Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: February 2015

Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapters 1 & 2

I am so excited to join this fabulous book study! We are reading and responding to the book Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites by Marcia Tate. I was drawn to the book because this is my first year using Whole Brain Teaching. The book seems to align to the Whole Brain Teaching philosophy.

A dendrite is the part of the nerve cell that transfers information to other parts of the nerve cell. The more dendrites that are made, the faster information will travel and the more information that can be stored. (Thanks to my nurse husband for explaining this to me!) Let's just be real, worksheets don't grow the brain. Worksheets are quick and easy, but don't allow students the opportunity to grow their dendrites!

This book includes 20 different strategies to engage the brain. Today, I am looking at the first two strategies.

The first strategy is about brainstorming and discussion. The chapter opens with this quote, "They can't talk in class. They can't talk in the hall. They can't talk in the hallway. They can't talk at all!" GULP! That is so true of our schools! Tate goes on to talk about the fact that when you talk, you take in oxygen. The oxygen is necessary for brain development. How many of use have students in our class that are breathing, but just barely?

In previous years, I would have been a big offender of not letting students talk. This year, I have been using the Whole Brain Teaching strategies in my classroom. I use the Teach/Ok strategy at least 4-5 times per every lesson. I give the students lots of opportunities to talk and share. I have actually found that this leads to less of the disruptive talking at inappropriate times. It has also increased student comprehension and understanding.

I am in love with my morning work procedure. Students have a math activity to complete. After 5-10 minutes, I ask students to teach their strategies to their partner. It is so amazing to listen to them as they teach! I rarely have to go over our bell work as a whole group, because partners have caught errors and taught the correct strategies already. I also allow students lots of time to talk and share during reading and math small groups. Sometimes students are asked to work and share with their partner, while other times they are sharing with the group. Writing is another fantastic time for  sharing. We use the Lucy Calkins units of study. Our lessons often start with the opportunity for students to orally rehearse their stories with their partner. Then, I end our writing time with an opportunity to share something they wrote with their partner. Students love this. It really validates their writing if they know someone is hearing it.

I still have room to grow. I am the first to admit that I am OCD. I need silence in order to think and process my thoughts. Some of my students are the same way. Others need noise! I need to loosen up just a tad on my small group volume. I have been known to say "Stop giggling!" when students were playing math games. Not cool! Having fun while working on math is a GOOD thing. I need to remind myself of this! Another area that I would like to improve upon is my lesson closings. I love when  we take the time to share with our partner about what we learned. Sadly, time often gets away from me and this step is skipped. I will work on it!

The second strategy that Tate introduces is drawing and artwork. Using art increases a student's creativity. Art can be used to help increase comprehension and engagement.

The biggest way that I include art in my every day lessons is through the use of interactive notebooks. We use them in math, reading and social studies. They give students the opportunity to cut, sort and glue. This engages the brain and helps students to retain more of the information that they are learning.

I have also started using math menu boards for my enrich students. These projects allow them to create games, posters and videos to show their understanding of a particular topic.

I often spend time on Fridays doing science and social studies themed art projects. We display them on our walls and have a special open house for parents to come and enjoy.

I like to do math crafts. However, I am the first to admit they they are only squeezed in occasionally! My favorite craft is my area and perimeter robot craft.

I have some room to grow in this area as well. I want to make more time for my kids to illustrate their writing. I have not been good about this! NEED MORE TIME!!! I also love one of the ideas that Tate gave. She suggested hanging butcher paper along one wall and setting out markers. As students come in the room, they can illustrate and example to show something they learned from the previous day. This sounds like a fabulous warm up! I must institute this activity at least once per week!

Stay tuned for the next two chapters! I would love it if you ordered the book and read along with me. You won't be disappointed.

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10 Ways to Use Task Cards for Test Prep

It is that time of year- the dreaded test prep season. Sigh... I don't love testing. Who does? But I have found lots of way to make the test prep a little more fun. It's all about the TASK CARDS! 

I printed up a big stack of math and ELA task cards and then found lots of quick and fun ways to use them. Let me share 10 of my favorite ways to use task cards for test prep.

Let's face it- we don't have extra time in our day. Quick line-up activities are perfect for the busy classroom. When my class is getting ready to leave for recess, lunch or specials- I pull out a set of task cards. I show a card to one student at a time. As they answer correctly, they get to line up. If they get it wrong, they stay in their seat. If we have enough time, I can come back to those students who missed their question on the first round. The best part is that if we run out of time, I can just have the rest of the class line up as usual. No big deal! If that happens, I just start on the opposite side of the class the next time we line up. It is good practice, and it gives me a little glimpse into the skills and students that need reteaching.

