Top Online Games for Upper Elementary Students

Whether you are looking for games to add to your class blog or to your class computer bookmarks menu, we have compiled ranked lists based on games most visited and praised by 5th graders over several years!  All the games are free and kid tested.  Be sure to check out other ways to improve your classroom blog here(All links last checked for safety and functionality on July 29, 2016).

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Review: Pam Allyn’s Core Ready Lesson Sets for Grades 3-5

If you are thinking of adopting Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series for teaching the Common Core English Language Arts standards, be sure to check out our review based on our experience with the program!


Background

Core Ready lesson sets picAs teachers, we know that it’s difficult to truly evaluate a program until we’ve actually used it for a solid time-period.  At the same time, we also know it’s not often practical just to try out programs, due to financial and time constraints.  For this reason, I’d like to share my experience with teaching using Pam Allyn’s Core Ready books, in the hopes that it assists teachers considering their implementation.  My fifth grade team decided to adopt the series this past year since we wanted a Common Core-aligned reading and writing workshop program.  We had previously been using The Complete Year in Reading & Writing: Year 5 by Pam Allyn with much success, so we had high hopes for the new series.  I was personally able to teach using all of the books this year except The Journey to Meaning, due to maternity leave.

Run-Down

Each of the four books have 1 “lesson set” or unit per grade, which includes:
  • 10 lessons each for reading and writing (reading and writing to be taught simultaneously)
  • 1 Language Lesson (to be taught at some point within the lesson set)
  • Appendix of resources, including graphic organizers and rubrics
Grades 3-5 Books (can be taught in any order you prefer):
  • The Power to Persuade: Opinion & Argument
    • Focuses on strategies on what makes writing persuasive
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: a persuasive text
  • The Road to Knowledge: Information & Research
    • Focuses on how to gather research, note-taking skills, and how to correctly cite others’ work
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: an informational text; topic chosen by students
  • The Journey to Meaning: Comprehension & Critique
    • Focuses on reading poetry & essays to analyze themes, subjects, and author point of view
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: analytical essay
  • The Shape of Story: Yesterday & Today
    • Focuses on various types and components of stories, including character development and conflict, with an emphasis on fantasy for the 5th grade lessons
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: a narrative fantasy story
Other Corresponding Resources
  • Be Core Ready: Powerful, Effective Steps to Implementing and Achieving the Common Core State Standards: Detailed introduction both to the Core Ready series and to the ELA Common Core Standards themselves.
  • PDToolKit: An online resource in which you can access additional resources for the lessons

Pros

♥Common Core-aligned, vertically and horizontally!

This is obviously a major attraction to this series.  Now that the Common Core has simplified the focuses of ELA standards, it can be difficult to revise your current ELA program to be completely Common Core aligned–especially across an entire school!  The beauty of the Core Ready books is that not only is it completely Common Core-aligned within your own grade level, but it masterfully builds learning between grades.

Simple structure in each lesson (Warm up, Teach, Try, Clarify, Practice, Wrap-up)

I enjoyed this framework both because it facilitates plenty of guided student application, and because it allowed me to easily divide up the lessons into multiple days (if we needed to break it up, we would often end with “Clarify” one day, and begin with “Practice” the next).

Fosters teacher authenticity

The series thoroughly embraces the 21st century view of teachers as readers and writers growing right alongside students (rather than as wizened experts or sources of knowledge). A perfect illustration of this approach lies in the fact that as students create a published piece in each lesson set, the books also encourage teachers to do the same.  The benefits here are reciprocal; first, it builds in authenticity as teachers model their own warts-and-all literary process.  As a result, students glimpse the true nature of literary learning: not a neat, manufactured, step-by-step process, but one that is messy, purposeful, and beautiful.

Denise Krebs
Denise Krebs
Student-centered –> Plenty of room for inquiry!

Rather than teachers directly pointing out literary concepts, it encourages students to discover the concepts themselves within texts.  The lessons also constantly invite students to consider their own literary backgrounds, to identify their personal inspiration, and to make purposeful choices as unique readers and writers.

Encourages critical thinking and metacognition

The lessons are designed to continually challenge students to ask, “WHY?”  For instance, any time students are asked to find examples of literary concepts in texts, they are also nearly always asked to locate text evidence that defends their reasoning.  This makes for lively student discussions as they share their personal analyses. Additionally, every lesson set involves student reflection, and I definitely saw growth in my students as they regularly examined their own thinking and decision-making processes.

