February #blogamonth

Many times we doubt ourselves and don’t believe in ourselves. Why do you think that is so? What can you do to believe in yourself?

I read a book over winter break that talked about the pressures that many young people feel to always project a pulled-together image on social media. I also think that this social media pressure impacts adults as well. We all know (even if it’s just on social media) a teacher with the Pinterest-worthy classroom or the adorable Instagrammable crafts or the cupcakes that could appear on a tv show. That can be daunting for a teacher, like me, who doesn’t feel particularly “crafty”. My classroom tends to be functional but not very cute or pretty. Usually this doesn’t really bother me; I can admire the charming things over people do in their classrooms without comparison. But sometimes…when my handwriting is crooked on that white poster paper, the other teachers’ posters and white boards and handouts look so much more impressive.

This kind of comparison happens in the real world as well. This year, my husband and I decided to take an art class. I have always enjoyed looking at art, and I like the idea of me doing art, so I thought an art class would be fun. Which it definitely is. But I can feel a bit rattled in our small art class with a teenager whose art appears in competitions and a husband who has kept his artistic talent (and numerous previous art classes) very well-hidden indeed. I know I am growing and improving, and I am proud of the work that I am doing as a novice artist. But sometimes…when I can’t get the shading right and my flowers look flat, the other artists’ shading and contouring and details look so much more impressive.

The best thing I can do to believe in myself is to not compare myself with other people. I will never be the best at everything, and I am good with that. But I know I do many things well, and I look for ways to improve on the things that I do not do well. I try to reflect on what is important to me and improve on those things. There will always be a cuter bulletin board and neater drawing.


 My first completed work of art.


January #Blogamonth

As the world is busy making resolutions, what is the most important ‘lesson’ you want to teach your students?

This week, I had to deal with an issue that really made me think about this prompt. When I think about great lessons that I have taught in my classroom, I usually think about the math or writing lesson that went particularly well. But while those lessons will fade in my students’ memories, lessons on how to be a good person will hopefully stick with them a lot longer.

I try to encourage my students to be advocates for themselves. When someone does something that bothers them, I teach them to confront the other person, respectfully, to try to change the outcome. This is true for both teachers and other students. Teachers make mistakes. Most are willing and able to admit these mistakes when they are brought to their attention in the right way.

This week, I had a student kick another student, and, in his defense, this other students broke an expensive piece of technical equipment. I thought about how to handle this situation and decided that the principal needed to be informed since something that belonged to the school had been damaged. I told the two students that they would have to explain what had happened to the principal.

The student who kicked accepted this without challenge, but the other student felt this was completely unfair. I told him that since I wasn’t there, he needed to share his side of the story with the principal and advocate for himself. I trusted that my principal would be fair and that both students would explain their sides of the story with integrity.

I want my students to be able to express dissatisfaction with adults in a way that is appropriate and respectful. I want them to see that adults will take them seriously if they handle themselves the right way in these situations. I want them to know that they can have difficult conversations with authority figures and be heard. I want them to advocate for their positions and opinions, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Sentence Boot Camp #sol18

Since we have been back from Winter Break, my 5th graders and I have embarked on a “sentence boot camp”. This became necessary when I realize just how shaky they were on things like “nouns” and “what makes a sentence”. Clearly it was time to go back to basics.

So we started with subjects and predicates. What makes a sentence? I used my first Nearpod lesson, and it was great! The class loved it, even the silly Schoolhouse Rock video.  Then, we classified sentences as fragments (using proper terminology to talk about what was missing), correct sentences, and run-ons. Run-ons is what I really wanted to focus on because I wanted to talk about compound sentences, commas, and complex sentences (eventually). But one step at a time…


Top Activity: Sentence Writing Activities and Task Cards by Laura Candler                               Bottom Activity: Simple and Compound Sentences Task Cards by Language Arts Classroom

Day 2: Compound sentences. We started by reviewing fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. We watched Conjunction Junction, did a Nearpod lesson on it, and then did a quick sort on simple vs. compound sentences. They seemed to mostly get the differences between simple and compound sentences.

Day 3: Complex sentences. Complex sentences are definitely more tricky. I made my own Nearpod lesson for this one, and we talked about the difference between subordinate and coordinating conjunctions. We practiced writing a lot of complex sentences, and they did better when the dependent clause was at the beginning of the sentence. For some reason, when the dependent clause was at the end, they kept trying to make compound sentences instead. Hmm..


