Monday, December 29, 2014

Fall 2014 Reflections Part Two: Getting Started with Self-directed Learning

This is my 23rd year of teaching and, by far the most groundbreaking for me. This summer, through Twitter, I found out about Genius Hour.  I learned more through the many links on Twitter and the comprehensive Live Binder created by Joy Kirr. I regularly blog about our work this year with self-directed learning. In this two part reflection, I want to share excerpts from my posts with the focus of how we got started (Reflection Post 2) and then ongoing progress (Reflection Post 3). 

Self-directed Learning: Getting Started

I am very excited about incorporating self-directed learning into my curriculum. I work with two awesome fifth grade teachers who embraced the idea when I shared it with them. Great to not be doing this alone! 

We had two sessions where we got all the fifth graders together to brainstorm ideas and do an activity to see what a project might look like.

Now we are working with the students in our homeroom only. The students filled out a survey about their strengths, interests, life experiences, etc. They also listed whether they had an idea for a topic and project.

I have met with 8 students the past two days. Each initial student conference lasts about 10 minutes. It is time consuming in the beginning, but once they get going, the conferences will simply be me checking in on progress and facilitating learning/process. 

Self-directed Learning
Students are learning how to research their topic and are taking two column notes: main idea/details. Also, in their spirals, students are writing reflections about the process. This week, I have a surprise for my students. They will each have their own blog on Kidblog. This will raise the stakes for the kids since now their work will be seen by the world! I am hoping to share my students' work with my Twitter PLN  and Facebook friends and get some immediate feedback for students. Please read their blogs and leave positive comments!!

New Developments with SDL

Students are almost ready to start blogging about the process of self-directed learning. My teammates and I drafted a permission letter to parents explaining Kidblog and online safety guidelines. Students will get their passwords when they pass in the signed permission slip. 

It was exciting, earlier this week, when @joykirr contacted me through Twitter about putting my blog on the Genius Hour live binder. She also put me in contact with @robynthiessen who facilitates the Global Genius Hour Project.  Our self-directed learning blogs will be part of this project. Students around the world will see Room 16's blogs! We will be able to see others' blogs and share praise and feedback. I will explain this to my class tomorrow. They will be excited, I  am sure!

We have been lucky to have access to the computer lab the last two weeks. Not anymore. Time to get creative with laptop/ iPad accessibility.

Learning to draw

Building a Lego City

Ice Age Interests

Researching Goalie Jerry Cheevers

Sewing Project Runway Wannabe

Blogging Begins

On Friday, I gave my fifth grade students the blogging permission form and told them that they will get their passwords when they return the signed form. As of today, there is only one student who has not returned the form. Many are blogging and commenting. They love it!

Of the 20 forms I have received, only six parents did not sign permission for their students faces to be seen. That was surprising to me. I thought more parents would be wary of this. I was pleasantly surprised.

I am creating mini lessons to improve the quality of my students' blogs, as well as a kid friendly blogging rubric.

With Kidblog, I approve all blogposts and comments before the public sees them. I like having that safety net!

Please read my students' blogs and leave encouraging, helpful comments. If you have trouble getting on to the blog, please let me know. I may need to double check my settings. I think it is ready to go though!

We Have an Audience

Our progress with blogging is exciting! Students are thrilled to be getting comments from all over North America,  as well as the Bahamas and New Zealand! Our blog has over 4,000 views after one week of blogging!

Now that students see they have an audience, they are stepping up their game for sure! I am almost done with the blogging rubric. I shared it with my team and am revising based on their feedback. I will share it when done. I shared examples of great kid blogs and will be showing them how to cite sources next week after our overnight field trip. The rubric will also clarify what is expected and includes relevant standards.

Here are a few pictures that show examples of posts and comments, but please visit our site   read the blogs, and leave a comment! You will make their day! 

Blogging Rubric

Here is the blogging rubric that I created for my students' self directed learning blogs. It is a work in progress. I was inspired by an article I saw on Twitter, "Your Rubric is a Hot Mess: Here's How to Fix It," posted by Jennifer Gonzalez. The single point rubric is just brilliant! We tend to look at the "Meets" column while grading a rubric, so why not just have that on the rubric with space for not meeting and a space for exceeding. Our report cards are standards based anyway, so this is more organic/informative about each child's progress. As much as possible, I used the language on our report cards...common core standards. I recommend the article and feel free to use and tweak this rubric for your needs.

