Holidays, Inquiry-Based, STEAM

Thanksgiving in Upper Elementary

Living on the east coast, we get hit with several hurricane evacuations each year where school is cancelled. This year, the make-up days were added to our Thanksgiving week (Monday and Tuesday). Since I knew several students would be out, I planned academic activities around the holiday because I didn’t want to introduce any new material. If you are looking for some fun ideas, borrow and steal away:


MathThanksgiving Dinner Digits 
This activity is great for practicing math skills. Students will invite family, figure out how many pounds of turkey they’ll need, determine when to start thawing their bird, and calculate food costs. (I would use the differentiated pages next time, since my students had a hard time multiplying decimals.) You can even set the table with placemats and napkins to set the mood.

ReadingBalloons Over Broadway 
Second graders were working on map skills at our school, so I invited them to join us for this cute read aloud. We then mapped the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route, and completed this STEM activity to make balloon floats from balloons.  Parade route was a free download from The Star Spangled Planner. These activities were by far, my favorite all week, and I am thankful for my room mom who came in to help blow up all the balloons.

Science – We completed the digital breakout Turkey Trot. My fourth graders thought this was hard at first, but finally got the hang of it and six of seven groups “escaped” in the 30 minute time frame.

Social Studies – We watched “Animated Hero Classics: William Bradford – The First Thanksgiving”.  We watched this on Discovery Ed Streaming videos but it is also available on YouTube if you do not have a subscription.


Math – We continued with our Thanksgiving Dinner Digits activity from above.

Reading – I assigned six Thanksgiving related NewsELA articles and the students had to pick two that were of interest to them to read and take the quizzes on. Then, we read this article on the Quill Pen and practiced cursive penmanship with D’Nealian paper and magic markers. I played the YouTube fireplace video to set the mood.

Science – We read articles about the Mayflower and completed another STEM activity. Students had to design a ship that will hold as many Pilgrims (pennies) as possible without sinking using a piece of aluminum foil. This book helps!

Social Studies – We watched “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and I baked cookies for my class. Finally, we made thankful turkeys with our kindergarten buddies. Leave a comment with your favorite Thanksgiving activities for upper elementary students!

Math Rotations, STEAM, Student Choice

Math-Or-Treat (Embracing Halloween on a Wednesday)

This year, Halloween falls on Wednesday. I decided to embrace it. I always teach math in the morning so I thought I would try out this Math-or-Treat idea that I had been seeing on Pinterest a lot lately based on I Heart Teaching Elementary‘s blog.

I downloaded her bag templates and purchased cheap treat bags at Walmart.  I also loaded up on things like Halloween pencils, erasers, plastic skeletons, to use as prizes because they will be getting enough candy tonight, right?!

Since I have seven tables in my room, I decided to have seven stations. I introduced the idea to my class about a week ago and asked them to apply to “run” one of the stations using a Google Form. I got about 15 applications so I had to choose students based on their responses to the math problems in the application and their response to the question about why they wanted the job. These students would get the answer keys and check their classmates’ work. They would also give out the prizes.

I created or downloaded seven Halloween math games and activities from TpT for each station. I chose skills we have already covered this year (place value, rounding, multiplication, and division). Here are a few that would work well:

Division Bingo
Multiplication Riddles
Rounding Scavenger Hunt
Multiplication & Division Sort
Coordinate Grid Holiday Graphing
Halloween Division
Halloween Rounding 
Halloween Word Problems
Spellbinding Division 

I created a quick smartboard with some Halloween pictures on it and let the kids pick where they wanted to go.  I only had a few rules:
1. They could choose any table they wanted (with a limit of 5 kids)
2. They could move tables at any time
3. It was up to them how many tables they visited (ie how many prizes they earned)
4. It was over after an hour and a half (we had to be somewhere at 9:30)

I continued with the holiday theme for the rest of the day. We made Halloween masks with our kindergarten buddies. We completed the Candy Corn Challenge (Freebie!) during social studies time, and worked on the Mystery Science lesson “What is the biggest spider in the world?” Finally, my class mom came to host some games, crafts, and snacks for our Halloween Party and we settled in to watch Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. You can teach in spite of it being Halloween, or you can embrace it. This year, we nailed it!


Hexagonal Thinking

I ran across a session about hexagonal thinking at the Lowcountry Google Summit this summer. The description said something along the lines of , “Hexagonal thinking is a great visual tool for enabling organization and deep understanding of a topic.” I love the book “Making Thinking Visible” so this was right up my alley.

I’ve since used this strategy twice — once with adults at a PD session and once with fourth graders at the beginning of a unit. Here’s a brief rundown of how it works:

1. You provide a group of students with ten (give or take) hexagonal pieces of paper.
2.  You give them a large list of words that are loosely associated.
3. The students pick ten words to write on the hexagons and must join the word cards by linking words that they thought had strong connections.
4. Everyone in the group must be able to explain the connections between two (or more) of the words linked together.
5. Groups can share out their connections, you groups can walk around the room looking at other groups’ connections.
6. Give each group three more hexagons that are a different color. Students can write down three words they wished were on the list and they must be able to use these new hexagons to make additional connections.

