Thursday, November 29, 2012

Treasure or Trash Note Taking Strategy

Standard 1.4.5.V of the Pennsylvania Common Core State Standards says that students will "conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic." Though it's a short statement, it's no small task. Teaching 25 students to take notes and write original expository text is a gargantuan undertaking. 

Researching and writing reports is a complex task that requires higher order skills like analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing. Assigning a topic for the students to research and telling them to write a report in their own words without providing sufficient scaffolding is a recipe for disaster that usually results in a lot of inadvertently plagiarized written reports in beautifully decorated construction paper covers.

I've always used graphic organizers and differentiated reference materials to support students whenever I assign a research project, but I haven't been completely satisfied with the results. I recently came to the conclusion that my students needed even more support. I wanted to provide my students with an explicit strategy for sorting through reference materials. 

A long internet search eventually led me to a note taking strategy called "Treasure or Trash". I took the idea and developed a PowerPoint presentation to introduce note taking to my students. The catchy title makes the strategy easy to remember, and the technique is easy to use so the kids can apply it independently after only a brief introduction.

It's as simple providing students with a series of questions to guide their research, a graphic organizer for recording their notes, and instructions to read through their sources sentence by sentence asking if each sentence contains an answer to the guiding questions (treasure) or not (trash). Treasure is recorded on their graphic organizer and trash is ignored. 

We are using the strategy right now to research the dances we learned in Dancing Classrooms. The research is still painstaking to some extent, but the children are looking at their sources with a discerning eye. Something my students in the past have had a very difficult time doing. As I walked around the room yesterday I heard students saying things like, "Don't write that down. It's trash.", "My treasure is a lot of names and dates.", and "You don't get too much treasure from an article." 

If you think you might like to purchase my PowerPoint for use in your classroom, visit my TpT store and check it out. OR you can leave a comment below and sign up as an email subscriber to my blog and I'll email you the PowerPoint and the graphic organizer I used for FREE :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Practicing Cursive Letter Formation Using the SMARTBoard

The Common Core Standards may have pushed cursive writing instruction to the wayside in favor of teaching keyboarding and other digital communication skills, but we still work on perfecting the Palmer Method in Room 202. Writing in cursive helps students learn to read cursive, and, in my opinion,  there is still enough cursive writing going on in the world to make this an important component of literacy.

And as long as I am still going to teach cursive, I figure I might as well make it fun. My students work hard to perfect their penmanship so they can earn a cursive license. (

I make a big deal out of it when a student  achieves consistently legible cursive, and I award them an actual license to do all their work in cursive. Some kids even choose to bring in a photograph to attach to their cursive license and we laminate the document to make it "official". Then, once a student with a cursive license is writing fluently in cursive, he or she can earn their pen license. (

The three students in my class this year who already have their pen license, relish writing in ink while everyone else is still using pencil.

Along the way to earning a license, we have little dry erase strips and fine point dry erase markers I got from the dollar store for quick practice when we have a few extra minutes, and then there is the magic of the "Recognize" function on the SMARTBoard. Many of my students would sell one of their siblings to get a chance to go to the board when we practice cursive this way. I made a video of what we do so you can see how much fun it is for yourself.

I hope you enjoyed these little tricks. The other day when my students were falling out of their seats trying to get me to call on them for a chance to use the "Recognize" function on the SMARTBoard, I found myself thinking, "I wonder if everybody knows about this little gem," because sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

So Much to Learn

It's true what they say. "You'll never know what you can do until you try." A few weeks ago, just the sight of HTML code made me break out in a cold sweat. Tonight, I taught myself how to make a minor HTML code edit so I could link the image below to the first product I posted on  It took a few tries and I'm still not sure exactly what I did, but I'm happy to report the link works.

Each time I figure out a small task like this, I experience an intense feeling of personal satisfaction. All of this blogging and such, has been a long time coming. I've been looking at other teachers' blogs for a long time now, wishing I had one of my own. Now, I do!

The whole concept of selling products on teacherspayteachers has also had my attention for some time. I can't tell you how many times a Google search has taken me to the site and I've thought to myself, I should be doing this myself. Now, I am! I know I still have a tremendous amount to learn before I become the next Deanna Jump, but every journey has to start with a first step and this is mine.

(In case you're wondering who Deanna Jump is, she's a first grade teacher in Macon, Georgia who also happens to be the first teacher to make a million dollars selling teaching products on )

Check out this project packet in time for President's Day. It's a new twist on the traditional president report. I think your students will love it. I know mine did.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

DreamBox Sample Lesson is a Dream Come True

If you are an intermediate grade math teacher, long division is probably a proverbial thorn in your side. No matter which way you slice it, the traditional long division way WE learned it in school, or the new-fangled partial quotients way they teach it in Everyday Math nowadays, many kids struggle with dividing large numbers. Trying to pile this concept onto a weak foundation of unmastered multiplication and division facts is usually a recipe for disaster in Room 202, but rather than throw in the towel, I am constantly looking for new ways to reinforce the skill, hoping that if I throw it at the kids enough different ways eventually it will stick.

