Monday, November 11, 2013

Passion Projects

Advanced learners need more...not more worksheets, not more work.  They need more from us as teachers.  So often, these students get forgotten in classrooms because teachers have a million other concerns on their plates.  Today's post is dedicated to fostering the passion of all learners, but specifically GT students and advanced learners.

I began with this motivating video.  This student shows that adults can and should learn from kids.  Wow...she's an amazing speaker too. 

Using the idea from the video below (I didn't show this to kids though.) I gave each student an area around the room to show their passions. I asked questions and had them add each thought to a post-it note.

1. What are you passionate about?
2. How can you change the world?
3. What are your strengths?
4. How do you like to present? Technology? Speech?

Here's an image of their brainstorms...

I can't wait to see what they come up with! My next steps with the students is to have them complete a project proposal so they can begin their plans. Follow my blog to see their final projects next month!

How do you encourage indiviualzed learning for your students?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pre-Assessments Made Meaningful!

Okay, I will be the first to admit this sheet looks boring.  I mean how much data can you get from this basic worksheet anyway?  First, let's discuss.  What are preassessments for?  To guide instruction right?  To show growth?  So often, we give preassessments and then never do anything with them.  What's the point?  We are all too busy to do anything that isn't valuable.  This is where this technique comes into place.

Step One- Give the preassessment.  The nice thing about this sheet is that it can be used for anything.  Students write the main topic in the center and then you offer them four specific questions for them to repond to in the boxes.  Here are some ideas...but I am sure you will come up with better ones!

Topic- polygons
Box one- what are examples of polygons?
Box two- what are examples of shapes that are not polygons?
Box three- what are rules for polygons?
Box four- what are examples of regular polygons?

Topic- non-fiction
Box one- what are examples of non-fiction books?
Box two- what are examples of books that are not non-fiction?
Box three- how would you define non-fiction?
Box four- what genres fall under the non-fiction category?

You get the idea.

Now here's the hard part.  Students need to write in colored pencil and they need to write relatively small. 

Step two- Use the assessment.  Look for trends for whole group lessons, ways you can group students into small groups, possibly even topics you can skip entirely because your whole class are already experts (not that happens frequently, but you never know).  No need to grade them, just take notes to help you teach.


Step three- In a few weeks, after some instruction, give the assessment back to the student.  Have them add to it, cross things out, etc. in a different colored pencil.  This is the best evidence that your instruction matters.  Students will see how much more they know, you can use it to guide your instruction again, parents and administrators will love to see the growth.  And the best part?  Almost no planning. 

What great ways do you use pre-assessments?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

So. Many. Freebies.

Well it's back to school time so this means this post has to be short and sweet and full of great things for my amazing friends and followers.  Many sellers from teacherspayteachers have worked hard this summer on back to school ebooks to help teachers work with the Common Core for math and literacy in new and unique ways.  The ebooks are out now and each page includes one teaching tip and at least one freebie.  It's amazing!  Enjoy :)

Click on the image of my page above and go straight to my freebie to help set up your writing workshop center.  Hope your year is going great!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back to School Deals and Steals

I was so happy to connect with some of my favorite Colorado sellers.  We decided to share some of our favorite products right before the big sale.  Remember almost every sale is participating and you can save up to 28% off items for back to school.  It’s time to stock up!

Here are some of the best products from the best sellers in Colorado.  Please check them out and have fun shopping for back to school!  Remember to enter BTS13 when you check out to get the full discount. 

Jean Martin’s favorite product is her novel study for Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is is wonderful book and teaches kids of all ages about tolerance and acceptance for kids who are different. It also promotes the understanding that who we are on the inside is what really counts.

