5th Grade Math Challenge Project with Minecraft

Over the last month or so I have been teaching in a 5th grade classroom.  We rolled out a new math program (Houghton Mifflin Expressions) so I am going into the classrooms and helping the teachers work on the program.  For this 5th grade class I gave them a pretest – which I think is extremely important.  Pretesting shows exactly what the students know and what I need to teach.  Using the information I gained from the pretest – I was able to cut the unit down from 21 days to 12 days.  I taught only the concepts the students needed and then gave the chapter test.  All but one or two of the students made an A on the test! The power of using the pretest is amazing!  It gives us the opportunity to teach what the students need and then be able to challenge the students with the rest of the time. Pretests also allow you to group students in flexible groups within the class.  If not all the students need the unit – give those students challenge work while you work with a smaller group of students that need more help.  This also helps with classroom management because your students that already know the material aren’t bored and distracting other students.

Dollar sign

Because the unit was over multiplication of whole numbers and decimals, I wanted to pick a challenge project that would allow the students to use their new skills.  The unit introduced exponents, so I wanted to be sure the project I picked had some exponents.  I chose to have the students do a project on the National Debt.  The students and I spent two days finding the National Debt and discussing what it is.  We also discussed the types of services the government provides and has to pay for with tax dollars.  We talked about taxation and issuing new money.  It was a great two days of discussion and the students asked SUCH great questions!

Then we moved on to the debt clock.  This is a clock that that shows the National Debt in real time.  It shows how the National Debt is increasing, literally by the second!  We also researched the US population so we could use LONG DIVISION to figure out the national debt per citizen.  The students were NOT happy about long division in the trillions place by millions!  I worked part of them with them and then challenged them to figure out the rest.  I wish I could say that the students rose to the challenge, but they didn’t.  I did have ONE students that worked it out all the way, by hand!  I let the rest use a calculator – clearly our long division skills need work (another reason these projects are great is because you do see what skills your students need work on)!  Additionally, we calculated the national debt owed by all of the citizens in our state (GA) and in our class.  We also used scientific notation to write the debt and discussed how scientific notation is used.  The last part of this phase of the project was to check the debt clock at three different points in time (we did this over several days) and use the change formula to calculate the change in the clock of the three different time periods.

The last part of the project was for the students to show a representation of the National Debt.  I found this website which showed a representation using dollar bills for the national debt (I scrolled quickly through the girl on the couch in the racy outfit!).  The kids were amazed at the amount of $100 bills it would take to represent the national debt (I used the website and not the youtube video because I didn’t like the women on the couch and knew I could have control of the content).

I knew I wanted to students to show this type of representation, but also understand it would take a LONG time that I didn’t have.  So, instead, we used Minecraft.  I loaded minecraft onto our iPad carts and let the students use the blocks to represent the money.  The students had to figure out how many blocks they would need based on the amount of money they made the block.  In general, most students had a block equal 1 billion, so they still had to place 17,000 blocks!  The students had to show the National Debt, Georgia’s portion of the debt and the Classes portion of the debt.  We presented our projects to the class and I graded the project with this rubric.

I think the representations are AWESOME!  I am so proud of the work the students did!  I have linked some of our projects below (Sorry about the quality of the video – you can’t screen record on the iPad).



Caught Off Guard!!!

E learning1

I attended the Georgia Educational Technology Conference (GaETC) and I have to say I have been caught off guard!  I consider myself pretty knowledgeable regarding technology in the classroom and how it is used!  I was on the cutting edge of using technology in the classroom, I brought BYOD to my school two years ago, I trained and rolled out iPads for all my teachers, etc.  I really thought I had a handle on educational technology.

A few weeks ago I even showed this video at a faculty meeting that caused quite a ruckus in our faculty because of the premises in the video!

