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.


Lunch Time


Last year, when all of the teachers were asked if they wanted to be an “advisor” to a group of students, I ignored the offer.  I figured with my personality, which is very shy, I would not be a good fit for the job.  Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching students, I am not shy in front of them, and whenever I mention during class that I am very shy, the students don’t believe me. But the thought of a one-on-one or a small group encounter made me cringe.

During a parent/teacher/administrator conference the other day, I was urged, by the parent, to have  lunch with her child. The butterflies in my stomach went crazy.  The student that I was asked to have lunch with is extremely quiet in class and I hadn’t ever had a long conversation with her her about anything.  When I would speak to her when we were doing classwork, it was always me doing the talking, not her.

So, I decided to ask the student’s friend to join us for lunch on the chosen day.  I figured at least having another person present would make us more comfortable.

On the day of the lunch, I was really nervous.  Lunch time came and both girls got their lunches and came in to the room.  I shut the door and the conversation exploded!  The student that was the main focus burst into conversation. I heard about the games she likes to play, her love for cats, hamsters, and so on.  Both girls were talkative and I saw completely different children.  They were open, humorous, VERY entertaining, and VERY verbal.  They both were totally different people than what I “thought” they were like.  It was an eye-opening experience.

I did some research and found a couple of interesting blog posts about the topic of lunch with students.  One is from my new idol, Michael Linsin.  He states:

“It connects the less connected.

Most students, and even some teachers, assume that shy, less popular students choose to be the way they are. But the truth is, self-consciousness and social awkwardness preclude them from taking part in a natural or meaningful way. Deep down, in their sweetest dreams, they would love to be able to banter and joke with classmates appropriately, participate in class unabashedly, and be just one of the girls or boys.”

I could not agree more, especially since I was one of the shy students in school.  I always wanted to be able to raise my hand and contribute to the class discussion, but I could never find the nerve to do so. I would have loved for a teacher to get to know me.

I would like to make a suggestion to everyone.  Have lunch with one or two students that you really don’t know very well.  Don’t talk about the community of kindness, how to be a better school citizen or role- model, or anything else school related.  Just have lunch with them and let them lead the conversation.  I guarantee you that you will see an entirely different child than you see during class.

This was the best thing I’ve done with students in years!

Image Credit:



Tutorials for Parents

This week, my fourth graders were studying the skill, order of operations.  I have taught this skill many times in the past, but this year seemed especially challenging, so much so that after Monday’s class, I was ready to “call out sick” for a few days just to recuperate.  I felt like I was in the movie The Blackboard Jungle,  MJGDS version.  (Some of you are too young to remember this classic so take a look at the movie trailer.  If you need a good chuckle, this will provide one.)  I had students crying and yelling that they didn’t understand.  I had students pacing back and forth chanting, “I don’t get it!” over and over again almost like a yoga mantra.  And that was just a few things that went on during that class.

I decided that I needed to do something before the students went home and attempted to complete their homework and a blast of parental emails headed my way, so I made a quick tutorial on the app Showme and sent it to all of the parents and, voila, no complaints that night! (I actually got some thank you emails!)

I went back the next day, refreshed and ready to teach again and had a much better and productive class than the day before (Thank G-d).

The students are still struggling with the skill, but at least I know the parents understand it!

The Value of Tutorials as Assessments

As I searched and pondered for ways to use the iPad and not rely so much on textbooks, I finally gave in to the nudging of my past and present coaches to have the students create tutorials to prove their knowledge of the material that I have taught.  I don’t know why, but I am always very apprehensive to try new things, so I had to make myself do this.

Much to my surprise, I was the only anxious one.  The students didn’t complain or question the assignment at all.  They just did it and the results were amazing.

In Social Studies class, we began with a class discussion.  I asked the students to help me list the different topics that we had studied the first nine weeks.  Then I told them to choose one (or more if they were really motivated) and created a slideshow using Pixie to show their knowledge of the topic(s).  I assigned this as homework and I gave them approximately a week to complete the task.

The day they were due, the students shared their final products.  It was clear to me who had the best grasp of the topics and who lacked some understanding.  As the slideshows were critiqued, not one student was rude or mean to the students who made mistakes.  (Latitude and longitude were one of the skills and, as you can imagine, this confused some of the kids.)  At the end of the presentations the students all clapped and told each other that they had done a good job.

There was no test, but the amount of effort and knowledge of the topics was evident to me.

In Math, I had the students create a tutorial explaining multiplication with large numbers the “Singapore Way”. Once again, it was an eye-opener.  I had the students share their tutorials, but when they introduced the problem, I paused the video and had the class also solve the problem.  This gave them a little more reinforcement with the skill.  Most students did a great job, only one had given the wrong answer in their tutorial, but he immediately, saw his problem. Ironically, he is one of my “top” students. We also discussed what makes a good tutorial. The students who illustrated each step, realized that they had done a great job explaining the process.  The students who only gave the answers to each step realized that they needed to add more next time.

