Graphing Sentence Fluency

I wanted to share another great idea from on sentence fluency as this is currently our writing trait focus the next few months. My grade three students drafted a paragraph on a special time they shared with an adult; mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.

I then shared the story Owl Moon by Jane Yolen which describes a special time between a young girl and her father as they go owling.


The students and I listened closely to the first word of each sentence and talk about what we noticed.

I then asked the students to go back to their draft and circle the first word of each sentence. As we are also currently working with Data Handling in math I was pleased to hear the students identify that we were collecting data!



In pairs we then took our data to the computer and created bar graphs of our first words using Kids Zone Create a Graph. The students discussed what they learned from their bar graphs.




I then copied a few pages out of Yolen’s book for students to work with. We circled the first word of each sentence and we also counted the words in each sentence. Yolen’s book is a great example of varied sentence lengths as some sentences have 20 words and others have 5.

After a discussion on Yolen’s pages, the students knew they would now have time to go back and revise their paragraph on a special time. Some students had thoughts like,

‘I’m going to try and not repeat any beginnings’
‘I can change sentence beginnings by joining sentences together’

This was a valuable introduction to our inquiry into sentence fluency. It even allowed us as a class to discuss starting sentences with ‘And’.
Some of my students said you should never do this and others disagreed because they found out that even published authors like Yolen start some sentences with ‘And’.

What do you and your students think?


Posted in integration, international teaching, Math, technology, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Taking away one thing – Google Summit

When you present at or attend a conference, you hope to either have your participants or yourself walk away with at least one new idea. After attending day one of the Google Summit at SAS in Singapore, I have walked away with a few new ideas to share with you.



1. Google Drive and Research


When creating a Google doc in Drive, you can now highlight text and search online without leaving your doc.



If you find information that you would like to include in your doc and cite, it is just as easy as copy, paste, and cite!






This is an online HTML editor tool. You can paste in urls of images or videos found online and converts them into HTML codes to embed in your blogs or even for tours in Google Earth. @nigel17 shared this tool during his session on Google Lit Trips. He also shared a site where you can download Lit Trips that have already been created for Google Earth.

Looking forward to day two!

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Mission and Vision

This summer I spent a week in Miami, Florida for my first PTC course, Creating and Administering an Effective School. The Principals’ Training Center (PTC) is professional development for international school leaders.

My group consisted of about 40 participants from various international schools. Many are already in administration positions and some were, like me, still teaching in the classroom but aspiring towards international leadership positions.

One of the topics we explored that stood out for me was the idea of a school’s mission, vision, and learning principles.

What is your school’s mission statement? Is it evident on your school’s website? Does it tell readers what you do and whom you serve? Do your staff members know what it is and what it means?

What about your school’s vision, that desired future state? Are decisions that are made in your school in relation to what you hope to become?

Finally, learning principles, those beliefs about learning that are based on research and best practice. Where in your school are those found? Are all decisions based on those to ensure the focus remains on student learning?

These may be helpful questions for you to take back and ask at your school.
As I came back for the start of this school year I met our new Head of School. Her first activity with us….. A hands on discussion regarding our vision. A good place to start I think.

Does your school spend any time on these ideas at the beginning of the year or throughout?

Posted in international teaching, mission, PD, vision | 1 Comment

Literature Circles with edmodo

edmodo is an online tool that allows teachers and students to connect and collaborate. I have used edmodo before with grade 5 students, but this is the first year I’ve used it with grade 3. I started with setting up one of my reading groups on edmodo to conduct their literature circles. So far, we have had success! The students are enjoying communicating and discussing their shared book both at school and at home.

The students are beginning to develop the skill of referencing text while engaging on edmodo.  The following snapshots show a few discussions my students had as we read Because of Winn Dixie. You can see the students referencing pages and specific text selections to support their opinions. This is also transferring over to when we meet face to face in class.

As I don’t see each reading group every day, edmodo allows the students to continue their literature circle without having to wait for face to face time with the teacher in the classroom. The students are engaged and able to connect with each other through this online tool.  They have also recently started uploading documents such as a Wordle used by one student for her role as an illustrator.

We have also recently added our Literacy Specialist and the students were more than excited to share their discussions with her as well. Next, would like to connect with another class reading the same novel.  Any grade 3 classes out there reading Wayside School series or the Poppy series?

