Art Integration, STEAM, Uncategorized

Art Integration in Upper Elementary

My favorite subject in school was always art. This recent Mind Shift article got me thinking about how I am using (or not using) art in my classroom.

During my Sharing the Planet unit, I teach Native American regions, early European Explorers, and plant and animal classification. This interdisciplinary unit focuses on the central idea: Native communities are altered when new elements are introduced.

For the Native American regions, we do a small craft for each region: paper canoes for Eastern Woodlands, Teepees for Great Plains, sand art for Southwestern, and totem poles for Pacific Northwest. I even have a 7-foot totem pole that we can complete as a class. This year, I also started a weaving project with wampum belts and the kids have loved it! I tied it into math as well, working on patterns; transformations, reflections, and rotations.

During our study of habitats and biomes, I started a torn art project. The students had to pick one habitat/biome we have studied in class. They were to create a scene from the habitat using torn pieces of construction paper, magazine pages, and tissue paper without using scissors! They had to include at least two examples of plant life and one example of animal life that is native to the habitat. I found examples on Pinterest and posted them to Google Classroom in a Doc. Finally, the students use their knowledge of animal classification to design their own zoo.

Finally, their summative assessment involves creating a cartoon similar to the Mark Trail Sunday comic strip by James Allen. Students had to pick an invasive species (or put a species in a new habitat) and explain how the original habitat would be affected. The specifics can be found here. As always, I like to include choice in my projects, so they could either draw them, or create them on a Google Slide.

For my second unit, How the World Works, I teach early European settlement in North America with the water cycle and weather. This interdisciplinary unit focuses on the central idea: Natural cycles are interconnected and impact the world.

For weather, I have a few ideas (thanks, Pinterest.) In the past, I’ve done the tornado in a jar, but would like to add more art to this unit. I was thinking of doing crayon and water color clouds, textured tin foil art, sensory snow, rain and wind process art, or even salt and water color art. The summative assessment for this unit is a written DBQ (Document Based Question).

For social studies, I have the students create a colonist. They research names, jobs from the 1400’s, and dress their colonist accordingly. I saw this post on having the kids trace themselves on butcher paper and could make the colonist project really come to life! We also work on Colonial Quilts, a Scholastic activity, and combine our individual squares to make a large class “quilt”. This year, I would like to make hand-dipped candles and/or weave tapestries to show how hard and labor-intensive life was back then. Do I dare try needlepoint? Corn husk dolls are popular and I found some guides here and here. There is even a yarn version…which might be easier.


Check back for a future post on integrating art into other units. And leave a comment with how you’re using art in your classroom. I’d love to get new ideas!

Flexible Seating, Personalized Learning, Student Choice

Back-to-School & Student Choice

I am five days away from heading back to school. Five days. I’m not sure where summer went, but this one flew by. Maybe it was the constant playdates and pool time with my toddlers, or my brother’s wedding, or the IB training in Austin, Texas, but either way, I’ve been doing some reflection and trying to figure out how to give my students more choice this year. Here are three ways I will include choice in my class this year:

Flexible Seating:
My class has had flexible seating for two years now. I did a small blurb on my seating choices in a previous blog post “Top 5 Reasons I Use Technology in my Classroom” (see #2). Previously, it looked like this: My students may sit/stand wherever they like as long as they are on task. I have seats with stationary bikes, standing tables with spooner boardsHokki stools, and bean bag chairs. I noticed that once a student picked a seat for the day, they sat there and wouldn’t move. I wanted there to be more movement between subjects and throughout the day. This year, I am removing two large desks (each desk seats two students) and I am making crate seats. Four will be placed in a semi-circle in the front of the room, and four along the back wall for a “couch/bench” like seating area. Below you can see how large the tables are and I’m looking forward to the extra space this will open up. I found lap desks at Hobby Lobby and students can bring them to the crate seats or to the floor. I would like to offer some incentive for picking more than one seat in a day.


