Saturday, April 12, 2014

Using Google Docs in the Classroom

Hi everyone!  I'm excited to be participating in Bright Ideas again today!  This time, I'm starting a new video series on using Google Docs in the classroom.  I've used it in a few different ways, and I thought I'd share some tips and tricks I've learned along the way.  I also thought it'd be a good way for me to learn some new things as well.

Today's video shares some basics on Google Docs.  I also show you how I use it to do online quizzes for my students.  I try to walk you through step by step so if you're a first time user, you can follow along with the video.  I get a little tongue tied toward the end, and you can hear my dog running around in the background distracting me, so I apologize if I get a bit confusing there.

I plan on sharing how I also do a bit of automatic grading using the same system on a later post.  If you use Google Docs, or after you've tried this out, I'd love to hear some ideas/tips that you've found, or if you want to know if something is possible to do.  Be sure to follow my blog to see additional videos and other tips and strategies.  You can sign up at the bottom of this post.

Don't forget to go through many of the other posts in this great linky!  I know it's a bit daunting to see all of them, but that's why we listed grade levels in the titles.  I'd love to hear your feedback on our new format and if you're missing the hop portion!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday Website: Front Row

Click the image above to go to all of my other Wednesday Website posts.

It's been a few weeks since I've shared a new site with you on Wednesday Website, but this week I'm back with my new FAVORITE website!  

Let me start by explaining the technology that we have available to us.  In our class we have 6 ancient computers that sometimes work, and sometimes don't.  The computers are at least 10 years old, at least.  I am unable to update the browsers or any plug ins.  They sometimes don't turn on, or the keyboard or the mouse will suddenly stop working.  I'm pretty technologically knowledgeable but other than making sure things are plugged in, my knowledge of hardware is lacking.  We also go to the lab once a week for 30 minutes.  Those computers are 10+ years as old as well.  I have a tablet and a projector (thanks to DonorsChoose!) that I can use to teach from, but that's all we have.  It makes incorporating technology and keeping the kids engaged pretty difficult.  But, we make the best of it.  So when I find a website we're able to use and use well, it makes me incredibly excited.  This one has changed our math program.  Seriously.

I originally heard about Front Row after Erin from Kleinspiration did a post about it.  I decided to sign up and try it out with my kids.  After my kids used it a couple times, they fell in love with it, and I fell in love with it.  We use it during our math block every. single. day.  It's a center and it allows kids to work on the math strand we're working on, but at their level.  Essentially, it allows me to give kids 30 minutes of differentiated practice at their level, and it takes virtually no work on my end.  That's life-changing in a teacher's world right there.  You can work directly on the website or they have an app available in the Apple store if you're lucky enough to have iPads at your disposal.  

Let me show you how it works.

First, you register yourself as a teacher using your email address.  If you register using me as a referral you can get access to EVERY math domain for FREE.  Yes, FREE.  
Click on the registration and get yourself set up.  Once you've verified everything, you'll be taken to your dashboard.  There will be a red bar across the top asking for your referrer in order to unlock all of the domains.  I'm sorry I don't have a visual because I'm all set up.  You can't miss it.  That's where you enter my email address.  It's my work email address since I set my account up as my teacher self not my blogger self.  Please don't spam my work email address.  Please.  Take out the spaces if you're copying/pasting{I used those to try and stop the spam robots from getting to me.}

tmaguire @

Once you are registered yourself then you type in each of your students' names to register them.  Just first and last name.  Quick and painless.  I think you can even import them from Excel, but it didn't take me very long to just type them in.  You will be given a class code that students will use to sign in.  My kiddos tell me they only had to type it in the first time they used that specific computer.  Bonus!  I have it on the chalkboard above my computers that I made with website notes so if the kids ever need it, they have it handy.

Here are some things the students see on their end.  This is the sign in page.

Then direct students to which domain you'd like them to practice in.  This is my favorite part.  We have been working on fractions the last few weeks so the kids have been in fractions.  We're going back to area and perimeter after break so I had the kids do a bit of work in Measurement.  