I used this strategy to activate prior knowledge with my Native American unit. There were many words on the list that the students knew (teepee, culture, longhouse) and many they were unfamiliar with (kachina, kiva, potlach). It was awesome seeing the groups make totally different connections. One group focused on hunting and survival. Another group went with art and culture.  Students looked up or explained new vocabulary (we are 1:1 ipads so everything is a Google search away). They disagreed about some of the connections (weaker ones got pushed aside for stronger connections being made) but the students worked well together in groups of four. I also was able to see where there were some misconceptions and things I needed to focus on while teaching the unit.

With adults in a professional development setting, it went equally well. Here’s the link to order your hexagonal paper cutter (only $12!) If you wanted to print your hexagons, there are several free options online including this awesome one from Pam Hook’s (HookED).


IB, IB Exhibition, Inquiry-Based, Student Choice, Student-Led Conferences

Student-Led Conferences during IB Exhibition

For the past two years, I’ve had students present their IB portfolios during our Exhibition time. This year, I included a full student-led conference to the portfolio reviews.


The students worked hard selecting the items for their portfolios, although some things– their summative assessments from each unit — were mandatory. They included a table of contents with each unit listed, things we had learned within the unit, and a self reflection/evaluation. We also included some data tracking sheets, and our Fall to Spring MAP scores.  I created this editable Google Doc which includes:

Portfolio Checklist
Day-of Checklist
Teacher & Self Reflection
Parent Goals
Student Goals


Students start these portfolios in kindergarten and add to them each year. It is really neat to see all of their work from the last five years. Since 4th grade is the end of PYP at my school, after Exhibition, the students get to take their portfolios home. They will get new ones next year for MYP.


In class, I created a Smart Notebook lesson that matches the Student-Led Conference Checklist. The students will practice with a friend today, and then walk through their portfolios with their parents tomorrow. We will watch this YouTube video before we practice. There are many other helpful videos about student-led conferences on YouTube.

Now, more about Exhibition. Students have been working hard to research a man-made system. From there, the researched communities or organizations that existed within that system. Then, they looked into problem that existed in that organization. Finally they took action in some way to help with this problem. (Find my other blogs about Exhibition below.) 


I know parents might not know what to expect or what types of questions to answer. I created a few questions that they can pull out of a cup during Conferences and Exhibition if they get stuck. I also created this Agenda/What to Expect form for the parents and sent it out a few days prior. This year, it will be held on a half-day and the students dismiss at 11:00 am. I will update this post after tomorrow’s conferences!


Exhibition I         Exhibition II        Exhibition III 

Digital Teaching Resources, Flexible Content, Student Choice, Uncategorized

Managing Book Clubs in a Digital Classroom

I have been focusing on student choice this year. This was easiest for me to start with in reading. I have six IB units that I teach each year and always match a novel up to each of the units. This year, I started giving the students a choice between two novels. I was shocked when I did an initial survey, that the groups were almost dead even. I did this again for my second novel, and then I got all crazy and let them choose from three novels. Again, the groups were about 1/3 of the class. I had to move one or two students but I made sure to give them their second choice if they did not get their first choice. (I attached a brief description of the novels in Google Classroom and then sent them a Google Form letting them tell me their preference.)

book club

We have been using the College of William and Mary’s GT book Patterns of Change to teach literature and language arts this year. I am using their literature web, and change matrix along with the normal plot maps, character traits, predictions, and connections (text-to-self, text-to-text, text-to-world) that most teachers would use when doing a novel study. My students have worked on these in smaller chunks all year, and I would not give this entire packet without working on each of these elements previously. (I am typing this blog in March, and only now do I feel like my students are ready.) You can find my digital resource for Book Clubs here. I share the slideshow with one member of each club, who in turn, shares the file with his/her group with editing rights.

Rules of Book Club:

  • Four students to a “club”.
  • Students choose their roles.
    (A coin flip may be used to settle disputes, but the results are final.)
  • Students create the schedule.
    (For our first book club, I assigned them five chapters of their novel a week, but I’ve seen other teachers give their students the end date of the entire novel and is up to the students to get it completed.)
  • Students are still responsible for their own comprehension questions.
  • Groups meet as often or as little as they want.
    (Some groups in my class like to read the novel together and then come up with predictions, theme, etc together (ie one chapter a day). Other groups preferred to do the reading at home, and come together during class for deeper discussions about the novel. I am okay with either set-up.)
  • Each member of the group is responsible for typing on their slides only.
    (The answers to the questions, though, should be discussed collaboratively.)
  • Students will assess their peers at the end of each week.