Top Activity: Dependent and Independent Clause Sort Printable by 2 Georgia Girls                Bottom Activity: Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentence Sort by Love Learning

Days 4-6: Let’s just say that sorting compound, complex, and simple sentences is pretty challenging for them. We practiced a little bit every day, and I’m not sure if we actually made any improvement with it. Sigh. We’ll keep trying. We talked about different parts of speech: adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions. I decided to focus on these since we have already talked about conjunctions with compound sentences, and nouns and verbs when we talked about subjects and predicates of a sentence. We started each lesson by reviewing what we talked about yesterday, using sentences from our read aloud or book club book to find particularly parts of speech. Then, we watched a SchoolHouse Rock video about that part of speech. We practiced expanding sentences using that part of speech on white boards. We put some of our best sentences samples on an anchor chart.


Mentor sentences: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins and The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I would say that overall my sentence boot camp experience was semi-successful. They certainly know more than they did before we did it, but we definitely have a lot of practice ahead of us before we really master all of the vocabulary and nuances of the different types of sentences. Luckily we have great books in the classroom to give us an endless supply of mentor sentences. 🙂



November #blogamonth

In honor of the month of thanks, our November post is…what is one small delight in the day that you always look forward to or are thankful for?

I know that I have written about this before, but my favorite part of the day is read aloud. No matter what book we are reading, I always enjoy sitting with my students and sharing a book with them. We are currently reading The Giver, which I love, and they seem to really be enjoying so far. I love hearing what they say about the book, the predictions they make, the questions they ask. It’s the simplicity of sharing a good story together. It’s a quiet time, a calm time, where other distractions are minimized and we all get swept away in the book together. I think read aloud has always been my favorite time of day, no matter what I am teaching. I look forward to it every day.

Other things I am thankful for in my teaching life:

  • Working with other teachers whom I love talking to, about life and lesson planning
  • When my students make me smile
  • Helping a student learn something new and seeing them “get it”
  • Looking out my windows at the view of the lake
  • When my students make me laugh
  • Learning something new with my students
  • Talking to my students about books
  • Solving a difficult teaching problem
  • Discussing difficult topics with my students
  • Being a part of my students lives, even if only for this year

I am thankful that I get to do my favorite thing every day: teach.

A Little Experiment with Student Agency

I finally tried it. I had wanted to try it since I moved to fifth grade last year, but it just didn’t work with my schedule; I had too many short blocks of time that didn’t allow for much freedom of movement. I was a little nervous about how it would go, but after several days, I would say that it has been a success.

I gave my students the opportunity to pick their own schedule for the day.

I had a lot to accomplish with them one day last week, and I thought this might be a good way to fit it all in; let them be master of their own time management.

Well, I would say that it has been a huge success: students loved it, I loved it, everyone got everything done, and everyone was motivated and engaged all day. It was fun to see what each student chose to do first, second, etc. during the day.

We’ve done it a few more times since then, so I have a bit of a routine in place. We start the day with everyone setting up their schedule based on available time and the tasks they need to accomplish that day. We schedule whole group things first, then fill in the gaps. I don’t have them block out specific times, but I do include the amount of time in each block, as well as a suggested amount of time for each task. I don’t really want them to get hung up on what specific time they are supposed to be working on something, in case something takes longer than they thought. It’s more about the order of the tasks than when they accomplish them.

I started by blocking out whole class minilessons and read aloud times in the schedule, but I quickly moved to asking the class to come to a consensus on when to meet for those activities. It gives them more control over the whole schedule, not just what they are working on. It doesn’t really matter to me when these kinds of whole group activities get accomplished, just that they get accomplished. Plus, they can then find out when they prefer to do math, writing, reading, etc. without me telling them what I think is best for them. Then I can save my own input for really important things that can’t be moved, like assemblies and field trips.

October 4, 2017 Schedule

I have already seen a few advantages to using this kind of system with my students. I am able to meet with everyone more often for guided reading because everyone is reading at different times. Students can practice their self-management skills in an authentic way by deciding when they want to accomplish each task.  I can differentiate everyone’s schedule if they need to finish up something they were supposed to finish the day before. Not to mention how much more productive they are, how excited they are about each day, and how things take less time when we don’t spend a lot of it transitioning en masse from one activity to another.

In the future, I want to get to the point where students are are choosing their tasks as well as their schedule. I don’t think I can jump to that soon, but that is the end goal. I can tell them what they need to accomplish in a week, and they can decide how to split up the necessary tasks to achieve that goal. I could start by listing the recommended steps at first and then move to just the end goal. I guess we’ll see how this goes. So far, so good!

New Math Assessments

This year, I wanted to be more intentional with my assessments. I wanted students to have more of a say in their learning, and I wanted students to be able to explain what they had learned and what they needed more practice with.

I tried this first with math by creating a rubric for each unit. This rubric has each objective that we discussed listed, along with three options for how comfortable the students feel with each objective: Not yet, starting to, and yes.