The most amazing thing about the tutorials was that the student’s personalities really shined through.  Two of my most reserved students did a terrific job with their projects.  Not only did they do a great job explaining the process of multiplying, but their sense of humor was very apparent, so much so that after the tutorials were over, the class begged to see them again because they were so enjoyable.

I really think that this is one of the best forms of assessment that I have ever used.  Not only did I SEE what the students know, but I “SAW into each student” which is something that doesn’t happen when I give a multiple choice test!

View tutorials: (and YES I know the word “digit” was misspelled, but the skill of multiplying is there!)



5th Grade Social Studies Pixie Project

Josh M.

Keep Your Nose to the Grindstone

“Keep your nose the the grindstone” was one of my parents’ favorite sayings.  Any time that I would get discouraged with school, they would say this to me.  As silly as it sounds, it helped me because it made me realize that learning IS hard and takes work.  They would always finish the conversation with “hard work always pays dividends.”  The older I get the more I realize the value of their wisdom.

I wish that I could make school easier for my students, but sometimes there is no easy way to learn things.  Once again, this year the students are having a great deal of difficulty with multiplication facts.  In our math program it is assumed that the students know most of their facts by the end of Second Grade.  We are still in a transitional time with Singapore Math, so there are still growing pains.

The problem is not the fact that the students don’t know their facts.  The problem is they want an easy fix. They want everything to be a game and it MUST be fun. They don’t understand that somethings just have to be memorized and this is one of them.  Think about it.  Did we all have to memorize things in school? Yes, of course.  There were no apps or electronic games to ease our distress.  We just did it.  Did it help us in Middle School and High School?  Yes.  We probably wouldn’t be teachers if we hadn’t memorized things.  We couldn’t have passed college math if we didn’t know our times tables.  Am I asking my students to memorize something that they will never use again? NO!  They WILL use this skill over and over again.

I know the the word “memorize” has a bad connotation these days, but take a look at the article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal recently.  I found this article very interesting. As I have reflected many times before, I definitely think that technology belongs in the classroom, but I still am standing my ground that we can’t let go of certain ways of “tried and true” methods of teaching.

I have also had some interesting conversations with people lately about cursive handwriting.  What are your thoughts about teaching cursive in Fourth and Fifth Grade?  Is handwriting soon going to be a lost art?



Image from:

Mission (Possible) Statement

I wrote my professional mission statement in late August.  I had my fifth graders write theirs sometime in September.  I did not coach them much when they were composing their statement because I wanted to see what they could create on their own.  Basically, I played secretary and typed as they talked.  After brainstorming for a few minutes I had them go back and proofread and polish their statement.

Honestly, I haven’t taken a good look at the words they wrote until this week when I started seeing other teachers post their class mission statements on the Ning.  I went back and read their goals and I was impressed.  This is a large and diverse class, but their goals were united.  I can honestly say, when they were doing this task they were all engaged and wanted to have input.  As I was getting ready to publish their mission statement on the Ning,  I thought it might be interesting to compare my mission statement with theirs.

I was amazed how similar our goals are. I did not share my mission statement with them.  They created their own, but yet they are so much alike.

I am constantly worried that I am not aligning my teaching with the MJGDS target, but maybe I am. One of the wheels includes “Teacher as a coach and guide”.  Hopefully I am an example to my students on a daily basis and that is why our mission statements are similar. I never fully realized the importance of stating goals until I saw by comparing the two statements how much students do absorb from their teacher. Not only do we teach the subject, but we “teach” our personality and our expectations.  Do all of us truly realize the impact we have on our students on a day to day basis?  We have a huge responsibility being teachers!

Fifth Grade mission statement:

Our mission statement for Fifth Grade is to show responsibility by being good role-models and school leaders. We will create a community of kindness by being kind to all and following the daily norms which are: mutual respect, attentive listening, no put downs, and give appreciation. We will be proactive by being punctual and organized.  We will build stamina in all subjects by practicing skills and studying.

My mission statement:

 As a fourth and fifth grade teacher, I will conduct myself as a role model for my students.  I will have a positive attitude, not only for the subject matter, but with ALL of my students.  I will demonstrate my love of learning by being an example of a life-long learner and I will show “no fear” for the unknown while experiencing new concepts and ideas so that my students will develop the same attitude and outlook. My perfect world in my classroom would emit an air of joy for learning.  We would come together as a community of  kindness and enlightenment, and cultivate engaged and curious learners.


Old Fashioned Board Game Day!

At the end of the year last year, I was trying to come up with a fun yet “sort of” educational things to do the last week of school. I always like to ask the students what they would like to do and one of the then fourth graders asked if they could bring in a board game to play with the others.  The students thought that was a wonderful idea, and most of them had a game at home that they wanted to bring to school too.  I scheduled a block of time for “old fashioned board game day” as the kids called it because the one rule was that they couldn’t play a game on the iPad or the laptops.  It was a huge success.

I always like to have one day every so often where we put aside formal learning and just chill as they say.  So when I started thinking about a day for this I asked the kids what they wanted to do.  The first thing that they mentioned was “old fashioned board game day”.

