In the Trenches

Thoughts and Ideas from a Classroom Teacher

BC12: Homework Debate

HomeworkHomework. Ahhhh… one of the great debates. As a fifth grade teacher, I do  give homework. Because I am self-contained (I teach all subjects to my same core group of students), I am able to keep aware of how much my students are assigned each night. I typically have math and language arts (often integrating science or social studies) assignments each evening. I try  to assign 5-10 math problems and a mixed skill ELA assignment, with the hopes of students not spending more than 45-60 minutes in total on the work.

In class this week, we are studying tall tales and legends. For their homework  this week,  my students are reading an Aztec legend and working with it throughout the week. They have questions, vocabulary, figurative language, and characteristics of the genre to consider with the same, more complex text throughout the week. I like them to have this weekly assignment because it helps them to learn more about time management and spacing things out based on schedules. Some students really space it out so that each night they are doing one particular part of the assignment. Others work their way around their individual schedules, like sports  and church. Fridays, we go over what we’ve learned together. I like this as a model, as it provides ample time for students to spend a lot of time in a tougher passage.

I try  to make sure that I’m not arbitrarily assigning work or that it is too long of an assignment. It’s not perfect though. As a parent, I get both sides of the debate. What are your thoughts? To homework or not to homework?

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BC11: A Favorite Website

2013-07-17 19.14.46One place I go to every day is Discovery Education! If you know me in person or online, you probably know that I am heavily involved with the Discovery Educator Network (DEN). Some of my most amazing personal and professional relationships come from experiences I have had thanks to the DEN. I figured that for this blog post I will do a Top 5 list of the reasons I love DE!

1. Advanced Search in Discovery Education allows me to find resources specifically targeted to my students’ needs. I love the games, math explanations, and songs. Even if your school does not subscribe to DE services, they have partnered with tons of community and corporate sponsors to create free lessons, games, and resources for teaching and learning.

2. Contests and sweepstakes like the Belk Service Learning Challenge and the Siemens Young Scientist Challenge give schools the opportunity to connect with corporate sponsors who want to make great things happen for young students. If you are a DEN STAR, you definitely look forward to Teacher Appreciation Week each year! DE does it right!

3. Face to face and virtual events offered by Discovery Education, the DEN, and their partners are amazing opportunities for educators and students to connect with the learning world around them. We have connected with the Weather Channel in an awesome Google HangOut, Peter Reynolds in an amazing Thinc Career Chat, and one another at events like DEN Summer Institute and DENapaloozas!

4. Discovery Education is about sharing! To become and maintain a DEN STAR, you have to do events. But, never fear, thi is not a giant production. No, sharing to DE is about getting 3-4 people together and talking about how you are using DE resources to improve teaching and learning in your classroom. Become a STAR!

5. Discovery Education is about providing the best teaching and learning resources. The DEN is about the people, the best network of caring, compassionate, and dedicated educators on Earth.

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BC10: Brain Breaks

My kids love these quick Brain Breaks! They are all under 5 minutes and perfect for when your students (or kids at home) have been sitting for way too long. Did you know that 5 full steps sends freshly oxygenated blood all the way through your body? Get that brain refreshed and the mind and body ready to learn more!


And check out these 20 great ideas from Minds in Bloom and these Energizers for the classroom!


BC9: This Week in Learning

My students are currently wrapping up a unit on adding and subtracting fractions with like and unlike denominators. It is essential that fifth graders have a working conceptual understanding of fractions, as well as an ability to practically solve problems that involve operations. By this point, they should be able to extend their ability to model into their ability to solve using algorithm. This week, we will be spending some time working in Thinking Blocks. Thinking Blocks has recently moved to Math Playground, but they also have newly developed apps for fractions, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. It integrates modeling, algorithm, and word problems. I am hoping it goes well with my kiddos this week. I’ll let you know.


download (1)

What other sites do you use for an integrated approach to teaching operations with fractions?

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BC8: Book with an Impact

you haven't taught

You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned

I don’t look up to many celebrities. I’m not easily swayed by the famous. There are few people in the world of sports that I truly consider to be “heroes.” John Wooden is one of the few people that I would strive to emulate. John Wooden’s legacy in collegiate basketball is second only to his influence as a teacher. There are many books by and about Coach Wooden, and, frankly, I would recommend them all. Wooden is probably my very favorite book of lessons on life and leadership, but You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned is a great look at Coach Wooden’s specific teaching practices. Coach Wooden’s quiet demeanor, poignant influence, and overwhelming expertise is infectious. I have his pyramid of success in my classroom, and it always leads to some excellent discussions about life and character. Whether you are a basketball fan, or not, I’m sure this book will impact your views of life, teaching, and learning.

JRW Pyramid Laminate 07

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BC7: Classroom Management

TUM398Most of the time when people, especially in pre-service and initial teacher trainings, are equating classroom management with discipline. While discipline is a part of management, it is not the whole thing. In fact, the more actual management this is happening, the less likely of a need for discipline. In my mind, classroom management is about organization. Students who are engaged in learning and know classroom routines and procedures are more likely to stay on task with learning targets.