Morning Work:
I stumbled upon this blog about “Rethinking Morning Work.”  I love the idea of morning work choice! My daughter’s preschool teacher offers this for four-year-olds, why wouldn’t it work for fourth graders? Every day when she walks in, her teacher has set up a few tables with arts/crafts, small toys, Play-Doh, etc. She can choose which to engage with after she hangs up her book bag. I’m interested in this Suspend Game and Legos for a collaboration station. Since we are 1:1 ipads, we could have a technology station, a game station (hello task cards and sudoko!), and an artistic expression station focusing on an artist or genre each week or month. I am hoping to have this fleshed out soon but would not start it on the first two days of school. (Our district starts school on Thursday, we have class Friday, then three days off for the weekend and the solar eclipse.)

Choice Boards & Novel Selection:
I have used choice boards for many topics, but especially math. I give students a “Must Do/May Do” list where they have certain things that are mandatory to complete and others are optional. I would like to be more creative with academic choice this year, for example, offering my students more than one summative assessment for each IB unit. I do many station-rotation models in my classroom, but I would like to offer maybe six stations, where only four or five need be visited.  I usually select two or three novels for each IB unit based on the topics covered. I always group the students by ability, but would like to offer the students a choice in which novel to read (as long as I have sort-of evenly numbered groups). I’m thinking I will read the jacket covers of the books out loud and have students record on a note card their first choice. I want the decision to be independent of their friend’s choices. It is always hard at the beginning of the year, since these students don’t know my routines and procedures. They also don’t have experience being given so much choice in a classroom. Hopefully, I’ll have them whipped into shape in no time!

A very special thanks to the blogs who I’ve borrowed/stolen from today. And my dad, who I begged to help me make these crate seats!


Inside the Trenches
The Apple Tree Room
The Science Penguin

Genius Hour

Genius Hour: Part IV

This has been a pretty cool journey, and is by far the most fun we (consistently) have each week. During our science and social studies lessons, questions constantly come up and we add them to the Genius Hour wall of questions. The students also found this website from School in the Cloud with other big questions posted by people from across the globe. An abundance of questions has never been our problem. But putting together meaningful presentations has. Here’s how we solved the problems from Genius Hour Part I, Part II, and Part III.


Problem 1: Students were boring their classmates with their presentations.
Solution: We started videotaping the presentations and posting them to Google Classroom. Not only would any absent students be able to see what they missed, but the actual presenters could watch their own presentations and analyze it to improve for the future.
Proud Teacher Moment: One group did a presentation answering the question, “What is sketch comedy?” They were very much interested in doing a mock news show but their presentation was just a video of them talking to the camera. After watching themselves, they re-did their presentation adding b-roll footage and it was much improved.

Problem 2: We were having a hard time keeping track of who was doing what, and when.
Solution: We created a Genius Hour Record sheet in Google Sheets. This is posted in Google Classroom and students can access them at any time. Each time we meet for Genius Hour, students  are  expected to record what their topic/question is and what they did that day (researching, preparing presentation, etc).


Problem 3: Students were copying and pasting large chunks of information from the web into their presentations.
Solution: We (the GT teacher and I) decided we must approve genius hour questions before students can do the research, and they have to show us their research before they start working on their presentation. We also required research and presentations must be presented with bullets. No complete sentences! This threw the kids off for a few weeks but they are getting better at trimming their information down. This helped for presentations too, because they couldn’t just read from the board.

Problem 4: We (students and teachers) were getting overwhelmed watching 10-20 presentations in one sitting.
Solution: We created a Google Calendar where students can sign up for 5 minute presentation time slots throughout the week. I get an email alerting me a few minutes before and the students write it down in their agenda. These are peppered throughout the day  during transition times, like after lunch.


Anyone else doing Genius Hour? What is working in your classes?



Digital Teaching Resources, Math Rotations, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Personalized Learning: Math Rotations

I have been trying to get my math lessons to be completely personalized for years.
(See previous posts one , two and three).

I’ve finally got a system in place that works for me.

