Sunday, September 14, 2014

Genius Hour in Our Classroom

Last year, I looked into the concept of genius hour and really wanted to try it.  My biggest hurdle was the lack of computers access for my students.  Last December, our district gave each 3-6 grade classroom 3 Chromebook computers.  That was wonderful, and I was very grateful, but with 32 students, how does one effectively use 3 computers for anything really other than remediation for a few students?  

In the spring, my principal announced that he had some extra funds that he wanted to use to get more technology to us.  My team decided we wanted more Chromebooks, so we each received 2 more.  Then, I decided if I had 2 additional ones, I'd have enough for small group use and that would be a game changer for me.  Amazingly, thanks to the kindness of several donors, some of which were fellow bloggers, I had them both funded through DonorsChoose.  Now with seven computers in my classroom, we are able to use them to do so many things.  We also borrow from the other fifth grade classes when they are not using their computers.

One of my favorite pictures.  Totally didn't plan to capture this! 

One of the things I implemented this year is Genius Hour, which I called passion projects and passion time in my classroom.  It has been amazing!  My students can't wait for Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to work on their projects.  My colleague suggested using the first 20 minutes of class three days a week instead of an hour block one day a week.  I thought it was a brilliant idea, so that's what I chose to do.  Instead of morning work those three days, students work on their passion projects three mornings a week.  They have from the start of the day, 9:00, until 9:18 to work on them.  Many students come in early and work on them from the moment they enter the classroom.  I have students begin arriving at 8:30.  

Some of the projects that my students have chosen to work on include: 

  • How can I create a website?
  • How should one care for chickens? 
  • How did the library get so organized?
  • How does the computer language of coding work? (A group of students interested in this are all working through the lessons together)
  • How do you play the ukulele? 
  • How do you play the mandolin? 
  • How do you plan resonator bells? 
  • Learning about birds of prey. 
  • Teaching another student karate, the other students project is to learn karate. 

And several more.  Not only has the response from students been great, but the response from parents has been positive as well.  Parents have expressed appreciation for my ability to not only find time in our day for students to learn what they want to learn, but for igniting the love for learning in their children.  

I'll continue to share with you about how it's going in our classroom.  I'll also be sharing the results of each students passion work toward the end of the semester.  For now, enjoy the pictures throughout this article of my students working on their projects this week. 

Have you tried genius hour in your classroom?  Tell us about it in the comments. 

I've linked up this blog post to

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Rocky and Bullwinkle Graphic Novel

Graphic novels are very popular in my class, and from my experience, many upper grade students.  I was so excited when I had the opportunity to preview this new graphic novel all about one of my favorite childhood cartoons, Rocky and Bullwinkle.  I found myself reading all of Bullwinkle's parts in that deep voice and Rocky's in that high pitched squirrel voice.  How fun would it be to get your students hooked to this book by showing a teaser snippet of one of the cartoons?  You can find episodes on YouTube that could be shown.  Always remember to view before you show anything to your students! You never know what's really in a video that might look innocent.

This book is comprised of several shorter stories, each as an "episode" of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  They aren't necessarily stories of the show episodes, but the characters are the same with a similar plot line as the cartoons.  The pictures are well illustrated and in vivid colors.  There is a good mix of text with pictures and illustration only pages to tell the story.

Give this Graphic Novel a try and you just might snag some of your reluctant readers.  The text in this story is not too difficult, I'd place the text readability itself around a 3rd grade level, but that's totally just my guess.  I think my 5th graders are going to love this book!

Rocky & Bullwinkle will be available on October 7, 2014.  You can pre-order a copy now by clicking any of the cover or title links in this post.  If your'e reading this after the release date, go grab your copy now!

What are some of your students' favorite graphic novels? 

Note: I was provided an e-book copy of the book in this review by the publisher in exchange for my review.  The opinions expressed in this post are my own.  Links in this post refer to my amazon affiliate and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through these links.  Your purchase helps me support my classroom and this blog. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Social Studies Unit 1: Explorers

These first two weeks of school, our Social Studies lessons focused on the early explorers.  Our fifth grade curriculum focuses on U.S. history and geography from explorers to present day.  As a fifth grade, we found around 20 explorers for our students to study.  Each class was given 8 explorers so that we could have groups of 4 students each research an explorer.  Each student group researched their assigned explorer and answered questions about him.  Students then drew and "life sized" explorer character based on paintings and likenesses they found of him.  They added the facts they had discovered around their picture and then hung them in the auditorium to create an Explorer Hall of Fame.

Each class took some time to visit the hall of fame.  Students were expected to find 4 explorers and write down the information they learned from the posters.  Students have a lot of fun learning about the explorers and seeing what all of their peers created.

Students viewing the Hall of Fame

Students pose by their masterpieces

We also learned about the many new plants and food items that the native people had that the explorers didn't know about until coming to the new land.  Students used their sense of smell to discover items like marigolds, corn, vanilla, cocoa, pineapple and many more.  I was quite amazed that students were able to guess the majority of the items just through smell.

Students smelling the New World.

We transitioned into discussion of settlements and colonies by reading this book by Jane Yolen Roanoke: The Lost Colony--An Unsolved Mystery from History

If you teach about early explorers, what are some of the ways you teach them?  We're always looking for new ideas. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Share Wednesday: The City of Ember

How did I miss this book? I hadn't heard of it until last spring with my teammate said she was reading it for her read aloud book.  I really enjoy the distopia sort of stories and this one sounded right up my ally.  I added it to one of my Amazon orders this summer when I needed a little bit more to push me to be able to include an add on item.  My mistake was starting to read it the day before the first day of school.  I couldn't put it down!  My dear husband was so sweet to let me read and to do some of the house tidying.  I got to the end of the book and ran to see if the next book was on Amazon kindle because I was left hanging so dramatically off a cliff at the end.  I pulled myself together enough to not order the book so I could at least get through the first week of school.  That gave me the time to borrow the second book from another teacher.  I'm now ready to read book three.

So, I highly recommend The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember) and the rest of the series.  It's especially well suited for upper elementary students and maybe even 7-8th grade students.  I'm definitely going to need to add the 4 book series to my classroom library.  A few of my students have read the book and it's been fun to have some book conversations with them about it.

Wait, there's more! It's a movie too!  That's right, there's a City of Ember movie.  I haven't watched it, but that's on my to do list.  It's rated PG, so likely not an option for most to show to students, but it might be fun for you to watch or recommend to students after they read the books.

Be sure to tell us what you're currently reading in the comments below and join the monthly Book Share Wednesday link up every 3rd Wednesday of the month.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Share Wednesday: The Hundred Dresses

Today is the very first Book Share Wednesday link up!! I'm so excited to have a place for you to come together and share the great books you use in your classroom in any way.  Today I'm sharing about the book I like to use as my first read aloud.  Yesterday was my first day with my new class of students.  It was a great day and I'm so excited for this group.  Based on first impresssions, we have a great dynamic and we're going to have a lot of fun.  I started reading aloud to them the book The Hundred Dresses.  It's one of my favorites that really illustrates the need to be kind and aware of others.  It's a great medium through which to have some conversations about how your class should build a community that is caring and supportive of all class members.  I highly recommend reading this one if you haven't.  I've used this book in all three levels that I've taught, first grade, third grade and fifth grade.  Every class has been attentive and had good conversation about the story and relating it to us.  It's also a bit of a classic, so it's not expensive at all.

Now it's your turn!  Once a month on the third Wednesday, I open up my Book Share post to all of you to link up to.  If you have a blog, feel free to link up your post about a book below.  It can be a novel, picture book, professional development book, etc.  If you'd rather, you're also always welcome to respond to my post or share your book in the comments section below.  Happy reading!!

The link will be open for one week. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bright Idea: Taming Cords

No tangled cords, everything has a place, all devices can charge.

I am so excited this year to have 7 Chromebooks to use in my classroom (waiting for the 7th to arrive that was recently funded through Donors Choose).  Having at least a small group set will mean that we'll be able to use them throughout the day.  I wanted them to be set up in a specific location and have the cords at hand so they can be always charging or, if they need to be moved, plugged in as soon as they are returned to their spot.  There are many great ideas around for taming all your cords for classroom devices.  This is what I came up with that is going to work great for me and my classroom set up.

Place adhesive velcro to the cord box. 

Take the paper backing off the opposite velcro and attach to the base so that they are lined up. My shapes didn't match, I just used what I had left over from other projects.  It worked just fine. 

Place the box to the underside of the table where you desire. 

Do the same process with a power strip.  It will need a bit more velcro. 

The view from under the table with attached cords. You could certainly pull up all the hanging cords with some twist-ties or zip ties to tidy it all up a bit more. 

Thanks to Shelley for organizing this monthly link up.  Be sure to check out the many other Bright Ideas by clicking the links below. 

If you liked this idea, ensure that you don't miss any other post by following me at any of the social media links the top of the blog. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Avery Binders and Divider Tabs

Just in time for back to school, I received some Avery brand products to review from Shoplet.  Here's how I put them to use.  

I'm going to give "Genius Projects" a try this year.  I had a great discussion with a sixth grade teacher yesterday about how we might implement it in our classes this year.  I set up the binder with a tab for each student.  I'm still working on the tracking sheets that will go inside; I'll post about them as soon as I get them done.  I plan to include a record sheet behind each students' tab to help me keep track of their projects and how they're doing and what support they need.  I'll also put in a copy of their proposals. 

I have always appreciated the quality of Avery products.  The view binder with one-touch EZD rings is super easy to open.  The one pull tab on the bottomhas a rubber surface for easy and comfortable grip.  You really can open it with just one hand pulling on the tab (You'll need your other hand to hold the binder in place as you pull.)  The two pockets mean that you can be more organized and hold more papers in the front and back cover of the binder.  The pockets are clear so you can easily see what you've put inside of them.

The Index Maker Clear Dividers with Color Tabs and with White Tabs are durable, professional looking dividers.  The thick paper the tabs are on will help them stand up to a lot of flipping in your binder.  The tabs come with labels that can be printed on for an even more professional and organized look.  Both the Easy Apply labels and the traditional formatted labels were included in the box. The Easy Apply labels are designed to be applied to all the tabs at once for ease and time saving.  I was skeptical at first, but I actually really liked how easy and well they worked. I loved that I easily downloaded the template from the website included on the label sheet and easily named and printed the labels all at once. 

 You can view a great tutorial video on the dividers below:

Do you do "Genius Hour" or "Genius Projects"? How do you make it work well in your classroom? 

I received the Avery products as a courtesy from Shoplet in exchange for my review.  All opinions are my own from my experience with the products. 


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