August 19, 2016

Back to School Shopping

Back to School shopping is a necessary part of the school year.  Like report cards, full-moon-Fridays, and wiggly students... it just cannot be avoided!  I have love/hate relationship with back to school shopping.  I love the shiny new things:  the fresh notebooks, the reams of unused paper, the unused smelly markers...   But somehow I always come home with way more than I intended.

Please tell me I'm not alone here?!  Does anyone else frantically try to hide back-to-school items around there house in a way that makes it less obvious?  I feel like a small-scale hoarder of all things classroom related.  I have bulletin board borders under my couch, book bins in my closet, and new novel sets in my car.  (Shhh, don't tell my wonderful hubby!)



I got together with some of my favourite teacher-authors to brainstorm our favorite back-to-school purchases:

  • Smelly Markers (every anchor chart should smell like mint and lemon)
  • Chart paper with invisible lines (to make those anchor charts!)
  • A new teacher tote bag (you have to treat yourself)
  • Good quality pencils (the cheap ones just won't cut it!)

Even after a summer of planning and creating, there is always more curriculum to organize as well.  And that can get expensive.  Making sure that school works for a classroom filled with different kinds of learners does not come in a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

Thank goodness for Teachers Pay Teachers and it's endless supply of affordable curriculum.

But even "affordable" can add up.  So a few of us teacher-authors and bloggers have banded together to give away a $30 gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers.  We know teaching is a work of heart - and we want to help.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Let us know in the comments below what you would do with a $30 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card!






Genius Hour in Elementary

Last year, I did my very first Genius Hour in my third grade classroom.  For those who have never heard of Genius Hour, it is a student-directed hour of independent projects that was based on Google's 80/20 philosophy of work.  (More on that here, plus a great video to show parents and kids!).  It gives students a chance to explore their passions and interests and allows them to develop a lifelong love for learning.  It also helps to hone research and presentation skills in a way that is 'outside of the box' and creative.



Most of the blogs I had read ahead of time seemed to use Genius Hour in the upper elementary, middle, and high school grades.  Looking back, I wonder if I was crazy to try it with eight year olds.

Maybe I was.

At times, it was insanely chaotic.  I definitely 'bit off more than I could chew' and it was a lot more work than I anticipated. But it was such an overwhelming success with my students that I am set on doing it again this year, and learning from the parts that I was ill-prepared for.

Most of the work came from being under-prepared.  I hadn't fully thought through what it would take to prepare seven, eight, and nine year-olds for independent work.  Yes,  they are capable of it... but it takes scaffolding and intentional instruction to give them the tools to succeed!  

So, learning from my mistakes, here are four tips for a smoother, well-planned Genius Hour in Elementary!

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip One:  Model Everything


One of the most valuable things I learned in leading Genius Hour in third grade was to model all pieces of the process.  Instead of telling my students to come up with a topic, I participated in Genius Hour alongside them and verbalized my thinking process out loud.

"What kinds of things am I interested in, I'll write them down!  The ocean, hockey, running, cooking.  I love to build stuff.  When I was at the ocean I saw a family flying the most amazing kites, and they were doing loops.  It was so interesting."

I didn't just say "List the things you are interested in," I demonstrated how I would come up with some topics.

In future lessons, I explicitly taught how to turn my ideas into an essential question.

"I love kites and the ocean," became my Genius Hour question "How do you build a kite?"

Genius Hour is driven by an essential question that students work each week to solve through research and hands-on exploration.  (Each question cannot be solved by a simple Google search).

Eventually, I even gave a complete Genius Hour presentation.  This way, my students were not caught off-guard by what I expected from a presentation.  I built a simple kite in front of my students, and showed what I had learned on a step-by-step poster.


Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Two:  Narrow Down Presentation Options


I have found that in older grades, students are so excited by the idea that they can choose any way that they want to show what they have learned.  The world is their oyster!

However, when I tried this in Third Grade, most of my class looked at me like a group of deer caught in headlights.  They were absolutely overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.

Should I do a poster?
What about a movie too?
Is a poster better than a movie?
I don't want to do a movie.
What if I code a video game?  I don't know what that means. But maybe my brother does.
Do I have to do all of the options?

I was ready to pull my hair out.  So we had a class meeting.

In our classroom we decided that everyone would have a small poster (I bought the poster board) that showed what they learned, and then they could also have a small model or project if they wanted.