The first time a kid works in a domain they take the diagnostic test.  This assesses where the kids are at with this specific math strand.  It allows you to differentiate for the kids without having to do any additional work.  It finds out where they are, and works on those specific standards, no matter the grade. 

Another awesome tool is the video.  If a kid is struggling or not understanding a specific concept, they can click on the little "play" button on the left toolbar and a quick teaching video pops up to explain the concept.  Amazing.  Unfortunately, our ancient computers can't seem to get this to work.  Lucky for me, my kids don't mind.  They'll just sometimes ask me for help or will ask a friend if they get really stuck.
It also allows them to use manipulatives and scratch paper directly in the program.  I do have to keep an eye on a couple kids to make sure they aren't just playing around, but most of the kids are completely engaged.

You see that little coin on the top?  Kids collect coins each day for their work.  When they enter in the program it gives a leaderboard for the daily coin collection.  My kids LOVE it.  They are so excited to share with me how many coins they've earned each day.  What do they do with those coins?  Nothing.  Just earning the coins has kept them interested and excited about what they're doing.  My kids seriously CHEER when I tell them to get on Front Row.  

Here are some of my favorite features from a teacher viewpoint.

Once you're signed in you can see your dashboard with a toolbar on the left.  Here is a look at the Analysis section.
In this section, you choose a standard within the domain you're working on.  It shows your students' performance on that standard.  This is my students' work with 3.NF.3d (don't be confused by the KCC1 in the drop down.  That's just for me to choose the next standard).  I'm quickly able to see who isn't working up to that standard yet, and who has advanced.  I've blocked out my student names but they are in that white box.

Another cool feature is the Report Card.  Here, you select the grade level's standards that you want to see and everything on the screen is sorted by student.  Here is one of my student's report card.

This is a second grade view of the measurement standards.  This is where he's working on this strand.

And this is where he's working on the 3rd grade fraction standards. 

 Another cool feature is the printables.  You're able to choose if you would like to print an individualized printable for a specific strand so you get one for each student at their level.  Or, you can choose printables for specific strands. 
In full discretion I do want to say that these printables are not very eye catching, and they could use some improvement to be a bit more student friendly.  But, in a pinch they're quality work.  And, it's free. 

One last awesome feature is that each week you get an email with information on how your students did that week.  I'm pretty sure someone does this work and it's not automated.  Either way, it's a really nice feature.

I blocked out my student names, but this shows you the information you get each week.  It's nice because it gives you that quick and painless reminder on the kids you need to check in with and maybe talk with about their effort during that time.

You also can print out parent sign ups so parents can get information on their kid's performance.  I've not used this yet so I'm not sure the frequency or anything.

I truly, truly love this program and love how easy it allows me to differentiate for my kids!  If you're already using it I'd love to hear about it!
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Monday, April 7, 2014

Tessa's Designs and Some Updates

I have been away from blogging the last month or so.  It was the end of the quarter and we had report cards and conferences.  I've had a cold that won't go away.  And spring just has seemed to be refusing to arrive, thus putting a damper on my spirits.  I have been busy in other ways though.

I don't think I've shared here before, but a while back in December, I decided to open a second TpT store.  I was making more and more clip art, digital papers, and borders, and I didn't want to clutter up my teaching store.  I've been slooooowly transitioning everything over.  I've updated older products before I've added them to my new shop, and I've uploaded some brand new ones as well.
If you click that image, you can be taken to my store.

Here are some of my newest additions from this weekend

 Four digital paper packs in similar patterns and colors.  These are great for spring and Easter themed products.

I also updated my borders sets that I had in my store.  I took out a few borders and added a few more and regrouped them before uploading.  I love these because they're skinny and leave a ton of room for workspace on printables.

You can win any one of these of your choice.  Details are at the bottom of this post.