  1. Give Pre-tests. I usually give the students 3-4 pre-tests at a time. (For example, Fractions standards 4.NSF.1, 4.NSF.2, and 4.NSF.3 all at once since they are related.) I will create them on Google Forms and attach the links in Google Classroom. I use Forms because they are graded for me. I also always include an a “?” answer and encourage my students to choose it if they don’t know the answer. Since it is a pre-test and not for a grade, they students understand that it is more helpful to choose the “?” than to randomly guess.test2
  2. I establish the stations. Some teachers do specific rotations, but I just give my students a list of things that need to be completed and the due date. It looks something like this:

During your math rotations from now (3/2) until  Wednesday (3/6) you must complete the following:

  • Time Goal on ALEKS
  • Math by yourself: Independent Practice – (Performance task sheets).
  • Math with a Partner – Error Analysis (upload video here)
  • Math with Me: either small group time,  Padlet time, or a math game (be sure to turn in evidence) 

My error analysis sheet looks like this:
((Learn more about how I use Error Analysis sheets and Doceri app for uploading math problems in a future blog post.))


3. I use the pre-test data. I write each standard on the board, and where the student
falls (level 3 = mastered standard, level 2= needs some assistance, level 1= needs
more assistance/doesn’t understand. Students fill in their tracking sheet with the level
they started the unit. I then pull students from level 1 and 2 for small groups or
independent help.


My level 3 students are either working to become level 4 (going above state
standard) or are working on another standard ahead of the class on the tracking
sheet. This is if they have completed the tasks listed above.

4. I let students post-test when they’re ready. Just like my error analysis Google
Doc, I have one for Pre-tests and Post-tests as well. When a student feels like they
have mastered the material, they can take a Post-Test. If they want to pre-test for
the next standard, they know where to find the sheet (on Google Classroom in the
About page). I added a paper calendar, too, where students initial when they take a              post-test, so I can make sure everyone is completing each standards.

5. I collect evidence. Once a week, they turn in their tracking sheet (via a Google
Doc) and any evidence (task cards, answer sheets, etc) to show they’ve done the
work they recorded on their tracking sheet.



Digital Teaching Resources, Uncategorized

My Top 6 Digital TpT Purchases

Everyone loves a good printable. But while printables and worksheets look cute, they’re not always the best for higher order thinking, collaboration, and creativity. I was asked during a Digital Cohort class to go around the school where the class was taking place and to take pictures of student work around the building. What we noticed were the “cute” things hanging on the wall were all the same (slightly differently colored) versions of the exact same thing.

Here are my top five TpT purchases that have helped me differentiate, personalize, and keep my sanity.

1. Error Analysis & Constructed Response (Math problems). During math rotations I usually do some variation of: Math with Me, Math by Myself, Math with a Partner, and Math with my iPad. During the collaborative station, I have the students work in pairs to answer a constructed response question or look at a problem that was solved incorrectly to find and analyze the mistake. I’m killing two birds with one stone; the students are working on collaboration and communication skills, but also looking deeply at math problems .


2. Marzano Learning Scale Templates. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have an entire binder that is color-coded by math standard. Each math standard has the learning scale listed on one side and a QR code on the back. The learning/proficiency scale lets the students know what is expected of them in kid friendly terms. The QR codes take them to a padlet page (see previous post) with videos, examples, and practice problems for each standard.


3. QR Code Task Cards. There are too many to post. When I am working with small groups in math, the students working independently, or with pairs are not allowed to interrupt my group to ask questions. Having them do problems with QR codes showing them the answers lets them self-assess and I don’t get interrupted every five minutes.


4. Writer’s Workshop Deli-Style Conferencing and Smartboard Attendance. In two words: life savers. Both of these interactive downloads save me time. The attendance smartboard has a different page for each month of the year (and a few extra). The students move their name each morning and I can quickly glance at the board to see who’s absent. (The kids especially loved January, where they “threw” their snowballs to show they were present.) The writer’s workshop powerpoint has students take a number. When I’m ready to conference with the next student, I click the spacebar on my laptop, and the next number pops up on the smartboard (plus a ‘ding’ chime) which alerts the class I’m ready to move on. Who doesn’t love streamlining and saving time?!


