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).


Tiger TV and Hour of Code

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One of my favorite parts of the day at school is Tiger TV.  Tiger TV is my school’s morning news program.  The twist about our morning news program is that it is completely and totally run by our 5th graders!  It is an absolutely amazing production and the teacher that is in charge of heading the program up does an amazing job!

All of our fifth-graders rotate through working every job on our morning news program.  We have two anchors, two teleprompter operators, 2 camera operators, a board operator, a weather student, and two managers.  One of the managers is the floor manager and the other manager runs the computer.  

The two anchors deliver the news.  One of the teleprompter operators runs the mirroring teleprompter that we use for the anchors.  This teleprompter is displayed in mirror font and the operators job is to keep the words on the screen for the anchors to read.  The anchors read a screen directly in front of them – displayed on a mirror so the words are the correct way for them to read (rather than reversed).  The other teleprompter’s job is to put the weather forecast up and run the teleprompter for camera 2 (we don’t mirror this one due to the way our set is configured).  The camera talent is responsible for cueing the anchors and the talent using camera 2 (usually weather, pledgers, tech tip, etc) and responsible for greeting and placing the talent and guests when they come on Tiger TV.  The board operator controls the broadcast out the school. The weather student is responsible for getting the weather to broadcast and then they also are either assigned a scientific fact to discuss or they are allowed to pick their own fact to present.  The floor manager is responsible for directing the entire crew and the computer operator times all of the stories and puts the graphics up for our set (our entire production is green screened).  Both of our manager positions are on the crew for 2 crews – one in which they serve all of the other positions and then because of their leadership they are selected to be a manager for the next crew.  

When a new crew comes on, about every 21 days, they are trained by the crew leaving.  The new crew spends two days learning how to do all of the jobs on the set.  When the jobs are rotated on the current crew the students train each other on their next job (sounds confusing to write, hopefully it makes sense).  Our wonderful leader that manages the entire production writes the scripts and is the supervisor in the room each morning.

Our morning news program started as announcements over the intercom.  Then we got a camera and started with students standing in front of a podium delivering news and now we have an amazing morning production that grows each year!  We use Boinx Software to run our program and send it out to the school.  We had a pretty sharp learning curve with Boinx, but our Tiger TV coordinator has done an amazing job learning all that this software can do.

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It is amazing what Tiger TV accomplishes in a LIVE broadcast, every morning!  I am always in awe of what the kids can do.  It is completely kid run and the kids love it!  It is a requirement in our fifth-grade standards and our fifth-graders cannot wait for their turn on Tiger TV.  If you are interested in checking out more of our daily news show click here.

We used Tiger TV to kick-off our Hour of Code this week.  I do a weekly segment on Tiger TV, entitled Tech Tip.  Sometimes I include students in the tip and sometime I am just giving information.  It is a really nice way for me to talk about technology to the entire school.  We use this platform for a lot of digital citizenship discussions!  This week I had a panel of students that had already participated in the Hour of Code on Tiger TV discussing what they did and what they thought.  Take a look…

Our students, K-5, all participated in the Hour of Code this week, sponsored by Code.org.  The students have had a GREAT time learning to code!  Here is a short video we made with the students that participated on Monday.



Technology in Reading Class – Part 2

Word Work is a very important part of reading class.  We spend a few minutes a couple of times a week making words and it is one of my centers.

When we make words as an entire class I print a page with letters on it and the students cut apart the letters at the beginning of class.  Then, I call out a series of words and the students have to make the words out of the letters they have.making words

For the letters above the first word would be “is”, then when would make “it”, then they would change “it” to “kit” and so on.  We go through making maybe 10 words.  The goal of the activity is for the students to figure out the word they can make with all of their letters.  In this case the word is “tricks”.  I use a book called, Making Words, to generate this activity.  This has been a difficult task for the students and it has been very enlightening for me as a teacher.  I walk around and  keep notes of the students having difficulty and if I have time I make note of the words they are struggling to make to see if I can find a pattern to their difficulty.  If I can find the pattern, then I can offer specific help.  This is a great activity because the students are manipulating sounds and matching letters to the sounds.

I also have a word work center.  I am switching between playing Boggle, which the kids love, and playing a game I found for the iPads, Moxie 2.  The kids LOVE Moxie more than Boggle.  At first I thought the game would be too difficult for them, but they love it!  They are begging to play in their free time now and I don’t have the heart to explain to the them that they are LEARNING while playing!  Moxie 2 gives the students three rows of letters and then pops up new letters.  The students have to insert the new letter into one of the three rows of words to make a new word!  It is brilliant!



I made this recording sheet for the students to keep up with the words they make and their point total at the end of the game.  Click on the picture to get the form.



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. 