If you haven’t checked out edmodo before, I recommend it. It is an easy tool that allows your students to continue discussions outside of classroom walls.


Posted in integration, Reading, technology, writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Do we still need the poster?

My grade 3 students recently held their Invention Fair. They presented a tri-board of research on a particular invention and shared their own invention they created to solve a problem at home.

(Click on image to enlarge)


The home invention went through stages of brainstorming, selecting, sketching, building, testing, and reflecting.
The research at school, including questioning, planning, recording, organizing, interpreting, and presenting, resulted in products for their tri-board such as timelines, diagrams, reports, graphic organizers, and bibliographies.

When reflecting on this unit, we talked about how much the children enjoyed the fair. They loved sharing their learning with their parents, teachers, and students.  They were excited to collect feedback from the rubrics that guests filled out. It was asked though if students really still need to know how to make posters. This brought out many questions on the subject-

  • Can the Invention Fair only focus on the student created inventions and the process they went through?
  • Isn’t research skills one of our transdisciplinary skills, including presenting research findings?
  • Should there be a balance in the presenting of research between posters and digital media (if available)?
  • Shouldn’t it be more about the process and not the product?
  • If all the research was presented digitally, do we need the fair experience?
    Don’t students need experience with creating posters and presenting at fairs before Grade 5 Exhibition?

It’s all about balance isn’t it?
What do you think? Does your school have a poster-like event in various grade levels? Is there value to the poster as long as it is not overused?

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Is Santa too materialistic?

'Santa Claus Vector Image' photo (c) 2011, Vectorportal - license: of the activities at a recent PD session I attended with Lynn Erickson was based around developing guiding questions. Questions of different types (factual, conceptual, and provocative) that guide students thinking from concrete to abstract levels. For the PYP, these would be our teacher questions. We were to see the need for a balance between the different types of questions.

We were shown an activity in which a famous personality (deceased or living) is invited to sit at a table with you and be interviewed. You are to come up with examples of factual, conceptual, and provocative questions to ask the famous personality.


The example shared was with Santa Claus
Factual questions:
-Why do you think people perceive you as a jolly person?
-Why do you give presents to children?
-Why is Rudolph your lead reindeer?

Conceptual questions:
-Why do so many people believe in mythical figures?
-Why do mythical figures represent either ‘good’ or ‘evil’?

Provocative (Debatable) questions:
-Is Santa too materialistic?
-Should he switch from giving presents to solving problems such as climate change and scarce natural resources?

In groups we were to then brainstorm our own famous personality and create our questions. Some groups chose Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, Lady Gaga, and even God.
Just an idea for a possible faculty meeting activity or even an idea to share with grade level teams as they practice writing diverse guiding questions tied to their generalizations or central ideas.
Who would you invite and what would you ask?


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I’ll have the PD with a side of Twitter please

In the past two weeks I have had two very different Professional Development experiences. I feel I was able to take something away from both, although I found I preferred one format to the other.

On February 10th and 11th, I attended Concept-based Curriculum and Instruction: For the Thinking Classroom with Lynn Erickson, Ed.D. The two day PD was held at UWC East Campus in a large hall. There were probably over 150 people there and we were seated at large circle tables, about 8 to a table. The tables were labeled a specific grade level or subject area. I ended up at a table of only 3; two grade 3 teachers and one grade 2 teacher.

Erickson spent the two days sharing her theories through a PowerPoint format. There were times we were given butcher paper tasks to do as well. She tried to make it around to spend time with each table, but that proved difficult due to the number of participants.

There was a lot to take in with only two days. I found the information on the Structure of Knowledge, the conceptual lens, and comparisons to PYP thought provoking and I wanted to talk more about it. As I sent out my first tweet, I was hoping to find others who were there and willing to engage in this PD session through the eyes and ears of twitter as well. Unfortunately, I found only one other person. (cheers @cmk1965)


On February 17th and 18th, I attended the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong. I presented there last year and was facilitating an unconference on Media Literacy this year. The conference strand I was in was the Primary Strand. Friday I was able to go on school tours and interact with teachers and students at CDNIS and CIS. Saturday included different sessions and unconferences. Even before I got there, which was a day late for I could not take more time off school, I was able to be a part of the conference through my colleagues on twitter. Infact the hashtag #21clhk had already been active for weeks before the conference, exciting participants and allowing the sharing to begin. Though I may have been sitting in one area of the hall for keynotes or in a different session or unconference than others, I was still able to share and learn from the fabulous educators on twitter throughout the weekend.