I also had the opportunity to check out these awesome Twist Erase Pencils and Office Pens from Pentel courtesy of
 Shoplet offers virtually any office supply you may need and are cheaper than other places.  I look there when I'm school supply pricing and find tons of great deals.  They also offer other promotional productspromotional shirts, and office stationary.
Like every other teacher I know, I'm a big fan of mechanical pencils.  I loved the feel of these and they are now in competition with the pencils I normally use.  The lead comes in 0.5 and 0.7 weights so you can get the thickness you like.  I loved the feel of the rubber section at the top, and I love how smooth they wrote.
 I'm most excited about these EnerGel retractable gel pens.  When I was in high school, gel pens were all the rage!  Everyone had as many of them as they could find.  In reality, though, they were thick and difficult to write with, and turned me off of gel pens.  These, however, are awesome!  They also come in 0.5 and 0.7 tips!  And, as all good gel pens should, they come in a variety of colors.
Hopefully this can help you see the slight differences in the weights while writing.  I loved how smooth these pens wrote.  These are DEFINITELY my new favorite pens!  I'll need to pick them up in a few additional colors though.

Don't forget to enter to win any item from my Tessa's Designs clipart shop!  Enter using the Rafflecopter below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Freebies

I've been gone from blogging for a few weeks.  It's the end of the quarter, testing season, I've been sick, and things have just been a mess.  I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things soon.

In the meantime, I'm over on the Owl-Ways be Inspired blog today, sharing some Easter themed freebies.  Click the image below to head on over and check it out.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Look: Freedom River

I've decided to do a new, regular feature on my blog called Book Look.  There are SO many fantastic trade books out there that it's so hard to know about all of them.  Plus, new ones keep coming out.  I thought it would be fun to share many of them with you.  I already have a Children's Books tab on my website, but I'm terrible at updating it, so this will help me stick to it.  Plus, so many books can fit in so many categories that it's hard to organize, and this will allow me to explain all the things you can do with each book.  I'm planning on posting these Book Looks on Mondays, so you'll know when to be on the lookout for them.

Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport is an engaging book about slavery and a path to freedom through the Ohio River.  It is a true story of one hero of the Underground Railroad, John Parker, and his journey into Kentucky to help an African-American family escape to freedom.  It, rightfully, is the winner of the Coretta Scott King award for Non-Violent Social Change.

The text is written in a unique way in that certain words in the text are written large and in bold. They emphasize the feeling, and helps students really experience the text. Because of this, it's phenomenal to use as a mentor text in writing for adding Voice.

In addition to using this text to talk about the Underground Railroad and all of the heroes involved, this text gives you a mentor text for talking about helping others.  I'm using it this week as we focus on kindness and bucket filling in our classroom and we are going to use John Parker as an example of someone who stood up for what was right, at the risk of himself.  It is also a great text for teaching character traits as there are so many characters that can be described from John Parker, to the slaves he saves, and to the people standing in their way.

Have you used this book in your classroom?  If so, I'd love to hear other ideas of how it can be used.

Also, I'm throwing a little giveaway over on my Facebook page tonight!  You can enter to win any item of your choosing from my store.  Hurry and enter!  Follow me on Facebook for lots of flash freebies and giveaways!

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

3rd Grade Story Problems for March

We finished up our first round of state testing this week, and have our next test coming up the following week.  As much as I felt I had given my kids enough practice with story problems, I apparently hadn't, because many of them did not do as well as I had expected on the math test.  Of course, this was just from over the shoulder peeking, but the first thing that jumped out was that I didn't see them doing the strategies we've talked about.   I didn't see crossing out and underlining and circling.  I didn't see them "attack" the problem like we practiced.  I did see some deer in headlights looks though.

For a while, our plan was to spend a day a week on story problems.  Unfortunately, when it came down to it, and we missed so many instructional days due to weather, it just didn't happen.  And it's hard to give up a day for story problems when we are already spending a day on an algebra readiness program (that I love and love that time).  That would basically leave us 3 days to teach.  And it just didn't work.

So on our snow day on Wednesday, yes, a snow day in March, I brainstormed.  I decided I wanted to do a story problem every day.  I wanted some days to be simple for students.  And I wanted some days to really push them.  I want them to work together to build their strategies and I want them to feel more comfortable with story problems.

I created this monthly themed set, around spring ideas and St. Patrick's Day, as a way to do a daily practice.  I figured I'd see how this worked out, and if I liked it, I'd probably create similar ones for each month of the school year.