Blogging Rubric
Student: ____________________________                          Month: __________________

Room to Grow
Progress Towards Standard
On Target
Standards for this Performance
Above and Beyond
Evidence of Exceeding Standards
Criteria 1: 
Clear and Coherent Writing
The student clearly expresses original ideas and stays on topic. Writing is appropriate for the audience. Each post has at least 5 sentences.
Criteria 2: 
The student wrote at least one post a week. 
Criteria 3: 
Follows the Writing Process 
The student’s posts show improvement from planning to final draft due to drafting, revising, and editing. 
Criteria 4: 
Prod./Distribution of Writing
The student commented on other blogs at least once a week. If applicable, the student cited others in their research and writing.
Criteria 5: 
Use of Media
The student enhanced their blog by regularly using video, audio,   images or other media


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fall 2014 Reflections Part One: Classroom Setup and Book Talks

Due to summer professional reading, EdCamps, the Scholastic Reading Summit and Twitter sharing/chats, I have incorporated many changes in my classroom, as well as enhanced former practices. So at the calendar year end, I feel the need to reflect on this school year so far. 

Classroom Set Up
My blogposts about this topic: July 24, July 30, August 27, Sept. 11

After seeing many tweets from educators who had transformed their classrooms into creative working spaces, I was inspired to do the same. First, I got rid of my cumbersome teacher desk. It opened up a good amount of space in my room to have three tables. We didn't have enough tables to seat all students, so I kept some student desks and clustered them together to form two more "tables." The desks are turned around so that they are empty and easy to move around. Students have areas around the room for their materials and there are no longer messy desks to clean! This new setup created spaces around the room for students to work, not just at the tables/desks. Our classroom library has a larger hangout space now too.

Book Talks
My blogposts about this topic: July 17, Oct.17, and Nov. 26

Going to Alice Ozma's workshop on Book Talk Clubs at the Scholastic Reading Summit this summer was motivating, as well as challenging to me. How would I make this work within the school day, during Reading Workshop? 

I announced the opportunity to students and those who were interested met with me during workshop time once a week. They were given two weeks to read their books and then students wrote drafts of their book talks. It was interesting to watch students give each other feedback. They were able to successfully identify what needed improvement in each other's writing and give advice on how to make it better. Once revisions were complete, an educator from the local television station came to teach the booktalk club how to use the film camera and edit their talks. The talks were then posted on YouTube. 

I am pleased with how the first round of book talks went, and now we are tweaking and changing things up for round two! Incorporating QR codes on books in our library that link to videos and audio book talks is one project in the works. 

I will share more reflections in the next post which is all about self-directed learning. I may do a third post about math and other topics as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Evolution of Our Blog

The blogging we are doing for self-directed learning is fantastic. A few days ago, I reflected on the progress the students have made and how much stronger their writing is getting. I know I want to continue the post a week assignment. However, there are a lot of things that the kids want to blog about and this week I changed the focus a bit. 

Students need to write a self directed learning post two times a month and the other two posts a month can be any other school/learning related topic they want to write about that week. Many will do more than one a week now that they can write about anything. From their comments, you can see they are psyched!

Students are already venturing out to new topics. This week, every day, I have heard students saying, "Hey, you should blog about that!" In math, three boys were working on an enrichment word problem and asked if they could blog about their process and eventual success in solving it. I was thrilled! It will be fun to see how this blog evolves even more now that they have more freedom of topics!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Differentiation and Flipping

This year, for the first time, my team decided to reframe homework to make it more purposeful. Many aspects have been going well. Due to circumstances beyond our control, however, we are having to give math homework every night, Monday-Thursday. To make it the most purposeful learning experience for our students, we will differentiate the homework and also some nights it will be a flipped lesson, watching a video at home to prepare for the next day's lesson.

I am researching the best screencast options and put out a question about it on Twitter to see which one people like the most. One of my teammates likes Screencast- o -matic. 

We use the Singapore Math/ Math in Focus program. It includes reteach, practice and enrich resources, so I will use that to differentiate when I do send something home. I will not send the same page home for everyone. 

