Thursday, January 29, 2015

"To Be"

This is a post dedicated to the concept of "To Be," from Angela Maiers' amazing book The Passion-Driven Classroom. "To Be" is a way of life, a lens to frame all learning. No matter what the "To Do" you can control the "To Be!"
I handed my students the "To Be" words suggested in the book and they composed these pictures and took them enthusiasitically. As we work on projects and skills for the rest of the year, we will refer to the "To Be" words and add to them. The class can't stop looking at their pictures. They love it!
Thanks, Angela!


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Reading Workshop: Informational Text Analysis Begins

This week we start more intense work with informational texts in Reading Workshop. Since October, my students have researched topics that interest them for their self-directed learning projects. This has included two column notes to record main ideas and details, as well as writing blog posts about what they are learning and the process of their research. Some have synthesized their research and presented to the class as well.

Now, in Reading Workshop, we will focus on all elements of nonfiction reading including text features, reader's purpose and author's purpose. This work will include work together hovering over informational texts that they bring in and evaluating them. There are great forms and activities for this work in a book I picked up at Barnes and Noble. Just the Facts! Close Reading and Comprehension of Informational Text by Lori Oczkus (Shell Education) is an amazing resource for this kind of analysis of text.

On our class blog, I wrote a post introducing this work to my class:

Students are gathering their texts to bring in this week, so that the investigating we do will help them directly with their self-directed projects. I will share more as we go through the process.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reading Strategies: Chunking

In Writing Workshop, we are waiting for the Social Studies curriculum to get to Westward Expansion to utilize the Lucy Calkins informational writing unit. While we wait, we are working on current events which is allowing us to focus on Common Core standards for reading and writing. Using and Time for Kids articles, we are practicing chunking to find main ideas and summarize an article. Eventually, in addition to a summary paragraph, students will also write an opinion paragraph to respond to articles.

I found a fantastic short video that demonstrates chunking by MrDunbar67. This video models chunking so well and is the reason my students are off and running with their current event work.

With a big focus on revision, students are having fun coming up with the best topic sentence and the best closing sentence. They are getting very creative with it and challenging others to "hook" them. It is great to see them discussing words and writing style with each other.

I will probably post more about this in the coming weeks and will hopefully share some of the students' work as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Animal Related Posts

Here are some recent posts about animals from our class blog:

Down, but Not Out!

Well, thanks to a pretty nasty bout with bronchitis with severe asthma, I have missed three days of school and have been unable to reach my weekly blog goal. Of course, I will make up for it by blogging twice, just as I ask my students to do when they miss a week of posting.

Being sick when you are a teacher is a real bummer. You don't just call in sick and go back to sleep. In one document, a sub plan, you must try to communicate all that you do in a day working with children. It is close to impossible. I have learned, after 23 years of teaching, to let go and not drive myself crazy trying to control what I can't.

My job is to set up a classroom environment from day one that will support the inevitable sick days without everything falling apart. The goal is for the class to feel that they are a team that works to help each other. Students report to me that they remind other students to stop talking, etc. to help out the substitute. I do not expect perfection, but having the community built helps immensely. Some years, it has still been a challenge with individual students, but my classes, overall, have received positives reports for years. This is due to having regular classroom meetings using Open Circle and Responsive Classroom strategies/concepts, as well as focusing students on working together so everyone can learn. Students are reminded daily that this is their job, but it can still be social and fun.

So, I am hoping to return, healthy to school on Tuesday to get back to my job. I miss my students.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fall 2014 Reflections Part Four: Math

Here are two posts from this school year regarding changes in my math teaching. I will continue to reflect on what is working and not working with math this school year.

Math Facts Mastery
Excerpt from post 10/23/14

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.

Differentiation and Flipping
Entire post from 12/10/14

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.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Fall 2014 Reflections Part Three: Progress with Self-directed Learning

This is the second reflection post about self-directed learning. The first post is Fall Reflections 2014 Part Two: Getting Started with Self-directed Learning. In this post, I am sharing excerpts from my blog that show the progress of self-directed learning so far.

Improving Students' Blogposts           11/8/14

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.

Passions Ignited                           11/15/14

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 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.



More SDL Success                        11/21/14

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.

My Latest Self-directed Learning Post 12/2/14

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:

SDL Magic: Penn is Such a Nice Guy! 12/3/14

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.

Collaborations and Presentations     12/6/14


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:


Evolution of Our Blog                           12/19/14

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!