Thursday, May 17, 2012

Anchor Charts in my Classroom

With only nine days left in the school year, I am reflecting on what worked best on my classroom walls. What anchor charts worked well...and what didn't. I believe classroom walls should be usable...not just frilly decorations. Beyond that, students should be involved in the creation of anchor charts that hang in the room.

Here are the anchor charts I saw students referencing most throughout the year:

As you can see, my most used anchor charts involve the active use of thinking skills. Math anchor charts change frequently throughout the year. However, here is one that stays up:

My students were involved in the creation of every one of these. Therefore they understood the thoughts and intent behind each one. They knew where to find them in the room, and referenced the charts frequently throughout the year.

Those anchor charts kept my classroom walls interactive and useful. Reflect on the resources on your class walls. What did students use most? What could you remove without them even noticing? I think I'll be making new charts just like the ones above next year. There are few other charts that won't be making an encore performance!

Do you use anchor charts? What do your favorites look like?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

K5 Summer/Home Academic Support

Parents usually want to supplement their child's learning at home, but don't know where to start. It is confusing to decide for example what phonological skills are weak, or what math skills need to be built. Then there is the summer slump. Children tend to lose about 6 weeks of academic growth over the summer! That is tremendous.  K5 Learning is a program designed specifically to address these issues. I took up on their offer to try their product for 6 weeks in exchange for a fair and unbiased review on this blog.

Getting Started
I was able to choose four students, so I chose the four I work with regularly after school. The first task was for each child to complete a placement assessment. The assessment results were posted in the report section for me, or a parent, to review. The results were surprisingly accurate in reflecting each students strengths and weaknesses. Once that was done, the program automatically assigned lessons designed to target the areas each child needed to work on (you can manually choose assignments also). There is also a very important section for children to practice their math facts and spelling.

The Lessons and Reports
I discovered the lessons were animated and interactive enough to keep their attention. The interface is easy enough for a 5 year old to navigate. Each of the engaging lessons has a tutorial, practice, and a quiz. The program keeps track of student progress and provides very specific reports detailing what students have mastered or need continued instruction on. Again, the program automatically assigns the lessons based on student needs. As a teacher, I particularly liked the report section because it was so detailed!

Response of the Students
The students all told me that they loved the program. They worked on it after school and from home. Then they wanted to use it during the school day too! Keep in mind, I have a very interactive and fun classroom. My students love to say, "You never know what Mrs. Dahl will do next!" So for them to want to use it during the school day says something.

The Cost
The K5 learning program costs $25 a month.  A tutor typically costs around $25 a hour, so the savings are significant. (Additionally, the program is you don't have to download any software. The lessons are accessible anywhere there is a computer!) There is a 14 day free trial available that is definitely worth giving a shot!

Don't let your child experience the summer learning slump! Whatever method you choose, make sure to keep up their skills and love of learning so that they will be prepared when school starts. K5learning is a engaging and interactive way to achieve that goal.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bloomington, Indiana's Brain Extravaganza in Full Swing

Guest Post by Melissa Crossman!

A fun and exciting exhibit is in place across Bloomington, Ind. and the Indiana University campus. The Brain Extravaganza, sponsored by Jill Bolte Taylor BRAINS Inc., IU Health Proton Therapy and a host of other sponsors, aims to raise awareness and knowledge about the brain while entertaining viewers with artistic presentations.

Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist and the exhibit's organizer, has a very personal reason for her interest in the brain: At the age of 37, she suffered a devastating stroke that robbed her of the ability to speak, walk, read, write, and even remember her own past. Over the course of eight years of hard work, she regained all of her mental faculties and now works to increase awareness and appreciation of the critical importance of the brain.

For the Brain Extravaganza, 22 giant and anatomically-correct models of brains were placed throughout the city and campus. Each model is 5' x5' x 4', and they’re built to spark inspiration and conversation. The artistic styles painted on each brain vary, thanks to the fact that a different local or regional artist designed each one. Some of the brains were finished by individual artists, while others were completed by university art classes under the direction of an instructor. Themes are all centered on the power and the inner workings of the brain, including music, art, languages, religions, sleep and pain, psychology and more.

To make sure the Brain Extravaganza is educational, the base of each attention-getting brain is inscribed with five facts about real human brains, along with a special question attached to encourage discussion. To maintain interest in brains after the exhibit is over, a mobile app is also available; this app allows users to paint their own brains and upload them to sites like Facebook for comparison with other people's paintings. Users can also put the answers to the special questions into the app to complete a quiz. 

Those who see these brains may wonder why they don't look quite like the drawings seen in textbooks. Specifically, they stand on a long, thick stalk that is not usually shown in models claimed to be anatomically correct. The reason for the difference is the fact that the models include 12 pairs of cranial nerves and all of the gyri. Some of these structures are associated with the brain stem, which is often shown separately in texts.

The Brain Extravaganza opened in late April and will run until mid-October. For a map of the brains' locations, go to There, visitors will find a list of the positions. A downloadable PDF file is also available on the page.

Visitors to Bloomington will find a vibrant city with plenty of places to eat, shop, and stay, and the Brain Extravaganza is just one exhibit to see on a walking tour of the city. Thanks to the map, visitors will be able to easily find each sculpture and enjoy the art as well as learn about the organ that makes us who we are as humans.

Melissa Crossman is an avid writer who enjoys writing about health and education.  She lives in Indianapolis with her two dogs.
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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Shout-out to Frisco ISD in Texas!

The old water tower in downtown Frisco, Tx, USA.
The old water tower in downtown Frisco, Tx, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you want to find an exemplary district full of enthusiastic and dedicated teachers, administrators, and support staff, take a look at the Frisco ISD in Texas. Not only are they finicky/picky in their hiring, but they continue to grow and develop their teachers through fabulous professional development. Not the *yawn*, I'm about to go to sleep kind of professional development. I mean the "Hey, this is useful!" kind of professional development. To take it a step further, the professional development is usually offered by other master teachers within Frisco.

The Frisco administration understands the powerful effects highly effective teachers can achieve for students. Donna Wilson, Phd, in both her professional development sessions and in her book BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning cites a study by Sanders, W., and Rivers, J. (1996) on the cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement. (Research Progress Report). The study found that three consecutive highly effective teachers can make the difference between a student being labeled gifted or in need of serious intervention. That is powerful. Frisco ISD is trying to provide those highly effective teachers for their students.

I just finished planning out my Frisco professional development for the summer. I'm excited. Just look at this list!

June 18: Collaborative Math Planning (k-5)
June 19: The Workshop Model: Math, Reading, and Writing (k-5)
June 20: guided Reading (k-5)
June 21: Math Parent Communication/Education (k-5)
July 23: LLI (k-2)
July 24: Expository Writing Across the Curriculum (k-5)
July 25: Flipping Your Classroom and the Big 3 Symposium
July 27: FISD Mentor Training
August 6: Teacher Leader Academy Day 1
August 7: Teacher Leader Academy Day 2
August 8: Elementary Math Problem Solving and Work Stations (grades 1-2)
August 9: iStation Advanced: Using Data to Drive Instruction (k-5)

Here's what I want to do but can't fit in:

Readers and Writers Workshop/Conferencing Advanced (k-5)
Texas History: Going Textbookless - The TEKS and Technology
Jammin in the Classroom (k-5)

I know what you're're thinking I must be a professional development junkie. You're right! (I'm also starting my EdS degree in Brain-Based teaching and Teacher Leadership with BrainSMART this summer.) But wow, with all these amazing classes offered by a supportive district, who wouldn't be?

Thank you Frisco ISD for providing for your students by offering such fabulous training for your teachers!

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