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.

Digital Teaching Resources, Inquiry-Based, Simulations, Uncategorized

Turning Paper Simulations into Digital Content

Ask any former student what their favorite thing about my class is, and most will say, “Simulation.” Simulation is something another teacher showed me from Scholastic that comes in a PDF form or you can purchase the physical packet for about a dollar more.  I have purchased all the ones below and they are well worth the $8!

Explorer Simulation
Revolutionary War Simulation
Bill Becomes Law Simulation
Oregon Trail Simulation
Civil War Simulation

First, I divide the class into smaller groups. I like six groups, which makes about 4-5 students in a group. I use this electronic group generator that is a Smart Notebook file so there are no complaints about who is in which group (although you can shuffle it as many times as needed). I do this before showing the students their groups.

These simulations are very much like the Oregon Trail computer game we played as kids, or the choose-your-own-ending novels. I read a passage, the small groups make a joint decision, and they listen to the consequences. During the Explorer’s Simulation, for example, the small groups make a decision whether to take the deal offered by King Ferdinand or Isabella for a fleet, or try their luck with the King of Portugal, Manuel I. Other times, the students have to spin on spinner board (paper clip and pencil) to see what their consequences are.

For a few years, I was printing each student a “Simulation Packet” where the kids would keep track of their data and write their journal entries. Then I decided to create them on Google Docs and share on Google Classroom. The reading passages are posted in PDF form, and the students keep track of their journal electronically. While it takes a long time for us to sit and wait for entire groups to spin on the electronic spinner (also available on a Smart Notebook file), it actually builds excitement as the other groups root for, and cheer on, their classmates. As part of most simulations (not the Bill Becomes a Law one), students whose health dips below a five, actually ‘die’. I’ve had entire wagon companies in the Oregon Trail simulation perish before reaching Oregon.

These simulations are great for many reasons. One, they put the students into the shoes of an actual person of the time period. I can teach them about famous Revolutionary War heroes, but when they are making decisions as if they were a soldier, they are soaking in the history and making it relatable. Two, the simulations foster those 21st century skills like communication and collaboration. Three, the Oregon Trail simulation includes a lot of math– the students keep track of how much money they have with them and the pounds of food and supplies they can carry. Interdisciplinary lessons kill two birds with one stone.

I’ve learned that a lot of those old worksheets or printable packets teachers love to share can be converted quickly and easily into electronic files. I loved Simulation but always hated printing the huge packets (even front and they back they could be like 6-10 pages per kid). I’m saving trees and still using the content the kids love. I just started our first simulation (the Explorer’s one) and already had kids thanking me and telling me how much fun they were having. Learning doesn’t have to look like textbooks and worksheets, people!

Digital Teaching Resources, Social Media

How Technology Changed the Teaching Profession (and it’s not what you think)

The internet at your fingertips.

Virtual Field Trips.

Google Earth.

Google Classroom. Google anything, really….Drive….Slides….Docs…Calendar. What did we do before Google?

Those are all great, but not what I was thinking.


During graduate school, we had to write two-three page lesson plans, which were a total waste. Three pages per lesson, at five subjects a day, 180 days… that’s like 2,700 written pages a year. Who has time for that?! But in 2007, I used the Internet to look up lesson plans. A few were online and were a great place to start. Here is my take on how technology shaped how educators beg, borrow, and steal.

Next came Pinterest. Educators quickly saw the value of Pinterest and I started following EVERYONE. Not only were teachers posting lesson plans, there were pictures…oodles and oodles of pictures. You could see classroom decor, see lessons in action, copy organizational tips, teacher hacks, and find sales for supplies. This totally beat the large stack of overly-copied and mimeographed worksheets I was handed (and completely grateful for) during my first year by a veteran teacher. (Full disclosure, some of those were really great and I still use them.)

Then came Teachers Pay Teachers. I jumped on the TPT bandwagon. Now there were more worksheets than I could ever imagine! I could  search for things before creating them myself because $2 was a small price to pay for not having to recreate the wheel. Heck, I even threw some of my Smartboard Notebook lessons on there and some worksheets my mom (graphic designer genius) created for me my first year, and made a few bucks on the side. Some sellers are now millionaires. While I still search for the occasional printable, even TpT has branched out to more digital and editable resources. (See my previous post about top TpT digital resources.) They’ve also gotten a little more expensive. Gone are the $2 days, as things are $10, $15, even $50 for full units these days.

Next came Facebook. Let’s admit it, I’ve been on Facebook since the beginning when it was only for college kids (circa 2003). I was already on it, so I started followed a few other teachers, schools, and educational resources. This was also a great place to see some teacher humor (helllllo Ryan Gosling memes and Gerry Brooks videos), but also to get access to other blogs and articles pertinent to education. Here are a few pages that are worth the follow:
Mind Shift
Making the PYP Happen
We Are Teachers

Finally, there is Instagram and Twitter. Following other teachers on Instagram (and following who they’re following) has been instrumental. I can go down an educational Instagram rabbit hole and not surface for hours. My iPhone camera roll used to be filled with pictures of my kids. Now, it’s all screenshots of classroom things I want to save and view later. Literally.

