Ripples and Splashes

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This summer has definitely been a time of renewal. Like many of you, last year, although a wonderful year, depleted a lot of my energy. For the first time in 23 years of teaching, my teacher brain shut off right after the kids left that final day. Usually it takes me several weeks to wind down, but this year was different! Now finally, as summer speeds by, I am beginning to feel that new energy level rising!

Obviously this poor blog has been ignored for a year! Pitiful! After thinking about it a lot this summer, I think I have figured out the reason I haven't blogged more. I read all these wonderful, lengthy blog posts from some of my favorite teacher bloggers, you know the ones, with lots of pictures and details! Well, when I think of writing something like that at the end of an energy-filled day with my 5th graders, I just shut down. I have never been a journal keeper, or prolific writer of any kind. However, I really do want to share the great things my students do each day.

As I thought more about it, I was reminded of my blog title and subtitle, Collazo Cove - Ripples and Splashes! So I've decided that's the kind of blogger I need to be. A sharer of short little ripples and splashes of things. Much less pressure (for me)!

So thanks for visiting! I hope you'll come back and read about our journey in the educational river, and share some of your own splashes!

Just jump in!

Lighting My Hair on Fire!

I know many of you have probably already read Rafe Esquith's fantastic book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, but until last week, I had not.

Some of my take-aways from this engaging read about Rafe and his fantastic Room 56:
  • Although I don't assign the traditional book report, I do like my students to blog about the books they read. Occasionally they use a template as we learn how to write a good book summary. This powerpoint is the one the kids liked and used most successfully. I really like the structure Rafe has his kids use when writing about a fiction novel. It includes the headings of: Protagonist, Antagonist, Conflict, Setting, Plot, Climax, Denouement, and Theme. Although I don't want to bog the kids down with having to use it often, it would be good for them to practice!
  • Similar to what Rafe does, I have a classroom economy in which the Cove Kids earn and spend Cove Cash. I LOVE the way Rafe instills the concept of rent versus ownership. His kids have to pay rent for their desks, keep their own ledger sheets of their accounts, and if they save triple their rent, they can purchase their seat (at which point it becomes a "condo"). Thrifty students begin buying up property, further learning the lesson that their disposable income increases as a result!
  • I also love the way Rafe has his kids prepare for standardized multiple choice math tests (something we all hate to do, but is a skill our kids will need at least for the near future). He provides a computation problem such as 63 + 28, and lists the letters A, B, C, D under it. He then asks the kids what answers the test makers might offer as choices and has them explain why. I like the way this strategy gets the kids really thinking about common misconceptions concerning math problems, so they will more likely avoid them when they sit down to take the test!
  • Rafe's thoughts on failure are so spot-on! "It's important to remember that we teachers individually define the word failure. In Room 56, a rocket that doesn't fly is not a failure. Failure happens only when students stop trying to solve a problem." (p.103) Love that!!
Rafe's passion for education is contagious! I love the summer break so that I can take the time to read motivational books and "light my hair on fire" again for the coming year!

Wowzers Day 1 Teacher Perspective!

Today my 5th graders embarked on a math journey using the math program found at To say they liked it would be a large understatement. After 25 minutes of letting them know we were working past break time, I finally had to make them stop! Stop working math problems? What a wonderful dilemma!

You can check out my students' reactions to their first day with Wowzers on their blogs at You'll see that they enjoyed the gaming atmosphere, quick pace, and often challenging pieces.