So far, this has gone well. The majority of groups got straight to work, and if they assigned themselves chapters to read at home, everyone came back prepared. Time management has been an issue for my class all year. I am hoping by chunking this (five chapters a week…ie one chapter a day), the students will stay on track. If it continues going well, I will use the clubs again with my last novel study (Civil War) in about a month. I also made these simple book marks so the kids could keep track of their “job” and take notes while reading.

Digital Citizenship, Digital Teaching Resources, Flexible Content, Flipped Classroom, Math Rotations, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Flipped Classroom

I have been intrigued with the Flipped Classroom for a while. (The general idea is the reverse of the traditional learning environment: delivering instructional content like videos, primary source documents, reading assignments– outside of the classroom. It moves activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, like discussion questions, projects, and activities based on the readings for school.) This video is a great overview.


At the beginning of the year, I promised my kids and parents that I wouldn’t assign homework. I was nervous to try flipping my classroom because I was afraid there would be backlash when I started sending work home. I think I will fully embrace the flipped classroom next year, but for now I’m experimenting with the “in-class flip.”

It was easiest for me to start thinking about flipping my reading and math lessons. I created this choice board with different activities for the students to work on (their choice) while I pulled small groups for differentiated instruction. My students all went straight for the games, and not much else.

Version Two: This math choice board works so much better! There are three choices in dark blue. The students must complete two days in the dark boxes, before moving to the lighter boxes. They spend two days in the medium blue boxes (or they can go back to dark blue). Finally, they can choose the game on Friday or any of the previous activities. I made a similar version for reading but is a little more flexible.

This took a bit of time…I had to link up the videos, Padlet boards, skill sheets, etc., but once they are created, I’ll have them for years. Another issue is that YouTube is blocked at my school. I had to link up BrainPop! videos (students have passwords for this site), and explained that the other videos can be watched at home.  While it’s not a full “Flip” it is definitely a start. Here are the links to my Padlets. It’s so easy to make your own.

  • Padlet Examples:

          Social Studies

Here are some additional resources that have helped me or that I have created to help others in my building.

Late Work, Missing Work

Maximizing Efficiency for Collecting Late or Missing Work

I found myself giving the students a mini-lecture on time management and turning things in on time, for the umpteenth time this year. I stated, “I WILL NOT be hunting you down for missing assignments at the end of this quarter.” A hand shot up. “Mrs. Biggs, you say that every quarter. Maybe you should write it down somewhere so you’ll remember.”

And with that, I knew I had to get more organized with keeping track of late and missing assignments. What this sweet, unassuming student had said, stung. It was the truth, and I knew it.

A note about my organization: If you’ve seen my classroom, you will know I have sticky notes all over my desk; to-do lists, reminders, usernames and passwords (I know, I know, not the smartest idea!) But ever since my daughter was born, my brain has literally turned to mush. And when I lost my calendar/planner last month, I knew things had to change. (I buy the same calendar every year because I like the monthly view.) That thing has every important date, phone number, field trip contact, children’s dentist appointments, and yes, a handful of sticky notes in there, so I was desperate when it was gone. It was time to get organized and maximize efficiency.


One other thing you should know…I love binders. I have a binder for absent students to check with all their missing work inside for when they return. I have a binder for checking out books from my class library. I have a binder for each student neatly organized at the beginning of the year. This has streamlined my procedures. There is no more “Did I miss anything?” obnoxious questions when a student returns to school after an absence. I just point to the binder. There is no “I swear I didn’t check out that book,” when it turns up missing mid-year. The binder doesn’t lie. So, when I thought about all the missing work, I immediately thought, “How can I make a binder?”


I had watched a movie recently about a person getting fired, so I came up with the idea of a pink slip. I mentioned in a previous blog that I use Instagram to follow some amazing teachers to get ideas from them. Ya’ll know I like to borrow and steal. I happened upon Fantastically Fourth Grade‘s Insta post “Teacher Tip Thursday” about her easy way to communicate when you’re sending work home to complete.


Since I told the students and parents at the beginning of the year that I do not actually assign homework, I had heard from parents that their children were refusing to do missing assignments at home because, “Mrs. Biggs said we don’t have homework.” While that is partially true, (I do not send home an arbitrary math or spelling worksheet), I do expect some assignments, especially missing and late assignments to be completed at home.

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 8.30.52 PM

In comes the Pink Slip Binder. I created my own version of the slip posted by FFG. I wanted a place for the student’s name and assignment to be written down, as well as the check boxes for whether it was a digital or paper and pencil assignment. At the end of each day, I look for missing work on Google Classroom. I hand the student a pink slip, then write their name, the date, and the assignment in the binder log. I told the class, I will put a zero in the grade book and that will only change when they turn in the missing assignment AND the pink slip signed by an adult. We had several snow days last week and only three actual days of school. But by the end of that short week, I only handed out two pink slips (and one was for an absent student.) Previously, I would have had six-ten missing assignments (usually from the same two or three students). PINK SLIP PDF

I am excited to see if I can keep up with this in the long run, but I feel like I will not be making the “missing assignment” speech any time soon. (Here is the background for the pink slip.)