July Currently

Oh man…time has really gotten away from me! I totally missed June’s currently, and now here we are, already on July 4th! Oh well. I have a bunch of ideas ready for posts, so I’ll try and get some up this week because next week I will be at the beach with my family!! We spend a week at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware every year and it is always so relaxing and fun – I can’t wait!

I have worked at the same summer day camp for kids for 10 years – it’s been a great experience, but this year I finally decided to leave that job and give myself a break this summer! My husband is officially done with PT school and is working this summer, so the money wasn’t as much of an issue. I have to say, I am really looking forward to everything that I will be able to get done now, both around the apartment and in my classroom!

My favorite read aloud with my class is kind of silly, but they LOVE it – “Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones” by Judy Schachner. They love picture books in general, but this one is just so fun. They always enjoy reading the little poems and clapping along with Skippyjon Jones. If you haven’t ready any of these books, you must do so. They are about a cat who thinks he is a chihuahua!

I’d have to say my go-to professional read is “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong, mostly because it is the first “teacher” books I read when I got my first job and it has been helpful ever since. I definitely recommend it, especially for first time teachers. It helped me realize the importance of those first few days of school in setting the tone for the rest of the year!

Now, go link up with Farley! And be sure to read the rules 🙂

Happy 4th of July!!


Medieval Wrap Up

We finally wrapped up our unit on the Middle Ages! The students did a phenomenal job on their unit test. I find that this is always the best test of the year and I truly believe it is because of the lap books that we create. It is constant reinforcement of the material that we learn – we discover information through a PowerPoint, we create a mini book based on that information, and we review the information again when we put our lap book together. They love it and it creates a wonderful keepsake for this fun unit.

Last week a parent came in to help me spray paint the castles the students built. We opened up all of the windows, put tarps under the castles, and draped sheets over the computers to keep them spray paint free. They turned out GREAT! It took us 10 cans – way more than we originally thought – but they look awesome and the class was so excited about them. The next day the students brought in Lego and Playmobile figures to “decorate” their castles with – we have lots of knights, dragons, and kings and queens.

Check them out!

Another exciting activity we did was one that a classroom parent came up with – banana jousting! The class was split into two teams and the current “jouster” on each team was given a poncho as armor, a shield made out of thick foam core, and a banana. The students would take turns making a pass at the other knight, trying to touch their poncho with the banana. One point was awarded for banana being smeared on the poncho and one point was awarded to whichever knight had the longer banana after the round was over. It was an enjoyable activity that the kids had a blast with!!

To close out our unit, we enjoyed a fun medieval party. I set up three stations throughout the room – coloring, computers, and Wii. For the Wii station, I brought in my Wii and borrowed Medieval Games (http://www.amazon.com/Medieval-Games-Nintendo-Wii/dp/B001S86ISG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337188714&sr=8-1_) for the Wii from a parent. This is a fun game, especially with four players, that allows the students to joust, sword fight, compete in archery tournaments, and much more. The kids of course loved it and did really well! For the computer station, I created an internet scavenger hunt based on a website I found with interesting facts about medieval times. The students had to answer questions based on what they found on the website. Finally I copied pictures of religious stained glass windows from a coloring book I have. The students used marker to color the stained glass and we rubbed vegetable oil on the other side to make it transparent – they looked awesome! I also had parents send in some yummy food to enjoy, such as cheese and pepperoni, grapes and watermelons on sword-shaped toothpicks, and pretzels. One parent even made some mead for the kids to try!

Overall, our medieval unit was tons of fun and it’s always sad to see it draw to a close. My goal was for the class to come away with a deeper understanding of this time period, including the role religion played, the importance of feudalism, and how our world has changed since then. I am already looking forward to next year!!

Really?? May??

Is it seriously May?  It seems like just yesterday the school year was starting and here we are with only 5 weeks left! Does anyone else feel like this year flew by??

Well, linking up with Farley at http://ohboy3rdgrade.blogspot.com/ for our Currently May…

It was a busy April, but I think it will be an even busier May. We have lots of fun things planned, from several field trips to local ponds and creeks to performing the play that we wrote (a parody of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”!).

Our medieval castles are almost finished…just another day or two to work on them and then they will be ready to spray paint, photograph, and upload here! I can’t wait to show them off!

My students started recorder instruction this week. They were so excited to get their own recorder and music book to take home and practice! They all came in the day after their first lesson and told me about how much fun they had practicing (and how much fun their families had listening to them…haha)! It is so wonderful to see them enjoying something musical 🙂


The Middle Ages

Based on this picture, and knowing that we are studying the Middle Ages, can you guess what our latest classroom endeavor is??


If you guessed building cardboard castles, you were RIGHT!!