When I showed this video at the staff meeting our teachers were all in a buzz, convinced that educational reforms weren’t going to hit home and we didn’t need to gear our instruction toward individual children, but rather still “teach to the masses”.  We had a great discussion over the future of education and what our classrooms would look like in the future.  The ADHD discussions from the video were intense and very thoughtful, as teachers definitely had strong feelings about the implications of medicating (that is for another post).  We talked about the “Date of Manufacture” line in the video and why we group our students by age, rather than interest.  I don’t believe in everything in the video but I certainly think the video gave excellent food for thought.  We even decided that we are going to watch more video like this at our staff meetings because the video stimulated conversation and the more we discuss issues as a staff the more we will become aligned in what we believe.  The more aligned we are in our beliefs, the stronger we are as a staff.

AND THEN, I came to this conference and was completely blown away.  When I showed that video to the teacher’s I thought individualized education was YEARS away, but coming here I realize that individualized education is ALREADY HERE!  I know I keep writing in caps, but I am truly shocked at what I have discovered at this conference.

I have been to this conference for many years and nearly did not come this year because I thought it would be more of the same – discussions about BYOD and how to use iPads in the classroom.  While there is some of that, I have sensed a real shift in education – the shift to online and blended learning.  I didn’t realize how close this was to reality until coming to this conference.

I live in Georgia and according to the Keeping Pace report we are really ahead in our approach to online education.  It is law in GA to provide students with an online alternative if the class that they want to take is not offered in their school.  This service is provided through the Georgia Virtual School.  The school has to provide the class and the time during the day to take that class!  I was shocked!  I didn’t know this was the case.  As a private school, my school will need to keep pace with the offerings of the public school.  This is a game changer for us.  Luckily, my school is already researching these options now.

Also, new to me was the concept of MOOCs.  MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.  MOOC’s can be offered by anyone and they are usually sponsored by colleges and universities and they are FREE!  I was amazed at the number of MOOC’s available and ANYONE can join and participate in them.  I am going to participate in this MOOC by Kennesaw State University this winter and it is FREE, I will receive PLU and I could also potentially receive graduate course credit.  I am sure there will be a small fee for the graduate course credit portion, but can you imagine how MOOC’s will change education?

Even in elementary school I can see big implications for online and blended learning.  I think this type of learning will first impact elementary school with our students that need enrichment and remediation.  I can see a Orton Gillingham certified teacher being made available to more students that need reading help through and online provider.  Our babies that need explicit reading instruction, taught by a highly trained teacher, would be more available through online resources.  I can also see a teacher online for our babies that need enrichment.  Our students that need more of a challenge could gather together with other like-minded students and be enriched by a robotics teacher or a higher level math teacher.  I think then after these needs are filled we will see the online and blended learning trickle down to the average classroom.

I think this opens up amazing opportunities for our students.  I also do not worry that this is going to replace me in the classroom, but I do know that my job may look different in the future.  We know the single most important difference in learning is a highly skilled teacher – so I think as educators we are all safe, but I think our role and what it looks like may drastically change over the new few years!

Technology in Reading Class – Part 1, Book Trailers

One of my favorite things is to use technology in whatever class I am teaching.  However, when I use technology I want to be sure that I am using technology in meaningful ways to enhance my curriculum.  There are a lot of ways to use technology that do not enhance curriculum and just replace what we did before.  For example, a lot of my fourth-grade students last year decided to start using their iPads for their Reader’s Notebook rather than a spiral bound notebook.  I allowed the students to do this and didn’t have any problem with them using one form of technology to replace paper and pencil – HOWEVER, this is not meaningfully using technology as a tool to help my students retain more information.  

I want my students to love reading and I want them to love to come to reading class.  I also want my students to really work with texts to understand mood and theme of the text.  One way to do this is to have students use technology.  My FAVORITE way to use technology is having students make book trailers. Book Trailers are an incredible way to grab students attention and love of technology and combine it meaningfully with reading!  The students LOVE making book trailers.  When making a book trailer students have to think about the most important parts of the book and relate them to the viewer.  The students also have to think about the mood of the book.  I always tell my students that I should not hear Disco music if the book was a serious book!  The students have to match music and pictures to the mood and theme of the book! It is a perfect way to use iPads in the classroom!  iMovie even has pre-made book trailers in their library for students to use! Photo I allow my students to use the templates in iMove for the first couple of book trailers and then they have to graduate to making them from scratch in the expanded form of iMovie.  You don’t have to use iMove, you could use any video app or software that you have.  

