Traveling Through Writing

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I’m super excited to have found my class pen pals across the country. Our pen pal class is in Virginia. From the communication I have had with the teacher, it sounds like we have similar socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. A perfect fit!

This week the class wrote letters introducing themselves to their pen pals. They used their descriptive writing skills to describe what they look like. Their hope is that their pen pal will be able to use their descriptions to draw a picture that resembles them.

They also told their pen pals what they like to do, and they asked them what they like to do. They are looking forward to finding out how life for a fifth grader across the country is similar and different from their own lives!

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The Homework Dilemma

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H-O-M-E-W-O-R-K.  Tired or assigning, collecting, and correcting the standard workbook sheets? It works fine for the students that put effort into it and/or have the family support to go over it. However, I was noticing an increasing trend of just quickly scribbled answers in order to avoid recess detention. I decided that I needed to make a change.

So, this summer I took a closer look at how I have always assigned homework and revamped it. My objective for assigning homework is for my students to apply what we learned at school that day. I also want them to use their reading, thinking, and writing skills. So this year I am using a homework notebook instead of worksheets.

Once a week I sit down to lesson plan, and I write reflective  homework questions as I write my lesson objectives. Then I print a daily sheet of questions per team.  Every day my students cut and paste their homework questions into their spiral bound notebook. At home they have to read the questions, solve the problems, and explain their thinking. The next morning they discuss their answers with their teammates while I check that their homework was completed. Then we go over the answers whole class and they correct their work if needed. It has been a learning curve for all of us. However, the payoff makes it worth it.

What I like about my new homework procedure:

* Students are more engaged (cutting and gluing) when putting homework materials together.

* Students need to pay attention to the lesson in order to answer their homework questions.

* Students are reading, thinking, and writing.

* There is peer coaching/teaching involved when discussing homework answers.

* Students enjoy discussing their answers with their team and the class.

* Students must still participate in team and class homework discussions even if they are unprepared.

* The number of students coming to school with completed homework assignments has increased.

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How do you assign your homework? What are your thoughts on homework?

Building Pyramids Through Team Work

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I am lucky enough to work with some amazing kids. They vary in socio-economic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, social development, and academic ability levels. There are twenty-eight mainstreamed students in my class, and two students that visit my classroom through an inclusion program.

In order to keep my classroom running smoothly, I need to incorporate team building and class building activities. Many of my ideas stem from Kagan Classbuilding Cooperative Learning Activities and Kagan Teambuilding Cooperative Learning Structures.

My class is set up in groups of four. Each group is assigned a different color. Within each group, each student is assigned a number: 1, 2, 3, or 4. I use these colors and numbers to help set up learning structures and jobs.

This week’s teambuilding challenge came from Science Gal, and she got the activity from a FOSS training.

Each team needs: 6 plastic cups, 1 rubber band, and four strings (each 24 inches long)

The challenge: Each team moves cups from a “wall of cups” (length of 3 cups, height of 2 cups) to a “pyramid of cups” (3 on the bottom, 2 in the middle, 1 on top).

All of my teams were able to accomplish the task. Early finishers were given the task of putting the cups back to their original state. They had a blast!

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Class Test Data Analysis

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Call me silly, but I enjoy statistics.  I use it often in my classroom. I find that it is a powerful teaching tool, and it helps me get a better idea of what my class understands.

After every test, I analyze data to determine if I need to reteach, teach certain academic vocabulary, and/or teach test taking skills. I also use it to identify which students need extra support or intervention.

First, I make a list of the problems by number and I tally the number of incorrect answers. Problems that a lot of students missed get a closer look. Was it a fair question? Did they miss it because they didn’t read the directions? Did they miss it because they didn’t understand vocabulary? Did they make silly mistakes or are they not able to apply the skill being tested?

Here’s an example of our first Math test on place value. There were four standards being assessed: reading and writing whole numbers to the billions, reading and writing decimals to the thousandths, ordering and comparing whole numbers, and ordering and comparing decimals.

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Next, I make a note of students that need extra support on each standard, and I create a line plot for each standard. This gives the class and I a nice visual of how they did. When I share the data with my class, we determine the range, median, mode, and mean together. Then we discuss what the data means when applied to our learning.

My students also write reflections on their test performance and graph their results. They keep their reflections and graphs in a data binder.

Buddies are the Best

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This week my fifth graders met their second grade buddies! They spent time interviewing each other and getting to know each other.

I enjoy buddy classes. I feel they are great for character education. Buddies work on the character traits of compassion, responsibility, respect, and integrity.

Our buddy classes are going to work on building reading fluency using Scholastic’s Partner Poems for Building Fluency.  In the spring, buddies will be citing a poem in a performance. We’re looking forward to an academic, fun, and rewarding experience.

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Building Character Through Animal Care

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Meet Tiger. Our class adopted him from Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). He’s a one year old neutered male tiger tabby cat. Students will be taking turns caring for Tiger in the classroom and tracking his experiences in a journal.

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ARF visited my class for their All-Stars Program this week. This two day program focused on the character traits of responsibility, respect, and compassion while teaching about animal care. The class also got to meet a therapy dog named Lucy.

We will be visiting ARF in a couple of weeks to tour their facility, meet new animals, and learn more about animal care.