Non-Fiction Unit, with iPads

Last year I taught a fourth-grade reading class.  One of the units we worked on was Non-Fiction.  I have to say, this might have been the most painful unit I taught last year.  For years our school has used a basal reader and last year we switched to a reading workshop model of teaching reading –  and that was a HUGE change!  I think one of the greatest areas of weakness in a basal reader has got to be the non-fiction section.  Actually, in our basal readers, I don’t remember a section on non-fiction!  That means the only area that the students received instruction about non-fiction would have been in science and SS class!

Because we were basically starting from scratch and our students did not have a large knowledge base on the subject matter we started very slowly!  Our first few days were spent on trying to help the students understand that when we read non-fiction we have to take a “Sit up and learn” mentality, rather than a “Sit back and relax” mentality.  I read a lot on how to teach non-fiction from Lucy Caulkins and her Units of Study.  I took this anchor chart directly from her materials.  I used this anchor chart over a couple of days because it is a lot for students to transition to non-fiction reading.  I wanted them to be excited about learning new content!  We bought a variety of non-fiction books so that students could choose a book to read that was interesting to them and was on grade level.  The students could choose to read one book or all of the books during the genre study. 

Anchor Charts P13After we spent a few days on revving ourselves up for reading non-fiction I started teaching about text features.  I wanted the students to understand the setup of a non-fiction book.  I used this anchor chart to teach text features.  I apologize for the poor picture!

photo (3)After we talked about text features we had the students go on a text feature scavenger hunt!  I gave the students the list of text features and they used the iPad app Strip Designer to search through the non-fiction books and find examples of the text features.  The students took a picture of the text feature and put it in comic strip.  Then, they labeled each text feature they found.  I think when I do this activity this year with my third-grade students I will have them also tell me how to use the text feature.

Below is an example of one of the pages from a students work.  This activity allowed me to see if the students understand the different types of text features in a variety of different books.  The camera on the iPad makes assignments like this so easy!

Ben's Text Features 

iPad Carts, Year 2

Last year we introduced iPad carts into our offered technology for the classroom.  We had a mass push to give all of our teachers iPads, allow our students to bring their own technology to school, and put iPads in the hands of our students.  We choose iPads very specifically.  We thought about many different technologies, however, at the time the iPad was head and shoulders above the rest.  The main reason we chose iPads, especially in the lower school, was because of the iTunes store.  We felt it was extremely important that the apps we use and the devices we put in front of the students have an extra level of security on them.  The security I am referring to is the fact that the apps have been rated and approved by Apple before being put in the iTunes store.  For android devices, anyone can post an app to the store – we wanted the assurance that if a student went to the app store and downloaded an educational game, that the game would really be educational and not something we didn’t want our students to see.  As students move into middle and high school I could see an argument for android devices – especially in programming classes.  For our school the iPad was the best choice – although if our students bring their own device, they may bring whatever device they have.

We started last year with three iPad carts.  I used the Apple Configurator to setup the devices, along with the Volume Purchasing Plan for apps.  I have had many frustrating moments with the Apple Configurator and I managed to erase student work many times last year with the configurator.  I know their are other ways to monitor and deploy iPad carts, but right now this seems to be the best option for us.  The configurators latest version, appears to be much more user friendly and I have reimaged and deployed four iPad carts this year with ease.  I am hoping that Apple has decided to put a little more effort into the configurator and the software will continue to improve.

A few notes about the configurator – DO NOT unplug a device while it is updating with the configurator – even if it appears to be in a loop – this will erase the device (I know from experience!).  The configurator also automatically loads the last setting for the device you are updating when you plug in the device again.  Be sure that after you have updated your device, BEFORE you unplug the configurator that you put the settings where you want them to be next time you plug in the device.  For example, if you are loading an image that restores a previous iPad, make sure that you change the setting to “Don’t restore Backup” and apply those settings, before you unplug the cart.  This way, next time you plug that cart in the configurator won’t erase everything the students have put on the iPads.  I only know this because I have had to explain to little second-graders that I erased their Puppet Pals creations.  Nothing can make a person feel worse than explaining to a 7 year-old that you made a mistake and cost them their work :-(.

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This year we added a 4th iPad cart and I haven’t had any of the trouble with the configurator I did last year.  During last year I stopped updating the iPads because I was worried I was going to erase more work! Over the summer the I restored all the iPads to a “backed up” image, to erase them and begin fresh.  I added Tony Vincents backgrounds to our iPads, so that as soon as the students open the iPad, they know the iPad slot number and the cart.  I used sketch, to add the iPad cart letter (our carts are labeled A-D) so the first iPad on the cart A, has 1A as the background.  Inside the cart, I also number each iPad slot with sharpie and each cord that connects the iPad to the cart.  This helps the students put the iPad back in the correct slot.


