Great Resources Await with Aesop's Fables Mini Lessons

AmericanLiterature,com is a great site to find many different stories for use in instruction. They have created an amazing collection of Aesop's Fables with illustrations.   As a former competitor in impromptu speaking in Aesop's fables have a special place in my heart because the tales are so easy to match to everyday situations and teach valuable concepts.  
There are over 145 of Aesop's Fables in their collection for you to enjoy. Most of the stories in this collection have wonderful illustrations and are a a delight to enjoy with your students.

The Best Inservice for Teachers

It is surprising me that I'm writing a post regarding my excitement about the teacher in-service website. There is no shortage of sites that have a host of videos trying to train teachers about various subjects. The problem with all of the sites  is that most of the videos you find are painfully boring to watch, and seemed to drag on forever.

Kyte Learning is an exception to this rule.  So far I have only been through a few of the tutorials, but they were both interesting, very focused, and provided me with everything I needed to know to get started. The complete courses range from 30 minutes up to an hour and a half depending on the difficulty of the software or skill they are trying to teach. The presenters have seen so far have been entertaining, clear, and easy to understand.

Kyte Learning  is primarily focused on working with technology in education.  Currently there are many topics that are covered, but there still seems to be a lot of area that they can continue to grow. Based on some of my discussions with people from the company, they are still actively growing their content library. 

You can set up a free account that will let you preview some of the content and see if it's a good match for you, if you like what you see the subscription will cost you seven dollars a month, or $75 a year.   With the current content library I think that seven dollars a month is a fair price, but as they continue to grow it will quickly become a bargain. I just hope that they will leave this price structure intact, rather than raising it as their library grows. 

Turning a Class Around!


The few members of my class were having trouble staying on the websites that they were supposed to in my new 1:1 classroom. My classroom is set up in tables so I could really only watch about half the screens at one time. I’ve also had my kids in rows which made it easy to monitor screens, but I was always back of the room. As I was thinking about changing my seating arrangement the thought came to my mind that I should turn all the desks towards the back of the room and put them in rows.

I have to say that so far the seating arrangement is working out very well. The primary reason I had them turn around this so that I could monitor screens, but there turned out to be another big advantage to the seating arrangement. When I am teaching something up on the board I have the students turn their chairs all the way around which also turns them away from their desks and all the distractions that they find within them. For those times that I need to do direct instruction my students are much more engaged and focused. The seating arrangement has also worked out well for the primary purpose, I’ve seen a moderate bump in engaged student time on the web apps that we use.

While I don’t keep any seating arrangement for the whole year, the seating arrangement has worked out far better than I had expected. It’s easy for me to monitor whether students are actively using the learning software that they are supposed to. By turning away from their desks students pay attention to direct instruction just a little bit better. I think any teacher with a one-to-one classroom ought to give this a try.

My Take on PLC's

Last week I attended Solution Tree's PLC Summit in Arizona.  It was a great event and I left with a improved determination to be a better teacher and to make a difference in the world.  I also left thinking about what I really learned that specifically can be used to make my instruction better.  Initially my thoughts went to the fact that I did not learn how to teach writing better, or how to teach a math concept better.  I honestly started to question the value of taking three days off school to attend a conference that was essentially just there to pump me up.  I then had a little break through in my understanding of why PLC's (Professional Learning Communities) are so powerful and effective.

As teachers we have been a little jaded by the textbooks we are given, and the policies that are handed down from our districts.  So many of the materials and programs we receive are so heavily scripted that we get the impression that we need to be little more than trained monkeys to implement the program.  As professionals it has been a very degrading to us as teachers.  PLCs change this around.

The Professional Learning Community  movement requires the professional to become the professional and totally centers around the teacher and their knowledge.  It has been a long time since there has been a major program that gets pushed down from the districts that puts the teachers in the position to make decisions and use there knowledge to initiate change. Putting this power in the hands of teachers is changing the education for the better as proven by the many amazing results cited at the conference.  

A PLC is based around teachers working together to help all of their students succeed. When teachers meet there are a few key goals that they decide on.  First the teacher decide what key things the team of teachers want to focus their teaching on.  These teachers also develop assessments to determine the understanding of the students.  Finally teachers discuss the students who didn't get it the first time and determine strategies that could best help these students.  This whole process is implemented and relies on the knowledge and judgment of teachers. It is no wonder that it is so successful.  When you have a program that relies on a highly trained professionals that are in the classroom and know and understands the needs of their students, it is bound to be more successful than any program driven by a textbook writer or a district official.  