One way popular way to facilitate student responsibility is with classroom jobs. Here’s the thing. I can’t ever remember who is supposed to do what and when and where. I tried for years to keep up with different roles. I gave up on that last year, and I haven’t been more pleased. I simply have a STUDENT OF THE DAY. The student of the day runs errands, leads the line, collects and dispenses materials, and does pretty much whatever other jobs we might need for the day. They even get a special chair for the day! If you can’t keep up with who is supposed to do what each day, try having a student of the day. It works for me!

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BC6: Getting Better

Confession time: When I set up my self-initiated blogging challenge, I never imagined it would grow like it has. I am amazed, inspired, and awed by all of the exceptional educators who have taken on this challenge to blog more consistently. The range of ages, levels, content areas, geographical locations, and more astounds me. What I love is the authenticity of the challenge. I am on this journey with each of you!


This challenge has also led me to tackle one of the areas where I have wanted to improve… reading and commenting on others’ blogs!

So what am I doing about it?

I have set up a column in my Hootsuite for #BC20 on Twitter so that I can see what posts people are sharing each day. If you aren’t using #BC20, please do! It is a great way to support one another on this crazy ride.

Many of you are tagging me on Facebook and Twitter, which I love! I’m trying to read as many of the posts as I can find. I’m already getting so many great ideas from you that I’m starting phase two of the blogging challenge based on what I’m investigating from you!

My goal: Read and comment on at least 2 posts per day. I know this won’t cover everyone’s, but I have to be realistic and fair to my time. I tend to be one who obsesses and goes a little overboard with pressuring myself to be perfect. It’s actually hard for me to let go of the idea that I can comment on every single one of everyone’s posts. Argh.I’m also checking out the list you’ve added to HERE on our encouragement page. Again, if you haven’t signed up yet, go for it! I promise that no one will seek you out if you don’t complete the challenges, but there’s just something about “signing up” that makes you want to finish!

photo credit: Ѕolo via photopin cc

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Join Us!

Discovery Education’s monthly What’s the 4-1-1? webinar series continues this month with a discussion about being a connected educator.  Join me a fellow DEN Guru, Dean Mantz,  for a deeper dive into how the DEN brings educators together through video conferencing, social media, and blogging for your professional growth and for classroom learning. We will explore these platforms through the lens of maximizing the best professional network around, the Discovery Educator Network.


Wednesday, January 8th, 7:00 pm ET


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BC5: Assessment Tips

I’ve used Google Forms for a long time as my parent/student information survey at the beginning of the school year. This year, I decided that I wanted to find ways to use this free, digital tool more frequently and for assessment. It allows my students, who will be taking end of year tests online, a chance to practice assessments online. Here are a few I’ve done that I post to my class blog for the kids to access easily.googleform

Unit ELA Assessment (students had printed copies of the texts)

Matter Post Test

Student Mid Year Survey

I love how easy they are to access from home, and they are a lot lighter to carry home than a stack of papers. I’ve recently discovered the joy of Google Forms Templates, and I found this post by Tammy Worcester Tang. She provides detailed instructions and a variety of templates for self checking quizzes. So cool! I thought I’d try it out for this post, so I’m prepared for my students.

Take my quiz and then check out the results! Let’s see how it works 🙂

Here’s the spreadsheet. You can see the ANSWERS on the top page. Click the SCORES tab at the bottom to see how they are checked. SO COOL!

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BC4: This Week in Learning

OK, so I didn’t quite plan this one right as I was spacing out the blog challenge. I’m not back to school yet! I’m certainly not complaining, but I am looking forward to Monday with my students. I’ve missed them lots! As I’m reviewing my plans for next week, I am going to be starting a unit on Myths, Legends, Folktales, and more. There are three of us who teach 5th grade at my school, and we do all of our planning together. We create our ELA units, and we often do a “rotation system.” At the start of the unit, we plan everything (homework, reading passages, writing lessons, grammar mini-lessons, technology activities, extra reading materials, and whatever else we would need). We break the unit into chunks, and we create a box with all of the materials needed for each chunk. We, then, rotate the boxes weekly (or bi-weekly). This saves us on copies, texts, materials, and more. We are doing this for our new ELA unit, and I am starting with Mythology. Yay!

medium_4838866948I thought today that I would share a few of my favorite resources for teaching mythology! This is an awesome unit to bring in the use of art as media. Ancient art was the storyteller, and it’s representations were like books. What an amazing story telling medium. I like to let my students create story telling urns of their own lives. They truly learn about choosing important events and figuring out how to represent them carefully but simply.

StoryNory offers free audio stories for kids. They are typed  and recorded, so they are perfect for students who need stories read aloud for access.

Mr. Donn’s Website offers tons of resources on Greek and Roman gods, including a comparison breakdown. offers a concise “crash course” on the Gods of Olympus, and there are other great photo galleries and resources to teach in more detail. Note: Beware of Cupid’s “black box”.

photo credit: 5telios via photopin cc

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