Badge Backpack”.

Take a look at Emily’s page to see what her progress has been this nine weeks.

My room has turned into a huge mural of student work because of the badge activities (thanks to Joni, my terrific Fourth Grade assistant who hung up all of the students’ work.)  Finally, I feel that my room is reflecting what my students are learning.

Abigail created this badge:


Top Five Good Things About Testing Week


patrol ning


Not a lot has been happening teaching-wise this week because of standardized testing. But to me, this is always a nice and insightful week for me so I decided to list my five favorite things that I like about this week.
5) There are not a lot of papers to grade! I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a break from correcting papers. It is great not to have to check homework everyday because I don’t give homework when it is testing.
4) I get to have the students first thing in the morning everyday for the week! What a breath of fresh air this is for me. Even after seven and a half years of teaching at MJGDS, I still find this the most difficult part of my job. My students have a very long day and when they come to me in the late morning until 3:45, it is almost impossible make the most of the time I have with them. They are tired by 2:00 and trying to teach math and/or social studies to them during this time is very difficult.
3) I have been able to witness, first hand, Hebrew class with my fourth graders. What an amazing experience! The Jewish Studies team has had to make adjustments with their schedule too which means they use our classrooms in the afternoon. I have seen a different side to my students. It is amazing to hear these children converse, some very fluently, in Hebrew and watching Rivka teach is enlightening. She is so enthusiastic, and very patient, with the students. What a great teacher!
2) I love watching the Fifth Grade test. I love watching their “brains work”. I love watching all of their habits such as twirling their hair or making facial expressions as they read. I don’t get to sit back and watch them work a lot during a regular class because I am busy helping or answering questions or setting up for the next thing we have to do.
1) I love the bonding that goes on between my students and me during this week. We are all relaxed and have more time to talk, share, and have some fun after the tests. This is the best part of all!

Ownership and Motivation


(Ariella T. sharing her math game that she created for a badge activity)

(Ariella’s game board)

I would like to get feedback from you.  How do you motivate your students to WANT to learn and take ownership of their work? I find this one of the most difficult aspects of teaching at this point in time.  It seems that students think everything should be like a video game.  Fast-paced, fun, and full of “bells and whistles”.  Well, unfortunately, in the real world this is not always the case.

As I have blogged about in the past, I have implemented the use of badges in my math class.  So far the students have been able to earn badges for simple tasks such as the mastery of basic facts.  This nine weeks, earning badges is project-based.

For the most part, the students have been very self-motivated and creative with this. Everyday when we have a few minutes at the end of class, the students ask if they can work on their projects. The projects that have been submitted are excellent.  The students seem to be very proud of their effort and hard work.

As a side note, I have made it a point, NOT to check the students’ work before they they turn it in to me.  They can show it to me and I will make suggestions, but I am not following up with them.  They have to follow the rubric and make sure they complete all of the steps in order to earn the highest possible grade. (The truth is, I am not going to be that picky with content as much as I am with the aspect of following directions on the rubric.)  This has been a problem with some of the parents.  They want me to double-check everything and report back to them with their child’s progress.  This has been one of the few times that I have said “no” to a parent’s request and I don’t think they are very pleased with me; but I am not going to change my mind this time.  I feel that part of my job as a teacher is to make the students accountable for their work.  As I told one of the parents, the kids are in the big league now, meaning once you enter Fourth Grade, more is expected of the student.

Also, the use of Khan Academy has proven to be a major source of motivation for most of my students.  They are so proud of themselves when they earn a KA badge or even better, a Mastery Badge.  We are still working on the ownership part of KA. Many students come to me and say, “I finished my 120 minutes for the nine weeks.  I’m done!”  My response is, “Well, no not really guys.  Now, push yourself and do some harder math.  Take my recommendations and go above and beyond the 120 minutes.  Own your learning and push yourself, just to push yourself.”

I usually get the deer and headlights look.  Once again, I think of Dori the fish.  “Just keep swimming.”

(KA badges earned by Jack H. and Samatha L.)



Try It, You Might Like It!