Power in the hands of teachers is a very powerful force for change in the lives of children. 

Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (Book & CD-ROM)
By Richard Dufour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker, Thomas Many

Adapting to create great results


About 10 minutes before school Monday morning the lights flickered then went out.  Our classroom is 1:1 and my plans are heavily based on the use of chrome books.  They all have batteries but the internet needed power to work.  It was nessisary to figure out something else and to top it off the kids were being sent to our room early because the lunchroom was too dark.  The result was one of the best writing lessons of the year. 

We started the lesson by going outside in the wet fresh snow and spent about half an hour letting the kids create snow sculptures.  I had snow volcanoes, a giant snow man, an elephant and an amazing giant bunny.  The kids found a group they wanted to work with and came up with something interesting and great.   

We returned to the class room and pulled out the paper.  The promt that they were given was, "imagine your snow creation came to life". It was amazing to see the students jump in.  Even my most reluctant writers jumped into the assignment with full force. The results may have lacked some grammatical proficiency but the ideas flowed and it made for a fun night of reading student stories.   

As I share this my intention is not to suggest snow sculpture writing assignments is a great teaching idea.  My intention is to share that trying to find natural interesting activities to enhance student learning, is only a little crisis away. 


Readworks is an amazing resource for Reading Instruction

One of the big challenges we face in reading instruction is finding great materials to read that are aligned with our students ability level, aligned with the core, and that do not have copyright issues.  Readworks has a great collection so far and continues to grow rapidly.  What exactly is read works? 

The non-profit ReadWorks is committed to solving the nation’s reading comprehension crisis by giving teachers the research-proven tools and support they need to improve the academic achievement of their students.
ReadWorks provides research-based units, lessons, and authentic, leveled non-fiction and literary passages directly to educators online, for free, to be shared broadly.
The ReadWorks curriculum is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and the standards of all 50 states. Most importantly, ReadWorks is faithful to the most effective research-proven instructional practices in reading comprehension.

ReadWorks has texts for every grade level and most concepts that are taught. ReadWorks has become my go to place to find reading materials for instruction.

The 1 Sentence Makeover

I did an amazingly successful lesson today that I like to call the one sentence makeover.  I first demonstrate by writing a basic sentence on the board for example, "It is snowing."  Then we discuss the importance of using vivid descriptive words in their writing, and I rewrite the sentence.  The frigid North Wind drives the tiny shapeless snowflakes into waist deep mountains and bare valleys of drifted snow.  I then wrote another basic sentence, "I went up the mountain." and gave the students 5 minutes to work on making the sentences amazing.  They were instructed to work on just the one sentence for the entire time.  They could do as many revisions of that sentence as they like but they must keep writing the whole time, and they can not write about something else or turn it into a story with multiple sentences.

The students loved this quick and relatively easy assignment.  I sometimes think there is great benefit in focusing on one small thing and spending time with it.  Students don't feel the pressure of an overwhelming assignment and their creativity soars.  While a had a few that still didn't get it, many did and I got to hear some really amazing writing.  I look forward to seeing if this translates into better daily writing. 

What is #favral?

I'm trying an experiment mostly because I'm always interested in finding great books to read to my students, but partially because I like science.  I am in the process of trying to start a new Twitter tag called #favral.  #favral stands for Favorite Read-a-Loud.  I would like for teachers to share when they come across a great new book that is ideal for reading to students or children.  It could be anything from a shorter picture book to a novel.  It should involve a great story that lends itself to class discussion.  

Is it possible for me with fairly few followers to start something so big? Well I must admit I'm a bit pessimistic, but not so pessimistic that I didn't try.   If you have an amazing book that you read to your students please share and put my pessimism to rest. 

You can find more information and see some of the shares on the #favral page

Why I decided to be a teacher? #youredustory

When I graduated from High School I was very interested in theater arts.  While I wasn’t much of an actor, I loved the technical site like lighting and stage design.  In my freshman year of college I signed up as a theater major, and by the end of my freshman year it was clear that would not be my major when I graduated.  I still loved the work, but the schedule and lifestyle it would entail was just not for me.