People also swear by Twitter. Following top-ranked educators, inspirational speakers, and even colleagues can be a great place for inspiration. Not only can it be a great place to get ideas, it’s also a great place to help our students. I haven’t been able to get into Twitter as much (I waste enough time on FB and Instagram, plus I do have that other full-time job, mommy-hood, that constantly interrupts my educational stalking/researching) but if you have any tips or suggestions of people to follow on Twitter, please leave a comment and I will check it out.

Digital Teaching Resources, IB

IB Exhibition: Part III

The research is done (Part I). The community visit or interview is done (Part II). Now what?

Quick re-cap: The students picked a man-made system that interested them, researched the system and current problems with that system, then interviewed or went on a community visit to talk to someone in the field. 

As part of the IB Inquiry Cycle, I now asked my students how they were going to “Take Action” in some way. I wanted the groups to develop a creative and positive way to make a difference (in regards to the problem they’ve been researching).

– What can your group do now that you have learned all of this information?
– How can your group make a difference?

I used these two documents to help the students understand what taking action looks like and some questions to guide their thinking.

  • Think of small changes first.  Build from there.
  • Be reasonable.  Consider time-constraints, manpower, monetary investment, etc. when developing your idea.

Here’s how it looked for a few of my groups:

  1. Transportation system (specifically the local CARTA buses): Students created fliers to pass out in the car-pool line at school to encourage parents to have students walk/ride bikes/use public transportation more often.
  2. Farming system (specifically “farm to table” movement): Students went to a farmers market, bought local ingredients, created a recipe from scratch, and shared it with the class.
  3. Education system (specifically physical education and health/nutrition): Students created a five minute presentation to show to the kindergarten classes at our school to promote healthy eating and exercise over summer vacation. The also created a website to share.

Since Exhibition is the culminating project in the Primary Years Programme, the students add their projects to the end of their portfolios. These portfolios (large binders) have been with the students since kindergarten. I save everything from the year, and we have “portfolio days” where the students select the items they are proud of, worked hard on, or just want to keep. They are constantly reflecting too, on their use of IB attributes and attitudes. All of this is kept in their portfolios.

I invite the parents in for a student-led conference. Before the conference, students use this criteria to flag articles that they are especially proud of. On conference day, their parents can write notes back to them and also describe how they have seen their child grow. After their student-led conference, the students get to take their portfolios home. They will get a new one next year as they start the Middle Years Programme.

Digital Citizenship, Digital Teaching Resources, Google Sites, IB, Uncategorized

End-of-Year Lifesavers

If you are like me, those last few days of school are a struggle. The students have finished their end-of-year exams, they know grades are finished, but you’re not quite ready to pop in the movie just yet. I found a  few lifesavers that helped me keep my sanity this week.

  1. Rock on to 5th Grade – Interactive Google Slides
    This is a take on the old paper booklets where students write about their year. I made an electronic version, posted it to Google Classroom (with the option that each student got their own copy) and set a due date. Students had to write about everything from how my future class could succeed in my room, to their summer plans. I even included alphabet pages, where students wrote one thing we learned this year for each letter.
  2. End-of-Year Brain Maps
    I saw this article on Eduptopia and copied the directions in a Google Doc to post on Google Classroom. I gave each table (four students) a large piece of butcher paper, some markers, and they were off to the races. I saw many students using my class Google Site to think back about what we’ve learned this year. A short presentation followed.
  3. IB Exhibition (Part I, II, and III). 
    While “Exhibition” is unique to IB schools, any inquiry based, research project could be completed at the end of the year. Students started by researching man-made systems. They interviewed someone in the field or went on a community visit, then researched a real-world problem that exists within that system. Finally the students had to “take action” in some way to help with the real-world problem. Some students made lesson plans for lower grades, others passed out fliers in their community, and some even started their own farmers market.


Summer is almost here! Enjoy!

Digital Teaching Resources, IB

IB Exhibition: Part II

My students have been working on Exhibition for a few weeks now. (See previous post on how we got started, our Unit of Inquiry, and “Finding Out”.)

After researching man-made systems, my students moved on to “Sorting Out” and “Going Further.” The students chose three key concepts to start brainstorming questions to go along with their unit.

Key Concepts PYP

I then had students think of real-world problems that are occurring with the system they chose. I created a google slide show where each student was responsible for filling in one slide with the problems associated with their system. Make a copy for yourself here.


Students then reached out the the community for interviews. We had responses from around the city. I had students interviewing local chefs and farmers about the “farm-to-table” movement, two members of the Charleston Ports Authority and Boarder Patrol came to hand-deliver their interview questions to one group, and still other students went to local software companies to discuss computer coding and hacking. We were overwhelmed with the positive support form both teachers in the building who had local contacts and the responses from around our city who had no affiliation with our school.

This will then move into our “Taking Action” portion of exhibition. Students will take action in some way to address the real-world issue researched above. See my future post on “Taking Action.”