5. Pre and Post Tests (Math Standards). I am working on a document that will have all of my pre and post test in one place. In the mean time, creating questions for each math standard by myself is beyond time consuming. I’m not trying to create more work for myself, so using some pre-made questions, or tweaking them slightly is another way to save some time. Work smarter, not harder!


6. Data checklists (ELA & Math). I use these checklists to chart all the data I receive from pre and post math tests. I can write in level 4, 3, 2, 1 depending on the results and change them as they prove they’ve mastered a standard. Again, I didn’t want to recreate the wheel. These are close to what I would have created myself.

Digital Teaching Resources, Uncategorized

Teaching with Padlet

This blog post could easily be titled Year Four: Personalized Learning because it ties in with my previous posts. While students are working at their own pace in my math class through ALEKS and their tracking sheets, I also have Padlet pages for every standard. (I use their app on my iPad, too).

Padlet is a virtual bulletin board. I can post pictures, videos, links, task cards, practice problems, and so much more to one page. My students have an understanding of what the standards mean (NSF stands for Number Sense Fractions) since they track their own learning each day (see previous post). Here is my Padlet from standard 4.NSF.1:


I have a Padlet page for every single standard. If a student is working on 4.NSF.1 and I’m working with a small group, they know they can not bother me. If they are having a problem understanding the concept, they click the link to Khan Academy or Math Antics video through the Padlet. They can work on practice problems too, to see if they truly understand.  I also love Anchor Charts, but I have terrible handwriting. So, I search the standard on Pinterest and copy and paste someone else’s anchor chart image and save it to Padlet. Is that borrowing or stealing? 


At the start of this year, I created a Proficiency Scale using what my district provided and this resource I bought on TpT. I printed them out and color coded them by standard. On the back of each proficiency scale is a QR code that takes them directly to that standard’s Padlet page.


This has worked so well for me in math, I am planning on creating Padlet pages for each science and social studies standard as well. I’m teaching US Government right now and can just picture links to the White House, video clips, and even School House Rocks. (I’m just a bill, on Capital Hill).

Math Rotations, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Year Three: Personalized Learning

My school is the academic magnet elementary school for the county. There are entrance tests, standardized test requirements, and grades to maintain. The majority of my class is identified by the state as “Gifted & Talented.” I always have a bright group of students, but this year I have one student who is exceptionally bright, especially in math. He was getting into some trouble for classroom behavior issues, and ended up in the principal’s office for detention. He wrote me an apology letter but at the bottom, he added, “…but can you imagine what it is like for me sitting through your math lesson?”  And it hit me like a ton of bricks because I do know. I was that bright kid bored out of my mind while my teachers in school “taught to the middle.” I knew I needed to do something different in my class, and I was going to start with math.

I participated last year in a pilot program to use this web-based math tool called ALEKS. Students worked at their own pace and I received really good data to see each student’s weaknesses, strengths, and pacing. This year, it was not offered to my school but I begged my principal, the school foundation, and even the Technology Department at the district level. Eventually, my principal purchased a school-wide subscription. Two days later, I heard from the district they had some extra licenses and they would go to my school! We cancelled our school order and got started:


Each student takes an initial knowledge check. They get a pie chart with each 4th grade standard. The more full the pie slice, the more they know. Unfilled portions of the slice are things they still needed to learn. Each kid can work at their own pace (they call it a Path). I can see the problems they are working on, the time spent on each standard or problem, and how to group students for small groups and interventions. When students are prompted for another knowledge check (after about three hours of time spent in the program), I get an email report for anyone mastering 85% of the material. I can move them on to more challenging material. I currently have 28 students in my 4th grade class and 17 students working on 5th grade math, and two working on 6th grade math.

The student who was bored during my math instruction recently wrote me a separate note for the Great Kindness Challenge and it was little different: