Monday, December 2, 2013

QR Codes in the K-1 Classroom

QR Codes

QR Code Activities

I discovered QR codes this summer and I can't get enough of them! The first activity I created for my K-1 kids was a QR code attached to their writing that accessed a link to a video of them reading their stories. My students wrote "Small Moment Stories" in the first unit of the Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop. We used an iPad app called Videolicious and another one called Explain Everything to record each student reading their work. Videolicious allows only one minute of recording but sets the narration to music which my students LOVED. A couple students wrote stories that were longer than a minute so we used Explain Everything for their recording. There was no background music for those though. I gave the books, with the QR code taped to the front, to each of my students' parents during parent conferences. I showed them how to scan the code to see the video. There were tears! Most parents didn't know how to scan QR codes so I showed them the app they would need. (I used I-Nigma.) One of my students told me today that his mom shared the video with his family during their Thanksgiving weekend. I was so happy to hear it!

Next, I created a geography scavenger hunt for the 2nd and 3rd grade class. I used  to enter a google maps location for each address of each student in the class. I created a worksheet with the code for each address and a blank line next to it. Each student scanned the code and wrote the address on the line. Then they had to collaborate with one another to figure out which address belonged to which student. The students in that class loved the activity. One of them thanked me for it and told me it was the best part of his day. A great review!

I have a fun activity planned for my K-1 kiddos during their Technology Time tomorrow. We only have about 20 minutes but we have ALL ten of the school iPads during that time so many kids get to have their own iPad during this time which is a real treat. We are studying weather in Science at the moment so I created a 3 QR code worksheet for them to use during Tech Time. They will scan the codes and watch 2 YouTube videos about clouds and reading a thermometer. Then they will scan another code to play a cloud matching game.  You can use my activity by clicking this link. It is a Google doc I have made public.

Check back for more ideas about how to use QR codes in the classroom! 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Daily 5 Set Up

Here are some photos from my classroom of the way I organize the Daily 5 for the literacy block.  This is the library leveled by Lexile ranges and colored tape on the bin and the books.

Here is te clothespin chart we use to make choices for each round.

Each student has a bookbin. I bought these bins at The Dollar Tree. Students choose books from the classroom library. I also give them books from our core program Harcourt Trophies.

Each student has a folder for word work and a notebook for working on writing.
Anchor charts are hung all over te room. We made them together. I reference them often during mini lessons.

We use the iPad for listening to reading. See my earlier post about iPad apps.
We have many books on CD for listening to reading as well.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Resources for Listening To Reading During The Daily 5

I have been using The Daily 5 to manage the literacy block in my classroom for the last two years. To learn more about The Daily Five visit their website,

The Listen To Reading station is by far the most popular with my students. This is probably because they get to use technology to enjoy books. I spend a significant amount of time teaching my students how to use the technology and how to troubleshoot if they have any problems getting things to work.

There are three ways students can listen to reading during our literacy block.

1. Listen to an audio book on the CD player. I have spent most of my Scholastic book club bonus points on audio books in the past thirteen years. I have a good collection of picture books in both fiction and non-fiction for students to enjoy.

2. Use the laptop computers to visit the following sites on the Internet
Read To Me
World Book Online (requires a subscription)
PBS Kinds

3. Interactive Books on the iPad
Story Time-easiest to use and has the most free books within the app
Me and My Mom-Little Critter, single story
Great Escape-single story
Beanstalk-Single Story
Purple Frog-Single Story
Blue Jackal-Single Story
My Mom-Single Story
Meet Biscuit-Single Story
G'Night Safari-Single Story
Goose- Single Story
Cassandra-Single Story
Carrot Castle-Single Story
Stella and Sam- 5 different stories within the app about the same characters
Pup pup-Single Story
Ugly Duckling-Single Story
Another Monster-Single Story, very interactive
I Story Time-comes with 4 free books within the app, (Madagascar, Smurfs, Ice Age, Robin Hood)
I reading HDIII(10 in 1) -Comes with ten free stories, has comprehension questions at the end of each story
Mee Genius-Comes with 5 free books, all are popular fairy tales or folk tales
Bingo Song-sings the BINGO song as the words appear on the screen
Tejas and Lollipop-single story

iBooks-Many free books for primary readers can be downloaded from the book section of the App Store

Saturday, October 12, 2013

MEA Teacher's Conference

I am proud to be presenting a variety of sessions at the state teacher's conference this week. The conference is being held in Belgrade this year, nearly in my back yard! I will presenting the following sessions,

Using the Daily 5 Management System in a Primary Classroom
I will teach this course two times on Thursday October 17.