Before I share my latest discovery with you, let me explain that I am a registered, dues paying member of the Partial Quotients Fan Club. I prefer this method of dividing large numbers hands down to the divide-multiply-subtract-bring down algorithm I was taught in school. Partial quotients is just so much more concrete and flexible. I love the way the algorithm illustrates that division is actually repeated subtraction.

Anyhow, we have worked on partial quotients A LOT this quarter in Room 202, and I still have more than a handful of students who are struggling to master the skill. That's why I am so excited about my most recent Google Treasure. (I'll use that moniker for the really cool stuff I accidentally find on the internet until I come up with something catchier.) Tonight, I stumbled upon a DreamBox sample lesson that I just HAVE to share. If you teach division of large numbers, you'll be eternally grateful for this one. Check it out at the link below, and if you love the activity and want to use it in class, I even have a handy dandy little exit slip you can use after your students play the game. Just leave a comment below and sign up to be an email subscriber to my blog and I'll email you the exit slip file.

So without further ado, here's the link: The Gumball Bag-O-Matic game is the first activity on the page. Have fun with it. I know your students will.

The Liebster Award

Thank you so much to Lori at for nominating me for the Liebster Award!  The Liebster Award is given by other bloggers to up and coming new bloggers who have less than 200 followers.  It is to show new bloggers that they are appreciated and to help spread the word about their new blogs.  I hope that sharing the news about some of these "newer" blogs helps them get more followers!
Here are the rules:
-You must post 11 random things about yourself.

-Answer the questions that the nominator set for you.

-Create 11 questions for the people you nominate.

-Choose 11 blogs you love (with less than 200 followers) and link them in your post.

-No tag back (but please leave me a comment on this post with the URL to your Liebster post so I can learn more about you!

11 Random Facts about Me

1. I love novels about dystopian future societies.

2. I'm happiest at the Jersey shore.

3. If I ever put a bumper sticker on my car, it would say "Mean People Suck".

4. I hate when people smack their lips.

5. Marshall's is my favorite store.

6. I usually order seafood in a restaurant because we never make it at home because 3 out of our 4 kids hate it.

7. I learned a new line dance called The Wobble last week.

8. I am afraid of small, confined spaces.

9. I'd rather give a gift, than get one.

10. My brother calls me Bugsy.

11. I enjoy waitressing to bring in some extra cash.

11 Questions from my Nominator

1.   What do you love best about blogging? Checking my stats and seeing that people in other countries have viewed my blog.
2.   Your favorite food? pasta with tomatoes, peppers, and onions
3.   If you weren't teaching, what would you do? write children's books or own an inn
4.   Are you married / single? married
5.   Favorite subject to teach? writing
6.   Favorite season? summer
7.   Favorite holiday? Christmas
8.   Least favorite holiday, and why? Love them all
9.   Favorite food? Answered above
10. Favorite store? Marshall's
11. Favorite day of the week, and why? Saturday, for obvious reasons

11 Questions for my Nominees

1.  Why did you start blogging?
2. How long have you been blogging?
3. What's your favorite post that you've written?
4. Any pets?
5. Favorite vacation spot?
6. Favorite TV show?
7. Fears?
8. Celebrity you resemble most?
9. Favorite quote?
10. Wine or beer?
11. Thoughts on country music?


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Let Freedom Ring": A Lesson in the Power of Parental Involvement

As much as I push myself to conquer the digital divide and integrate as much technology as possible into my teaching, there's still a trace of good old-fashioned girl left inside me. I prefer bound books to
eReaders, I'd rather shop in a brick and mortar store than order online, and I am an avid admirer of the handwritten letter.

It's my love of letter writing that prompts me to do "pen pals" with my students every year. There's no more authentic of an audience to write for than a real live child. Three years ago, my classroom assistant hooked us up with pen pals in Anchorage, Alaska where her niece was teaching. Room 202 has had pen pals from Chinook Elementary School ever since.

Over the years, our correspondence has grown to include video chats and ornament exchanges. Last year, we received beautiful homemade snowflake ornaments from Anchorage at Christmas time. The kids kept saying, "Cool, snowflakes from Alaska!"So this year, I wanted to send ornaments with a Philly flavor to our Alaskan pen pals.

I put the challenge out to the parents in my weekly blog update, and the ideas poured in. We finally decided on a Liberty Bell ornament - the perfect combination of Philadelphia and Christmas. Then, a parent scoured the internet until she found an affordable wooden Liberty Bell we could paint.