I had to set some ground rules one being that if you bring in a game and nobody wants to play it, there are to be no hurt feelings.  Another rule was everybody is included.  If any one is left out, people are to ask them to join their game. Finally, good inside voices must prevail.

Today was the day that we had our game day.  What a success it was!  If I had planned a lesson on being kind to others, it wouldn’t have matched what I observed today.  Everyone was involved, happy, and playing so well together.  (The only rule that didn’t get followed was “use of inside voices” and I want to apologize to all around us!)

Another great thing was that the games were educational.  I played one called “Doodle Dice” and it involved logic, visualization, and probability. Some of the others were playing risk and there as a world map and we are studying continents and oceans.  So I feel like the educational value was there even though I was not teaching them a skill directly.

However, the most important thing that happened was that I spent good, quality time with my students.  We laughed, competed, and had a wonderful time together.  It sort of reminded me of the feeling I got last year when we prepared for the student-led conferences.  I saw the people that my students are and hopefully they saw the human side of me.

When I called time, all I could hear was “no!” It was music to my ears.  What a great day!

Better Than a QR Code!

A few weeks ago, Shana sent me a link for an app called Aurasma. When I read about it I was fascinated. It is the coolest thing ever (as the kids say)!  The process is also known as “augmented reality”.

I started researching the process and I went to Pinterest and I watched a video about a school that uses augmented reality for different things. I also found some great activities on Teachers Pay Teachers. There is a free download that explains how one teacher used Aurasma to create an interactive bulletin board.

The students were asked to list some things that described them, but not to put their name on the list. Before the school’s Open House, the parents were asked  to download the Aurasma app.  Upon arriving at Open House, the parents tried to figure out which list described their child. The twist was that instead of the teacher putting a folded piece of paper on the list with the name of the child inside it, they used their smart phone or iPad and the Aurasma app to see if their guess was correct.  As the parents held their device up to the list, a picture of the child that created that list would appear.

I told Michelle, my wonderful Fifth Grade assistant, about the app and she has figured out how to make my bulletin board with the student’s self-portraits and math goals interactive.  She even figured out how to create a video, not just a still picture!  I am hoping we can have everything ready for Wednesday’s Back to School Night.  If not, definitely for Intergenerational Day.

The app can also be used for educational purposes such as word walls and vocabulary lists.  For more ideas just google “augmented reality in the classroom”.

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Pre-flection for 2013-2014

As I look over my professional development plan from last August, I see that, as usual, I met some but not all of the goals that I set with Andrea.  One of the goals that I did accomplish was to implement student-led conferences using Blogfolios. The first SLC we did not use the student blogs to illustrate the learning that took place.  The students had a folder with hand-written work that they shared with their parents.  At the April conference, the students did use their blogs to share and reflect their progress.

The one goal that I feel that I fell short on was “to evolve to a more student-centered classroom”.   I still am learning how to do this one!  I tend to have a teacher-centered classroom especially during math class.

My goals for the next school year will be: to continue to evolve to a student-centered classroom and to  implement the ipad into everyday use in both math and social studies.  I don’t want to just “use” the ipad, I want to “USE” the ipad to help my students learn.  If I can accomplish my goal with the ipad, then my goal of student-centered learning with develop naturally.

This past school year, I have been talking with Andrea and Silvia about how to accomplish these goals.  Andrea has given me a link to the Daily Five for Math which I plan to research over the summer.  Silvia told me about another classroom where the teacher had set up the room with three tables, one for the learners that already know how to do the skill, one for students who need a little help, and one for learners who need a lot of help.  I want to have this kind of class next year.  I feel that I always “slow down” my fast learners and I don’t want to do this any longer.  When my fast learners finish, I will have other games and activities for them to do.  I will have to do more research on this over the next few weeks by visiting other math blogs created by other educators.

My goals are relate to the Learning Target in the following ways:

~Learning Environment-

*I will have to set up my room (physical environment) to fit my new goals. I will do pods or tables that can be changed easily to fit student needs

*Learning will be student-centered and less whole-class learning

*Students will be more self-paced

*Resources (ipad) will meet learning needs

~Role of Teacher

*I will be learning from coaches how to accomplish my goals. I need help with finding new ways (apps and ideas) to implement my “new” classroom~

*I will be learning from other teachers by reading their blogs * which also connects with ~Amplification~ if I comment on other blogs and blog about my classroom on my profession blog Teacher 21

*I will be more of a coach during math since I will be teaching to the students’ needs rather than teaching the whole group

In turn, I hope that my goals will lead to more authentic learning experiences,tasks, and  assessments.

My timeline will begin in August and extend the entire school year.  I know that this will be a time-consuming and never ending process.  I am sure that I will try things that don’t work and have to “tweek” the process.  I will have to depend on the knowledge of others here at school and on others that are not physically here at MJGDS (Silvia 🙂

I have to look at my goals as a work in progress and learn patience.  I have to realize that I am asking myself to change totally from the way I have taught in the past.  The phrase “teaching an old dog new tricks” keeps running through my head!

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