Flexibility

During a webinar early in the school year, I asked Pam Allyn and Debbie Lera whether 40 lessons would be enough to span the entire school year, as we worried this seemed like more of a supplemental program.  They assured me that many lessons would likely take more than a day to teach, and they were absolutely right; particularly when students gathered research or revised, some lessons took more than a week!  Additionally, our grade kept a couple small units from previous years, which we found easy to incorporate alongside the Core Ready series.

Encourages digital literacy

For the informational text unit, my students turned essays into multi-media blog posts.  For the fantasy narrative, my students created illustrated Storybirds.  The Core Ready books are packed with suggestions for engaging and natural technology integration.

Abundant resources

This is part of the reason that each lesson can be extended well beyond a day.  They include:

  • Ideas for both high-tech & low-tech classrooms
  • Suggestions to bridge concepts for English Language Learning students
  • Suggestions for Speaking & Listening development
  • Concrete ideas for formative assessments throughout the lessons.
  • Fantastic Appendix of resources and rubrics
Few anchor texts required

If you previously used the Complete Year in Reading and Writing books, you understand the financial strain of programs that require many anchor texts.  While this series does recommend a few anchor texts, it more frequently gives suggestions for online-accessible texts!

Cons

♦Time-consuming

Of course, dedicating time for daily reading and writing is essential.  However, this program requires at least 40 minutes each for the reading and writing lessons.  You will also likely want to find time to incorporate guided reading groups, and while it’s been suggested that these groups can be run during the “practice” component of each reading lesson, that simply isn’t always practical.  For one thing, it keeps you from one-on-one interactions available during their practice time.  Plus, that practice time doesn’t happen the same way every day since some individual lessons are stretched over multiple days, which makes it very difficult to predictably schedule guided reading within the reading/writing workshop time.

Language Standards not fully integrated

Throughout the 4 books for 5th grade, some of the Language standards are only covered once–and a couple, not at all (Standards 4 and 5).  While a wonderful characteristic of the Core Ready books is that each lesson masterfully integrates a variety ELA standards, this can also make it difficult to keep track of which areas need to be supplemented if they aren’t included.  For how time-consuming this program is, I found myself wishing that the entire ELA standards were covered so we didn’t feel we needed an additional grammar program to provide complete Language instruction and spiraling practice.

Teacher talk can be lengthy

Each phase of each lesson includes detailed sample teacher talk, which is positive in that it gives teachers clear ideas on the lesson’s intended direction.  However, it can get quite long–the “Teach” component in particular.  For this reason, the lengthy teacher talk only becomes a “con” when teachers don’t realize it’s essential to adapt it to their own timetable and student needs.

Conclusion

The strengths of this series clearly outweigh the few drawbacks.  I would highly recommend these books to any teacher, especially if they are looking for a way to naturally build reading and writing skills in an interdependent, authentic manner!

Photo Credit:

R. Nial Bradshaw (featured image)

Denise Krebs

10 Tips for Rockstar Resumes!

Much about 21st century job searching has changed, but resumes remain an important aspect.  Check out our tips for a strong resume, as well as suggestions for more modern approaches.


5 Tips for a Traditional Resume

#1: Be genuine!

Make every word count!  Avoid nonsense terms that don’t truly add meaning (Check out this article with the best and worst phrases that experts see on resumes!).  Employers can see through insincerity right away, and that’s NOT the kind of first impression you want to make!

#2: Be careful with your objective

Conflicting opinions (for and against) alert!  If you do include an objective, keep these two, closely-related pointers in mind:

  1. Tailor it to position for which you apply!  Just as each company, school, and organization varies in its priorities, so should your objective reflect how you can meet their unique needs.
  2. As Richard White points out in his article:  “…It is not about how you can benefit from the company, but how the company can benefit from you.” For this reason, your objective should not say what you hope to get out of working there!  We recommend starting with a brief description of yourself, followed by what you would truly contribute if hired by the company.  For example: Highly enthusiastic teacher with a passion for educational technology seeks to contribute to increased technology effectiveness in the classroom.
#3: Skip your address

Donna Svei shares the risk in her article, “The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Put Your Address on Your Resume.” She cautions that if you would need to commute, employers definitely take note of the your potential burn-out liability.  Instead, she recommends you put down your most recent employer’s city location.