Another parent really wanted to help so I put her in charge of finding a box to wrap the ornaments in. She came up with envelopes that the students could decorate to look like the Betsy Ross flag. This mom cut all the stripes and the fields of stars ahead of time, and had everything ready for the kids to assemble in class. When our pen pals receive their ornaments, the backs of the envelopes will read "Let Freedom Ring from Philadelphia to Anchorage".

Today, seven parents joined us in class to paint the bells and assemble the flags on the envelopes. It was a lovely morning. We played Christmas music on the radio as the children and the parents worked and socialized. When the projects were complete, the kids asked if the parents could join us in one of their favorite games called Four Corners. The parents willingly obliged. I had so much fun watching the adults sneak from corner to corner of the classroom with the kids trying to avoid being called out.

Inviting parents into the classroom is nothing new for me. I believe strongly in the importance of parent-teacher collaboration. I try to plan a curriculum-related event that includes parents at least once every other month. What was different about this activity was involving parents from the planning stage. I've always assumed I should have everything planned FOR the parents when I invited them in, but I was wrong.

The parents came up with suggestions for ornaments that I never would have thought of on my own, and they WANTED to be involved. The whole thing was a bit of a role reversal for me. I'm your classic type-A, take-charge teacher-type, but I have to admit, I didn't mind the change of pace. I am already thinking of how we can work TOGETHER on a project for Valentine's Day. The hamster in my head is running a mile a minute on his little wheel. I can't wait to see what my students' parents come up with when I tell them I want the kids to make valentines for local shut-ins.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Revolutionizing Writing Revision with a Document Camera

Teaching the required elements of an assigned writing genre is a challenge in and of itself. Whether it's the figurative language and sensory detail needed to make a personal narrative come to life, or the evidence and examples needed to back up the writer's point of view in a persuasive piece, good writing teachers find mentor texts, create anchor charts, and model, model, model the necessary strategies during shared writing. After a couple weeks, we all pray that our students have mastered the use of the writing elements we've presented. We're usually secretly confident that they have, because, after all, they've been scribbling away in their writer's notebooks for days and days.

In actuality, we know there has been SOME transfer of the required skills because children have been bringing us their work all along and asking us to look at what they've done. We've also been "spot conferencing" with kids. Sometimes, stopping to "nudge" a child who seems stuck. Other times, putting the breaks on an overzealous writer who is getting derailed by a tangent.

We celebrate the small successes each day, stopping to share an exceptional sentence or phrase we've come across in someone's work in hopes of inspiring similar genius in all our students. (Reading examples of students' work that meets my expectations for an assignment is actually one of my favorite scaffolding strategies in writing.)

When we reach the final stages of the writing process, a small alarm goes off inside of me because it's time for the kids to edit and revise their own work, and I know how hard it's going to be. I know my students don't have a sophisticated enough eye, yet, to see where their work needs to be improved or corrected. In their minds, they've worked really hard getting their ideas on paper, so they assume their work must be "right" already.

I also know it's my responsibility to develop my students' "critical eye", so I've become the queen of writing checklists. Here is the one we're using for personal narratives right now. (I found it online and modified it to meet my students' needs.) Comment below with your email address if you want me to send you the document.

You're thinking, "Yeah, yeah. Been there, done that, and my students still can't edit and revise independently." If you're anything like me, you've gotten more than your fair share of completed checklists attached to papers that fall far short of your expectations for the assignment.

Fret no more! I have one more trick up my sleeve that is helping my students to become more independent revisers of their own work. Have you ever seen one of these?

It's called a document camera. This one is from Ipevo and you can get it for around $70.00. I've posted a link, if you want to check it out for yourself. You're probably thinking $70.00 is a lot of money, so this thing better be able to do some real magic. Well, it does! It does this:

I know this image is hard to see, but that is one of my student's writing drafts. When it appears on the SMARTBoard, it is large enough and clear enough for everybody to see, AND it is an authentic example of student work. Trust me when I tell you I have the undivided attention of every writer in my class the moment I project someone's work up on the board using the document camera. 

Now, I don't just project any random piece of work in class. I carefully choose examples that demonstrate the types of revisions I want my students to practice. In the personal narratives we are working on right now, the children really need help seeing where to add figurative language into their writing and how to substitute vivid, descriptive language for more general words. This paper is a perfect way to SHOW them how to do both.

Drink and breakfast can become mocha latte and a juicy, delicious bacon, egg, and cheese bagel as we discuss the writing sample on the board. We can talk about how "saying Sophisticated Styles a thousand times" is hyperbole and it shows that the phone rings a lot in this salon. 