I love to use a quick partner solve because it gives my students the opportunity to talk to one another and learn from each other. I also love that they don't require any prep! No copying or grading! I pass out one task card for every two students. I give them a minute or two to solve. Then we can share our answers. Sometimes I have them share with the whole class and sometimes I just have them share with the students nearby. You could also give every student a card. Give them a few minutes to solve their card and tun and share with their partner. Of course, I am intently listening to students so that I can make notes about students who need some reteach. Use it whenever you have an extra 2-3 minutes in your day.

To keep test prep engaging, I LOVE to throw in some games. Trashketball just happens to be my students' favorite game! It is super simple to play. All you need is a trashcan, ball, masking tape and task cards. I divide my class into two teams. I show the first person a task card. If they answer the question correctly, they automatically get 1 point for their team. Then they get to decide if they want to go for  2 points or 3 points. The 2-point line is a bit closer to the trashcan than the 3 point line. The player tries to throw the ball into the trashcan to earn bonus points for their team. The team with the most points at the end of playtime, is the winner.

Kids love competition and I use that simple fact to keep my test prep engaging. Testing is a Picnic is a fun FREE game that I created. It can be used with almost any skill or subject.

The class is divided into two teams. Students take turns answering questions from a set of task cards. If they get the question correct, they get to choose a card from the basket or bag. The card is like a point for their team UNLESS they draw an ant card! If a team draws an ant card, they must put all of their cards back in the basket! The team with the most cards at the end of playing time- is the winner! My student LOVE this game! And you can mix multiple sets of task cards up so that students are practicing different standards! 

You can download the FREE game by clicking HERE.

I use task cards in my math and reading centers all year. But, they are especially helpful during test prep!

During test prep, we use THESE math test prep centers. The set has 10 different centers that include task cards, sorts and other hands-on activities. They cover the trickiest third grade math skills so that my kiddos can get some extra practice!

Click HERE to check out my math test prep centers.

For reading, I created a similar type of resource. There are task cards that cover all of the major literature and informational text standards.

Click HERE to check out my reading test prep centers.

My students love to play jeopardy! And playing with sets of task cards allows me to customize the game to cover the skills that my students need to review the most. I use magnets to attach a pocket chart to my white board.

I choose different sets of task cards and pick 5 or 6 from each set. Each set is a different category on my game board. Just sequence them from easiest to the most challenging. Flip them over backwards and with a dry erase marker (on lamination) write $100-$500 on the cards.

I divide the class in half. Students take turns choosing a category and dollar amount. But I make all students solve the question on their white board. If all students are not working, then I will ask the opposing team to answer for the points.

Last year, I allowed my students to come in the classroom 30 minutes before school to play review jeopardy for the week prior to testing. I had more than half of my class there everyday! It is THAT fun! And they barely notice how much they are learning.

Test prep can get very stressful for students. Just imagine my kids' surprise when I announce that we are going to take some time out to play Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Jenga and Checkers! Of course, I add the task cards to give it that educational twist! Give each group a set of cards (easy to differentiate!). They keep them facedown. On their turn, a student flips a task card. If they answer the question correctly, they get to take their turn on the board game. The kids love it!

Exit tickets are a great way to get a quick idea of which students have mastered a skill and who still needs help. Instead of using paper and pencil, use task cards! Line your class up. As they are leaving, show them a task card (something that can be done mentally) and have them answer. If they get it correct, they leave. If they get it incorrect, I have them stand to the side and listen as others answer. When everyone has had one chance, I will give those who missed the first question a second try. I am also mentally memorizing the group so that I know who to pull for more practice tomorrow.

My first year teaching, my neighbor teacher taught me about entrance tickets. She called it "Price of Admission." It is just like an exit ticket, except the children are answering the question on their way in the room in the morning. It makes for a great warm-up. During bell work, you can pull those few strugglers for another mini lesson.

I use scoots all year long! During test prep, I do even more. The great thing about scoots is that students are up and moving around the room. Research about the way the brain works, indicates that we remember the most when we are moving. Plus, my sweet third graders get antsy if they have to stay in their desk for too long. I find that allowing them to scoot decreases the number of behavior issues.

There are different ways to do a scoot, but this is how I manage them in my classroom: All students are given a recording sheet. Then I lay the task cards out around the desks. Students are instructed to work on the card closest to them and then scoot around the desks answering all of the cards. They do not need to be answered in order. The student just needs to put the answer in the correct place on the recording sheet.