After my freshman year I took a two year break from school to serve a mission for my church in Japan. As part of that service we taught free english conservation classes as a service.  This was really my first experience teaching and it was definitely a highlight of the work I was doing. A few months in I was assigned to the kids class, and it was amazing.  Seeing the excitement of a child learning something new was fun and magical.  I continued to teach the children’s class as I was transferred from city to city throughout Northern Japan.  I even had some opportunities to volunteer in schools and preschools.  While there wasn’t a single moment that made me wan’t to teach the cumulation of all of these experiences built up a desire for that profession.  

When I returned home I looked at two life paths.  I considered International Business because I spoke fluent Japanese, and education.  If I made the choice based off income, it’s pretty obvious I wouldn’t be blogging here.  I choose education because it fit a life style that I wanted.  The schedule was reasonable, although I work far more than I thought I would, and I could easily live in a small town. As an added benefit I get to see those amazing aha moments in my students. 

I’ve been teaching now for going on 17 years, and love it even more today that when I started.  The pay isn’t great but through some side businesses we have made it work.  I am happy to be a teacher, I love having the time to support my own children in their activities, and I love living in this great little community.  I made the right choice for me.

Inspire your Students with Challenges

Many of her students are very well aware of the disabilities and challenges that they face. Unfortunately, these challenges can get in the way of the child finding their strength. I believe that sharing examples of people that had significant challenges, yet with time to do amazing things, is a great way to get students with challenges thinking about their strengths and how they can build on them.
Harrison Craig is a great example of overcoming challenges. From the time he learned to speak he had a significant stutter. Up until today this disability still impacts his life. As a child he was frequently teased and bullied. Despite these challenges he has pursued his talent in singing, and recently appeared on The Voice in Australia. I will be sharing this video my class, and discussed the importance of overcoming challenges.

Junk science that educators love

I am writing in response to an info graphic posted on

Overall the info graphic was interesting, but a few of its conclusions were a stretch to say the least.  First it establishes the the Finnish school system does a much better job of educating its students.  It then shares a couple of very logical reasons for their success like class sizes of about 15 or requiring teachers to have masters degrees.

Where it goes wrong is when they take a few of there personal pet peeves and throw them in as reasons for the discrepancy between the education systems.  The first example is citing that homework is not given in Finland. While there are studies showing that homework may not be effective, there is no research that shows it would harm a students education. Another reason they site is the U.S. has excessive standardized tests.  While this may be true, I don't believe that reducing the number of standardized tests would result in a major boost in student performance.  While I too am not a great fan of excessive testing or homework that have no place in an objective look at why these school systems have such different results.

If we jump to these silly conclusions based on our pet peeves we loose credit once we share our thoughts outside of the teacher world.   

A great visualization to teach prime and composite numbers.

We are just finishing up a chapter that taught prime and composite numbers, and I came across this great site that has visualizations for prime and composite numbers that is very cool and amazing.  I'm sure you and your students will enjoy it as much as I do.

11X5 Composite

11X5 Composite

February Writing Prompts


February is a fantastic month for writing. We have Valentine's Day which is great for love stories, Presidents' Day where we can honor the accomplishments of our great leaders, it's a great month for winter stories, and we can even celebrate invention and innovation on Thomas Edison's birthday. I have made a collection of my favorite writing prompts for the month of February. Each prompt is in large bold letters that are easy to read from the board, they are also accompanied by beautiful images to help stimulate the imagination.

I personally use these prompts for fourth-grade students, but most are very appropriate for third through eighth grade.


I have included multiple formats to best meet your needs.

  • Web-based-On this site each prompt will be posted daily on the writing prompt blog.
  • PowerPoint presentation-you can also download the complete PowerPoint, you're welcome to edit and make any changes you need to best meet your classrooms needs.
  • Individual images-I personally like to insert the images in my LMS Schoology has an assignment. Having each of the individual images makes this easy.

What is Learning?

Learning is the constant process of acquiring knowledge and developing skills.  Learning is most effective through experiences, social interactions, and self-reflection.   Learning is not limited to specific tasks or locations such as school or reading. Learning most often takes place in day-to-day interactions with people in the world around us.

Many of the most effective ways to inspire learning in our classrooms is to mimic real-world social interactions and hands-on experiences. While it is possible for students to learn through many traditional teaching methods such as lectures, worksheets, and textbooks, these methods tend to be less effective. 

8 Great Tools for Formative Assessment


Formative assessments are the quick day-to-day methods that we use to see how her students are progressing in a given subject. While these tests could be the good old-fashioned pop-quiz, we have many ways and tools to make it more fun, interesting, and useful. This is a collection of some of my favorite tools that I use on a regular basis to track students progress.