Ideally, the students would have their own drafts in front of them at this point. I can stop and have everyone make at least two substitutions and add one example of figurative language in their own work. I'm able to reach everybody in one shot, and that leaves room for differentiation. The children who are able to can make the revisions independently and move on, and that leaves me more time to work with the children who are still struggling with the skills. 

If you're thinking you would love to use a document camera to facilitate revision in your classroom, please take a look at the link for the Ipevo camera I use in my room. It's reasonably priced and easy-to-use. If you've already spent enough money on materials for your class this year, I looked up document cameras on Donors (, and teachers have had their requests for document cameras funded on the site. Either way, consider adding this powerful tool to your teaching toolbox. I'll even tell you how you can use it to model problem solving in math class in a future post.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Dream Dismissal

Your eyes are NOT playing tricks on you. I did say "A Dream Dismissal". I actually have a little game I use with my students that turns the noise and chaos of the usual last minute dash out the door into a calm and peaceful exit. I don't use it every day, because I don't want its effectiveness to wear off. I save it for those times when I NEED the kids to be quiet at the end of the day. You know, those days when you have had ENOUGH. 

Have I piqued your curiosity? I hope so, because I need your help. I need to build up my email subscriber list, and I've formulated a devious plot to achieve my goal. I will share this nifty little trick with anyone who comments on this post and signs up as an email subscriber to my blog. Two simple steps and you'll get a field tested method for settling your students down at dismissal on those days when you just NEED more order. 

It's a win-win proposal! I get my much needed subscribers, and you get a new addition to your bag of tricks. And you know we all need that bag to be as full as possible. So take a few minutes this fine Sunday morning to help me grow my blog, and you'll be thanking me all year long!

UPDATE: A colleague of mine actually commented below and registered as an email subscriber yesterday. As promised, I emailed her my little trick. She tried it today, and I got a great big hug and an "I love you!" after the bell rang and the kids were out of the building. I'm telling you folks - this works!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Adding Remind101 to My Digital Technology Toolbox

As a digital immigrant (individuals who were born BEFORE the spread of digital technology and who were not exposed to it at an early age), I have to push myself to think like a digital native (individuals who were born AFTER the spread of digital technology and have been interacting with technology from childhood). 

It was a major breakthrough for me the first time I took out my phone to enter the contact number of a new acquaintance, rather than reaching for a slip of paper and a pen. Thinking "digitally" is still not second nature for me, but I push myself to do it. 

First of all, it's exhilarating! Using the Yard Sale Mapper app to locate yard sales in my area, and then copying the address of the perfect sale into the Maps app and getting turn by turn directions READ TO ME by my phone? WOW! 

Secondly, digital technology redefines what's POSSIBLE in your life. This blogging platform is the perfect example. I never thought it would be POSSIBLE for people in Canada, France, and Germany to be reading about my teaching techniques and strategies, but they are. 

My iPhone, purchased this summer, has revolutionized the way I organize both my personal and professional lives. I feel a small tingle of pride every time I lift Sophie (That's right. I named my phone.) from the Lanskin ( around my neck to schedule something on my calendar or type myself a reminder. If you're wondering what the heck a Lanskin is, check this out:

Needless to say, I am always looking for new ways to integrate technology into my classroom. I use the SMARTBoard every day. My behavior management program is an online application called ClassDojo ( We have a class website and a class wikispace. The list goes on and on...

Right now, I am really excited about the latest addition to my digital technology toolbox. It's an app called Remind101. Remind101 is an application that allows parents and students to text a code to a phone number assigned to you by the program. Once parents and students have completed this step, they are added to a roster and you can send them group text message reminders and updates. It is a one way system that only allows parents and students to receive messages, but they can not reply. The teacher does not have to worry about responding to incoming texts. You simply have the luxury of reaching parents with important information in real time. 

Since I started using Remind101 a few weeks ago, at least five parents have approached me to tell me how much they appreciate the reminders and my efforts to keep them updated. 

To get started, download the app for FREE and send home this reminder that is provided as a PDF when you register. It takes two minutes to set up the class, and parents are automatically added to the roster when they text the code. The simplicity of it, is what makes it so perfect. 

I teach fifth grade and several of my students got permission to register their phones on Remind101. I think I gained a couple "cool" points in their eyes when they got that first text from ME. I know the children who have been publicly recognized for achievements like mastering their multiplication facts on, have appreciated seeing it appear on their phone at home. 

Remind101 has earned itself a permanent spot in my digital technology toolbox. I know I'll be using it with classes in the future. Easy and effective is what I like.