About the middle of March, I began collecting cardboard boxes of all sizes, as well as egg cartons, pop bottles, applesauce cups, and other good “building” supplies. The above picture is the pile as of the middle of April! Good thing I can handle clutter – if I was a neat freak, this would be a major problem 🙂 The closet to the right of this picture was completely full of boxes too! Needless to say, we have more than enough boxes.

Last week I split the kids into 4 groups. Each group was given 2 rolls of duck tape, a large cardboard box flattened out to use as the base, and a few guidelines of parts of a castle that must be included (ex: wall, drawbridge, keep, towers). We went around group by group picking boxes from the pile until they had a good amount to start with. Once they began working, they were allowed to send one person from their group at a time back to the pile of boxes to get any more that they needed. Our pile has been about cut in half, but we still have quite a few left!

Here are a few castles at the beginning stages:

Once they are completely done, I will spray paint them gray/silver to look more polished and more castle-like, and then they will be permitted to bring in “medieval-type” characters, such as Lego people or Playmobile figures, to finish it off.

They always turn out great and I am excited to see this year’s finished products!

Just so you have an idea, here are a few castles from previous years:

Don’t they look awesome?!

Do you study the Middle Ages? I’d love to hear about some of the fun things you do with your class!!

I have a few more posts about our medieval unit planned, so check back soon 🙂

Currently April…

Is it really that time again?? March seriously flew by…

Today I was busy setting up my classroom for our medieval unit. Thankfully I saved my moat/drawbridge/castle wall from last year, which made it much easier! I’ll definitely post pictures soon 🙂

For now I’m linking up with Farley over at http://ohboy3rdgrade.blogspot.com/ – be sure to check out everyone’s blogs. There are SO many to go through – I wish I had a free day to do so! Oh wait…I won’t until Thursday because our break doesn’t start until then. Boo.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just push a button and have all of your papers graded? And I mean, all papers – not just math worksheets or English pages, but writing assignments and journaling work! This consumes so much time, I can only imagine how wonderful an instant paper grader button would be!

I can’t wait to show off everything we are doing this month for our study of the Middle Ages! Be sure to check back soon for updates 🙂

March Madness!

Growing up, I was never really into basketball. I was terrible at playing it, my city doesn’t have a team (Pittsburgh has everything else, but no basketball!), and the only college in Pittsburgh that could have been good (Pitt) wasn’t.

That all changed when I went to college and saw the hype over March Madness every year!

Many of my new friends came from tried and true college towns, such as Columbus, Lexington, or Charlotte, whose teams consistently made it into the tournament. I thought it was crazy that they treated their college teams like Pittsburgh does with the Steelers – and if you’re from Pittsburgh, you know exactly what I mean! The thought of basketball being so huge was foreign to me, but after watching the games and getting caught up in all of the excitement, I am now hooked.

It became even more exciting last year when Pitt was a #1 seed! In addition to being a Pitt fan, my BFF got me rooting for Kentucky – the #1 overall seed this year and an amazing team. We attended a game last month at Rupp Arena and it was UNREAL. Seriously. If you have never been to a college basketball game at a large school with a good team, I highly suggest you go. The players ran into the arena with fireworks shooting overhead – in an indoor arena! Crazy.

Anyways, all that being said, I am now a huge college basketball fan and love this time of year, so I really wanted to do something fun with March Madness in my classroom. During the month of March, our whole school studies one country – this year we’re learning about China – so rather than each individual teacher planning her own unit, we each teach a lesson to the whole school. This leaves many afternoons open for other activities. I was excited to do some March Madness activities because it would tie in math, geography, reading, writing, and research skills!

To start our our March Madness unit, I explained what March Madness was and how seeding worked. Each student was given a bracket to fill out in order to predict who would win each game, all the way to the championship. They also predicted a score for the championship game, just in case of a tie 🙂 We mounted their brackets on construction paper and hung them up in the room. Every day after games are played, I update their bracket by either crossing out the team if they guessed incorrectly or drawing a star if it was correct. Each round is also worth 32 points – for example, in the first round when there were a possible of 32 predictions, each game guessed correctly was worth 1 point. In the second round with only 16 possible predictions, each game was worth 2 points. The third round games were worth 4 points, and so on, each time totaling 32. I write their totals on the board so that they can keep track of who is in the lead. I also include their totals for each round on a chart that is posted above our brackets.