Everyone is working independently (although you could do a partner scoot if you wanted), so this allows me to scoot around with my intervention and SPED kiddos. I read the cards to them and help them find the correct place to answer on their recording sheets.

I often use scoots in place of a traditional assessments, so I usually collect the recording forms and grade them. This is a good way to know which students need more help and plan your small group intervention. Sometimes, depending on time and the skill, I will display the answer key and we will go over the answers as a class. My hope is that students are correcting their work and understanding their mistakes. Good review!

I got this idea from my blogging buddy, Amanda Wilp from The Primary Gal. I think it s brilliant.

As much as we try to meet every need of every student in our class, we have to admit we are only one person and there are a lot more of 'them." During test prep, I do my best to meet with small groups of students to work on a skill that I noticed they were struggling with. Sometimes, after meeting with the group, I still feel that a student needs more practice. Sometimes a parent is contacting me and asking for more practice for their child. Instead of searching through boring workbook pages, print out the black line version of a task card set and send it home with the answer key. Students can work through a few at a time with parent support. Parents could even hide them around the house to add some interest. Amanda said that some of her students actually use them to play pretend school. How awesome is that?

I hope that you were able to find some new and fun ways to incorporate test prep into your day! My biggest suggestion is to keep a set or two of task cards close by at all time. You might have a minute during restroom break time or five minutes before pack up time. It might only be enough for a card or two, but it is so much better than nothing!

Do you need some task cards to use for your test prep? I have dozens and dozens of sets for 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade. Click on the picture below to see them.

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February Pinterest Pick 3 Linky- Presidents Day

I am excited to be a part of this fun link up! I have chosen 3 of my favorite Pinterest finds for the classroom in February. Since I am a sucker for social studies, I am including some fun activities for Presidents Day.

My first pick is this adorable log cabin craft made with peanut butter, pretzels and crackers!

I am thinking that this could be turned into a STEM project after my kiddos read about Abraham Lincoln! I have some peanut allergies, so I intend to use frosting instead of peanut butter. Click on the picture to go to the pin. The site includes directions.

My second pick is a fun math and measurement activity with Abraham Lincoln!

Students can compare their height to the height of Lincoln. I would extend this activity and have kiddos measure each other in both metric and standard measurements. My kids need some measuring practice! 

My third pick is this great list with links to virtual field trips to learn about past presidents.

I am working hard to incorporate more technology into my classroom and these virtual field trips look like fun. Most of my kids will never have the opportunity to see The White House or Mount Vernon. It would be so meaningful to take a virtual field trip.

Check out the other pins that my blogging buddies have come up with!

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Science Fair

Let me start this post with a preface: I am not a scientist. I am not a science fair expert. You can disagree with me. My feelings won't be hurt. I am a teacher and a mother of four. I have seen, graded and helped to construct countless science fair projects. I have gotten frustrated, shed a few tears, done lots of research and learned a few things. I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

Before you assign a science fair project to your class, please ask yourself why you are assigning it. What is the purpose? I am not opposed to science fair. But I think it is important that as educators we have a purpose and a goal for these projects. Otherwise they can quickly turn into parent homework that causes undue stress on the family and fails to teach the student anything useful. I don't want that to happen in my classroom! If you are assigning the science fair project because you think it will be a fun way for parents to spend time with their children- DON"T DO IT! Parents have plenty of things they would like to do with their children. They don't need us sending home more to add to the to do list! On the other hand, if you are assigning a science fair project for the purpose of helping your students to learn about the scientific process, then continue on. But do so with care and always keeping the goal in mind!

Have you seen this picture from Pinterest?

Having 20-30 students completing different projects at the same time can be an organizational nightmare. It is really important to get organized before science fair season starts! I like to get everything that I will need printed, copied and filed in folders. That way I am never running to the copy room on my restroom break.

I break the science fair project up into six different due dates. There is nothing worse than getting a board at the very end and realizing that the question was more of a research project and the hypothesis didn't make sense. I want to be able to check in with my students throughout the process. For most of my third graders, this is their first true science fair experience. Breaking the project into small chunks also ensures that students are not waiting until the last minute to throw together the entire project. I give them all of the due dates at the start of the project. Some families choose to get the project done much quicker!

Since my students are going to be turning in pieces of the project several times during the process, I have them keep all of their work in one booklet. Now they can turn the entire booklet in and I can look back to remind myself what the question was.