(If this little add-on works I'll also be adding Technorati to my toolbox. I need to post this token here to claim my blog on their index so here it goes: UYUMKBGY5WDP)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Scaffolding Main Idea

Last week we read "Touching the Sky" from the November 5th edition of Scholastic News. Though the topic of Native Americans building skyscrapers in big cities was not really related to anything we were covering in class, I chose the article because it came with a great graphic organizer for main idea and supporting details, something my students can always use practice on. (If you don't use Scholastic News in your classroom, you should check it out at - great current non-fiction with activities aligned to the Common Core.)

What I had thought would be a quick revisit to a familiar skill, turned out to be a real eye-opener for me. As we worked through the main idea/details graphic organizer after a shared reading of the article, I realized that many of my students really aren't proficient at identifying main idea. The lesson left me feeling concerned, because I know my students need a strategy that will allow them to reliably determine the main idea of a passage. Upon reflection, I knew I had to go back and reteach main idea, but with a more concrete strategy.

All of this was in the back of my mind, as I looked for a shared reading passage for Veterans Day over the weekend. As I read "Hugs for Heroes: The Story of Bailey Reese" from, I was first attracted by the relevance of the the article. The girl in the story was about my students' age, and she lived in an area that had been affected by a severe hurricane. I knew my students could really relate to Bailey's story, but as I worked with the article, I realized it had an even greater value. It turns out the article is a perfect tool for teaching main idea and supporting details.

By using a strategy guide that spells out the steps for identifying both stated and implied main ideas, in conjunction with the article, I know I can really show my students how to successfully identify the main idea of a paragraph or short passage. Here is the strategy guide:

What makes the "Hugs for Heroes" article so perfect is that each paragraph has its main idea in a different place: first sentence, last sentence, middle sentence, and implied. To scaffold the skill even further, I have marked the text like this:

Now, I feel like my students have all the tools they need to practice an explicit strategy for finding main idea. We can break into small groups with the article and the strategy guide tomorrow and get some effective guided practice with main idea and supporting details. We're going to use main idea and supporting details to complete an outline of the article. I marked the paragraphs in the article to match the Roman Numerals on the outline. The kids will highlight the stated main idea sentences before paraphrasing them on the outline. They'll have teacher support as they figure out the implied main idea in the last two paragraphs. The outline looks like this:

If you remember, I teach in an inclusion class. 10 of my 25 students have IEP's for reading and/or math so I further modified this assignment for my students with reading IEP's. Since I know that just finding the stated main idea is going to be taxing for them, I supplied the implied main ideas from paragraphs IV and V on their outlines. My co-teacher will use the last two paragraphs to model finding implied main idea, and the lesson will be differentiated appropriately.

I don't think it's what edHelper intended this article to be used for when they published it, but it meets the learning needs of my students perfectly. I can tell this will be one of those touchstone lessons we refer back to throughout the year. I'm especially happy with the strategy guide for finding main idea, and I know it's hard to read here. If you'd like a copy email me at

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Now Trending: Pop Culture in The Classroom

Thanks to one of my totally awesome grade partners and her devotion to Pinterest, I have two new ways to bring pop culture into the classroom this year. My new students were pretty excited to learn that they will be posting Facebook statuses and tweeting in class. You may be wondering how this is possible since we are not a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school, and we actually have a "no cell phones" policy in our building. The secret is poster board. That's right - poster board. We have a cardboard Facebook page hanging near the carpet where we hold our class meetings. Each child has a sentence strip where they can "update their status". I have one velcro dot attached at the beginning of the strips so that I can put each child's "profile picture" up, and another velcro dot at the other end of each strip for little "Like" icons the kids can add to each other's posts. In the past, we always used to sign in with a response to our Morning Meeting message right on the dry erase board where I wrote the message. Today, I had the children respond on the Facebook wall, and it added a whole new layer of appeal to our meeting. Here's the board:

On another wall over in the area where we line up, we now have a Twitter board. The board has a "Trending" topic that changes daily so the children know what they need to "tweet" about at the end of the day. After homework is copied, each child creates a tweet of 140 characters or less on a Post-it note that addresses that day's trending topic. So far we've done: "Best Part of the First Day" and "Something You Learned from the Brochure Activity". Tomorrow it's "Rate Your Summer Reading Book". The kids really enjoy reading each other's tweets, and I get an up to the minute insight into what everyone is actually thinking. The Twitter board can also be used throughout the day as an exit slip parking lot. I can't wait to ask the kids to tweet the definition of a new literary concept or an example of a math term. (The possibilities are endless.) The Twitter board looks like this:


The rest of this entry is from my Pop Culture post from last year. If you haven't read it yet, take a peek. If you have already seen the old post, go get started on your own Twitter Board and Facebook Wall. I have the logos and graphics I used saved as Word documents. If you are a follower of my blog or an email subscriber and you want the files, leave a comment and let me know.