Cross-posted to

How many of you can name the ad where “Try it, you might like it'” was used?  I hope I am not alone here with this catchy phrase.

Once again, I am going to discuss how wonderful Khan Academy is. The saying “Try it…” is so appropriate for this amazing class tool.

This nine weeks, I made Khan Academy a requirement in my math classes. (Both the parents and the students had to sign a contract acknowledging that they understood the tasks.)   Both the fourth and fifth graders must spend at least sixty minutes on KA to earn a “B” and 120 minutes to earn an “A” on their report card this grading period.

At first the students were “freaking out” about the amount of time that was required, but as the days went on, they realized that it wasn’t that much.  As a matter of fact, most of them completed the requirement within two weeks and have continued to do much more than the minimum amount.

This has not only been a great exercise helping the students review for the upcoming ITBS test, but it has helped me enormously because I am able to see EACH student’s strength and weakness.  I receive a detailed report on a weekly basis about every student. (In order to do this, the teacher, or parent must sign up as the child’s coach. You can sign up the entire class too.) The report shows the time spent on activities, skills mastered, skills that are being practice, skills that need more practice, and skills where the student is struggling.  Once I review the report, I can make recommendations for every student based on the information. I can even put a due date for my recommendations.

The reports have proved beneficial to me. I have seen that in both of my classes, there are problems with the skills of subtraction with borrowing and multiplying with two or more digits.  Even my “top” students are having trouble with these skills.  So now I know that reteaching is in order before standardized testing.

One other great aspect of KA is that the students are awarded badges for such things as mastering skills, time spent on the site, etc.  The students love this and, best of all,  it goes along with my use of badges for other learning activities.

Please, please, give this wonderful site a try!  You will not believe how it opens your eyes to the needs of all of your students. Most of all, the students love it to the point that several times I have had to tell them to log off KA because we had to do something else.

PS-the videos on KA are great for those of us who have forgotten certain skills in math. The narrator speaks in everyday language so that ALL can understand.

First Badges are Posted!

Cross-posted to Teacher-Twenty-One

Created by Jack H.

This week was a monumental week for my classes, at least it was in my mind!  Both the fourth and the fifth graders made a new page on their blogfolios appropriately titled “My Badge Backpack” . (Karin, our Media Specialist, is also doing reading badges, and she thought that all of the students should title the badge page the same.) Then, the kids proudly inserted their first badge(s) for math.  The fifth graders were awarded a badge for knowing all of the division facts 1-12 and the fourth graders received badges for knowing all of the multiplication and division facts 1-12.  As a side note, all of the fifth graders received a badge; however not all of the fourth graders completed the division facts. I set a date for completion and several still did not master all of the facts.  As I was “giving out” badges the other day in Fourth Grade, the students who did not receive both badges realized that others had more.  It is my hope that those students will show initiative and ask to finish the timed tests.  This will be an interesting observation because these students are not my most motivated.

At the end of March, I will be rewarding badges for the activities that the students have been working on for the last few weeks.  I have ask the students to make digital badges that I can use. (We have been using or Pixie to build the badges.)  This has been a voluntary assignment, but Fourth Grade has been phenomenal!  They have taken it seriously and created some wonderful designs.

Julia D. created this badge using Pixie. (All images on Pixie are able to be used on blogs.)

So far, the use of badges as a reward has been amazing.  Most every student has been working hard on their two activities and the work that has been turned in so far is high quality.  The best thing has been the amount of learning going on this nine weeks.  ALL students are participating and they are being challenged.  The most important thing I have learned is that when doing enrichment activities, I must include ALL of the students, not just the top group.  All students can be challenged to do “just a little more”.

I also want to thank my wonderful Fifth Grade assistant, Michelle.  She has taken it upon herself to create a badge for each activity.  This is no easy task because there are so many activities.  I truly appreciate her helpfulness and perseverance.  I did not ask her to do this, she just did it!

Created by Michelle L. (on

IDK What Went on in Room 201!

Since a weekly Ning post is a requirement at our school, I sometimes struggle with what to write.  This was one of those weeks. Nothing earth shattering happened in Room 201.  It was one of those weeks where things just clicked along.

