Balanced literacy

Make word study collaborative with Google Presentations

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This past summer I learned how fantastic Google Presentations was as a class tool. Like other Google tools, more than one person at a time can work on the same project. After finishing Frayer graphic organizers, my students took pictures with our iPods of their original work. Then they went to our Google drive and each brought up the presentation program slides. No more saving on a drive and e-mailing to the teacher to make one big project. The project is already complete. It can be downloaded in many ways – as a PowerPoint, JPEGs, however you wish. One of the key ways to run a project such as this is to teach a capable student and make them in charge of the project. I can’t wait to see the next group of slides!


The Ivan and Ruby Protest

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Today we were the protesters trying to get the public to win freedom for Ivan and Ruby in the Global Read Aloud book, The One and Only Ivan. We borrowed the idea from one of our Global teachers, Deana Kipp from Manchester, Pennyslvania. We also tried out the free site Heartbooth. Tomorrow we are super excited to talk with students in Burlington, Vermont. This will be an exicting moment because we will talk to her students right after we finish the book. I always try to get my students to create inferences so we will try to include them into the protest posters. Did I mention that they did not want to go to recess?

Eat cake with a lion and Skype with a bear

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Well technically you won’t be talking directly to the bear but close enough! Today I found a great series of iPad apps on my PLN with Twitter and fell in love with each one. The apps were designed by Math Pentagon and for one year the company is allowing teachers to download their Math!!! app for students after teachers apply on the Math Pentagon site at There are many virtual problems for the students to complete. I liked Fractions!!! at!!!/id521530872?mt=8. Students work on problems using a stylus and problems can be saved and later reviewed by the teacher.

Place the iPads with Fractions!!! in a center after you read the book Lion’s Share: A Tale of Halving Cake and Eating it Too by Matthew McElligott. This book is an outstanding book on fractions. I really like the Pastry Party activity developed by Ann Conway on the McElligott website at . Place the lesson Circular Story Structure activity at in a center after the students create their paper models. This might be messy but worth the fun.

I have mentioned several times the importance of developing a professional list outside of education to help enrich the class with videoconferencing or Skype. Today I found a site called Field Trip Earth that will allow classrooms to submit questions to be considered for a Skype discussion with field researchers. The site also allows classes to take virtual trips around the world at (a computer station will give you a better presentation with an interactive world map). This site is a project of the North Carolina Zoological Society. I would place this link on iPads in a center and see if students can find more information about endangered lions and perhaps another animal that they find interesting.

Connect great Van Allsburg literature to science iPad app

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There are so many fantastic authors of children’s literature that you would have enough books to teach for a week by one author, and one of those authors is Chris Van Allsburg. His books are outstanding for teaching inferences and mysteries, and excellent for generating good writing samples.

Read the book The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg. Use this book to introduce inferencing and instruct students to create a chart to record the inferences made about “The Stranger.” Stop periodically to allow small groups to make predictions about the character.

After the lesson, place the book in a center. Download the app Jeffy’s World HD, and assign small groups to reread the story and create another chart. Students will record the clues for the seasons from the book and then use the app to correctly represent the earth placement in relation to the sun. The students will then sketch the diagram next to the clues for the seasons.

In another literacy center, students will answer the prompt: What would happen if the seasons didn’t change when they were supposed to? Write a story about the trouble this could cause (Adapted from Houghton).

Chris Van Allsburg, like many great writers, has a wonderful website (although I am not too crazy about the material provided in a tiny on-line box). Several years ago, a teacher friend used his book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick , to generate writing samples using only a picture and a title to get started. Each month a Harris Burdick picture is uploaded on the Van Allsburg site, and Van Allsburg features one student story written about the picture on his website for that month (picture link for Harris Burdick) . Or post the picture and student samples up for everyone to enjoy.

Take the pain out of writing with Pass the Blog

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This past week-end, I had a conversation with a CIO (Chief Information Officer) from a successful company explaining to me that it was difficult to find project managers. He told me that there was an endless supply of brilliant people, but he was having problems finding employees who could explain plans and coordinate with various professionals in different departments.