This is a repost of a blog entry I wrote back in November. I've been eagerly awaiting the return of everybody's video releases so I could update the post with a 30 second video that we made in class on Wacky Wednesday during Read Across America Week.

This post is all about bringing pop culture into the classroom and right now, you can't get more mainstream pop culture than the Harlem Shake sensation that has swept across YouTube. The short video clips have made their way onto Good Morning America AND the Today Show. Even the Miami Heat has gotten in on the action.

The Harlem Shake is a dance that starts out with one masked dancer busting a move while the people around him are seemingly oblivious to the commotion, until the video cuts away and returns with a wild rumpus of costumed dancers joining in. Our Room 202 version of the Harlem Shake may not be as impressive as the underwater version by the University of Georgia swimming and diving teams, but we did have a lot of fun making the video using the free Harlem Shake app I downloaded on my iPhone.

The kids could not wait to show our clip to their family and friends. Taking five minutes at the end of the day when we were already suited up in goofy garb for Wacky Wednesday was the perfect opportunity to once again bridge the gap between what happens in the kids' lives outside of school and what is going on in the classroom. As you'll read in the rest of this post, I think it's really important that the kids know that what matters to them, matters to me.

People who come in my classroom often comment on the "good feeling" in Room 202. I don't take this compliment lightly. I put a lot of thought and effort into creating a positive climate in my classroom. I want it to be a place where kids "want to be". I know how vital it is that they feel safe and welcome, if they are going to take the risks necessary to be successful learners. I'm not going to bore you today with all the instructional strategies and psychological principles I rely on to achieve the right balance of expectation and support that underlies the positive climate in Room 202.

Today, I am going to tell you about a few fun ways I have brought pop culture into my classroom so my fifth graders understand that I care about them as more than just students. By taking the time to find out what songs they are listening to and what video games they like to play, I try to let my students know that what matters to them, matters to me.

That's why I borrowed this awesome idea for a book talk bulletin board from Scholastic when I saw it posted in my newsfeed on FaceBook. I made my own version of the catchy phrasing and had it blown up to poster-size at Staples. It was so much fun watching the kids eventually figure out that the saying was a spin-off of the "Call Me Maybe" pop song by Carly Rae Jepsen that they had been listening to all summer.

More recently, I generated a similar buzz when the children noticed their math study guide on my desk. If you teach, you must be asking yourself, "How do you get kids excited about a study guide?" Here's the secret. Turn it into a video game. That's right, a video game! In deference to MineCraft, a popular video game my students play that's focused on creativity and building, I changed the heading of a math review sheet to read "MATHCRAFT". Then I added phrasing and graphics at the end of each section of the study guide to indicate that students had "defeated that level" once they got all the problems in the section correct. The difference in my students' focus and concentration was amazing. Children who typically threw in the towel without even trying, were actually asking clarifying questions and applying problem-solving strategies. It was a big payout for a small amount of effort on my part. This is what our math study guides look like now.

These previous successes, combined with the need for a place to "park" the unanswerable questions my students come up with during lessons, led to this latest pop culture addition to my classroom. I'm actually working on this one right now, so the kids haven't even seen it yet. If you've been browsing online lately or window shopping at the mall, you may have noticed a lot of "mustaches". Thanks to hipsters and their ironic 'staches, the mustache has become one of the latest pop culture fads. I know the trend annoys some people, but I crack up every time I hear, "Excuse me, I mustache you a question. Do you want me to shave it for later?" Knowing that, you'll understand why I can't wait to blow this image up and have it laminated so I can use it to park the kids questions in class until we find the answers.

Hopefully, there's something here that will inspire you to bring some pop culture into your own classroom. Your students will definitely appreciate it and you'll reap the benefits of their increased motivation and enthusiasm.

Classroom Management Magic for FREE

Every teacher knows how hard the job of teaching can be. That's why we welcome all the help we can get when it comes to getting the job done. When a tip, a tool, or resource comes along that can truly make their work a little easier, teachers want to shout about it from a mountain top. Today, I am doing the modern day equivalent of a mountain-top shout out and blogging about a wonderful web application a friend shared with me over a year ago. I could kick myself for not getting around to implementing it in my classroom sooner, but you know what they say. "Better late than never!"

The application I want to share with you today is called CallDojo. You can check it out yourself at The program allows teachers to easily award feedback points for behavior in class in real-time, with just one click from your laptop or iPhone. 

One of the best features of the program is that you can select the behaviors, positive and negative, that you want to focus on. I set behaviors WITH my students the second week of school, after a class discussion about expectations and student achievement. These are the behaviors we decided on in Room 202.