Here are just some of the reasons I am impressed from a teaching perspective:
  • The site starts the kids off with a 60 problem placement quiz, which immediately, at each question, lets them know if they were right or wrong. My students thrive on immediate feedback like that. This also allows them to be placed at the point in the curriculum where they need more practice. Very individualized!
  • The use of an avatar and a vehicle called a Buzzpod that they get to "buy" items for with their coins is extremely motivational and allows them to maintain their own unique style while learning.
  • The program uses interactive tutorials throughout each new step so the kids aren't just running haphazardly through the materials. There are also built in character avatars who give advice and navigation tips which encourages the collaborative spirit.
  • All directions are dialogue that is spoken by a character in the program. The OK button to move on does not become active until the entire direction is given. I like this because kids tend to click past important directions just to get to the next part quickly and then don't know what to do once there.
  • Once the kids get into the actual sessions they take a five question pretest. Upon completion they are immediately rewarded with a handful of coins. In my teacher control panel I have set it so that if students master the pretest they are automatically taken to the game section, bypassing the lesson and practice (why waste time practicing a skill if you've already mastered it?).
  • The game and quest sections of the day's session require the kids to use the math skills from that session to be successful. The other thing I REALLY like about these two components is that they are timed (the game section plays for 7 minutes, and the career-oriented quest lasts for 13 minutes). This way kids don't spend an overabundance of time playing a game at the cost of moving forward, like so often happens in other math gaming sites.
  • The quest portion of the daily activities are career-oriented and the ones I saw today integrated science facts seemlessly! The kids really liked that part.
  • The final portion of the daily session is the quiz. I really like that, since this program was built on the Common Core standards, some of the final questions are multiple choice, while others are fill in the blank.
  • After all the work is completed for the "day", the teacher has the option of setting a certain amount of time for "Free Time". This allows the kids to spend their earned coins at the "mall" to buy items for their avatars. Very motivational for upper elementary kids!
Our first day using Wowzers was really awesome! I am looking forward to using the very detailed Teacher Dashboard to create some small groups according to the needs I see from their work in the program. Wowzers also has so many supplemental materials (that take the math off-line) you could never use them all!

Nothing Else That Happened Today Matters!

Today was our first mandatory workday for teachers (although I've worked the two optional days as well). These are some of the events that contributed to my building anxiety:
  1. Our opening staff meeting took an hour and a half longer than our new Principal had planned (3 hours).
  2. I found out that although two students were removed from my roll, three were added, leaving me with 29 students this year.
  3. When I went back and counted my chairs and chair bags I am one short now.
  4. I went to sort out the 5th grade level supplies that we submitted orders for during the last weeks of school in May, and found out none of the 5th grade supplies were ordered.
  5. We found out the agendas we use with our students to help them organize homework and other deadlines were never ordered either.
  6. My assistant, whom I share with a kindergarten teacher, had to go to a Diabetes Case Manager training all afternoon so we didn't get my classroom library books labeled like we had planned.
  7. My air conditioning is pretty much stuck on "ON" so I have to wear a sweatshirt until maintenance can come and unlock my control screen so I can regulate it.
  8. We realized that the county has scheduled meetings the entire day Thursday, right up until an hour before our Open House begins.
But NONE of that matters because I got an email from one of the students I had last year asking me to read THIS addition she made to her anti-bullying website (which she created on her own last year).  PERSPECTIVE REGAINED!

Expert Badges

Years ago when I first started teaching 5th grade I created various independent study activities that students could choose to explore on their own that related to the content we were covering, but at a deeper level. After they had completed all the activities with competence, they earned an "Expert Bead" which they put on their colored pipe cleaner (we had a whole display!). For whatever reason, I had not continued with this project until this year.

With all the blogs posts and tweets about "gamifying education" and awarding digital badges (Edmodo does an awesome job with this!) I decided that in addition to the online badges my kids can earn this year, I am going to also involve some challenging explorations after which they can earn a physical badge. Brad Flickinger does an awesome job explaining how he and his school will be using them on his Digital Learning Environment Blog. I love the idea of the tiny buttons kids will wear on their backpacks, but the machines that make these well are beyond my budget!!

All of our 5th graders wear black cord lanyards with an ID (a program I'll explain in an upcoming post!). While trying to go to sleep one night this summer (isn't that when all the best ideas come?), I thought about using key tags that could be fastened onto the nylon lanyards for their Expert Badges this year. Here is a picture of what the first one they can earn will look like. It will be for some challenging work they will do, as Brad says in his video (Badges Part 2), "to show competence" in the area of Internet Safety and Research. I will post more about the criteria for earning the badge in the near future!

Internet Safety Expert Badge
Also coming soon, a post about the cool Microsoft Word add on that Avery has to allow you to print labels that are not included in Microsoft Publisher (like the tiny one above)!

Are you using digital or other badges this year with your kids? I'd love to hear how!

Great Reads!