Good things that happened in Room 201:

~Math concepts are really coming together.  We had an “aha” moment in Fourth Grade when they realized that fractions, decimals, percentages (which of course were brought up when we were talking about shopping), and remainders in long division are related. Wow, math does have meaning in the real world.

~The fifth graders didn’t skip a beat when studying decimals.  I love how Singapore Math spirals the curriculum so well.  It makes teaching math so much easier.  Nothing really new is added, the skills just go a little deeper.

~ Since we are studying about early expeditions to Florida, I shared the book about Ft. Caroline appropriately titled,  Fort Caroline: The First French Settlement in the New World (available free on iTunes!) that my last year’s fourth graders wrote and it was admired and praised by the “new” fourth graders. That was a proud moment for me because I remember all of the work that the students put into writing it (not to mention our wonderful Librarian, Karin).

~The fourth graders and I shared a good laugh together which in turn seemed to bond us together just a little more.

Ok, so I am not doing anything earth shattering by some people’s standards, but I hope that I am making a difference here at MJGDS.  I hope that I am preparing my students for the future and creating a warm and nurturing environment that can’t be measured or really shared with the world. It will take years to see if I did make a difference.  I pray so.

Implementing Badge Activities

Last Friday, I handed out the contracts for math and I allowed the students to browse through the badge activity booklets that I put together.

The contracts were no surprise to them because I had discussed my “new” requirements with them previously.  (I now have requirements for the grades of “A” and “B”.)

I also added in a requirement for time on Khan Academy.  I have blogged about this website in the past.  This is a great site for reinforcement and enrichment activities not only for the 4th and 5th graders but ALL grade levels.  The great thing is that they like going on KA because they earn badges here too which is such a good fit for what I am doing with my own badge activities!

After I handed out the contracts, I let the students look through the notebooks that I had filled with the badge activities.  I was so glad that the students were enthused. They quickly chose their two activities and BEGAN the work without me asking them to do it.

Another thing that I noticed was that for the most part, the more talented math students chose the harder activities.  It has been really interesting to see the students delve into the projects.  They all require some sort of research ranging from costs of things to the finding out information about the tallest buildings in the world.

The only negative that I heard from one parent is that she thought the activities weren’t “grade appropriate”.  I chose activities that span from third through fifth grade and I explained this to her. I also told her that students have the option of “trading in” an activity for another if they find it too difficult.

I feel this is going to be the best way for me to challenge and enrich ALL of my students and have ALL of the students involved, not just a few.

I Need an Answer!


I need some help from you!

As the sun rises and sets everyday, and Winter turns to Spring, it’s that time of year again for my students to learn about fractions.  In years past, it has been an easy thing for me to teach mainly because there are so many good ideas on how to teach the skill.  I always like to teach the “why” part to every math lesson and fractions are no exception.  When you think about it, fractions really are important in our everyday lives.  From cooking to sewing to driving we use fractions all of the time.  So, I try to teach the reason why we spend so much time on these “little creatures”.

My Fifth Grade class this year is one of those classes that stand out for many reasons, but mostly I will remember them as my inquisitive class.  It was no surprise to me that when we began learning about dividing fractions this week, the question came up, “Why do we have to invert the fraction after the division sign, then multiply?”

With other skills, Singapore Math has been wonderful with helping the teacher answer such questions, but this time they didn’t give a reason, it was more like, “Just do it!”  So I am on a quest to find out the REAL reason we don’t actually divide fractions.  I found someanswers,  but in my simple mind, it really doesn’t give me a great answer.

If anybody has a more “simple” answer for my “simple mind” please let me know.  The question is driving my class and me nuts!

What’s Old is New Again


It seems like yesterday that I was thumbing through my Girl Scout Handbook to see which badges I could earn easily.  I would do the activities that were required, and my mom would have to “sign off” that I did them.  (Truth being,  I probably bugged her so much about initialing that I completed something, that she just signed it so I would shut up.)

I couldn’t wait for the scout meetings when they would present the badges and I would, once again, hound my mother until she sewed the new badge on my sash.  I don’t think that I earned a lot of badges, but I was proud of the ones I had.