It only takes a few minutes to get your class set up and the target behaviors customized. Then all you have to do is click on a student's name when you want to record a specific behavior and the program saves the data for you. You even have the option of adding comments to an assigned "point". ClassDojo then creates customized reports for teachers to share with parents and administrators. It's a beautiful thing!

In addition to appreciating the immediate feedback and the positive recognition they can earn, children love the cute little avatars that appear alongside their name on the ClassDojo screen. The avatars are even customizable. I used the privilege of being able to customize the avatars as my first incentive for earning positive ClassDojo points. Once the children had 10 positive points, I gave them their log-in codes and they got to create a new avatar. I'll show you what our avatars look like using the Room 202 attendance screen. That's right. If you have an interactive whiteboard, you can use ClassDojo for attendance check-in, too.

If you haven't already heard about ClassDojo, it's definitely worth checking it out. The start of the second marking period, is a great time to introduce the program to students and parents. There are letters of introduction available on the site so you'll have everything you need to get started. 

(My final thought is this. ClassDojo is not just a program for teachers who are having trouble managing their classroom. My students are well-behaved and focused on learning the vast majority of the time. I love that I can show their parents all the things the children are doing right in class. My parents really appreciate hearing good things from school.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Worth Every Penny

Yesterday, I wrote about, a FREE online math program that increases students' math fact fluency. Today, I am switching gears entirely. I want to tell you about something I PAID for, for my language arts program last year. Interactive Learning: Daily Sentence Editing is a sentence editing CD and companion book that teaches students to edit for grammar, punctuation, and spelling on an interactive white board. I use the program in conjunction with dry erase slates as a daily writing warm-up in my classroom. The children LOVE to get called to the board to drag and drop the editing marks into place on the SMARTBoard after they've edited the daily sentence on their slates.

As soon as the sentence appears on the board I hear, "How many, Mrs. Schwab? How many mistakes in this one?" as the students busily copy the incorrect sentence on their slates. I tell the children how many errors they need to find, and they mark them with the correct proofreading marks. Someone is called to the board to demonstrate the necessary corrections, and we discuss rules and conventions. Next, everybody rewrites the sentence correctly. Some print. Others are ready to practice in cursive. (Remember this is a fifth grade inclusion class, and 10 of the children have diagnosed learning disabilities.) Next, we click a button to reveal the correct version of the sentence, so everyone can check their work. While I have everybody's attention, I extend the lesson a little further. I've incorporated parts of speech into this daily routine by having the students circle and underline nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc... on their slates before we erase the corrected sentence.

This is the sentence we are working on tomorrow. It's number 19. There are over 300 sentences on the CD, and they get incrementally more difficult as you move through the program. A function has also been added for the user to enter customized sentences of their own.

Last year, I stumbled upon Interactive Learning: Daily Sentence Editing when I was looking for something to fill the grammar and conventions void in our literacy program. I crossed my fingers and ordered it on a whim. Now that I've had a chance to use the CD with my students, I realize I made an excellent choice. You don't have to wonder. Trust me, when I tell you this is an excellent resource for anyone who wants  a motivating and engaging way to practice the rules of grammar and conventions. Click the link on this page if you'd like to have this tool for your fifth grade classroom.

Too Good to be True

Before happy hours became the norm in local bars, nineteenth century saloon owners used to give their patrons a "free lunch" if they ordered at least one drink. These poor, unsuspecting patrons didn't realize that the "free" ham, cheese, and salted crackers were meant to increase their thirst prompting them to buy more drinks. Once people caught on to what was happening, the phrase "There's no such thing as a free lunch," was coined. 

Subsequently, we've all been cursed with the burden of thinking there must be a "catch" to everything. We're wary of munificent people, thinking, "What's he got up his sleeve?" when someone does something unexpectedly kind or generous. Our friends caution us, "If it seems too good to be true, then it must be." when we tell them about a deal we came across on the internet. Distrust is our go-to reaction whenever we hear the word "free". It's just the way we're conditioned. 

That's why I keep waiting to find something wrong with I got a link to the site last spring and clicked on it out of curiosity. My students have a horrendously difficult time mastering basic facts, so I figured it couldn't hurt to take a look. Little did I know that I had uncovered a gold mine. XtraMath is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting math achievement. Their goal is to develop effective, efficient, adaptive and intrinsically rewarding supplemental math activities and make them available for FREE. Amazingly, this web program, which promotes fact fluency, is entirely funded by donations. 

Initially, I thought the same thing you are probably thinking right now, "How good can it be, if it's FREE?" Check it out at, and you can see for yourself. The program is tremendous. It's teacher-friendly, easy to set up and manage. It's kid-friendly, simple and direct. It's research-based,. And did I mention it's FREE? For a really detailed description of how the program works in the classroom visit

If you need a supplemental program to help reinforce automatic recall of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, you need to check out this site. You can have your class set up and letters printed out for parents in a few minutes. My students had only one complaint so far. They said the virtual teacher they race against makes annoying gestures, but don't dismay. The kids figured out how to turn the annoying teacher off. 