Kristy Morris has these awesome homework writing journals.  She says, "I love them and have found them to be great over the years to add more for writing.  I have a kindergarten one and second grade.  I'm working on intermediate next!" Be sure to follow her store for updates on when the intermediate will be ready to go.
Cecilia Magro from I Love First Grade's favorite product is her FirstGrade ELA and Math Common Core Morning Work.  It is so easy to use and assures teachers that students will be working on SO many Common Core Standards for math and language arts. Purchase the entire bundle and save even more because she is offering even a larger discount on this product making it 38% off!
Naomi O’Brien from Read Like a Rock Star is offering her Main Idea Mega Bundle which combines all 7 of her engaging and helpful main idea packs! Buying this pack will save you over 25% and provide you with 7 different themed main idea packs that will keep your students interested and motivated to read and find the main idea all year long! Themes included are: Science, Valentine's Day, February Holidays, Winter Holidays, Fall/Halloween, Pirates, and her original Main Idea and detail packet.

Kristin Holmquist’s favorite product is her "FindSomeone Who" Math Bundle.  It's a great way to review math concepts at the end of the unit, or as a "refresher" anytime throughout the year. The best part is kids are up and out of their seats, working together, and learning from each other. This product is most appropriate for 2nd-4th grades.

Pam Kranz has an exciting Math Games Galore Bundle. It's a collection of her favorite math computation, order of operations and place value games. She says, "I love these games because they're easily differentiated, work well in a variety of learning situations (centers, solitaire, team challenges, whole class, homework), and are easy to leave for a substitute once the class knows how to play." They're appropriate for grades 4-8.

Ashlyn Ellsworth’s  favorite product  is her  states of matter pack. Ashlyn says, "I love this product because first off I use it with my first graders and made this because there wasn't much out there to meet my science needs! The pack is easy to use and the kids love it. The science experiments are great. Especially the ice cream making!!"

I hope you all enjoy this short preview of some local sellers and especially the great deals coming your way starting at midnight tonight and running through Monday night.  Happy shopping :) 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reading and Writing Workshop

I am so excited about my small group packs that I just have to share out to the world!  The hardest part of teaching in a workshop model is squeezing in time for small groups AND one-on-one conferences.  These packs have completely solved this problem.  Now, all teachers have to do is use their assessments to plan for the groups and they are ready to go...FOR EVERY STANDARD!  I worked hard to make the lessons so they are fun and follow a simple routine so teachers and students know just what to expect.  You can download this routine for FREE!

If you're interested in checking out these resources they will be on sale this Sunday and Monday.  I hope you like them as much as my teammates do! It's available for both reading workshop and writing workshop.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Colorado Teacher Meet-Up

What an amazing experience!  I was lucky enough to connect with some of the best teacher/sellers in the state for a fabulous lunch last Thursday.  We were able to talk about our funny student stories, our current positions, interesting teaching ideas, and even our own kids and pets.    

From the left moving around: Cecilia, Naomi, Kristin, Lorrie, Brenda (me), and Pam. Check out their stores for ideas and resources for every elementary grade. 

What a fun group and fun day!  Keep on the lookout for more collaborative efforts from my new Colorado connections :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

New Beginnings!

My blog has been all business so I thought it was about time to formally introduce myself.  I am a mom, wife, sister, daughter, and teacher (but not always in that order)! 

I have an awesome husband of eight years who I adore more and more every day.  My son is named Aiden and he is five years old.  He is heading to kindergarten this year.  I can’t believe it.  My daughter is named Ryanne after my work wife and she is four.  They are the light of my life and I can’t imagine one day without them!

On the job front, I am on to new beginnings!  I recently accepted a position as the academic coach at a new STEM school near my house (eight minutes away IN TRAFFIC!) I wanted to share this news with my fabulous followers.  I am so sad to leave my old school, friends, community and even sadder to leave the classroom, but I know this position will be fun and challenging.  My brand new school has one-to-one technology so I hope to learn a lot about implementing iPads and Chromebooks in the classroom.  I am also so excited to learn more about project-based learning and incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math into our community projects.  I plan share everything on this blog.  

As always, thanks for following.  What new beginnings are in store for you?

Friday, July 5, 2013

iPad Apps for Classroom Management

Teachers always struggle with the idea of a one iPad classroom-- me included.  While I prefer to get the iPad into the hands of students as much as possible to encourage 21st century learners, these quick tools are great ways to start using the iPad with a large group before you start implementing small group use. 

1.  Songify
Use this awesome tool to turn any words into a song.  It could be perfect for transition time... "Grab your composition notebook, pencil, and meet on the floor."  I recently used this with a group of teachers and they all literally turned to listen.  If it works with teachers, you know it will with kids!