One of the best posts I read on the Apple Configurator is, Oh Apple Configurator, I will Not Be Defeated!  If you have used the Apple Configurator you understand that the title of that post is extremely fitting!  In my next post I will post examples of all of the FABULOUS work our students have created with the iPads.

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 Basics Training

This is the training presentation I made for my teachers on the basics of their iPad.  The teachers had had their ipads for a week before I gave them the basics training.  I think that was a really good plan because the teachers were ready to learn how to use their ipads effectively.  They had been using their ipads, but showing them the shortcuts helped them immensely!  I don’t think the teachers would have been ready for the basics training the same day they got their ipads  they would not have been focused on the training.  HERE is a handout I gave the teachers that goes along with the presentation.

One of the most pressing questions from the teachers was, “How do I use pinterest!”.  I am not a huge fan of the pinterest app so I use pinterest in safari.  I also found a website that gives directions on how to add a “pin it” button to your iPad safari browser.  Also, along those same lines, after I showed the teachers about Evernote in our productivity training (I will post that later), they wanted an Evernote Clipper on their safari and I found a website that gave those instructions as well.

My Favorite Apps for Teachers

These are my favorite apps that make a teachers life easier!  The pictures are linked to the app in the itunes store.

1. Kindle/iBook

Use these apps to highlight and takes notes on the books you are reading in class. You can pull up all of your notes in one place and display your highlights and notes up on the board for your students.


2. Dropbox

Keep all of your files in one place and have access to them wherever you are!


3. Nearpod

You can create presentations and quizzes and send to your students ipads. They can follow along with your presentation, ask questions during class, and take quizzes all in one place. Best of all, for now, this app is FREE! You will need to sign up for an educators account, but this is an excellent teaching tool! You will need to have the students download the app (we will put it on the cart) and register for an online account.


4. Fluency Timer

Setup the time for one minute and give the students a passage. Then allow the students to rotate through on their own. When they are finished, you can go back and listen to the recordings and mark their fluency. Additionally, the students could mark their own fluency and make their own goals for their reading. A great way to keep electronic reading records.


5. Groovy Grader app

Grade your papers without worrying about having the paper, sliding grader!


6. Teacher Assistant (Lite (free) or Pro)

This is a great little app that lets the teacher keep anecdotal records in one place. The teacher can quickly and easily keep notes on each and every students. Very handy to have all of the information in one place and the ability to link reports to dropbox. A great way to keep information for parent conferences or permanent records.


7. Stick Pick Pro

This is a wonderful app for teachers! The teacher can load in her students and it is like she is pulling a stick to see which student to call on to answer a question! What is even better is the app allows the teacher to keep up with the questions asked and determine how far up Blooms Taxonomy the students can go with their questions. The teacher can keep notes on each students answers, as well as, knowing which student to call on next!


8. Explain Everything

Screen casting app. Teachers can import word docs, pptx, pdfs, etc into the app and annotate over the apps and record yourself. When teaching the lesson you can record yourself teaching and then post to websites so students can access the information for extra review or for absent students.


9. iTunes University

This is a great app just for continuing education for teachers. Browse college courses in your subject area for free!


10. Evernote

This is an amazing app for keeping all of your clippings from webpages in one place.


11.Good Reader

Used for annotating PDF’s. A good way to work on students papers and assignments (receive the papers using “Drop it to me”. Can annotate and comment right on the paper and send back to the students – all electronically!


12.Brain Pop

Play Brainpop movies right from your iPad!


13. Reading Remedies

Great app that allows teachers to assess reading. The app also suggests follow up activities based on students’ performance.


Ipads in School

My school is trying to decide if we are going to starting using IPADs in school and all I have to say is WHY NOT?  I am so impressed with the learning that can be done using an IPAD I can’t wait to get one in the hands of all of my students!  There are so many great apps and great ways to use the ipad.

Some of my favorite apps are spellingboard, puppet pals, math racer, ithoughts HD, noteshelf (I LOVE THIS APP), and read2Go.

Spell Board lets the teacher or parent or student input their spelling list and then practice the list using a practice session or a word search.  The app will also give the student a spelling test!  The best part is the teacher or parent use the app to see how much time has been spent studying!

Puppet Pals lets the students make puppet shows!  My daughter makes a puppet show for every test she has to study for!  You could also use puppet pals for an assessment on the learning that took place during a unit of study.

Math Racer lets students do speed drills of their math facts.  The number of facts and the type of facts can be switched up every time the student plays the game.

ithoughts HD is a mindmapping app!  I love this app!  It has wonderful graphics and is super easy to use.

Noteshelf is by far my favorite app!  It is a note taking app.  The only draw back with noteshelf is it does not offer the ability to mark-up PDF’s (yet!).  I use good reader to mark up my PDFs.

And last Read2Go is an app for the learning disabled.  My son has dyslexia so I use this app to download books for him from bookshare.com