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RACE to Respond (with tech too!)

Today, my lesson plan changed last minute (like, literally 10 minutes before the kids came in for the day) and it went pretty well, so I thought I would share what we did with you.

RACE in upper elementaryWe have been using the RACE strategy to respond to comprehension questions about our reading.  If you aren't familiar with the RACE strategy, here is a great post by Becky at Create.Teach.Share (she also has a wonderful freebie that I used to introduce this concept to my kids.)  I wanted the kids to practice the strategy, read the next chapter in our book, and use the computers this morning (since I had totally forgotten we had the cart, hence my lesson plan change.)  So, to do this, here is what we did.

I broke the kids up into groups.  Each group was to read the assigned chapter of the book in any way they wanted (silently, in pairs, as a group...it really was up to them) and discuss the chapter as they were reading.  I honestly was amazed that they actually did stop to discuss during the reading without any prompting from me!  But they did and it was awesome.

Answering text dependent questions on Padlet in 5th gradeThen, the students signed onto their Google Classroom feed where I had included a link to a Padlet that I set up for them.  Since GC now has an awesome new feature that allows you to assign things to groups of students instead of the entire class, I created 5 separate Padlets and 5 separate assignments on the feed.  When the kids opened their GC feed, only their assignment was there.  The kids went to the Padlet and used the RACE strategy on their own to answer one deep, text dependent question that I assigned them.  The beauty of Padlet is that all the kids can see each other's answers and adjust their own, while still working.  

Next, after all the students in the group felt like they answered the question well enough, pulling text evidence and restating the question in their own words, the students worked together to create ONE final answer to represent the group that really answered the question using the RACE strategy.  

I asked them to write those final answers on a chart paper, underlining each part of the RACE strategy in a specific color.  We then presented them to the class.

All in all, this lesson, while taking longer than I anticipated, was a good way to get buy in from all the kids and have them work collaboratively.  I think I did make my groups too large and would have cut them down to about 4 per group instead of the 6-8 that were actually in the groups (I only had 5 questions, so I needed 5 groups....I would double up on the questions next time to make the groups smaller.)  In addition to the group responses, I like how I have the Padlet so that I can go over each individual answer to see who understands the RACE strategy and who is still struggling.

What is one way you have the students show their understanding of the RACE strategy?

Body Systems Unit Wrap Up

The systems of the human body, and how they all function together, is a key standard for our fifth graders in science.  So, as we wrapped up our unit, I wanted my students to put all the information they learned together into one, all encompassing presentation.  So I broke out my trustee computer and created an easy to use template for my kids to help guide them in reviewing all of the information they had learned throughout the course of our unit.

Systems of the body Google Docs project.The form I created was simple.  It required the students to research the function of all major body systems we learned about (digestive, circulatory, excretory, and respiratory) as well as detail the basic form and how the system works from beginning to end.  I also added a picture of each system for the students to label.

Easy peezy.  Right?  Um.  No.  The kids really had a lot to think about, even with the form at hand!  First, they had to figure out how to label it all since it was on Google Slides.  Secondly, they had to cite their sources and, as we all know, that is a huge undertaking in and of themselves.

Student created slide show on Google Slides that the students created to showcase all they know about the body systems.BUT, once the kids figured it all out, the presentations (which they did actually present to the class) came out great!  The formatting the kids did and the information they reported really showed they understood the basics of each body system!

Grab the Body Systems project here!

So to display these projects on the bulletin board (and, yes, I did print them out....I know, I know, some of you are gasping.  Sorry...I need bulletin boards!!) I had the kids get into four groups.  Each group was responsible for one of the body systems that we studied.  Their job was, as a group, to create a 3D representation of that body system to be placed on an outline of a human body using basic art supplies in class.

The first step was for the students to brainstorm the materials they would use for each of the various organs in their body system.  The respiratory system used items like balloons for the lungs, markers to draw the veins, pipe cleaners for the trachea.   The picture here is of the excretory system.  They labeled their drawing and brought it up to me.  I then handed them their materials and they were off to create the systems.

The students were really good about dividing up the work.  I had to intervene a few times, but for the most part, they figured out who was doing what and how they were going to get it onto the body shape.

In the end, we had a student-created 3D art piece to anchor our projects board!

Student projects on the systems of the body

What is something you have done to wrap up your body systems unit?