I have used book trailers in 4th and 5th grade.  This year I am teaching a 3rd grade reading class and I am going to attempt book trailers with them as well. Below is an example of a book trailer from the book Hatchet.  Here is a link to my dropbox folder on Book Trailers.  I have taken some of these templates from all over the web – all free.  I have adjusted them to suit my needs.

I will continue in this series of posts about technology in reading with how we have used Puppet Pals in reading class. 

My Favorite Student Apps

Below is a list of my favorite student apps.  When I say “favorite” I am using that term loosely because new apps come out every day that are awesome and there are so many GREAT apps!  These are ones that I love and have used a lot in my classroom!  The pictures are linked to the app store.

1. Puppet Pals $ – I LOVE Puppet Pals. It may be one of my favorite apps! This app can be used in so many different ways. The students can use it to explain a process you have been learning in class, the students can use it to review information before a test, the students can use it to illustrate a process, etc. This app has limitless possibilities!


2. Page Send (free) – Page send is an online collaboration app. The students can invite each other in to collaborate on documents. The students can also record what they are doing in a document and save it for future reference or send on to friends.


3. LAZ Leveled Readers ($) – This series of books is a leveled reading series. The book are leveled using Fountas and Pinnell. The app store has levels aa – R. I will be sending out this app based on your grade level.


4. Doodle Buddy (free) – This is a great drawing app and it is FREE! You can use this to have students illustrate a scene in a book, to make infographics (very cool!), and to illustrate any writing work they have completed. Students can import pictures, add text, and add shapes.


5. Read2Go ($)– This is an amazing app for our dyslexic students. The students can apply for a free account if they have a qualifying text disability at bookshare.org. The app will link to their book share account and allow students to have access to thousands of free books (textbooks as well), that can be read to the student. The app is pricey, but you may want to recommend the app to students with a learning disability.


6. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore ($) – An excellent app that tells a wonderful story about the love and care of books!


7. Scribble Press (free) – This is a free book making app! The students can write a book and illustrate the book all in this app! The book can then be purchased in hardback form and shipped to the student. The students can create a book to be shared or printed. The app comes with story starters or blank books.


8. Rover (free)– Rover is another browser (like safari), but it will play flash content for education.


9. Bluster(free) – A vocabulary game that works on adjectives, rhyming words, prefixes, suffixes, and synonyms. You are able to pick the grade level. Free App.


10. SpellBoard ($) – An awesome spelling app! The app allows you to load in spelling lists and th students work through spelling the words in quizzes and practice. The students can complete a word scramble or word search as part of their studying.


11. Verses Poetry (free)– refrigerator magnets type poetry mixer! Gives a variety of words to “mix-up” into a poem.


12. iWrite Words ($) – Handwriting app. The app does not allow the letter to be written the wrong way – i.e. starting at the bottom or going backwards.


13. Cursive Practice(free) – This app allows cursive practice.


14. Math Racer ($) – a math fact game.


15. Splash Math (Grades 1-5) ($) – Math Practice by unit and additional practice.


16. Google Earth (free)


17. Star Walk ($) – An awesome app that lets you see exactly what is in the sky above you at any time!


18. Frog Dissection ($) – I LOVE this app and I hate dissection! This app will allow you to virtually dissect a frog and see the body systems. Also, the app will teach you about each organ and it’s function in the body.


19. Stack the States and Stack Countries Lite (free) – Great apps that allow students to practice US and World Georgraphy.


20. iCard Sort – Sorting app ($)– Load in anything and have your students sort – spelling words, vocabulary, math problems, etc.


21. voice Plus ($)– Have your students practice fluency by recording themselves or practice their spelling patterns by telling stories. The students can change their voices and listen back to the audio file. They can also email the files to the teacher!


22. iThoughts HD ($) – One of my favorite apps! Use for mindmapping and as a graphic organizer for students!


