Top Five FREE Refreshers for Teachers

lemonade_lime_versionDedicated to the wonderful group known as the #sunchatbloggers…

Sometimes, teaching can bog you down.  You love what you do, but sometimes your schedule, the behaviors, the standards… they just wear on you.  You keep moving forward, but you feel sluggish.  Uninspired.  Unmotivated, maybe.  If only you could just sit in a lounge chair, put your feet in a pool of cold water, and sip an iced cold glass of lemonade…  Starbucks aptly named their pick-me-up, thirst-quenching drinks Refreshers.  I can get behind that.  Sometimes, you just need a Refresher.  Here are my Top Five Teacher Refreshers:

  1. Twitter:  Twitter is the number one FREE professional development resource for educators.  Period.  If you are not using Twitter to stay current, you should.  All it takes is 20 minutes.  20 minutes to scroll through your feed each day and read everything newly awesome and trending.  People share the most amazing resources, including links to free worksheets and lesson plans on Twitter too!  Scared to try?  Start by searching #edchat or #satchat.  These are my two favorite chats, and people use these hashtags all day, every day.  Take a look at what you see.  Like it?  Retweet it.  Click on a profile.  Like what you see?  Follow them.  I guarantee you this:  After a week of scrolling through Twitter, retweeting, and following, you will have built a nice little home feed for yourself.  You will learn from others, and better yet?  Others will learn from you!  Think of how amazing our profession would be if only the really great stuff was shared!
  2. EdWeb.net:  I’m not sure why it took me so long to hear about edWeb, but when I did, it was an a-ha moment.  Where have you been all my life?  Since then, I have viewed a number of their FREE hour-long webinars on topics such as designing learning spaces and integrating computer science in grades K-5.  Some may shy away from signing up for these free professional development opportunities due to the inconvenient times.  Not to worry!  I have only participated in one live webinar.  The rest have been recordings, and I assure, you can get just as much information from the recording as you do from the live feed.  In fact, the ability to pause is pretty awesome.
  3. Pinterest:  My friends know that I have a Pinterest Problem.  When I was first introduced to Pinterest, I was a maniac.  I pinned everything.  From first grade worksheets (that I didn’t need) to Christmas crafts (that I would never complete), if it was cute, I pinned it.  You never know, right?  Well, now I am much more discerning.  I usually create a board for each school year, but I also have a collaborative board for our Makerspace and a Leadership board since I am currently in graduate school.  It is a terrific visual representation of my goals.  And if I don’t have time to investigate deeply right then and there?  No problem.  It will be there later!
  4. Teachers Pay Teachers:  I know there are some who believe that everything that teachers create should be shared without a fee.  And philosophically, I agree.  But I also know how hard some teachers work creating amazingly adorable, structurally sound, deep, and meaningful resources.  And I don’t mind paying for them!  They are usually FREE or pretty inexpensive.  Plus, I absolutely love the convenience of searching for a particular topic, clicking “buy with PayPal”, and downloading directly to my computer immediately.  A few years ago, TpT added the Follow feature which I also enjoy.  I love when my favorite sellers post something new.  It gives me a little spark and inspires me to try something new!
  5. The Library Voice Blog:  If I could only follow one, just one, blog, I would follow The Library Voice blog authored by Shannon McClintock Miller.  “Shannon is a mom and Eric’s wife. She served as the K-12 district teacher librarian at Van Meter Community School District in Iowa for 8 years. Shannon is now an international speaker and consultant who speaks about education, librarianship, technology, social media, and making a difference in education and the lives of others, especially children.” Her blog posts feature tons of pictures and links, and her advice is both inspiring and practical.  She spearheads a number of wonderful, collaborative, international projects that I have participated in.  What a way to engage our local students and make the world a little smaller and a little nicer!

I know there are so many other resources out there.  Where do you turn when you need a little inspiration?  

What are your Top Five Refreshers?  I’m looking to take a sip of something new and sweet!