1- Kahoot

Kahoot makes the top of my list, because recently my students have been having a great time with this website. It takes the model of the traditional multiple-choice quiz, but it makes it into a game where students compete against each other to get the most points. It is fun and interactive. The site also has other options that facilitate class discussion on a given topic.

2- Sesame HQ

Sesame HQ is a great way to keep track of what students are doing on a day-to-day basis. It has many options including built-in quizzing, writing options, and photographing student work. It collects all this work and creates something like a blog for each student that you can share with parents. It is essentially a digital portfolio for your student.

3- Edmodo Snapshot

Edmodo Snapshot is a bank of common core questions in math and language arts that can easily be assigned to students. It only takes a few minutes to assign a quiz, and the quizzes generally take students only about five minutes to complete. It is a very fast and efficient way to see how well your students understand the specific concept in the common core.

4- Socrative 

Socrative is very similar to Kahoot in that it is the instant feedback tool to class instruction. There are however some differences in management, and an assessment creation. It can be very powerful in pulling the class as you teach, and has some unique question and response types that make it a powerful tool.

5- NearPod

Nearpod is a tool that allows you to take your PowerPoint presentation including embedded videos, and put it on each student's device, no matter what that might be. You can also add embedded questions throughout the presentation. The presentation can be controlled by the teacher, or be turned to homework mode where students control the pace of the slides. One of the great advantages to this site, is the huge collection of presentations that are already uploaded and ready to use. Many of the presentations are professionally created, and very good, but they do cost a few dollars. This is a fast efficient way to get instant feedback on how students are learning a specific subject.

6- Plickers

If you don't have a computer or device for every child, but you still want instant feedback on how students are doing, Plickers are an amazing tool to give quizzes to your class. With clickers you print out cards for each of your students, then you asked the class multiple-choice questions. Students hold up their cards with their choice of answers facing up, then using the app on your phone you scan the class using the camera, and it reads and records their answers.

While I love to use many of the high-tech tools available to me, there are many low-tech ways to assess student progress. I personally use a combination of high-tech and low-tech options in formative assessment.

7- Exit Tickets

Exit tickets can be a 3 x 5 card, or a Post-it note, that students answer a single question before leaving to a recess, activity, or school. By limiting it to one question students can answer quickly, and I can assess very quickly who is getting and who is not.

8- Mini whiteboards

Mini whiteboards are going great way for students to write the responses to a variety of questions. Students can solve problems, answer questions, or draw a picture. They then hold up the whiteboard and you can see instantly who is understanding the concept.

Widening the Gap -Why our focus on narrowing the gap is failing our students.

We have seen many articles, blog posts, in-service training, and books that of all focused on narrowing the gap for our low achieving students in the classroom. Because of the focus on narrowing the gap we have seen many innovative and effective ways to help raise the expectations and performance of many struggling students. I believe that it is critical to address the needs of struggling students. Despite the need to help these students, I believe that the paradigm of narrowing the gap is totally flawed.

Many of her students who struggle often have much greater potential than how they are performing in class. Often we can search out ways to better meet the learning style of the child, and thereby help the child become closer to their learning potential. It is always my goal as a teacher to find that magic key, or instructional method that is going to be effective in helping a struggling child learn concepts that have not been able to before. In my 17 years of teaching I have had many experiences of getting non-readers to read, struggling mathematicians to do math, and helping many students be successful when that has not happened before. And thinking back through my many students one thing that I don’t recall seeing is a student that struggles, that starts to learn faster than the high achieving students in my classroom. It is in this learning velocity that presents the biggest problem in the concept of narrowing the gap.

The concept of narrowing the gap indicates that we need to decrease the distance between our high achieving students and are struggling students in their learning. While I think it is an admirable, and critical goal to get our struggling students to perform higher levels and get closer to grade level content, if we help these children catch up to the children who naturally learn at a faster pace than we have failed all of the other students in the class. If we do our job well as a teacher our students should have a much wider gap at the end of the year than at the beginning. Our high achieving students learn quickly and should excel quickly far beyond grade level expectations, the majority of the class will make strong growth usually beyond one year of learning, and are struggling students ideally should make better gains than I have in the past. We should do everything in our power as a teacher to ensure that every child is pushed to the limits of their capability so that they can achieve their maximum growth. The very nature of pushing children to their maximum capability indicates that our high achieving students will achieve at much higher levels than they ever have in the past, thereby significantly widening the gap between their performance and the performance of our struggling students.