Differentiating content for Gifted Learners
I am co-presenting this workshop with Estee Aiken. We will present Thursday October 17 and Friday October 18

Using iPads to Meet Montana Common Core Standards
I am co-presenting this workshop with Lindy Hockenbary on Friday October 18.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Improving Student Writing With Staples and Tape--Who knew?

Pathways to the Common Core
I have been implementing a new writing program called Pathways To The Common Core by Lucy Calkins. This program utilizes writer's workshop and short mini-lessons to teach writing that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards.  When I first started looking through the materials in August I was quite overwhelmed. The teacher's manual is formatted much differently than other programs. Calkins uses a descriptive narrative prose format to describe the teaching that should occur during each lesson. It reads like a script from a lesson taught by Calkins. One day's lesson consists of several pages of text printed in two columns and very small print! I have found that despite this new format, I am enjoying the program and my students are reaping the benefits of better writing instruction.

Before Lucy....
I have powered through the dense reading and am finding my instruction to be drastically different and much better than it was before.  Writing with Kindergarten and First Graders was a source of frustration for me before this program. Try as I might, I could not get my students to write more than a couple sentences in one writing session. They always wrote a few lines and declared, "I'm done! Now what can I do?" I would meet with each student and edit their work with them. Students would line up in front of me waiting for feedback. When we were done meeting they put their work away and wanted to know "What do I do now?" I always knew they were capable of writing more but I had a hard time convincing them of that. When it came to teaching them to revise their own work and add to their writing I was an utter failure. I could never convince them of the importance of this task.  It turns out all I needed was a workshop approach to writing, some scotch tape and a couple of staplers.

"When you are done you have just begun...."
One of the first lessons required of the Pathways program is to teach children that when they finish a piece of writing they are never really "done." Students are taught from day one that when they finish a piece they are to read it to themselves, to a friend to the teacher and use their feedback to add to their work. If they do reach a place where their writing feels finished then they put it away and "start something new." So simple!  Now if a student hands me their work and says "I"m done!" I keep my hands at my sides, smile and say, "Wow! What should you do now?" (I get to ask that question now!) They stop and say, "I should read it to myself!" or "I should write another story!" Amazing! This philosophy fit well in my classroom as I have also been implementing The Daily Five literacy block method in which students build stamina for learning tasks.  The idea that when they finish a task they should stay busy and find something else to do was familiar to my students.

Revision strips, Scotch Tape and Staples
Another early lesson in the program teaches students to add more to their writing by taping smaller pieces of lined paper, "revision strips," to their work so they can write more details on each page. Kindergarten students are encouraged to staple pieces of paper together to make either scrolls or books as they can draw and label more about their topic. The first day I introduced this mini lesson I wasn't sure anyone would really do what I was demonstrating. I was shocked to see every student sit down, read their writing and then make a beeline for the paper and tape dispensers. Students who refused to add more to their writing were suddenly so excited to use scotch tape and a stapler that they deliberately thought of more to write. I shook my head in amazement all day long. So simple! Why had I been guarding the staplers and the tape dispensers on my desk like a dragon guarding a castle for all these years?

From Simple Sentences to Books!
Last year I focused my instruction on writing sentences. I did not expect my students to write more than one or two simple sentences about something they drew. I gave them the spelling of any "hard" words they wanted to include and I emphasized punctuation almost immediately. Lucy Calkins takes a different approach. First grade students are given booklets of paper stapled together and are told to "write stories." The focus is not on perfect sentences with capital letters at the beginning and periods at the end. Students are encouraged to plan "small moment stories" by telling the details of a story, sketching a picture and writing words to go with those sketches. Calkins says not to worry about spelling or word spacing yet. We are more interested in getting their ideas on paper. We are encouraging them to take risks and spell "hard words" without worrying about getting them right. Kindergartners are encouraged to draw and label their drawings. They can use letters or squiggles, anything, as long as they attempt to write. There is even a lesson in which we teach them to adopt an "I Think I Can" attitude by reading and retelling the story of The Little Engine That Could.  Taking the focus away from proper spelling has built confidence in my students. It was not uncommon for students in the past to be paralyzed by the thought of spelling words incorrectly. Many of them refused to write a word unless it was dictated to them. Now, I look out across the room and I see their heads bent and hear them whispering the sounds of the words they are trying to write. No one is saying, "How do you spell, 'I ate pizza for dinner and it was really good?'"