Whew – sorry that was a long paragraph! Here is one of my student’s brackets right now:

Here are all 14 brackets:

After we filled out our brackets, each student was given a list of all 64 teams in the tournament, their wins-losses for the season, and a blank. They paired up with a friend to calculate the winning percentages of each team. We then looked at which teams had the highest and the lowest. They were allowed to make changes to their bracket based on this information – and several of them wanted to 🙂

Here’s my copy (it’s a mess b/c we wrote lots of other stuff on it too!):

Once all of the students had done this, we next discussed what state each team comes from. They wrote the state name or abbreviation next to the team on their percentages page. Next they determine how many teams were from each state. We found out that the state with the most teams in the tourney (5) was North Carolina! (One thing I emphasized was the fact that the teams in the tournament are not the states’ only teams! They seemed to think that because Hawaii has no teams in the tournament, it means they have no teams at all…so we talked about how these are the best of the best!)

Each student received a map of the U.S. while I had a larger one hung on the board. We then filled in each state with a different color based on how many teams that state has in the tournament. For example, NC has 5 teams so we colored it orange; KY, OH, NY, and CA each have 4 teams so we colored them purple; etc, creating a key in the corner of the map.

Here is a student-colored map…

…and mine on the board:

Once we colored our whole map, we determined the fraction and percentage of states with 5 teams, 4 teams, and so on. We also looked at the distribution of teams, noticing that the majority of states with teams are in the eastern part of the country. We discussed why this might be.

Our next task involved each student choosing a team they were interested in learning more about. I created an information page for the students to fill out while doing research about their team. It involves everything from basic information, such as the team’s mascot, colors, and coach, to more detailed, such as the heights of each player and their field goal percentages (and looking to see if there is a correlation between the 2!). I found some websites for the students to use while conducting their research and set them off on their own.

Update: I have since uploaded the team research fact page I created to TpT – check it out! http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/NCAA-March-Madness-Basketball-Tournament-Team-Research

Now, I only have access to 6 or 7 computers in my room and the 4th grade room next door, so I created something for the rest of the students to work on while the other half was doing their research. I compiled a list of all of the Rounds 1 and 2 games that had been played and recorded the final score, as well as in what city the game was played. The students answered 13 questions about these games, including what games had the highest and lowest total points scored, what games had the highest and lowest points scored by a winning team, how many upsets there had been, which teams traveled the farthest/least far to play their first round game, and which two teams that played each other are farthest from/closest to each other geographically. They were allowed to use a calculator and an atlas to help with these questions.

So what do you think?! This is what we have done so far; I am hoping to have each student present the information learned about their researched team, but I am trying to figure out a creative yet simple way to do so. Maybe a poster?

There will also be a prize for the student who receives the most points based on his/her bracket. Right now one of my three girls is in first place! I think the boys were a bit shocked by that…haha. I was quite proud 🙂

It’s been fun to see the students come in each day to check out their updated brackets and see how they did. I think many of them are watching the games at home too, because they like to ask if I watched a particular game and if I “can believe that they won?!” or some comment like it.

This has been an exciting way to keep our March busy and fun, and thankfully the students are enjoying it too!!


So somehow I got roped into co-coaching the 5th and 6th grade boys volleyball team at my school…

My husband, best friend, and I play pick up games every Tuesday night at a local church. I played intramural volleyball in college, and took a clinic one summer when I was younger. It’s always been a fun sport for me (whereas most others are NOT! I was a singer/actress/dancer, not an athlete!). Despite the fact that I’ve never actually been trained on how to play, I have a blast and am much improved compared to my college days of playing!

Anyways, we have a good solid group of girls playing this year and one of their dad’s is coaching the girls’ team. Unfortunately, only one boy signed up for the boys’ team…bummer. So I was talking to our “athletic director” who organizes the sports teams and mentioned that I’d be willing to help out if a few more boys signed up; I felt bad that there weren’t enough for a team and this one boy who wanted to play wouldn’t get a chance!

So they called up a dad at the school who had expressed interest and the two of us are now the “coaches” for the boys team! I encouraged my 5th grade boys to give it a try, and several of them have come to the two practices we have had so far.

I wasn’t able to make it to Tuesday’s practice, but I was excited to go today! We split the kids up into two groups (mixed boys and girls) and focused on bumping and serving. I must say that by the end of the hour and a half, they had definitely improved their bumping skills!! I was really impressed with their willingness to learn and try new things. Some of the boys are naturals at volleyball and have never even played before!

We are hoping to call up some local schools who would be willing to scrimmage our boys once we get a few more practices in and work on getting the ball over the net 🙂 It will be fun just to see how much they improve throughout the next few months.

I never thought I would be coaching a sports team, but hey, you gotta get out of your comfort zone every once in a while!

Oh, and please keep the patients/victims of the Western Psych hospital shooting here in Pittsburgh in your thoughts and prayers. There are seven injured and two dead, including the shooter; all of Oakland was on lock down for much of the afternoon. It was a scary thing to hear about, especially being so close to home. This is one of those things that is always difficult to discuss with students. At their age, they usually know about these events from their parents or from watching the news. I’m hoping to spend some time in prayer for the victims tomorrow with my kiddos.


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