I think when teachers lesson plan, it is so important to give students opportunities to write and discuss their work. Writing can be extremely painful, and as long as we teach it seperately and not across different content areas, our students will not be considered by leaders like Mr. CIO above. In my teaching experience, I think more teachers fear teaching writing more than teaching science. Perhaps I was fortunate because I participated in the New Jersey Writing Project Institute, now Abydos Learning, early in my career. I don’t find the need to teach so many unrelated language lessons, and instead incorporate grammar, spelling, and organization into the process as we write.

Read often. Write often. Connect often.

Today I stumbled upon Pass the Blog. The blog member classroom signs up for 1 week over the school year and is responsible for posting blogs. Don’t expect your students to become instant bloggers. Teachers need to blog along with students to model writing just like any other writing assignment.

Read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. Fifth graders learn about the differences of climate and weather and this book would be a fun way to describe how your weather food might arrive in Richmond, Texas. Would other climates welcome the same food?

In a literacy center, add the iPad app Blanks. Don’t worry that the words are too hard! Get your students investigating, sharing, and using new words to increase writing abilitites.

There are two other ways to get your students writing with blogs that will allow your students to collaborate and write in an enjoyable way. Check out Quad Blogging and write along with three other schools. Also try a 100 Word Challenge literacy station. Prompts are posted on the 100 Word Challenge site, and your students may connect their blogs with the site and receive comments.

Say goodbye to flying rubberbands with Geoboards app

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Read The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns, and while your students are introduced to polygons, allow your students to use their geoboards to create shapes. Teachers may now incorporate their iPads with the the app Geoboard, by the Math Learning Center. This app also allows students to fill in their figures after they are created. Multiple figures are also allowed.

Geometry is always fun to teach and I use the book Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Topert. Go ahead and place the book in a literacy center and allow your students to make original shapes. My only guidelines are that they use all of the pieces and that they are all touching in some way.

The Birdville Independent School District in Haltom City, Texas has some wonderful lessons on their website that may be placed in a center. I like the teacher (teacher anonymous) lesson, “Tangram Areas” in the style of Mariyln Burns. The activity gives students the opportunity to use pieces to find the total area of their animals from the tangram book. I like how the activity shows students the concept of area and also, as the lesson author mentioned, gives the teacher an indicator on where the student’s skills have developed for fractions. Students will be required to suport their answers in writing.

Fibonacci is worth the confusion and inspires inquisitve students

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For the last 2 years I have focused only on math in the fifth grade classroom, and although I loved my school math program and all of the tools available to me, I missed bringing in literature into many of my lessons. Teaching in a self-contained room this year will allow me this opporutunity.

Check out the ALA notable book, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell. Learning about Fibonacci numbers gives students confidence with the “play” of numbers. Perhaps the theory is a bit confusing because Fibonacci occurs throughout nature but there are some exceptions to the rules. Some of these exceptions cannot be explained. And of course there is always the question: What is the point of learning about Fibonacci numbers and how will it help me later in life?

My fifth graders have problems recognizing patterns and when we arrive at algebraic expressions, many students are completely lost. They have had many experiences before they have arrived in fifth grade, and I believe that some of my students just lack a bit of confidence.

After learning about the Fibonacci sequence, I would allow my small cooperative groups to generate new Fibonacci numbers using paper and pencil and then try it with their iPads. Use the iPad app Fibonacci Sequence Generator to allow students to check their work and explore bigger numbers.

In a computer literacy center, allow students to use the Fibonacci Series Thinkquest Students can use the Thinkquest to draw and create their own Fibonacci spirals. Think of the experience that get from using their rulers.

Students may also use the Fibonacci iPad app at This also allows a hands-on expereince to create the spiral.

Make this into a science writing project. My intention this year to encourage students to complete one science blog experiment every 9 weeks with pictures and videos. At, there is an guide for students to create an experiment at I would place a selection of nature materials in this center and allow students to work at their own pace.