While I recognize these two PD opportunities differ in their design, I still think there was a place for twitter at both. Sometimes it helps to be in the same PD session and have that twitter conversation going on to compliment the session, allowing afterthoughts, questions, and new ideas to surface throughout.

In the end, I am glad I went to both PD opportunities, but thankful to be on twitter and able to engage with and access resources and educators around the world. I prefer to order my PD with a side of twitter! What about you?

(Twitter : @shaza33)

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Diary of a Puma

The book 6+1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham was one of the first books I bought as a resource for teaching writing. Since then I have found many more resources both print and online to support my teaching of 6+1 Traits.

One valuable resource I have been introduced to was created by the Northern Nevada Writing Project, is a resource in which teachers share writing lessons based on the 6 traits. These lessons are techniques designed to help reluctant writers and their teachers.

This website is full of effective resources, but one of my favorite parts include the lessons partnered with mentor texts suggestions. Using literature to teach the writing traits allows students to see and hear the trait being used. The students are then connected and tuned it.


I recently used a lesson idea for the Ideas Trait from  The suggested text was Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, although I found the newer version, Diary of a Spider to use.  This is the great part about these lesson ideas, you don’t need to follow them verbatim, you can adapt for your own class.

My class and I read the book a few times and discussed the humor the author used to convey facts about spiders. We also talked about how unlikely it is that a spider keeps a diary, which of course led them to think about other funny, unlikely diary keepers. So as the lesson idea stated, the children were then off composing their own diary of an unlikely animal or object.

I am sharing two examples here from my third grade students.

Diary of a Puma- Ruby

Diary of a is a helpful and effective website when exploring possible ideas for teaching the writing traits. If you haven’t checked it out, I think it would be worth your time to stop by and see for yourself.

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Multiplication Tables as Art?!

A few years back I took the workshop Mathematics in the PYP in The Netherlands. One of the learning experiences I took away and still use today was turning the multiplication tables into spirolaterals.

By doing this the students can:
-practice and learn their times tables
-see patterns in their times tables
-inquire into why some times table spirolaterals look similar to others
-predict how other times table spirolaterals will look based on the tables they have already done
-Have Fun!

I will share with you the process as well as some student samples.
I will use the 3 times table.
First list out the times table on paper.


Now we are only looking for single digit numbers, so any two digit numbers that appear, you need to add together until you get a single digit. Keep going until you see a repeated pattern.
12 = 1+2= 3
15 = 1+5=6
18 =1+8=9
21 =2+1=3

I can stop for now I see the pattern is 3, 6, 9

Now I take my number pattern to the graph paper.
Pick your starting spot and then draw a line 3 units right
Then 6 units down.
Then 9 units left.
Then 3 units up.
Then 6 units right
Then 9 units down
And so on and so on , UNTIL you get back to your original starting point.

This image created is your 3 times table spirolateral.
You can add color to it as well.

Student Examples



As the students continue they begin to see similarities between certain times tables and you can have them inquire into why that might be.

They also begin to think about larger times tables like the 27 times table, and predict based on what they know, what the spirolateral will look like.

Through this learning experience, students are:
-constructing their own meaning
-transferring meaning (into symbols)
-understanding and applying their knowledge

I have done this with grades 3, 4, and 5. Each time the students truly enjoy the experience and are engaged in their thinking and learning.

What do you think the 9 times table would look like? Have a go!

Posted in art, Math | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

If you build it, they will use it

I may have mentioned before that one of my challenges this year is space, well the lack of space. I have to be pretty creative when creating areas for reading, group work, using manipulatives, etc. Recently I realized I had not taken advantage of the fact that I have a refrigerator and metal cabinet in my classroom; a great space for magnetic tools. I decided to create magnetic tens strips and ones cubes for students to use if needed while working on their addition/subtraction/place value skills. I have also seen teachers use this type of space for magnetic letters to promote spelling skills. (Quick tool to use as a formative assessment tool as well)







As soon as I put the manipulatives up, there was no explanation needed. The students went right to them and began to use them. Whether they were working on math, lining up to go somewhere, or having snack/break, the students not only saw the tool but realized it’s value and jumped right in.

A simple idea I know, but providing tools around the classroom for students to access on their own increases their independence and ability to help themselves.

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