Thankfully, in late spring I had some left over grant money that could be used to purchase books for my classroom. I decided to purchase some titles that my kids could integrate with our social studies units. In North Carolina, the Essential Standards in Social Studies are related to the time period from the Early Americans to Reconstruction. Many of the books I ordered I had not read, but had wonderful reviews and would certainly hit many of the historical elements, while also becoming strong additions to our Reader's Workshop classroom library.

In the past two days these are the fantastic titles I've read (the kids will LOVE them!):

The Captain's Dog
This is a wonderful story about the journey of Lewis and Clark (with excerpts from Captain Lewis's journal) told from the point of view of his loyal Newfoundland dog. Fantastic descriptions and character development. The kids will get a kick out of what the dog was thinking and doing as the men struggled to make the arduous journey to the Pacific Ocean!

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
This humorous adventure of a young boy journeying to save his older brother from the battles of the Civil War also has many thoughtful moments and pieces of history that many kids don't know about the culture in America during the Civil War period. The non-stop adventures and action will keep the kids turning the pages, and the character development is a great model for Writer's Workshop.

Bull Run
Although a copy of this book has been in my classroom library for several years, I had never picked it up to read it. It is a collection of vignettes from 16 characters who experienced the Civil War in one fashion or another (ie. soldier, mother back home, doctor, photographer, general, etc.). It is a very graphic and powerful, well-written book that will expose the kids to the various opinions held on both sides of the horrendous war. Definitely a must read during our Civil War unit.

About 8 other new titles to go in my Barnes and Noble box! It is always so wonderful to read children's literature, wish I had started sooner in the summer!

Classroom Addict

That's pretty much how I describe myself whenever my family and friends say, "You were over there again?" I know many of you reading this are exactly the same...I've been reading your blogs too (and pinning your ideas to my boards)!

I promised myself this summer I would go through ALL my cabinets and bookshelves and WEED OUT! I am really not a pack rat, but after teaching for 20 years, there were things I had "collected". This clean out session was really necessary since my roster this year will again contain 28 wonderful names and I am in a 24 x 36 foot "cottage". I LOVE my cottage and have done several things over the last few years to maximize space. First, in order to gain space and more importantly promote collaboration, I ditched the desks for wonderful round tables. I started out with rectangular folding tables I bought myself, but found that the round tables really give the kids more elbow room while working and moving room while walking, so that has worked out great!! (Pics coming soon!)

Unlike many of you I don't have space for various centers so it was even more crucial that I part with things that weren't necessary anymore. As many of you know, we are a 1:1 netbook classroom, so we've been trying to become as paperless as possible over the last few years. However I still had these:

Yes, two of them, full of favorite lessons and units, many of which I had already re-created in digital format. And many more which I hadn't looked at in years. I am so proud to say that those two monstrosities, which took up a large corner of my small room, have been reduced to this:

And hopefully one day, these favorites will also be in the "cloud"! But for now I'm pleased! I even dragged the old file cabinets to the door myself so the janitor could get them OUT! I also went through all my bookshelves and organized them according to genre. I'd been wanting to do this for many years as well. Heading out tomorrow to buy about 20 mini crates for my neat piles! Tonight I created some Bin Labels (using PowerPoint) which I'll laminate and put on all the bins which will be strategically placed in the room. Feel free to download the labels and edit them if you'd like! (For some reason when they uploaded to Slideshare several of the pictures are larger and overlap several words...not sure why)

And finally, it's the little things that bring the most joy from teachers isn't it? I have two medium sized bookshelves in the room which house many literature sets, textbooks (which rarely get used), and other things that are randomly used throughout the year. I went out and bought two $5 cloth shower curtains and a few spring-style curtain rods at our new Roses Store. They were too long for the book cases, so I cut them at floor level and the leftover sections were sweetly sewn into curtains for my two windows by my son's girlfriend! My classroom has always been known as Collazo Cove and we have an ocean theme, so the pattern of soft colored shells, starfish, and sand give the room a nice calming effect. I'm thrilled!

Shower Curtain turned Book Shelf Curtain! (The turtle is our 5 year old red slider, Doodle)

Leftovers made into curtains! (The snake in the tank is our ball python, Sal!)
Overall a very productive day! Now tomorrow I'm going to.........