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:


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.)



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?




Personalized Learning Contracts

During the second nine weeks, I decided to experiment with my enrichment group in math.  Last year and this year, I have felt that sometimes I do not differentiate enough with Singapore Math and from my research, I felt like the use of learning contracts might fix this problem.

What I did was ask this group of students in Fifth Grade what interested them in math.  Overwhelmingly, the response was “geometry”.  So, at Conference Day, I ran the idea past the parents and they were very supportive.

With the one fourth grader that I chose, I assigned the topic of coding since I felt like he would enjoy learning the basics of this skill. I had worked a little on this last year with my class and they really liked it.

I created a contract for each child, discussed it with them, set a due date,  and then had them take it home and have their parents sign it too.

First, let me say that it was an enormous amount of work for me.  I had to research sites, decide on a plan, tweek the contracts (there are an enormous amount on line to choose from), create a rubric, and continue to follow-up with the students on a regular basis.

Secondly, I am not sure that the contracts worked with this group of students.  They were mostly excited that I excused them from the assigned homework in order for them to work on their plans.  The fourth grader actually did more work than my fifth graders did.

When it came to class presentations, with the exception of the fourth grader, the lessons were extremely weak and not very well planned.

The other thing that happened was that some of the other students were upset that they were not asked to participate, to the point that I had parents ask me if their child could join the groups.  My intention was to work with the students that easily understood the concepts taught in class and they could work on harder skills.  The whole process got very out of hand within a few weeks.

When I went in for my TLC, I was talking to Jon about everything and he gave me a much better idea.  Why not create a digital badge plan where every child could participate.  That way, all the students are given an opportunity to “enrich” their skills and they have to be self-motivated to complete the activities designed for each badge. When they finish each topic successfully, they earn a digital badge which will be displayed on their blogs.

This makes much more sense to me.  This way all students are able to participate, no exclusions.  More importantly, when the parents say their child needs more enrichment, I will have a plan in place, but it is up to the students to be motivated enough to work on the badges.




Parallel Universe

If anyone has ever watched “The Twilight Zone”, you know what I mean by the term parallel universe.  I feel that in one teaching universe I am a true 21st century teacher, but in the other universe I am stuck in 1978 (my first year teaching) and I keep jumping in and out of the time zones!

As I was trying to edit the 4th and 5th Grade Scope and Sequence, I was looking over the Common Core Standards for Florida and so many of the standards are the same as 1978.  Not  much has changed; however when I think about how to implement and teach the standards my 21st Century brain goes into overdrive.  It is no longer “good enough” to just teach.  We have to incorporate authentic learning experiences and assessments in order to be a GOOD teacher to our students.  This is really hard to do sometimes and the preparation takes hours!  I find that I spend at least twice as much time planning this year as I did even last year because I am trying to make my learning experiences “deeper and more meaningful”.  It is not good enough any longer to just teach the material, you have to have a whole treasure box of goodies for the students to learn from for each lesson.

But wait!  The term “treasure box” was used by one of my professors back in 1978. Her words were, “Every teacher needs a treasure box full of goodies to rely on when teaching.”  Maybe things haven’t changed much, maybe it’s just semantics. The phrase “treasure box” has become the phrase “authentic learning experiences”.

However, I still feel like I am trapped.  As I look over the Ning and read about how certain teachers are pushing their desks away and letting their students sit on the floor, I cringe!  It’s not that I don’t think this is a great idea, it’s just that I can see my former principal, Virginia K. Greene (the scariest woman to ever live, may she rest in peace) sauntering into a classroom and seeing students sitting on the floor.  She would have given her famous disapproving look, and in her deep Southern accent say something like, “Why are you students on the floor?  Is there a problem with their desks?”

Andrea Hernandez and Karin Hallett, two members of our faculty, lead a very interesting “Coffee Talk” for parents the other day.  The topic was Fixed and Growth Mindset.  As I sat and listened, I saw myself in both groups.

I still have the fixed mindset of a 20th Century teacher, but the growth mindset of a 21st Century Teacher.

(I know that I am probably not using my example correctly with the definition of fixed and growth mindset, but I am trying to make a point which is that in order to grow as a teacher in the 21st Century, I need to get rid of my fixed mindset and concentrate on a growth mindset so that my abilities “can be developed through dedication and hard work” to quote the definition of growth mindset.

As I reflected for my teacher evaluation, I realized that this is my biggest problem.  I sometimes still believe and teach in the 20th Century ways (fixed mindset).  What I have realized is, sometimes that is good and there is nothing wrong with that as long as I try to incorporate the new ideas that are really good ones and relevant to my subject and students. (Dedication and hard work are needed to do this which are words in the definition of growth mindset).

On the other hand, I realized that I am a 21st century teacher, because I not only reflect, but I take to heart what I reflect. (Willingness to change.  Shows growth!)  In other words, out of all the things that I am asked to do as a teacher, reflection has been the most beneficial to me.  So, maybe the “new” educators have one thing right, maybe teachers AND students should reflect.