#4: Quantify and Qualify with power verbs & nouns

Strunk and White’s tip to “write with nouns and verbs” in their book, Elements of Style, is true in resume writing, too!  Beginning each accomplishment with a power verb & using specific nouns can help focus your description (ie, instead of “Helped with training new teachers,” try “Mentored 3 first-year teachers through peer observations, coaching, and co-teaching.”).  However, be conscious of tip #1 as you do so–make sure these are honest and objective descriptors!  This word cloud of power verbs gives you a visual of the most commonly recommended power verbs we compiled from the sources listed below.

Power Verbs Word Cloud

#5: Create a proper balance between white space & text

Be sure to utilize indentations to make your resume easy to scan through!


5 Tips for 21st Century Resume Writing

#1: Recognize the need for a traditional paper resume

Many companies now have online systems in place for applicants to type in all the information from their resumes.  However, it’s still valuable to have on hand a paper copy for interviews, job fairs, and other instances of personal contact.

#2: Have your resume ready for digital sharing

We’ve seen other companies that simply ask you to enter a link to your resume.  Make sure you have a shareable version ready to go, such as a PDF downloaded in Google Drive!

#3: Consider a visual resume

The changes in a visual resume may be as subtle as adding blocks of color to organize your presentation, or it may be as dramatic as adding charts.  This can be an eye-catching and efficient approach to your resume-writing.  However, be sure to check out this article for some disadvantages to consider, too, such as the incompatibility with ATS (automatic tracking systems).

#4: Consider a creative resume
Emilie Ogez
Emilie Ogez

A creative tier above visual resumes is the infographic route!  This is a more obvious choice for those in creative fields, such as designers, but it could also be an opportunity to stand out if you’re willing to take the risk!  See some examples of Infographics resumes on Pinterest!

#5: Consider your audience!

Evaluate the company’s characteristics.  Is it a more established, traditional organization, or does it have more of an entrepreneurial history?  Chances are that if it’s the former, you’ll want to stick with more traditional resumes and objectives.  If it’s the latter, employers may appreciate your gutsiness in trying out bolder strategies.

Photo Credit:

10 Tips for Teacher Organization

With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder.  Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!


#1: Get Rid of Your Desk

Karen Cardoza
Karen Cardoza

For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day.  If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead.  Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart.  Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!

#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)

Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students.  Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.

#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet

Jodimichelle
Jodimichelle

While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous.  Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away.  Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it!  Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer.  This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!

#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files

If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs!  Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills.  Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!

#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More

Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom.  CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.

#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork

Dazed81
Dazed81

Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms.  Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box.  You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!

#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You

Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)!  Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs.  Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!

#8: Adopt Google Drive

Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive!  Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage!  Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues.  Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!

#9: Enlist Student Help

Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization!  Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!

#10: Make a Display Wall

asdf
Ali Edwards

This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards.  Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces.  If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!

What about you?  Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized?  Please share in the comments!

Photo Credits:

 

The Power of a Class Meeting

Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too.  It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!


5 Benefits

#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure.  This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning.  We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do.  Class meetings are a perfect way to do so!  Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.

#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.

In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships.  However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be!  Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness.  Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.

#3: Social Skills.

Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment.  As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!

#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
DoremiGirl
DoremiGirl

This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom.  On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle.  Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’”  This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year.  As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:

  • To make others’ lives easier
  • To learn
  • To become a better person
  • To show kindness
  • To provide a good reputation for our class
#5: Democratic Decision-Making = Increased Student Ownership & Voice.

No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students.  From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook.  When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person.  While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!

5 Set-Up Tips

#1: Establish rules and routines first!

No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations.  To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings.  Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder.  Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!

#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”

“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)

Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).

#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.

Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly.  We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc.  Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!

#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.

If it matters to your students, it should matter to you!  Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes.  If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!

#5: Allow Flexibility.

During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt.  We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.

Photo Credit:
Britt-knee (featured image)
DoremiGirl

Sources:
Winters. A. https://www.heartland.edu/documents/idc/talkingCircleClassroom.pdf

5 Teacher Resources for 21st Century Learning

Whether you’re implementing a BYOD classroom, teaching students to develop PLN’s, or planning a Twitter debate in your class, these 5 tools may help you with some unexpected logistics.


The Importance of Keeping Up

Anyone involved with teaching today is familiar the swift and exponential nature of changes in 21st century education.  This is true to the extent that even if you graduated with your teaching degree within the past few years, your pedagogical training probably did not leave you fully prepared.  We hope that the following 5 resources will be valuable to you as you adapt to modern learning strategies.

#1: Citing Social Media
via TeachBytes
via TeachBytes

We recently published a post designed as a student guide to social media citation.  However, this may prove helpful for you, too, as you guide your students not only toward broader digital literacy, but toward continuing the responsibility of adequately giving credit.