Markers, Pens, Pencils...anything goes!
I was very strict about using pencils for writing in years past. I thought the pencil's ability to erase mistakes trumped all other writing tools. Pathways To The Common Core encourages students to use a variety of writing implements from markers to pens. The idea is that all writers have a preferred "tool" for writing and we should never force a student to use any specific tool. Calkins thinks revision is more apparent and easier assessed by teachers if we can see where they have scratched things out and made corrections on their own. It also encourages an environment where students are comfortable making mistakes. Again, this is such a simple strategy! Reluctant writers in my room are now motivated to write with sharpies, ball point pens and markers. I realize now that as long as their writing I really don't care what they use! They are also happy to cut small pieces of paper out and tape them over their mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to use scissors and tape!

What's Next?
As I write my lesson plans each week I find I am more and more excited to implement the Pathways program. I have had to create more planning time in my prep time schedule for reading the lessons. This has been hard to do on busier days. Now that I am familiar with the text structure and format of the teacher's guide I am finding the reading goes faster. Next week my students will "unfreeze their characters" by making them speak and move! I am finally feeling "unfrozen" as an instructor of writing, thanks to Lucy Calkins!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Super Classroom Ready for the First Day

This year my kids are going to find their "super powers" as we work in a super hero themed classroom! Building confidence and developing independence are the super powers we will focus on during the first month of school! 

On the first day of school every student will draw and write something they  are "super" at doing. We will post it here on the board to launch our discussions about being SUPER!

Leveled Classroom Library

This project took almost a week! I still have a box of picture books to tape. I ran out of orange tape! I will start on my chapter books a box at a time after school this week!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Lexile Leveling My Classroom Library

I have spent nearly a week assigning Lexile levels to every book in my classroom library. I am using an iPhone app called Level It  (  to scan the ISBN bar code on each book. This quick scan produces a grade level equivalency, a lexile number an image of the book and a brief book description. Most books I scanned appeared within the app but if I could not find a Lexile score I used to look up the book and its information. The Level It app also works on the iPad but I found it to be faster with the iPhone.

There were some books I could not level using either of these methods. This helped me begin to weed books from my library to donate to Good Will. I took six bins of books to Good Will on Saturday. I was so happy they took them! 

Once I assigned a level to a book with a sharpie I used colored duct tape to code it as either fiction or non fiction and a specific color to show a general Lexile Level. I learned many things about the Lexile level system as I did this project. The first thing I learned was that I have a lot of books in my classroom library! I also learned that the majority of my books are fiction books in the 400-500 range which is equivalent to second grade. Now my goal will be to add more books to my library to even out my non fiction collection as well as more books at the 100-200 level since that is where my K-1 students are reading.

 I was surprised by the low level of some books as well as the high level of others. I was reminded of the training I attended last summer about Lexile numbers. I learned then that a book earns a Lexile score based purely on the number or words and sentences that appear on each page. The actual content of the book is not figured into the Lexile number. I was struck by this in particular as I assigned a lexile score of 660 to the book If You Give a Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numberoff. The grade level equivalency of this score is around 3.7! This is a book students in my class have enjoyed hearing me read to them. My three year old daughter loves it as well. I doubt there are many third graders who would choose it to read on their own though. That is where the Lexile score tells me that the text is easily read by a third grader but may not be an appropriate subject based on interest.

As of this evening, I have Lexile levled all of my picture books and color coded them. They are arranged on the shelves in my classroom in bins marked with the corresponding colored duct tape. Next, I plan to level my chapter book collection and add it to my shelves. While most of my students will not be able to read those books right away, I do have one first grade boy who is reading at the early third grade level and will enjoy having chapter books as an option.

I use The Daily Five and CAFE systems developed by "The Two Sisters" Gail Boushey and Joan Moser for my literacy block.( Last year, the biggest challenge I faced was getting the students to choose the "Read to Self" station. Many of them piled books into their book bins that were not the appropriate level. I had a hard time finding books to recommend to them since I was not sure of the levels myself. I feel much more comfortable helping students find good fit books now that I have organized my library by Lexile numbers.