23. Strip Designer($) – Comic Strip Maker – have your students create comic strips for any content area! Allow students to use their creative side to show what they know!


iPad Deployment Training–Part 1

Our teachers received their iPads this week and it was an interesting process to hand them out!  The teachers were so excited and could not wait to get their iPads.  I broke out our training into groups of those that already had i-devices and those that didn’t.  I figured that the group that already had devices would be ready to go and need minimal training and the group that didn’t have any i-device would need some extra hand-holding.  I was correct in my theory, but I was completely wrong in how much I overestimated what the i-device group would be able to do and how much the group that didn’t have any apple experience would be able to do!

The biggest stumbling block to each group was the Apple ID!  I am not sure why it has to be so confusing, but it is a huge problem.  When the IT staff and I were trying to figure out how to deploy the iPads we knew that we wanted to the teachers to be able to load their own apps and make their iPads personalized.  We knew that if we locked down the iPads then the teachers wouldn’t use their iPads and then they wouldn’t figure out why the ipad is such an amazing tool for teachers!  The problem for us was how to use the UPP (Volume Purchasing Program) and allow the teachers to still have their own apple ID.  We decided not to Pre-Load any apps on the teachers iPads, but rather give them a blank iPad and have the teachers load all the recommended (free) apps during a staff meeting.  here is our list of apps that we had the teachers load.  We are going to “gift” paid apps to our teachers.  This will cause less headache as far as multiple apple IDs on each device and the need to sync teachers devices to a cart at the school.  The cost will be about $100 per teacher over the life of their tenure at the school.  The cost will only be realized when teachers are leaving the school.  We figured this cost was worth not having the headache of dealing with apple ID’s and syncing.

We did this because with the VPP we can send the teachers a link to redeem the apps under their own apple ID and then we don’t have syncing issues.  We have told the teachers to all sync their iPads to their work computer.  We also instructed the teachers to create a new apple ID if they had a family ID where they had already purchased apps and would want to use that ID for purchasing apps.  The teachers would need a separate ID for the iCloud backups, Facetime, and Messaging that is separate from their family ID (otherwise all data would be combined with the families data and teachers wouldn’t be able to message or factime).  We showed the teachers how to put their family ID as the store Apple ID, but then add their new apple ID as their iCloud, Facetime, and Messaging id.  I hope that makes sense, but here is a graphic that may help.  It was very confusing to figure out!  If someone has a better way to handle this I would love to hear it!

21st Century Classroom Design

I was offered an AMAZING opportunity yesterday!  My school is doing a new ad campaign (we are an independent school) and I was asked to be the faculty representative in the campaign – but, that is not the exciting part!  As part of the photo shoot, I get to design my dream classroom/workspace!

I am a HUGE believer in the power of collaboration and teaching students using 21st century learning skills.  I believe that a teacher should act more as a coach, than a “Sage on the Stage”.  I want students to be completely engaged and immersed in the learning process, using whatever tools fit their learning style.  I LOVE technology and encourage my students to use technology every chance they have!  To be given the opportunity to take all that I believe and turn it into my dream classroom is amazing!

When I was approached, I knew exactly what I would do.  Just the day before I had been reading this blog post on using ipads and project4003255229_f634840b86 based learning on a science lesson.  I am going to take this lesson and incorporate it into a design based classroom.  I am going to use the ideas from the D School at Stanford to create an amazing collaboration space where students can research, design, build, make mistakes, fail, and start over again!

So, as soon as I found out I had this awesome opportunity I set about to design my room.  My classroom will be walls that are all whiteboards.  We are going to use shower board to make the white boards.  We found the plans here.  The room will have fabric cubes for the students to sit on and we will have some tables for students to spread out materials.  We are also going to add in bins with all types of supplies for students to work with – expo markers, post-it notes (LOTS AND LOTS OF POST_ITS) yarn, foam, colored pencils, pipe cleaners, paper, etc.  Here is a sketch of my room design.

21st Century Learning P8

As I work out the details of the lesson and the room comes together I will post more details.  Also, I will post what happened when I asked students to help with the photo shoot, but emphasized to them we would be doing and actual lesson and they would have to do more work! 

The ability to design the workspace of your choice is an amazing opportunity.  What would you do if given the opportunity to design your dream classroom?