One big idea I focused on this set was the rigor.  These are HARD.  They aren't so much meant to be independent practice for my third graders.  They're meant to force students to try strategies to come to an answer.  They're meant to be used as a discussion piece, and maybe, just maybe, the kids will get the right answers.  Sometimes.  I did vary the levels of difficulty.  If it was too hard every day, the kids would give up, or not even try.  Some days most kids will be successful on their own.  Some days most kids will not be successful on their own.  And that's okay.  But I do want to use it as an opportunity to have the students teach each other, and hear the tools and strategies their peers are using.

I have 4 pages for free in the PREVIEW link on TpT.  Just click that, and then the arrow to download, so you can try a few of them out with your students.  Click on any of the pictures to head to my TpT store.

I'd love to hear what you think about them, or what you do to help students with story problems in your classroom.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday Website: GoNoodle

Click the image above to go to all of my other Wednesday Website posts.

It's been a few weeks since my last WW post, but I'm back with a great one.  Have you heard of GoNoodle?

It's a free site that lets you build Brain Breaks into your day.  I've been using it the last couple weeks to make sure I'm actually doing breaks in the day, and I've loved it so far!

They have a few different kids of videos.  We're huge fans of doing the kids Zumba videos because it shows the kids movements to do.

Basically, you log into your class, click play, and then choose a video to do.  You earn those minutes to increase your champ level (the bubbly purple graph on the side).  When it's full, your "guy" gets an upgrade.  My kids go absolutely NUTS when the character gets bigger and more muscular.  These are third graders who often think they're too cool for most things school, but they love this.

2 days a week we have no specials.  Thanks to the winter from my nightmares (3rd snowiest in the recorded history of Chicago), we've had a ridiculous amount of indoor recess days this year.  This has helped my sanity the last couple weeks, and I wish we had started using it earlier.

This week, with state testing, we've taken 10 minute brain breaks before we move on to reviewing and I think it's helped the kids get a bit of a release.  55 minute testing sessions are a bit stressful for 8 year olds.

Do you use GoNoodle?  How have you implemented it in your room?

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Twist on Word Walls

I'm participating in another Bright Ideas blog hop today.  This time I'm sharing a different take on word walls.

I started this year in a new grade, in a new building, and of course wasn't as organized as I should be, even though I spent a ridiculous amount of hours at school this summer.  Once the school year started, I could not, for the life of me, figure out where my premade Word Wall words were.  I found the pre-purchased sets with words for the end of the year, but not the beginning.  For a couple months, my word wall sat empty.  It had a background, and letters, and a border, but no words.  It was a big, dramatic fail.

Right before break I had an idea.  Who says word walls must only be used with sight words?  Sure, that's the way I've always used it, but that doesn't have to be the only way.

I revisited prefixes and suffixes with my kids since they were introduced in younger grades.  I spent a bit of time talking about roots.  And then I drew this tree to show students how it all works together.
My artistic skills are lacking, but you get the picture. :)

Then, each week when we introduce the new spelling words, we talk about the prefixes, suffixes, or roots that are present in our words.  We use sentence strips to write what they are, what they mean, and words we already know that have them.

I'll apologize now for the low picture qualities.  This is up pretty high in my room.  I stand on chairs to hang up the new pieces but I could not get the right angles to get better pictures.  Also, the glare from my lights made things difficult because these are so close to them.  You get the picture though.

This is what it began to look like after just a couple weeks.
Here is what we used for tri.  The words we already knew were tricycle, triangle, and triple.

Here is a very blurry view of the parts we have for the letter e.

As third graders, we're reviewing and focusing on even simple suffixes like ing and ed.

I also use this to reinforce students on finding each part in authentic text.  If a student can find a word part in a word as they are reading and bring it to me with an explanation on what it means and what it does, then they earn a Smarty Pants point in our class management system.

Next year, I'm planning on incorporating this same idea with our word wall words as we add them each week.

To continue on the hop, click the button below to go to Flying into First to check out a great post on using the 100's chart.
Flying into First Grade

And, just like last time, instead of hopping through, you can use the linkies below to go to the posts.  They are separated by K-2, and 3+.  They're randomized so they'll look different on each blog, but there's a fancy new check mark now after you've clicked one.  I love that new feature!

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