I will post photos of my classroom library soon. I still have a trunk full of leveled and color coded picture books to sort and organize at school before school starts!

Check back soon for photos of my classroom as it is ALMOST ready for the first day of School on Tuesday September 3!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New School Year's Resolutions

New School Year's Resolutions!

It has been nearly a year since I started this blog and I am embarrassed to admit it, but until a friend mentioned it today I had forgotten all about it! I started this blog in an effort to join the ranks of all the blogger teachers who have inspired me with their ideas as a way of "paying it forward." Then the school year started and I got so busy teaching and being a mother that I completely forgot all about it! Here it is August again, I am getting excited for a new school year to begin and am once again attempting to enter the blogging world! Thanks Erin Eppler for inspiring me to pick this up again!

I see each new school year as the equivalent to New Year's. I don't know if there are any other teachers who feel this way but for me the new year begins in August when school starts up again. I think of life in terms of the school year from August to June and "summer break" dividing up the school years. For this reason I set my New Year's resolutions in August instead of January like the rest of the world. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break and Memorial Day act as goal posts for planning throughout the year.

Here are my resolutions for my lucky 13th year of teaching!

Resolution 1. Use iPads to CREATE new and broader learning experiences for my K-1 students

I currently have one iPad in my classroom. I got it by applying for a grant from my local TV news station. My principal matched the grant so I could get the first iPad in my school. Later my school purchased a cart of 10 iPads to be shared throughout the building. For the last couple of years I have used the iPads to have kids practicing skills on their own while I worked with small groups or individuals. Students read interactive books, played word and math games and watched videos using head phones or with partners. All that is about to change. While I will still use the iPads for independent reading and skill practice I have much bigger plans for the iPads this year.

I had a rare opportunity to spend the summer working with a brilliant technology teacher named Lindy Hockenbary. She is the technology specialist for an organization in my state called Southwest Montana School Services.  This organization is dedicated to bringing professional development to the teachers in our region at a fair price in a variety of subject areas. I have been presenting workshops for this agency in the area of Gifted and Talented Education for the past three years. Lindy asked me to collaborate with her to develop and teach iPad integration workshops to implement the Common Core standards and reach Gifted learners for teachers during the summer. Working with Lindy opened my eyes to the power of the iPad for authentic, higher level learning for ALL students. I am so excited to use the following apps with my K-1 students for story writing, problem solving, speaking and listening and critical thinking.

This is a screen casting tool students can use to record their voices, draw and write ideas and import pictures and videos to support their thinking. I plan to use this app with students so they can respond to literature, make up their own math word problems and create book talks for their classmates. Check out these lessons I have created by following these links. These are some of my first attempts at using Educreations so they are not the highest quality but you will get an idea of the potential of this app.

Parts of a book
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Compare and Contrast Assignment
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Book Review
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Sock Puppets
This app allows students to create digital puppet shows. They create characters, pick a back drop and record the dialogue for the puppets.I will introduce this tool by having students think of a joke they want to tell. They will create a puppet show to tell their joke.

Croak It
This is a voice recording app that allows students to simple push a button and record their thinking, reading, or share a problem solving strategy

This app gives students several options for exploring probability. They can choose a coin toss, drawing straws, playing rock paper scissors, rolling dice or a spinner. I plan to use this during math games while students learn to use it. Later when we discuss graphing this app will help them generate data to graph.

This is a concept map application that is so easy to use. Students can create custom graphic organizers by tapping the screen twice. They can type, draw or import a picture into each bubble of the concept map.

This is an annotation tool I already began using with my class next year. We annotated over pictures and maps during small group and large group discussions.

This is the easiest video production app I have ever used. Import pictures or videos into the app to create a video complete with subtitles, graphics and music in just seconds!

Haiku Deck
I love this presentation app. It uses a limited amount of text and beautiful images to organize a speech or presentation. Gone are the days of dull power point presentations with too much text on a slide. Now we can use the slides to keep us organized as we engage in a thoughtful presentation comprised of our content knowledge not what we can read from a slide. This is a great tool for teaching students to summarize during a presentation.

i-Nigma and QR codes
I am most excited to use QR codes this year! I plan to have them taped to several of the books in my classroom library so students can scan the code and instantly access an audio recording of the book to listen to as they follow along with the text. I have many more ideas for QR codes so check back for more information here!