Also, our team discussed that 20 minutes is a reasonable amount of time considering we do not want to cut into their reading time and time to work on their self-directed learning projects. Not to mention, studying for any check-ins/quizzes/and tests that may be coming up. We will make it clear to the students that they should not work beyond twenty minutes, especially if they are struggling with the work. Sometimes, homework will be to look over the day's class work to become more familiar with the steps, etc.Differentiating will hopefully avoid some of the homework with tears. I hope to share and reflect more on this topic in this blog.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Collaborations and Presentations


One of my students is working on stop motion animation and taught interested students how to use the Lego Animator app.

Here is the link to his blog page that includes some short videos.

Another interesting collaboration is with two students who want to start an online baking business. They want fifty percent of their profits to go to charity. They hatched their idea this week during SDL time.

More students have presented projects the past couple of weeks.


This student's presentation was very well planned and lasted 20 minutes.

Gerry Cheevers:




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

SDL Magic: Penn is Such a Nice Guy!

One of my students was inspired to study magic for his self-directed learning project after seeing an amazing magician during an overnight school trip. When I met with this student a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a friend that knew Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame. I contacted this friend who contacted Penn. His directions were for Kevin to come up with five questions to be answered. Below are the questions and Penn's answers. What a guy!!

1. When did you start doing magic and what or who inspired you? 

I started doing magic when I was 18.  That's when I met Teller.  He changed my mind about magic and magicians. He showed me that it was a true art form that could be done in a way that respected the audience and was truthful.  That was a major change in my attitude towards magic.

2. How did you learn to do all the tricks you do? Did you have a mentor? 

I learned the tricks I know by reading, studying other magicians and tons of practice. My biggest mentors are James "The Amazing" Randi, Johnny Thompson and Teller.

3. What is some advice you would give a young magician?  

Practice, practice, practice.  Be completely original and different than anyone else.  Find one skill that you are good at and hone it until you are better than anyone else.

4. What are the best resources to learn more about tricks and illusions?  

There are hundreds and hundreds of books and now with the web, your access to information on magic is limitless.

5. What is a simple trick or illusion that I can perform for my classmates?  

Our National Magic Trick, known as the "thumb tip and hanky" is a great trick to do for classmates.  Send us your address and we'll send you one along with our special Penn & Teller trick cards.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Latest Self-Directed Learning Post

I told my students at the beginning of the year that I would not assign anything that I haven't done myself. With blogging, I am going through what the students are going through. At times, not knowing what to write about, or working all week to make a post the best it can be.

Along with my personal blog, I am also posting on our class blog about my SDL project. Like some of the students, I changed my topic when it wasn't as interesting or motivating as I thought it would be. Now I have a topic that I could write about for the rest of my life! Relieved really. I have empathy for students struggling with this. 

Another great benefit to blogging myself is that I can model how to cite sources, use my own words to share research, write in depth about a topic, use appropriate media, etc.

Here is the link to my Kidblog SDL page:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

First Round of Book Talks a Success

Thanks to Alice Ozma's inspiration, I incorporated a book talk club into my reading workshop.  The first round just ended and the students filmed and edited their talks using the local t.v. station's equipment. 

Four students participated this first round. The books they chose were Mrs. Dole is Out of Control by Dan Gutman; Unsinkable: the Titanic Part 1 by Gordon Korman; Travel Team by Mike Lupica; and I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic by Lauren Tarshis.

I gave the students two weeks to read a book of their choice. Then they wrote their book talks and shared them with the club members. Great advice and compliments were given and the quality of the book talks improved drastically. More drafts were written until they were happy with their talk. 

Memorizing and rehearsing was the next step. Last, filming and then editing.

Here are the finished book talks:

We were thrilled to see that Dan Gutman watched our book talks and loved the third talk about his book. :-)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More SDL Success

My students are really beginning to appreciate the blog and its power. It started with a class from England joining our blog roll. This was a connection I made through Twitter. My students went to their site and looked at their blog roll. There was a buzz in the room when they saw classes from New Zealand and China among others. Two students ran over to me to share what they had found and I told them to share it with the class. We got the students' attention and the two students excitedly explained what they found and how they found it. The class was hooting and very enthusiastic about truly going global with the blogs. 

Some cool SDL developments this week:

One student shared this awesome video that is an example of the stop motion animation he is working on.

Another student visited our local t.v. station to try out the green screen and work on his project.

A student studying sharks found something that breaks his heart, the killing of sharks for their fins. Here is his website that he recently created about this problem.

We also have an email with five student-created questions sent to a very famous magician who may be answering soon. Thank you to my friend who knows this very famous magician!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Passions Ignited!