I would suggested narrowing down the options for how Genius Hour can be presented in lower elementary.  As always, allow some students to go 'above and beyond' as they are ready and feel prepared, but don't make this the standard for all students.


Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Three:  Simple Ways to Keep Students Accountable


Genius Hour is only one hour long. It seems like a lot but it will fly by.  To keep students accountable I used a very simple Work Log where students simply answered the question "What did you do today?"  At times, all they would write down was: I colored my poster.  And that was enough!  Don't waste valuable time filling in a work log when you could be working on Genius Hour.




Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Four: Check with Parents


This was one of the things that I learned in retrospect.  I allowed students to choose any project of their choice without checking-in at home that each project was o.k. with their families.

It didn't go well for us.

Students assumed that they had access to a computer when they didn't.  Or access to a poster board when they didn't.  Or even a ride to the public library when they didn't.

This year, when my students create their Genius Hour plan, they will also need to have a parent/guardian sign off to make sure that their plan is reasonable.  I don't want to put any undue stress on parents or families, and hope that each project is one that my students can do (mostly) independently.

This years' project plan has a parent approval and suggestion section!  Much needed after last year.  



I've taken all that I learned and created a completed guide for Genius Hour in lower elementary.  It has teaching guides, a day plan, a week-by-week timelines, student worksheets, and rubrics.  Check it out. Hopefully your Genius Hour can run smoothly right from the start!  




Have you ever done Genius Hour in your classroom?  Share your best tip below!

August 11, 2016

Morning Routine in Third Grade

In Third Grade the morning routine is one of the most important parts of the day.  It sets the tone for the day and is one of the most valuable 'chunks' of time.   I've found that students are never more 'alert' than in those first 45 minutes.  While every school, grade, and district may have their own required morning activities, these are the routines and procedures that I have found to be the most effective.



Third Grade Morning Routine:  Don't Over Plan


I can remember my first year of teaching Third Grade.  I tried to do it all.  I had a morning routine that was 5-6 items long:  grammar, cursive writing, close reading, math facts, spelling, vocabulary... we did it all!  But we did not do it well.  I could not figure out why almost every student was doing average (at best) on each section of the morning routine.  No one was "mastering" anything, and I felt like I was constantly trying to re-teach concepts.  Not to mention the piles and piles of marking!

I found that to make the most of our mornings I had to seriously cut down on the number of things that we were trying to accomplish.  Instead of trying to do it all, I picked which pieces were the most important.

So I cut it down.  By more than half.  And it totally worked.  Instead of floundering in piles of work, my students began totally ROCKING the few assignments they were given.

I suggest choosing no more than 2 or 3 individual assignments each morning.  (Some of my 'fast finisher' students work on a bonus project when they are done, but for the majority of the class this is the perfect amount of work.)   Each morning my students walk in and independently begin:  spelling practice, a quick morning grammar, and cursive writing.  And I love the look on their faces when they begin to feel successful at each!

Third Grade Morning Routine:  Teach It


It's so important to make sure to explicitly teach each part of your morning routine.  Don't assume that students will "just know" how you want them to complete their grammar and vocabulary practice:  teach them to do it, and do it painfully slowly.  

In my class, we spend the first month doing our "morning routine" as a whole class, and I model each part of our morning routine multiple times.

Using my document camera I will walk students through how to practice their spelling (including where it goes when they are done!),  how I would like their grammar to be completed, and the proper formation of each day's cursive letter.

As students are ready I will gradually move from instruction to guided practice.  Here, I will write the instructions on the board and gently remind off-task students what I am expecting.



Third Grade Morning Routine:  Keep it Consistent


In my third grade classroom, consistency is key.  I make sure that every morning has almost the same routine so that students always know what to expect when they walk in the room.  I try not to change up our morning routine without a ton of notice, and I find that students respond very positively to the consistency.

When students come in each morning I write their "Morning Work" on the whiteboard along with a short cheerful message.  As each student files in they quickly glance at the board to read the message and see which supplies they will need.

One of the things I developed for my class last year was a Grammar Practice Book that specifically covered the grammar and writing skills that I felt were the most vital to third grade.  Take a peek here and see if it might be helpful for your class.



Do you have any specific things you love  in your morning routine?  Anything that always works?  What about any utter disasters?  I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!