As I blogged, about earlier, I am still trying different ways to motivate my students to do enrichment activities.  The individual folders and the personalized contracts have not been successful, so I am now going to implement the digital badge system in my math class.  I have been looking on line to see when and how this all has started, and of course, my eyes went to the Wikipedia article.  It seems that this idea has been around for a few years (yes, it is based on the “old-fashioned” badges used by the military and scouts) and that it should help motivate students to want to earn badges based on  learning experiences created by the teacher.

I have found a great resource on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It is a booklet of math projects for lower school students and each project has a rubric to go along with it.  As I read through the projects, I was impressed how each one of them was interesting, fun, and presented a challenge.  It is geared for all students because it is interest-based.

I am going to introduce this to the students next week. I have set up a file in my room with each activity in a separate folder.  The students can choose any activity to complete. Their grade will be based on the rubric that accompanies the task, and they must obtain a certain score in order to successfully earn the badge.  Several of my students have volunteered to create the badges using the website

I am going to make this a required activity in that IF the student wants to earn an “A” in my class for the nine weeks they will have to complete a certain amount of badge activities.  I am doing this because most of my students never do any “extra credit”.  They just do the minimum and never challenge themselves to do more.  In my opinion, this is not a good habit for them.  As they get older, they will have to be self-motivated and maybe I can “train” them to always do a little more in school. I really hate to connect a grade to this, but I feel I have to so that all of the students will participate.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this topic?




True Differentiation


I am having my normal January slump since returning from Winter Break.  Each year, since I began teaching 35 years ago, this has been a difficult time of the school year for me.

I go through different emotions from “I love this job!” to “I am the worst teacher ever!”  and I end up driving myself nuts.  Usually, this mood goes away after a few weeks which is what I am hoping to happen soon.

My main question this year is “What is differentiation?  How can I meet the needs of all of my students and maintain my sanity?”

I have run the gamut of trying different things this year from enrichment folders, personalized contracts, and soon (as I posted previously) badge activities.  But am I doing enough?

Of course, my answer is no.  In my opinion, the best differentiation occurs during class, with no planning, and changes each day with the skills we are doing.  It occurs when either Joni, Michelle, or I see a problem with a student and we work one on one with the child.  This is the BEST thing about working with a small number of students.

As far as differentiating homework, to me this is really difficult to do.  Personally, I have had some unpleasant situations with parents when I try to explain why their child didn’t get the same assignment as another child.  The other problem I have encountered, is the students question me as tho why some people have different assignments than others.  This, to me, is a very uncomfortable situation and I have trouble explaining it to the students and parents.

Another very important aspect of differentiation is grouping the students according to learning styles.  Do we present our lesson in three different ways? One for auditory, one for visual,and one for tactile?  I attended a workshop a few years ago that showed teachers how to do this with their lessons.  I still don’t see how I can differentiate like this and complete very much on a day to day basis.

I did see a very interesting report last Sunday on CBS that talked about doodling.  The bottom line point is that all of us learn (and listen) in different ways and some of us listen and learn better if we doodle.  When I worked with Silvia Tolisano last year, she always had the students take notes and one of her ways of showing them how to take notes was by illustrating what was being talked about during the lesson. She would always tell me to let them learn the way they learn best and if it’s drawing while I talk, so be it.  The news report I saw actually talked about famous people who doodled during meetings, etc.  It was fascinating to see their drawings.

So then I am back at my original question, how can I possible differentiate and meet ALL of my students’ needs and still have time for my other life as a wife and mother? We not only have to worry about their level of learning, but their learning styles too in order to differentiate properly and efficiently.  This could and would take hours on preparation and planning.

I often wonder how anybody my age ever survived in school?  All I remember is reading groups that never changed from August to June. Somehow, most of us grew up to lead productive lives.  Maybe we just learned to adjust and try just a little bit harder if we didn’t understand something.  Ok, now I’m showing my age again.  Hopefully, I will get that burst of teaching energy again very soon. If anyone has any suggestions of how they differentiate their classrooms I would love to hear.


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February 2023

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