The first time they saw this rubric, it was near the end of the unit but before the assessment. The students self-assessed their understanding of each of the objectives. Listed next to each objective were the review problems that addressed that objective. Then, students could spend time practicing the objectives they were “starting to” to understand or “not yet” understanding.  Students could have some ownership of what parts of the review to complete based on their individual learning needs.

After the assessment, both the students and I filled out the same rubric, this time with the assessment questions listed next to the objectives. Students could look through their assessment and see how they did on the questions that pertained to each objective.

Then, students chose an effort-based and attainment-based sentence that described their effort and understanding of the content in this unit. These are part of our school’s grading policy, but at this point, there are no grades attached to these descriptors.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 11.58.52 AM

Last week, we did the whole cycle of our assessment reflections for our first unit. In general, I like it because it really gets the students involved in the grading process and makes the learning more on-going.  It’s not just finished whenever the unit is over.  We have already been able to use this “growth mindset” for choosing homework on a night we didn’t finish a math lesson. They chose a topic from the first unit that they need extra practice on from our extra practice workbook.


We wrapped up this process by having individual conferences about their thoughts, strengths, and goals for the future.  I think the conference was a good way to tie all of this together, but I want to take it a little further next time. I want to hear what they were thinking when they were solving particular problems or go through word problems they didn’t understand. We could also talk about ways to practice the skills that they feel they need more practice with in the future.

This time, the whole process took a week, with all of the reflections and assessment corrections. I hope that we are able to do it in a more timely manner to keep it relevant and fresh in their minds.  Ideally, I think we could do it in about three days (I have a very small class).  We’ll see how it goes in the second unit!

September #blogamonth

One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for…is a class that already knows each other.

I teach at a small, private school with only one class per grade, so most of the students were taught by the same teacher the previous year (except, of course, any new students).

Last year, my school merged with another school so half of the class was new. While the two groups of students blended easily and quickly, as the teacher, I had to deal with the fact that half of the students were taught by one teacher and the other were taught by a different teacher. They brought in a wide range of skills and understandings that took a lot of time to pull together, especially in math.

Of course, this is not unusual for teachers. Most teachers have to deal with this every year, as the students get mixed up from year to year; at other schools, I have had to work with students from four different teachers the year before.

This year, however, I didn’t get any new students at the start of the year. I only have to deal with the way that one teacher taught something last year. Students have their own strengths and weaknesses, of course, but they are a much more homogenized group this year. Math took off quickly at the beginning of the year, as they were taught with the same curriculum last year that I am using this year. I can talk to their teacher from last year, which helps me adjust my instruction and attention for each student and the class as a whole.

It is very nice to have a class that had the same teacher last year. It makes the start of the year go a lot more smoothly.


A Little Bit of Math Love

We started school this week, and I very quickly remember why I love about teaching. Students. They are just the best. Just when you think you know everything that they are going to do, they surprise you. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but where would all the fun be if my students didn’t delight me every day?!

While I was doing some pre-assessments today, the other students were testing out some centers that we might use throughout the year, practicing skills that they learned in 4th grade. I saw a couple of things that made me think and showed the useful skills that they are bringing up with them to 5th grade. You always hear “they should’ve learned this last year” from teachers; I am here to tell you that students actually do bring good stuff up with them from year to year.

Here, two students are doing a number puzzle activity from Jennifer Findley. The point of this activity is to practice three ways of representing numbers–word form, standard form, and expanded form–by matching up the three forms for each number.


These students started by organizing the different forms together.  Then, you can see that they put a horizontal line above some of them; all of these cards start with a four in the hundred thousands place. From there, they were looking to match just those cards up. I was so impressed with their thinking with this activity. They took a large task (there were 60 cards to match up) and started organizing it in a way that made sense to them. They were able to get through a lot more of the cards than the group before them, which didn’t use any kind of organizing system. This shows some good problem solving skills that we will definitely be utilizing this year. It also shows that they have a good number sense, which will be helpful for them when we add millions and billions to the numbers they are working with.

This student was adding the two numbers on the top of the white board. I didn’t give any other instructions. This is what he had done when I came back to check on him.


I was amazed! This student estimated before finding the exact answer on his own, without any teacher prompting, without being required to estimate. And, he was able to use his estimation to check his answer in the end, when he realized that he had subtracted instead of adding (that had been erased before I took this picture). He showed rounding, estimating, and addition skills, all with just one problem. I am so excited to have a student who actually sees the benefit of estimating first. It can be so helpful when you are working with larger numbers and decimals, which we will do a lot of this year. I am hoping that we can use estimation more in the classroom this year, and I hope the other students see this student’s success with estimation and start using it themselves.

It’s always hard starting a new school year with a new group of students (you always feel nostalgic for your last class). But I am seeing some amazing math thinking already this year, which gets me very excited for this new group of students.