#2: Google Drive Hacks

If you are not already using Google Drive in your classroom, add it to your must-try-asap list!  From elementary school on up, it enables effective digital collaboration.  As an added bonus, it cuts down messy stacks of papers!  Below, we’ve listed a few of our favorite time and sanity-saving tips to maximize your Google Drive usage in the classroom:

  • Teach students to use the “Comments” tool for peer editing and revising.  That way, students can have actual conversations about the feedback they give one another without actually altering others’ work!
  • Self-grading function: If you are currently using or are interested in using Google Forms to quiz students (for free!), make sure you look up how to make it self-grading!  (Check out one tutorial here!)
  • Revision history: Make sure that both you and your students are familiar with this tool in the “File” menu just in case one student accidentally alters or deletes another’s work.
  • Take Advantage of its share-ability: Long-gone are the days of needing to upload each student’s PowerPoint to a flash drive (see our article on Powerpoint alternatives), or even asking them to individually email you their digital project.  Instead, have students create all projects that are compatible with Google Drive in one class Google account that you can easily access and manage.
  • Use Google Spreadsheets for a multi-purpose class roster: Keeping track of missing permission slips, student project groups, or anecdotal notes is a cinch with Google Spreadsheets.  Google Drive’s app makes this especially appealing as you can whip out your phone or tablet to view your notes as you walk through the class!
#3: Digital Classroom Management Tips:

Establishing quality classroom management strategies is a critical skill for every educator.  However, such techniques can quickly get complicated when BYOD is introduced–how do you manage a variety of phones, tablets, and laptops when such devices can already be distracting?  Jennifer Carey, a director of educational technology, shared her top 5 tips for digital classroom management in an Edudemic article, from setting clear expectations, to recognizing that it’s OK to put the technology away at times!

#4: PLP’s Twitter Handbook:

Instrumental for me in discovering the professional usefulness of Twitter was a handbook released by the Powerful Learning Practice Blog. It includes very specific details on how to get started, definitions, and practical uses! Especially if you’re still unaware of Twitter’s usefulness in the classroom, this resource is an absolute must! (We reference it and more in our Twitter’s classroom potential post).

#5: Fluency Poster by Delia Jenkins:

In the 21st century, students need to be less familiar with memorizing specific facts and more familiar with how to manage it all.  Author & educator Eric Jensen states it well in the following image:

via Larry Ferlazzo
via Larry Ferlazzo

One way we can cultivate this shift is to foster digital fluency in our students and ourselves.  One excellent resource as you consider your approach to is Delia Jenkins’ Fluency Poster “Cheat Sheet,” available in PDF format.  Watch for our post on digital fluency coming soon!

Photo Credit:

Sources:

When & How to Cite Social Media: A Student Guide

Sure, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media may be a great place for exchanging selfies and cat videos, but what about when you come across legitimate information in social media that backs up your research?


Over the course of the past couple decades, we have moved from card catalogs, to library computer searches, to articles published online, and now on to social media!  It can feel overwhelming to keep up with the most modern methods of research, especially when it comes to the various APA or MLA citation formats.  Hopefully, this post will be a useful resource for you as you decide when and how to cite social media finds!

How

The TeachByte graphic below is an excellent general guide for both MLA and APA citations.  However, as anyone who has done any research knows, certain instances can get more complicated than general guidelines.  For instance, what if you want to cite an expert who sent you a personal communication, and it’s not publicly visible for audiences to click on?  Or how do you know how to cite in-text vs. your bibliography reference list?  The official APA blog answers these questions and more in greater detail using examples from their post in October!

via TeachBytes
via TeachBytes

When

As with all research, you will want to make sure there is plenty of variety among your sources.  Just because it is now acceptable to cite social media does not mean it should consume most of your bibliography.  Additionally, because of the unique nature of social media Tweets, posts, and videos in that they can go viral even if they are inaccurate, you will want to be particularly careful when considering whether to use one.  The information literacy website, EasyBib, provides an excellent Infographic to help you in that decision-making process.

EasyBib Infographic
EasyBib

Remember…

…It’s all about giving each individual the credit they deserve for their efforts and ideas!  When in doubt, discuss your concerns with your teacher or professor!

Photo Sources:

Pete Simon (featured image)

TeachBytes

EasyBib

Source:

Chelsea, L. (2013, Oct. 13). How to Cite Social Media in APA Style. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from: http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2013/10/how-to-cite-social-media-in-apa-style.html