All of these apps are free and require students create a product for an authentic audience. My plan is to teach the entire group to use each of the tools during our weekly technology time. Once they have learned to use the tools then I will begin to give assignments which will allow them to use the iPads to express themselves and show mastery of the content we are covering. I am lucky enough to have a technology teacher on hand to help me teach technology class each week. He and I will spend a couple weeks on a tool as needed teaching the students to use it in small groups.

Resolution 2 Create Digital Student Portfolios

Lindy inspired this idea when she sent me an article about the power of digital student portfolios in primary classrooms. I plan to use an app called Three Ring to help my students create their own digital portfolios, which are really blogs. Students can import photos and videos of their work, record themselves speaking or reading and type blog posts throughout the year. Each post will be time stamped and will help us track their growth throughout the year. Right now my plan is to begin the portfolios the first week of school by having students post a sample of their writing and a self portrait. My goal is to have two posts by each student each month. Three Ring is set up so the blogs are completely private and can only be viewed by the people who I share them with. This means I can share a new student post with their parents and no one else. We will use the blogs during conferences throughout the year to talk about growth and set goals for future learning. If I can get permission from parents, I will share these portfolios here.

Resolution 3 Explore and Implement Lucy Calkins Writing Program

I am so lucky to work in such a resource rich school! My principal recently ordered the new Lucy Calkins writing program "Pathways to the Common Core" which is aligned to the Common Core Standards. This program is brand new and I am so excited to start using it. I saw the box in the office when I was at school last week and I am hoping I can bust into it soon.

Resolution 4 Use new Indian Education for All and Common Core Units to teach reading

I attended a two part workshop this summer taught by Tammy Elser who is a curriculum writer for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. To say it was a great workshop would be an understatement! Tammy was so inspiriting and the units she has created implement Montana Common Core Standards as well as Indian Education for All Essential Understandings. There are nine units intended for students in grades Kindergarten through fifth grade. Each unit uses an anchor text written by and about Native Americas that is approved and endorsed by Native American organizations throughout the country. All the lessons are grounded in educational research and employ best practices in reading instruction. The materials were given to each school in Montana last spring. I got my own copies when I attended the workshop. The anchor texts are hard to find but I have located 4 of the 9 at my local library. I plan to start the year with "The Good Luck Cat." This unit focuses on the idea of diverse families, words with short vowel "a" and introduces the genre of realistic fiction while sharing a story about a contemporary Native American Family.

Resolution 5 Continue improving professional development in the Gallatin Valley of Montana by teaching workshops throughout the school year

Montana is a wonderful place to live and I am  here to enjoy all that is has to offer by way of outdoor activities as well as the proximity to my family. However, we are somewhat isolated from the rest of the country simply because it costs so much to travel in and out of the state. For this reason teachers in my area rarely get to attend national education events or hear from national presenters about the latest research in our field. I am proud to be a presenter for Souhtwest Montana School Services in an effort to make professional development accessible and affordable for teachers in my area. Click here for the latest news and offerings from Southwest Montana School Services

I am excited to be a presenter at the state teacher's conference MEA/MFFT to be held in Belgrade this October. I will present sessions about using The Daily Five management system based on the book The Daily Five written by Gail Boucshey and Jane Moser. More information can be found here

 I will also be co-presenting a session on implementing the Common Core standards using iPads with Lindy Hockenbary.

 I  get to work with the great Estee Aiken, professor at University of Montana Western in Dillon to present a Gifted and Talented workshop on differentiation at MEA/MFFT as well as on Saturday September 21 in Bozeman.

 Lindy and I have more plans for iPad workshops throughout the school year. We will hold them on Saturdays and after school.

I will also continue to be a facilitator for SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted). I started co-leading parent book discussion groups with Wendy Morical, the Gifted and Talented coordinator for the Bozeman School District last year. We are planning to hold a new discussion group this October. Click here to learn more about SENG

There you have it! My resolutions/goals/vision for the new school year! As I read back through all of my ideas for the new school year I am excited and ready to get started! It is a lot to take on but so much can happen in 180 days of a school year! Check back to see how it is all going. Feel free to comment with any words of wisdom or resources you might want to share!