Top Ten Day 4 ISTE 2017

Last day of ISTE 2017.  Here are my final thoughts:

1. Crowds. There were definitely fewer people at the closing keynote than there were yesterday at the random Tuesday keynote. I guess a lot of people had to jet out of there, literally. Hooray for being local, y’all.

2. Music. Still digging this live music at the keynotes. Three for three on high school-aged artists from Austin. Quick recap: Tianna Girls, Charlie Belle, and Grace London. Makes waiting for the keynote to start much more fun.

Grace London

Made on Canva.

3. Serendipity. I started talking with a computer science teacher in North Carolina and it turns out that we had been to several of the same sessions throughout this conference. Great minds think alike.

4. Fatigue. While this has been an amazing learning experience, I am ready for ISTE to be over. I am overflowing with new apps, cool tools, and learning that I can’t wait to take back into the classroom. But I am tired.

5. Social media in the classroom. I went to another session that talked about the importance of using social media in the classroom, modeling it for students, connecting with them, and creating a respectful and responsible community of learners. This session was about Snapchat. I can see how this would be very popular with high school students, but I am curious as to how it would work with elementary students.IMG_51856. Global collaboration. My class next year will likely be very small. Because of this, I am nervous that we will create a sort of “echo chamber”, without a wide variety of voices, perspectives, and opinions. Today, I learned about several tools that should provide us with some collaboration opportunities: Flipgrid, Recap, and PenPal Schools.

7. Sketchnotes. You have probably seen some of these floating around the internet. If not, just Google it; the images will blow you away. Anyway, today I learned how to do my own sketchnotes and use them in the classroom. I like the visual nature of them; I can think of some students that probably would’ve paid better attention were they taking sketchnotes. Here are my first two humble attempts:

8. Rental car shenanigans. My husband and I just downsized to one car, so I rented a car for ISTE. Enterprise closed at 6. I left San Antonio at 4:05; that should’ve been plenty of time. Car returned: 5:55. Whew.

9. Closing keynote. The woman who started Girls Who Code spoke to us, and it was both uplifting and depressing. Depressing that there are so many coding opportunities and so few women in computer science fields, and uplifting because there are people working to get young women interested in these lucrative, in-demand fields.img_1673.jpg10. Reflection. I wasn’t sure how much I would really enjoy ISTE. I loved the math conference I went to, but I am very passionate about math instruction, while edtech is more of a personal hobby. I thought there might not be much I would be interested in (HA…with over 1,000 sessions, how could there not be!?!). Well, it was amazing. I learned so much, and I am excited about a lot of the things I learned. Now it’s time to prioritize what I am going to do first when school starts up in the fall. And it’s time to start budgeting for ISTE 2018 in Chicago.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 8.00.32 PM

11. Bonus: Yesterday, I talked about people with excessive name tag decorations. Today, I secured a couple of photos so you can see the madness for yourself. 🙂 IMG_5206IMG_5200

Top Ten Day 3 ISTE 2017

Whew. These days are long and action-packed. Here’s my top ten for day 3.

1. Keynote. Wow. The keynote today was awesome. We had a student panel. We compared student growth to cilantro that grows wherever it wants. We compared teachers and wizards. We learned about single stories and untold stories. Amazing. IMG_1626IMG_16312. Talking to exhibitors. I think their favorite sentence might be, “Tell me more about your product.” Their eyes light up, their voices pick up, and they look like Christmas has come early. They must be exhausted by the end of the day, all that enthusiasm.

3. Tidbits. Today was my day for learning little things. I didn’t do as many “sit and get” sessions, but I did a lot of poster sessions and short 20-minute bursts. Like how to search more effectively on Google.IMG_16544. Buncee. Never heard of it before, but it looks like something my students would love to use for presentations. It helps that the person I talked to was also a fifth grade teacher. Holla!

5. Newsela. I’d never heard of it before this conference, but it looks like a good nonfiction resource, especially now that they have US history and thematic units for my students to use during research. Score!IMG_5145

6. KidBlog. Started by a teacher, it’s a safe place for students to blog and share their writing with a wider audience. I ever got a picture with the CEO!IMG_51737. Tired feet. I clearly did more walking today as my feet hurt more than they did yesterday. Just a little more walking to do…

8. Clever session names. I did a session called Under the Sheets with Sheets, which I just thought was so funny. Bonus: I learned lots of cool tricks to try with Google Sheets.IMG_5146

9. WriteSteps. It’s fun to talk to educators about products they are passionate about, especially if they created them. This looks like a good resource for writing instruction. I’ll have to check out the free unit they are sending me.IMG_5136 10. Name tag accessories. You can get these tags to attach underneath your name tag. I have zero. Most people have 3ish. I saw a couple of people today with 20. 20! Clearly I have a lot of catching up to do tomorrow.

Last day and last top ten tomorrow!