But once again, I am stuck in the 1970’s with another question haunting me, “How can I ever get my 4th and 5th Grade students to write a thoughtful and meaningful reflection?”  Definitely  a fixed mindset mentality.

Any thoughts?

Image Credit:…

Caught Being Kind

In Fourth and Fifth Grade, my colleague, Andrea Hernandez  has created jobs for the students which they have to apply for in order to be hired.   We have decided to have the students not only “hired” for her class, but also my class.  One such job is “kindness ambassador”.    We have been brainstorming what this job should entail. (Remember there is pay involved!)

I thought it might be a good idea for this student to take candid photos of students caught in the act of being kind and we could display the photos on a bulletin board.

This started me thinking so I decided to start documenting students being caught in the act.

I was amazed how many times during the day that the kids were being really nice and cooperative with each other, so much that I actually videoed the Fifth Graders playing a math game and emailed the video to the parents.  (The disturbing thing was, only one parent emailed me back with a “thank you”. )

The next day, I took pictures of the Fourth Grade working together researching questions about Florida preparaing for their skype call in Andrea’s class.  It was a great day.  All of them worked together, researched, wrote answers,  and talked about who would do what during the call.

I feel like we are making progress with the Community of Kindness with the students.  I know there is a lot of room for improvement, but it is getting better; however, please, let’s not forget that we are role models for the students.  If we walk past each other and don’t speak or if we are condescending to one another within earshot of the students then we are not doing our jobs as professionals and more than that as educators . How much effort does it take to say “good morning” or ask “how are you doing?”  I know I am guilty of being in a “zone” at times, but really we MUST be a community of kindness among ourselves first. We are ALL human beings with feelings no matter our age.

Maybe we should document our faculty being kind to one another too?  Just a thought…..

Homework Wars



Cross-posted toTeacher-Twenty-One

I want to put out my feelings about the so-called “homework wars”, but I want to base it from a mom’s point of view.

I want to express my feelings from the view point of a mom who has two children who are recent college graduates.  During my daughters’ middle school experiences, both at public school (Kim) and private (Lisa-here) there was an overwhelming amount of homework, to the point that my husband and I spoke to the teaching team at Mandarin Middle about it, which, by the way, did no good.

In high school, Kim attended Bolles and once again, the amount of homework was unbelievable.  Lisa attended Mandarin High and the load was not unbearable, but it was heavy.

Here’s my point.  The amount of homework was tremendous, but looking back on the situation, I am so grateful that the girls had homework.  It not only let us know what they were doing in school and reinforced skills,  but it prepared them for college.  There IS homework in college and A LOT of it!  The preparation that both my daughters had in middle and high school developed them into organized and capable college students and they both graduated with high honors.

I remember the feeling that homework was nonsense and I too, read  many articles about the “non-worth” of it and I agreed with it, at that time.

Today, as a teacher and a mom, I do see the relevance in it and I do think it is a necessity.  I HOPE my school does not bend to the thinking that homework should not be assigned.  I think that our job is to prepare the students for wherever they may go to school next.  Guaranteed, 99% of all schools still assign homework and probably a lot more than we do.



What It’s All About!

Since this was a very short week, my reflection will also be very short. For some reason, the beginning of the year and end of the year always brings out the sweet side of the girls in my class. I think the beginning is to “suck up” a little, but to me, the end of the year is pure sweetness. It always reminds me of the song from To Sir With Love by Lulu. For those of you too young to remember here it is. (This song still gives me goose bumps and I credit the movie for making me want to teach.)
I feel a little better this year because I will “loop-up” with the 4th Grade, but it will be difficult to say good-bye to the 5th Grade. Even though I will see most of them next year, it is not the same.
No matter how much I may moan and groan about my students, I do love each and every one of them and I never get tired of their notes and messages they leave for me. Isn’t this what it’s all about?

Coding in Fifth Grade

A few months ago, Silvia and I were discussing things to do with the Fifth Grade and we came up with the idea of a basic coding experience for them.
When I told the class about it they were very excited and couldn’t wait to get started. Silvia came to our class and we began by talking about what coding is and the importance of learning this skill. She shared a wonderful blog post about coding with the students:
We then went on a website called Code Academy( and learned some basic coding skills. I say we because I became a student for the lesson too. I realized very quickly that I had a lot to learn and I caught myself asking the students for help when I got stuck.
The students were amazing. They caught on to the skill and were creating codes like crazy! I on the other hand kept getting errors and had to start over. When I realized what I was doing wrong, thanks to a student, I felt incompetent compared to the kids. They are so tech savy it is unreal what they can already do.
The next lesson, Silvia had the students go to which I found much more user friendly. It was fun to create images that moved and made sounds!
The best thing about the lessons was the level of enthusiasm. I had one student who was still talking about her creations at recess and said she could’t wait to code again. In her words, “It was the best thing ever!”
What else can a teacher want to hear?

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