If you decide to give, I'd love to hear what you think. Maybe you'll agree with me when I say, "Some things just might be too good to be true ;)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Soup's On

Tonight, the soup was literally on at the Pig Iron Theater Company (www.pigiron.orgon 2nd Street in Northern Liberties in Philadelphia. The Pig Iron hosted this month's PhilaSoup meeting. If you haven't heard of PhilaSoup yet, it's "a monthly microgrant dinner meant to bring innovative and dynamic Philadelphia-area educators together, highlight the great work they are doing and fund some terrific projects. The vision for PhilaSoup is to be a monthly microgrant dinner that starts and ends with educators but is an access point to education for the whole city." It's the brainchild of sisters Claire and Nikka Landau, who were inspired by the Sunday Soup Movement, a national network of groups that award modest microgrants. If you want to read more about PhilaSoup on your own, you can visit their website at

You'll be impressed when you read about this young non-profit's mission, but reading about it is nothing compared to experiencing it in person. My friend Susan and I signed up for the November dinner after reading about the program in an email from the Philadelphia School District. We are perpetually in search of ideas for raising funds for our school, so we thought it would be a good idea to explore this novel opportunity, and I am so glad we did.

PhilaSoup is an amazingly simple, but equally brilliant concept- bring people together who are passionate about education and empower them with the privilege of deciding how to spend the money they've donated to fund a worthy project proposed by one of their own. It felt so good to be a part of something so proactive and magnanimous, and I didn't even mention the delicious soup or the wine, yet!

This month the PhilaSoup organizers decided to deviate from their regular program format in order to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Instead of listening to project proposals from guests at the dinner, organizers shared DonorsChoose proposals from schools in communities that were devastated by Sandy, and then we voted on which of those programs to fund. 

The beauty of the whole thing lies in its simplicity.You gather and network. You eat and drink. You listen, vote, and fund a worthwhile cause. There's no pretense or politicking. It's really about people taking action to better the educational opportunities being afforded to our children. 

I can't wait to go back. I'm looking forward to the next meeting on December 2nd. I'm already working on a project proposal to help us get money for the books we need for Reading Olympics this year. If you live in the Philadelphia area, and this sounds like something you are interested in, you can order your tickets right on the PhilaSoup site.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are You Hooked?

     Writing is often the most challenging subject to teach, but it can also be the most rewarding. When your students are having trouble organizing their thoughts or adding details to their work and they all want your help at the same time, you feel like a rubber band being stretched to its elastic limit. But when they really "get" a concept you've introduced in a mini-lesson and confidently apply it in their own writing, it's enough to make your heart melt.
     Today was one of those days when everybody "got" it. After learning all about the elements of personal narratives using the fabulous mentor texts in the Being a Writer program and learning how to narrow down our topics during a "small moments" lesson, we were ready to master the use of a strong hook to grab a reader's attention.
     The lesson started with a scavenger hunt. The kids scoured the books in our classroom library looking for opening sentences they liked and recording them on Post-it notes. Every student had to find three opening lines they admired and "park" them on the whiteboard. When everyone was finished, we met on the carpet and read through the posts. As I read the opening lines from the Post-its aloud, I started to rearrange them on the board. Eventually, my students realized I was making categories. I had rearranged the openings according to their function. The children evaluated the Post-its in each group, and we labeled each type of opening. Together, we created the anchor chart pictured below.
     My students were chomping at the bit by this point. I could practically see the gears turning in their heads as they thought about creative ways to begin their own personal narratives. There was total silence in the room for the next twenty minutes as the children tried to come up with several different openings for their own personal narratives. I call that uninterrupted silence "one of the most beautiful sounds in the world", because it's a true indication that everyone in the room is totally immersed in the task at hand. All 25 students in my class, including the 10 with identified learning disabilities, are all feeling competent and successful at the same time. When it happens, it truly is a beautiful thing!
      When writing time was up, we came back together on the carpet where the children first shared their work with an assigned writing partner. Then several volunteers shared what they came up with, with the whole group. I heard things like "Plop, plop, plop.", "She's the apple to my pie and the sun to my shine.", "How does one little acorn become the start of a battle?", and "There's a big shop down in the enormous basement." If I had closed my eyes while my students were sharing, I could have forgotten I was sitting in a circle of 10 year olds. I can't wait to hear the stories that follow the intriguing hooks I heard today. 

The Anchor Chart

The Parking Lot

 Everybody is ready to draft 
                                               their personal narratives