The self directed learning projects seem to be making a difference in how my class views their world. It is fun to watch them get inspired from everything around them. 

We had a class get together after school at a place that has an amazing waterworks show. As the kids watched it in amazement, one student said to me, "Mrs. Milner, this would be a cool topic for an SDL project." 

Earlier in October, we went to an overnight at Camp Bourndale in Plymouth, MA and there were many topics there that students came back inspired to pursue. Click the link to Kevin's blog about magic. He was psyched to start this new topic after seeing an incredible magic show at Camp Bournedale. 

In this post, Will shares what has inspired him and what he plans to do about it.


Many students have stayed with their same topic so far, but it has inspired them to find creative ways to present their topic. One student studied different kinds of codes and his research about the Codetalkers sparked his imagination, so he is writing a fantasy story that will incorporate what he has learned about codes. Click to see his post about his characters.


Another student worked on taking apart an older computer and learning the parts. He then had new questions about how it was different from a newer computer or an IPhone. In wanting to present his findings, he also is learning quite a bit about editing with IMovie. Click to see his posts and the course his project has taken, wholly directed by him.


Some students have enjoyed their topic, but have had trouble getting going with their blogs. A few did not fully grasp the purpose of the blog. After I shared other students' blogs, created a blogging rubric, and wrote a second post about all the different topics they could write about, these students came to understand the purpose of blogging. Click to see my post:

Students are more motivated to do this important piece of self directed learning: reflection. Here are a few examples of students showing growth in their blogs. By growth, I mean not just length of post, but level of reflection and sharing their process.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Navigating NaNoWriMo in Fifth Grade

This year, I have three classes for writing and wanted to find a way to make National Novel Writing Month manageable, challenging, and fun for my students. They will write a novel in November, and they have to put their inner editors away in order to produce a lot of writing in a short time. In December, the inner editors will come back out, and they will revise and edit portions of their novels. We just finished a narrative writing unit focusing on personal narratives. NaNoWriMo is a great chance to explore a different type of narrative writing. 

My writing classes are four times a week for 45 minutes each. One day a week will be devoted to writing their novels. The students can use laptops or write in their journals. 

We set word count goals based on how much they could write or type in ten minutes. Students figured out a weekly amount and then multiplied it to find the monthly goal. I already have students reporting that they surpassed their original word count goals for the week.
They are excited and self motivated!

We will be delving into plots and subplots, author style, character developments, flashbacks and more.

In future posts, I will share some of their story ideas and/or excerpts from their stories. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Improving Students' Blogposts

Please follow the link below to my post focused on what students could possibly blog about:

Please follow the link below to see a fantastic post that was written by a student after my Friday blogging discussion about the quality of their posts.

Students are sharing pictures and videos on their blogs, now that they know how. I am impressed with the choices they make for media. They post pictures and video directly related to their work. Here are some examples:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Embracing Differences

My students this year had an amazing opportunity to learn about autism and embrace a new student with support and caring. Their lives have been changed because of it, but sadly, yesterday was his last day at our school.

The autism program was at another school last year and moved to our school this year. This student joined us the first day, first thing in the morning and the class immediately accepted him and were interested in getting to know him. It was new to my students, so they were motivated to understand him and be friends with him. 

Right away a few students took him under their wing and invited him to play basketball with them at recess. They played knock out and this opened up a passageway into his personality. He loves Slamacow productions which are animated minecraft videos. He would take the ball and yell, "Slamacow 6A!" He taped it on the back of his shirt. The students loved this and started taping numbers on their backs because he kept asking, "What's your number?"

He joined our class for math, science and specials (art, music, PE), as well as for recess and lunch. Here was another window into understanding him. It was very powerful for students to see that he was really good at math and, at times, better than them. They were also impressed with his talented drawings. The chance to work with him in these classes built the relationship they had with him. 

When he didn't want to leave the classroom one day, he began to scream and hit himself on the head. The students were worried for him and we had a follow up talk with his one on one teacher about what they saw, why he does that, and what they can do when that happens. It was important for them to know they are safe and that he needs to see how to act. Their job is to do their job and let the adult help him. Many times, the adult would say, "What are your friends doing right now?" He would look around and adjust his behavior. Very powerful.