Storybird: Visual Storytelling for Everyone

My friend recently mentioned that her son is having a hard time generating ideas for journal writing.  It is taking him much longer than it needs to, and the result is a frustrated mom and child.  I explained that I view writing skills as I do muscles sets in the human body.  You have to use those muscles in order to strengthen them.  The same is true for writing skills.  We often overlook writing in the summer months, opting to keep our children reading or practicing math facts.  So, in the spirit of Back to School, I’d like to introduce one of my favorite digital resources to help students become more creative writers.

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As the scrolling image states on the landing page, Storybird is a place to

Write books you’ll always remember.  Read books you’ll always remember.  Discover books you’ll always remember. Share books you’ll always remember.

In a nutshell, users of all ages are inspired by beautiful art collections to write their own stories and books.  Collections range from silly to serious, but all are high quality.  Check out “Another Day, Another Doller” by my former student, Andrew:

From a teacher’s perspective, it could not be easier to get started.  If your school has Google accounts, even better.  Here are the basics:

  1. Go to Storybird.com.  Click Sign Up for Free (right corner).  Click Educator/Student.  Then click Google Sign In.
  2. Once there, Click Studio, Classes tab, and Add a Class.   Give it a name.
  3. Now, under Studio and Classes, you should see Review, Students, and other tabs.  Click Students, and Add or Invite students.  Click My Students Will Create Their Own Accounts.  See that class code?  Write it down.
  4. The students will complete the same steps as you did in Step One.  Only this time, they will enter the class code.

One of the things I love most about Storybird are its challenges.  I received an email regarding the September challenge:

For this month’s challenge, we’re going to take that famous writing advice, “Write what you know,” and put it to work. Think back to a time when you tried something new for the first time. How did it make you feel? Use your experience, and your memories of those emotions, to help you create your characters and tell your story.

Love it!  Note:  “You must have a Regular account for your story to appear in the public library and to be featured on our blog and to earn the badge. Stories published from Student accounts are only visible to members of your class.”  Doesn’t matter to me!  I am just looking for creative ideas to keep my kiddos writing!

Parents, you can sign up for free basic accounts.  Don’t be discouraged by all of the extras, like printable hardcover books, that Storybird has to offer.  The basic program is more than enough to produce beautiful stories and build writing confidence.

Storybird has so much more to offer in terms of reading and sharing stories.  Check back, and I will highlight some of its other awesome features, including its companion poetry writing app for iOs, Lark.

 

ELA Raps 2016

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Have you heard of Flocabulary?  It is a terrific teaching resource!  Flocabulary features “hip-hop videos to teach standards-based skills and content.”  Raps cover ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, Current Events and more! There are loads of activities and assessments that are built right in, and they even have lessons on how your students can write and perform their own educational raps.

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Challenge Accepted.  [It didn’t hurt that my teaching partner and I are products of the late 90s and early 2000s and have a soft spot for hip-hop from this era.]

We began by analyzing a few of Flocabulary’s raps/lyrics.  We looked at rhythm and rhyme, and highlighted content.  We circled hooks and talked about repetition.  Sounds a lot like a poetry lesson, doesn’t it?

We introduced students to a short list of original Flocabulary beats.  There were just too many to choose from!  Student groups were assigned topics such as the different reading genres and types of writing.  They drafted lyrics and practiced by placing them to the beat of their choice.

Then came the tricky part:  recording the raps.  Once they performed for a teacher, we allowed them to move into a “recording studio” or empty classroom equipped with a tri-fold presentation board.  They downloaded their beat from Flocabulary into their Google Drive, uploaded it to SoundCloud, and started their recording.  Note:  SoundCloud does not allow for editing.  Some of the groups became frustrated when they made mistakes while recording.  However, we decided that this was an important lesson in perseverance.  They had already invested so much time and energy that not one student wanted to give up!

The most ambitious groups reached a new height when they were able to move their recorded raps to the iPads and use the Video Star app to film in an original video.  View some of our top performances below.  What an amazing experience!