After I read their work and approve it, I put my signature on it and they can start the next step. If they need to fix or change something, I write my thoughts and suggestions right in the book. Parents find this to be very helpful.

I encourage my students to keep this book in a page protector in their binder. Some teachers prep a folder for each student to keep their science fair materials.

Since I have six different due dates, I know that my students and their parents will need reminders. I am a parent. I forget A LOT! So, before science fair season begins, I print reminders for each of my due dates. I get them ready for the whole class ahead of time. They are ready to stick in my weekly files so that I don't forget to send the reminders.

I know that some of my kiddos will miss deadlines. It is just a fact that I have come to grips with and even plan for! Before assigning my projects, I make copies of my missing assignment reminders. I keep them handy. Anytime that a student misses a deadline, I write the piece that is missing (i.e. hypothesis, materials, etc.) and send it right home. I think it is critical to keep communication open with parents during this project.

I also keep my handy checklist nearby. This checklist is where I will record my students' names and check off when I have approved a portion of their project. I use a different color pen when part of the project was turned in, but turned in late. This will help me with assigning a grade at the end.

Speaking of grades, while I am in the copy room prepping, I go ahead and copy a rubric for each of my students. If you teach a younger grade, you may just grade based on participation and completion.

Now I am ready!

Let's chat about the question that your students are testing. It must be testable!!! This should not be a research paper! My own children have received suggested questions from their school that are completely impossible for an 8-10 year old to ever test.
How long does a star live? (Are you serious?!! Are they supposed to just stare at one star until it disappears?!)
What makes a volcano erupt? (We don't have a volcano in our backyard to test! This sounds much more like a research paper! Google it!)
What is acid rain? (Again, Google it!!! No test needed.)

Science fair questions should NOT be demonstrations. The scientist should be testing one thing to compare to another. Please know that when you google "science fair experiments," more of the suggestions are just demonstrations! Let me give you some examples:

How many water drops fit on a penny? (Demonstration)
Will a penny hold more tap water or salt water? (Experiment)

How long does it take for bananas to brown? (Demonstration)
Will bananas brown faster in the pantry, on the counter or in the refrigerator? (Experiment)

Questions should also be very specific. For example, my daughter is testing markers to see what brand lasts the longest. At first, she wrote her question like this: Which brand of markers last the longest? Many teachers would approve this question. However, I am the CRAZY parent and I made her go back and make it more specific. Now her question is: Which brand of markers will last the longest: Crayola, Rose Art or Up & Up? Now her question states exactly what she is testing!

I send a list of possible questions home with my students. This helps parents to understand what I am looking for in a question.

They will need to add brands to make the questions more specific. They can also write their own question. HOWEVER, all questions must be approved by me! I only allow one student to do a question. This gives our science fair more variety. I often have to work with a group of students who turn in research type questions or who did not get specific enough in their question. For this reason, I make my questions due very early in the science fair season.

A science fair experiment should have a purpose. What problem is the scientist solving? How will others be able to use their findings? I want my scientists to make useful discoveries, not JUST have fun. I remember doing an experiment in the third grade. We were testing how many drops of water fit on a penny. It was a blast. Clearly, I remember it all these years later! It was a great demonstration, but would have been a poor science fair experiment. Who cares how many drops of water fit on a penny? Instead, a student could test the effect of adding salt to the water. Does a penny hold more drops of tap water or salt water. The findings would teach someone about the effects of adding salt to water. This project now has a purpose.

Going back to my daughter's question, her findings will have a purpose. We will all know if it is worth forking out the extra money for the Crayola markers! Last year, one of my daughters tested different stain sprays to see which one worked the best. Her findings helped to know which product to buy.

Science fair projects are way too much work to not take away something valuable in the end.

I spend time teaching my students how a science fair board should look. I show them samples. We talk about what makes the board look good and what we would do differently. (It is handy that I have children who do science fair, because I can use their old boards!) I also send home suggestions and guidelines to the parents.

My suggestions:
-Type everything that is going to be on the board.
-Choose only 2-3 colors for your board
-Make sure all subtitles are large enough to be seen from several feet away.
-Use color pictures and/or graphs in your results section.
-Mat all of the titles and work on black (or another dark color) cardstock.
-Do not doodle or add decorations that don't relate directly to your project.
-Adding a catchy title is fun and can set your project apart from others.

Here are a couple pictures of boards that my own children have put together.

All of the printables that I use for science fair, along with additional resources for teaching the scientific process and awards, can be found in my Science Fair unit in my TpT store. Click on one of the pictures to go directly to the product.

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