It was heartbreaking having to tell my class that our new friend was moving and wouldn't be in our class anymore. They all made cards and one parent took the initiative to get a card and a school t-shirt/teddy bear for kids to sign. I ordered a jersey online that had his name on the front and "Slamacow 6A" on the back with a big 6, so it looked like a team jersey. 

Yesterday, we presented the shirts and cards, played his favorite Angry Birds jenga-like game, watched a few Slamacow videos and played an epic knockout game with the entire fifth grade class. It was a stellar last day! He was happy and not sad at all, which I think helped my students to not be as sad as they could have been. One student cried and the rest coped by naming Friday official Slamacow day in his honor. Very sweet! We spent the last few minutes dancing to "Everything is Awesome," from the Lego movie and, well, everything really was awesome!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Math Facts Mastery

Thanks to Laura Candler's Math Facts Program, all my students know their multiplication facts. The goal was for all to know them by our Halloween celebration on the 31st, but they just finished today, October 23rd! What have they done? They have all successfully completed 30 second quizzes for facts 0-12. 

This was accomplished by using the materials that Laura Candler provides in her math facts unit and setting aside 15 minutes every day for kids to study. They also took the 30 second quiz for the fact they were on, every day. Students helped each other and worked together towards this class goal. On the way back from lunch students would ask, "Are we doing facts practice?" It became a real bonding experience for them; a great way to show that Together Everyone Achieves More.

Next steps...mixed multiplication practice. They study on their own mostly and we take the mixed facts minute test every other day. The determined fifth grade goal is 30 in one minute. Some have reached it and completed 30 mixed division problems in a minute as well. 

Students are finding that they are able to work quicker. We are working on a unit that includes multiplying and dividing whole numbers including division with two digit divisors. Students keep commenting that they are glad they know their facts. :-)

It was worth putting the time in every day, for a short period of time, to ensure students are successful for the rest of the year and beyond. Now that 15 minutes will be used for focused word problem work. Every day for fifteen minutes is powerful!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Blogging Rubric

Here is the blogging rubric that I created for my students' self directed learning blogs. It is a work in progress. I was inspired by an article I saw on Twitter, "Your Rubric is a Hot Mess: Here's How to Fix It," posted by Jennifer Gonzalez. The single point rubric is just brilliant! We tend to look at the "Meets" column while grading a rubric, so why not just have that on the rubric with space for not meeting and a space for exceeding. Our report cards are standards based anyway, so this is more organic/informative about each child's progress. As much as possible, I used the language on our report cards...common core standards. I recommend the article and feel free to use and tweak this rubric for your needs.

Blogging Rubric


Student: ____________________________                          Month: __________________


Room to Grow
Progress Towards Standard
On Target
Standards for this Performance
Above and Beyond
Evidence of Exceeding Standards
Criteria 1:
Clear and Coherent Writing
The student clearly expresses original ideas and stays on topic. Writing is appropriate for the audience. Each post has at least 5 sentences.
Criteria 2:
The student wrote at least one post a week.
Criteria 3:
Follows the Writing Process
The student’s posts show improvement from planning to final draft due to drafting, revising, and editing.
Criteria 4:
Prod./Distribution of Writing
The student commented on other blogs at least once a week. If applicable, the student cited others in their research and writing.
Criteria 5:
Use of Media
The student enhanced their blog by regularly using video, audio, images or other media


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Plethora of Topics for Self-Directed Learning

Our fifth grade students just had a great overnight camp experience at Camp Bournedale in Plymouth, MA. They participated in a trip to the beach to study coastal ecology, a trip on a lobster boat to catch and release creatures, a three part marine lab that included shark dissection, and an extensive team building course. There were also presenters who were fantastic. A reptile/amphibian guy and a very engaging magician.

Throughout this two day adventure, I watched my students get completely enthralled in all different topics. I felt the need to capture these general topics to remind the students just in case they were enthralled enough to pursue any of them for their self directed learning projects. Below are some pictures and the list I created in my iPhone notes app.

Bio magnification center


Huge horseshoe crab

Shark dissection

Shark jaw

Submarines made from a piece of straw, water and clay. Trying to find neutral buoyancy.

Negative buoyancy

I found a new friend.

Self Directed learning

- Sharks
- Other kinds of sea life (crabs, coral, etc.)
- Parts of the body - sharks, human or other
- Classification of living things 
- Reptiles and amphibians
- Buoyancy/ Submarines
- Magic