Click here to view a free sample of Flocabulary’s product. Learn about the “Rock Stars: Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic.” We’ve enjoyed using Flocabulary and just know you will too!

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2016

There is just something about pocket-sized anything that is so appealing!

I’ll be honest, I had never heard of of Poem in Your Pocket Day until I read this post by Shannon Miller.  Here is a description of Poem in Your Pocket Day from the Academy of American Poets:

Every April, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, people celebrate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others throughout the day at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, and on Twitter using the hashtag #pocketpoem. 

Poem in Your Pocket Day was originally initiated in 2002 by the Office of the Mayor, in partnership with the New York City Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education, as part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to all fifty United States, encouraging individuals around the country to join in and channel their inner bard. In 2016, the League of Canadian Poets extended Poem in Your Pocket Day to Canada.

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2016 was held on April 21

I just knew my classes had to participate!

I started with awesome poetry from the Poetry 180 program.  Poetry 180 is designed to bring a different poem to high school students each day of the school year.  I sampled a few of the poems before sharing it with my sixth graders and found them to be appropriate.  [Note, I would use caution with younger students.  You may want to hand-select poems from the site to provide age-appropriate reading material for the younger grades.]

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I let the children analyze two poems using the Poetry Peace Map Method by Lauren Candler.  You can preview this method of exploring poetry with this link.  They selected their favorite, and edited this Canva from Shannon Miller with their poems.  We printed three copies on standard paper.  We placed one copy in our pockets, put another copy in a basket, and a third copy was hung outside our classrooms to celebrate and share!  I also adjusted the document, selected four of my favorites, and printed four to a page.  I placed them outside of my classroom for students and teachers place in their pockets.  The more, the merrier!

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The students were surprised to find that they actually liked some of the poems.  In fact, I have even caught some of them reading from Poetry 180 during Free Reading time!  I would highly encourage you to participate for Poem in Your Pocket Day next year.

Poem in Your Pocket 2016

 

 

Fear Project Reflection Video

So, what did the kids really think about the Fear Project?  I decided to ask them.  First, they created reflection posts on Kidblog.  You can view some of them here:

Mrs. Lavallee’s Homeroom Kidblog Posts

I selected some of my favorites to feature in this Animoto video.

I am so proud of the sincerity, honesty, and thoughtfulness displayed in this student reflection video.  Sixth graders have so much potential.  I am lucky to work with them!

Plot Development with Toontastic

How do you teach students to identify the parts of a plot when they have already been exposed to it a million times?  Time to turn those tables, boys and girls!  I decided to have the students CREATE plots.  Yes, they write stories in the other half of ELA, but some of the students get so wrapped up in the word portion of writing that they lose their focus.  What to do?

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I recently mentioned that one of my favorite iPad apps, Toontastic, is now offered for free.  It had been a little while since I had used it in the classroom, so I decided to revisit it again.  It requires very little, if any, writing, but the best cartoons require careful planning, voice narration, and animation.  The connection to the writing process is certainly clear!

We started with a paper planning sheet and a iPad for inspiration.   You can find a FREE student planning sheet from LaunchPad Toys here.

I let the students view the scenes and “toys”, including characters and special effects prior to making a final decision on the setting for the story.  The newest app upgrade includes over 50 different scenes, and I would advise students choose carefully.  “Pick and Stick” is one of my favorite phrases!

Toontastic-Setting

 This was a very revealing portion of the project.  Despite learning about plot for a several years, some students still saw plot as a series of events with relatively no connection.  Working through the planning with each pair really allowed me to correct misconceptions and mistakes.  I’m hoping this one step will remain memorable to them.

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After approving their plot, I gave them index cards.  They wrote down what they would like to SAY.  I wasn’t too picky about this portion as some of the students are much better at “winging it” than others.  I didn’t want to stifle creativity with too much structure.

Then, I let them go crazy!  Our final results were saved to the camera roll and uploaded to YouTube for the world to see.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Jungle Stress by Nate and Tony

Tokyo Smackdown by Kaylee and Dominique