2. VidRhythm
This tool is so fun and easy.  Students can use it for team building by video taping a music video where everyone participates.  It takes less than a minute to tape and the results are awesome!

3. Group Games
Brain breaks have become quite popular over the past few years to get students re-energized to learn.  This app includes simple, fun games to use with students when they just need some downtime.

4. Pick Stix
I heard about this tool, but never knew all that it can do.  Teachers can have multiple cans for groups, label sticks by cognitive level, select question type for student ability, and so much more.  Definitely worth organizing your class using this tool when students return back to school!

5. Noise Sniffer
This tool is a yacker-tracker for the iPad.  You can post it on the projector and give the class a decibel limit.  It's also a great way to "vote" for a project or class decision by letting the app determine which received the most cheers. 

6. Class DOJO
This is a behavior management system where you can collect behavior data for each student.  Teachers can even send this data to parents for instant communication and feedback.  This would work great with a PBIS system or a student on an individualized behavior plan.

7. Kagan Timer Tools
This simple tool is great to help students manage their time with assignments.  You can program anytime and display it for kids.

8. Kagan Select Spinners
If you love teamwork, this tool is for you!  Kagan suggests giving each child think time, select the team first so no team is off the hook, and then select the student to share out.  Everyone has to be ready to discuss which increased engagement and accountability.

9. Not it
This is such a fun, simple tool.  Basically, put the iPad in the center of a group.  Each person puts their finger on the iPad and the app slowly selects the person.  Kids would love this.  Hey-my husband and I might start using this for dish duty!

10. Confer
This last one is a bit pricey ($14.99) but it's worth it if you have a teacher iPad.  You can collect formative notes on your students for all subject areas, sort students, group students, and so much more. 

What are your favorite iPad apps to help manage your classroom?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Easy Ways to Connect with Students Around the World

Global education is all the rage and it's no wonder why.  If you haven't had a chance to view the video, Shift Happens, in a while it might be time.  Our students need to know how to connect and collaborate with people of various cultures, languages, and life experiences because that is what they will be doing in their future.  It is our job to help them.  This is not easy though, we have to consider the language barrier, trust teachers we don't even know to hold up their end, and the time zone management issue is enough to stress any teacher out!  This post has five simple, effective ways to help flatten the world and open up communications with students around the world.

1. Try Quadblogging.  The premise is quite simple.  Basically this website will connect you with three other schools around the world.  One class posts an original comment each week while the other three comment.  The classes each take turns posting an original post.  This can last for as short as one month or teachers can choose to extend this.  Just click on the link and sign up.

2.  Check out the Flat Classroom Project.  It is basically ready-made projects for classes of any level to collaborate with other classrooms.  Kids can even "outsource" part of their project for a real life experience.  This project does cost money (around $50-60 per class) and requires about one hour each week for the project's duration. 

3.  Mystery Skype is an awesome version of 20 questions where students Skype with other students to try to figure out where they are from.  Teachers can take time before the lessons to review Skype Etiquette with students.  Then they take turns asking each other questions, giving clues about climate and weather, discussing current events, researching and so much more until students have discovered the mystery location.  It would be so awesome to set this up as a once a month classroom event to learn social studies and researching standards.

4.  Become a member of Global Collaborations or join Skype for Educators and post your own project idea that aligns to your standards.  Ask other teachers from around the world to join your project and show your students how to make a real difference. 

5.  Use epals to connect your students with an electronic pen pal.  Students can do projects together, blog about books, and even work on a community service idea.  The challenge with this tip is that you will want back up classrooms or a buddy system  in case some of your students don't hear back from their pen pal.

How do you promote global connections in your classroom? 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grant Ideas

Want technology?  Me too.  I just explored some sites to help teachers get the technology they need to transform a classroom.  I am far from a grant writing expert...but here's a few go to places.

I love donor's choose.  It's a wonderful way to involve the community in bringing great school projects into the hands of teachers and students, but it has its limitations.  If you've never used it before, you are limited to $400.  That's a start, it can buy one iPad mini through Best Buy but that's it.

Here are a few other resources to explore if you are looking for more.  

All About Grants for Teachers
Grants for Educators
More Grant Options
Grant Contests
Grant Alert
Grants for Teachers
K-12 School Grants

What other great ideas have you tried to get more technology for your classroom?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Five Fun and Easy Technology Projects for Back to School

I am already so pumped for back to school.  I have more ideas than I know what to do with!  I wanted to dedicate this post to five simple and fun technology projects to welcome your students back to school.

1.  Have each of your students create a voki telling something about them.  It's so easy!  Go to and click create on the upper left hand corner.  Students can customize their Voki with the picture, clothes, and even bling.  The next step is to add text.  The easiest way is to record or even type.  After they add their message they can play with the accent (be sure not to change the language though!) and change the setting and background.  Publish and post the link or embed code on your class website for a beautiful get to know you!

2.  Get to know your students by having them create a "Fakebook" profile. Basically students can add a photo, add friends, and everything on this cute Facebook look-a-like template. 

3. Help your students find the perfect book to start the year by visiting spaghetti book clubs.  Basically students can read reviews from other students about almost any book and even add a review to a book they have already read.  You can even use QR codes or a site like Paddlet to establish your own reading review club community.

4.  Create an interactive get to know you wall by publishing these projects as a QR code.  It's so easy!  You can take the link to any project and turn it into a QR code by using the link above or any other QR code generator.  Print the code and post it next to the student photo on a wall outside of your classroom or on your door.  Students can explore each other's projects using an iPad and visitors can view the projects using a smart phone.   

5.  Have your kids create their own avatar by using Doppleme.  It's perfect to establish their online profile and use for blogs and other web tools later in the year.

What are your favorite technology projects?

Google Tips for Busy Teachers

I just came back from the best conference.  I am re-energized and so excited about some of the new technology tips I learned I can't wait to share! This first post is dedicated to's more than just a search engine!

Basic Search Tips
1. Research the weather for your science unit by typing weather and then the city (weather Denver) and you will see the current forecast for the next five days.

2. Use Google as a quick dictionary by typing define: word.

3. Use Google as a math tool for simple measurement conversions by typing the conversion you are looking for and using the word "in."  Example: pints in a gallon.

4. If you use quotation marks around a term like the phrase "21st Century Leanring" you will automatically filter your results.

5.  You can also filter your results by using the minus sign.  For example, if you want to learn about the ship, try Titanic-movie.

6. Try filtering results of your search by using the links on the left side of your search results.  You can filter by images, videos, updates, and more.

7.  You can search for PowerPoints on a certain topic by typing in your key word and clicking on advanced search.  When you click on advanced search choose the file type by typing Microsoft PowerPoint.

8. Do you want to find PowerPoint games to use with your students?  Simply add the word "Jeopardy" or "Millionaire" and then view the file as a slide show.

Tips For Organizing Google Drive
1.  Create folders for yourself and drag (yes drag from your desktop or where ever things are saved) into the folders.  Now everything is on the cloud and you NEVER have to worry losing a flash drive or summer re-imaging again.  Be careful though, now you can access files on the weekend and at nights which, as you know, is not always a good thing.  

2. If your students have Google docs like me, then you will love this tip!  At the beginning of the year have every student open a new folder called Last initial, first name, grade level (mbrenda3) and share it with you.  This way everything that is saved to that folder in third grade will automatically be shared with you.  As a bonus they will be in alphabetical order for easy grading!

3. Once you have the main folder shared with you, have students save EVERYTHING to this folder.  Here's the trick though-- have kids name their work with their name and the same title.  Here's an example (mbrenda geometry).  By doing this, you can search your google docs for geometry (or whatever the project is called) and you will be able to pull up every student project for easy feedback and grading.  This is way better than my fomer system of "just name it whatever makes sense to you."

4.  Give students feedback by opening the document, PowerPoint, or spreadsheet.  All you have to do is highlight the portion you want to address, right click, and select comment.  This way you are not editing their work, you are merely offering suggestions to improve. 