While it may seem a little Utopian to believe that we can push each individual child to their maximum capability, I believe we’re getting closer to having the tools and resources necessary to reach this goal. Technology and programs are becoming more individualized, and can focus more specifically on each child’s needs. Differentiated instruction is becoming very well developed, and we have many resources that can help us in developing a strong differentiated program for our classroom. While we may not have enough hours in the day to meet every need of every child in their learning, it is very possible to significantly improve what we are doing so far.

I hope that at the end of the school year we can look back and be proud of the fact that we have widened the gap between our highest and lowest students in her classroom. Not because our lowest students got further and further behind grade level expectations, but because all of her students have accelerated and progressed at their highest levels.

My Book Mark List

Teacher Book Marks Blog

I was trying to find a site I wanted to use but didn't write down the link this morning and had a tough time finding it.  unfortunately I failed to bookmark it.  While I eventually found it in my history, I decided that I would really like to have all of the sites I come across that spark my interest to have a central place where I can find it.  Now I could use the bookmarks built into Chrome, but that limits my list to just me, so I decided to start a blog for my book marks.

If you are looking for in depth reviews and analysis of many educational website, this new blog is not for you.  It is basically a link and a one sentence description of the site.  It is valuable for discovery, at the time of this post it has about ten links, but I expect it to grow quickly. 

I will continue to write full reviews for some of my favorite online tools on this blog. 

Hour of Code begins next week

The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. Anybody can host an Hour of Code anytime, but the grassroots campaign goal is for tens of millions of students to try an Hour of Code during December 8-14, 2014, in celebration of Computer Science Education Week

Learn more at or

20% Time in the Classroom

Many of you may be asking, "What is 20% Time?"  20% time was developed in the corporate specifically by Google.   They allowed there employees to spend 20% of their time on projects that they were passionate about.  This gave birth to some amazing products, for example gmail started out as a 20% project.  The real key to this is not necessarily the projects that become a product, but to keep your employees passionate about their job.

In the schools we face the same problem.  We have a classroom full of students who lack real passion for learning.  20% time allows students to work on a project that relates to a project they are passionate about.  While the projects must be approved, we should avoid turning down projects unless health or safety is an issue.  The finished project might be a presentation, but it could be many other things. For example a building in Mine Craft, a t-shirt design, a service project for the school or community, a piece of software, a blog, a podcast, or just about anything else.

To get started you should prepare students by explaining that this time is theirs to create, research or build something that they care about.  The only requirement is that they use their time effectively.  If you would like to assign a grade you would need to set your standards for grading at this time.  I personally do not grade these because they rarely relate directly to the core.  Remind them that classroom rules apply, and that they need to get a project approved before starting.  It's then time to turn them loose.  

This is not a time you as a teacher can squeeze in grading a few papers, as you will be a valuable resource in helping to direct them to resources.  Please keep in mind that resources are not limited to the internet.  There are likely members of the community that work in the area of their project idea.  I have heard of amazing interactions between professionals and students.  The point is this is a time to think outside the box to help students get the most out of this that they can.

The biggest concern is that we don't have enough time as it is.  How do we fit in an hour or two a week for this, when we can't even get through what we need to as it is?  The simple answer is that engaged and excited learners learn much faster than disengaged students.  I personally believe I can be more successful on core content with this time than without.  


Fun New Christmas Story Books

The Holidays are upon us and our kids are excited.  A great Christmas story can make this season fun for all of our our students.  We always have our classic stand-by's like the Polar Express, but I have found a few newer books to add to the mix.

Merry Moosey Christmas
By Lynn Plourde

Rudolph wants the night off, just this once. But can he and Santa train his substitute an eager moose in time for Christmas?

By John Rocco

Blizzard is based on John Rocco's childhood experience during the now infamous Blizzard of 1978, which brought fifty-three inches of snow to his town in Rhode Island. Told with a brief text and dynamic illustrations, the book opens with a boy's excitement upon seeing the first snowflake fall outside his classroom window. It ends with the neighborhood's immense relief upon seeing the first snowplow break through on their street.

Winter Candle
By Jeron Ashford

When each family at the diverse Juniper Court apartment complex needs something to light up the dark of winter, the stumpy, lumpy candle provides a glow brighter than the fanciest taper, revealing the true spirit of each holiday it illuminates.