50 State Postcard Exchange Adding a Bit of Tech

This year, my class is participating in a state postcard exchange with 49 other classes from around the United States.  The purpose of this is to not only connect our class with others, but to learn a little about each of the 50 states in the process.  

Never heard of a postcard exchange?  The basic idea is simple.  Each of the participating classes creates a postcard from their state.  The postcards have facts and figures about the state it comes from that would be of interest to the kids participating.  At the end of the exchange, each class (hopefully) has 50 postcards to display in their classroom!

Some of the student created postcards we made using Google Slides and PadletSo, since we have access to a class set of Chrome books, I thought I would have the students create the postcards that we were going to send out.  And, if I do say so myself, they came out AMAZING!

Here is what the students did.  

We began with an open Padlet template.   In pairs, I asked the students to research interesting facts about the state of California (since that is where the are from.)  They then were to create a separate entry on our Padlet for each interesting fact.  Since all of them had access to the Padlet board at the same time, the students were instructed to look at each others' facts as they were being put up.  I wanted them to make sure the facts were not being duplicated.  The kids were actually really good about not just writing the population over and over again ;)  They did try to get different and varied facts that were not obvious either. 
Collaborative research for a 50 state postcard project using Padlet

Once the Padlet was complete, I sent them a copy of this template here on Google Slides.  The empty boxes are the right size for a standard postcard to be sent through US mail.  

Using Padlet as a way to get the whole class involved in brainstorming information or gathering researchOn the top portion of the template, the students used the Padlet board to construct a paragraph about the great state of California using interesting facts.  Since the idea of the postcard exchange is to get many facts about our state out there to the other classes, I told them not to be too concerned with our standard paragraph format and to really hone in on as many facts as they could.   I did want the paragraphs to make sense and be well formed.  It also had to be written in friendly letter format. (I gave them a piece of paper with the address they were to input of one of the classes in our exchange.)

for a 50 state postcard exchange the students write the paragraphs

Next, the students took to the Google Search feature and found pictures that matched the facts that they talked about in their paragraphs.  Layering them on top of each other, the students created collages of pictures for the opposite side of the postcard.
Students use pictures from google search to create a state collage for the 50 state postcard exchange page.

Then the students printed the template, cut the two postcard pieces out, glued them together, I laminated them and mailed them off!

All in all, this entire process took place over the course of two days.  The Padlet took about 30 minutes of class time (I didn't have everyone working at the same time on this, but if they were it would have been about 30 minutes total.)  Creating the postcards took about 2 hours of time.

Now, if you have ever participated in a postcard exchange before, you know that getting the postcards is the most exciting part.  So how have I incorporated that into my room?  Stay tuned :)
Stephanie is a 19 year teaching veteran with experience in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.  She currently teaches 5th grade in Room 6

An Aquarium in my Fifth Grade Classroom

using a fish tank to teach science in an upper elementary classroomThis year, my class welcomed a new addition that I have NEVER EVER done before....a fish tank.  I have to tell you, while my students were (and are still) amazingly excited about the whole thing, I, on the other hand, was (and still am) quite nervous about it all.  I mean, there is a living, breathing ecosystem in my room that needs specific attention to ensure all of those living, breathing beings do not end up belly up.  Honestly, it is a huge undertaking that I just didn't think I could do.  But you know what?  It is working!

I thought I would use this post to share with you all how I got my tank up and running and how we are incorporating it into our 5th grade class.

The Set Up

Science standards come to life with a fish tank in the classroomSo, I cheated a *little* bit here and bought a10 gallon aquarium kit.  It was a little more expensive than just getting a 10 gallon tank, but all of the accessories (like a filter, water de-cholorinator, thermometer, heater, fish food, etc..) came with it and I wanted to make this process as easy as possible.  I bought gravel and some little decorations for inside the tank as well.  I just followed the directions on the tank kit and got the aquarium up and running, minus the fish.  After one day of having it filled with water, one of my students surprised us all and showed up with two guppies and two tetra fish...and we had living beings in there!   (I admit that actually figuring out how to get the fish to school without them dying in my presence was a huge stressor on me, so when this student randomly brought in the fish, I was SO happy!)