5. Here's the best part...if you set up your writing workshop with groups then have students share their writing with other students too via Google.  You can set up rotations where students give each other meaningful feedback.  Authentic audience, meaningful feedback, collaboration, learning, awesome!

6.  Teach students how to collaborate on a project by having them share a document or presentation with their group.  Kids can work on the project simultaneously and you can see who is contributing, how often, and what changes they've made through revision history.  If a student deletes another student's work (by mistake, of course) then you can go back to revision history and reload the work from that moment.  

Tips for Using Google Forms
1.  This is one of the most simple, yet underused, Google tools ever.  First here's how to create one.  Go to create>form.  Yes that's it.  Choose your style and give it a title.  You'll have to experiment with the types of questions you want to use but you can view the live form as you go to make sure everything looks just the way you want it to.  So easy!  Make sure when you publish that you pay attention to how you share the form (I usually do public so everyone can complete it).

2. Create a Google form for back to school information.  Click on this example to see how I created a Google form for back to school and volunteering (please don't fill it out!)

3. Use Google forms as a simple way to assess students.

Tips for Researching While Creating
1. When you are working on a document or presentation in Google Docs you can highlight a text, right click, and select research.  When you do this, a window will appear on the right with articles, images, etc about the text you highlighted.

2. When that window appears, teach students how to pull down the arrow at the bottom of the search text and select "free to use, share, and modify" so we are teaching students important copyright rules.

3. If you like a picture, drag it into your presentation.  IT WILL AUTOMATICALLY CITE THE SOURCE FOR YOU!

I hope you found these tips helpful!  What Google tricks do you use?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Task Cards

If you have never used task cards you are missing out!  They are so motivating for students and it gets kids up and moving.  Plus, it's so simple!  There are several ways to use them.  Here are some of my favorite Kagan strategies I like to use with my kiddos...

1. Inside/Outside Circle
2. Fanned Pick
3. Showdown
4. Quiz/ Quiz/ Trade

Read a short description of each of these strategies here

Some of my favorite places to purchase task cards are from Rachel Lynette and Teaching with a Mountain View.  There are a ton of resources on Teachers Pay Teachers from other fabulous sellers as well.  You can also find these strategies used in my Math ResourcesScience Resources, and Even Vocabulary.

How do you use task cards in your room?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Ten Summer Projects for Next School Year

Whew...sorry for the hiatus. I had to spend a few days away from all things having to with school! Now, I am already re-energized for next year and I have been spending far too much time on Pinterest. I thought I would make my to do list public so I am more likely to complete it! Hope you like some of these ideas!

1. Purchase new fabric and borders to give my room a more consistent look. I already have so many primary colored buckets and organizational things so I thought I would foster that theme. Here's an image of a classroom that is inspiring this theme from flipflop teacher. You must check out this link to see images of all sorts of themes.  Be ready to stay a while!

2. Make new seats for my small group table. I love these made from crates, board, foam, and fabric. They look simple enough to make and I think they will look beautiful!
 3. Make some more decorations to help bring the theme together.  I found this great tutorial to make these tissue paper pom poms and I think they will bring the whole room together.
4.  I love this idea for Zap.  I plan to make a board and use it for reviewing any concept throughout the year.  Easy-peasy!
5. Check out this image for back to school night.  I love it and plan to set up student desks to look just as welcoming.  I already ordered magnetic buisiness cards from Vistaprint with my school phone number and email so parents have easy access to them all year long (hopefully I won't regret that!)
6.  Finish preparing my materials for my small group work for reading and writing workshop.  Hands down this has been the best project I started last year and I can't wait to simplify my life with these next year.
7. Set up assessment binders and plans to help students understand standards-based grading. I already made these free posters and found a great tool to help students track progress from Miss Nanini.
8. Set up a complete writing workshop center and prepare for a successful year by using my new posters to establish routines.
9. Make room for a back to school rules wall.  I love this idea from Pinterest and plan to use it with my students in August.

10. Spend some time learning the Next Generation Science Standards for third grade so I can make sure I am ready for a great year of inquiry-based science.

I also plan to have a little fun this summer with my beautiful kiddos!  What huge projects are you planning to tackle this summer?