The Science

While I realize that a fish tank is calming and fun to own, the entire point of having this tank was to incorporate some academics into our room in a meaningful way.  I wanted to bring more hands-on, real life science, so we began using these awesome lessons I found from the Florida Aquarium.  It took us step by step on how to really make sure that our tank was running smoothly as well as gave us some great advice for how to care for our tank.  Using these lessons as a guide, I set up a feeding schedule, in which the kids would take turns feeding the fish, as well as note the temperature of the water.  I also created a fish observation form, where once a day the students just observe the fish behaviors.  They make note of anything interesting, as well as draw pictures of the fish.  

So far, other than the beginning observations (which I plan to use in a few months to note changes over time), we have also ventured quite a bit into the Nitrogen Cycle.  With this being a living ecosystem, and our wish to keep the fish alive, we have had to learn how to keep the ammonia levels low.  After learning about the nitrogen cycle, the students decided that we probably needed a plant to help keep the good bacteria flourishing.  Students set out to research (on their own) which plants would help the most, how to keep those plants alive, and how to get them growing in our aquarium.  
Once a week, groups of students are also in charge of cleaning the tank, getting the algae off the glass, and measuring ph levels.  If levels are too high, they go to the computers and figure out what to do to fix it.  
A classroom fish tank is a great way to teach responsibility as well as get some science standards in

So far, there has been a LOT of buy in and excitement surrounding the fish tank.  Kids are taking research on themselves, observing and figuring out how to keep our fish alive, and using our science standards to do it.  I am very, very pleased with what is going on.

We also have an aquaponics component to this fish tank...but I think I will leave you here for now.  (as this alone was probably enough information ;)) Do you have a tank in your classroom?  How have you used it as a learning tool?

Screencasts and Group Projects...a Match Made in Heaven

I have been teaching a long time.  Because of this, I tend to get bored with what I have "always done" and I find myself venturing out and mixing things up every once in a while.  So when it came time to review character traits with my students,  I tried out something new....we used a screencast!

Ok...so before you ask what a screencast is, here is an example.


Cool right????

There are so many different ways to use this technology in your class, but here is what we did.  Don't limit yourself to what I describe, but this is a good jumping off point for you.

For our character trait project, the students had to go through a few different steps.  The students gathered into groups of 3 or 4 students and divided up the 6 major character groups in our class novel Gregor the Overlander.   They thought about the various character traits embodied by those character groups (i.e.: the crawlers/roaches are very loyal and would give up their lives to save the majority of the group if needed.) The students wrote one paragraph describing the character groups using evidence from the text.  You can get the graphic organizer they used here.  If you would like to see the post I wrote about how I taught character traits in the first place, you can find that here.

Using screencast-o-matic to help the students present their character trait paragraphsNext, I asked the students to draw a full sized picture of just that character group.  The picture was to include some of the character trait ideas in it, but really needed to convey that particular character group. (meaning, I wanted to be able to look at the picture and tell it was about the fliers, not the gnawers....which are the bats and rats, for those of you who haven't read the book ;))  

Afterwards, the students created a 6 slide Google Slide project.  They took a screen shot of the picture and inserted each one onto a different slide.  I also asked them to write the name of the character group on the slide for easy identification.
Using Google Slides in fifth grade to create a screencast-o-matic presentation of character traits

Using a screencast is a great way to get the students to present their material in a low stress environmentThen the real fun began.  Using a free program called Screencast-o-matic, the students read their paragraphs about the various character groups while recording their voices!  The screencast-o-matic recording box was set around their picture so that was the only thing shown as the voice was being recorded.   You can see it in the picture to the left.  The black and white box is the recording area.  The red button is the record button with a timer that tells the students how long they were talking.  When each student finished their reading, before moving on to the next slide, the recording was paused, and then restarted when the next slide was shown and the new student began to read!

Now, what I have is a speaking sample for each student, a sample of them reading, evidence of their writing and group work, as well as a technology sample!  It had the added benefit of immediate buy in as well, as the students really, really wanted to do the screencast.  They knew that the final project was headed that way and they worked hard (and fast) to get there.  This was also such a low stress way to have the student, even my EL students, present their paragraphs.  They didn't have to be put on the spot and stand in front of everyone, yet they still spoke and practiced those oral skills they needed.

A little note:  The students used my laptop to do the actual screencast, as you do need to have an external microphone available (that is not present on the chrome books.)  This entire project took about 3 days to do, with the actual recording taking only one day to get all of the groups.  

Have you used Screencast-o-matic in your classroom?  How did you incorporate it?

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