Planning ahead

Even though I can spend a good chunk of time planning out my lessons, activities and goals for a day of school, a tiny change in events can throw everything out of whack. At least I'm now a day ahead in my detailed planning.

The morning was supposed to look like this:
- A.M. Stuff (Morning warm ups, jobs, announcements, etc.)
- Music
- PE
- A birthday snack
- QuikWrite
- Reading Logs
- Blogs
- Social Studies Reading
- Interactive skits

I had everything planned out and I even checked in with my coteacher yesterday to solidify our plans. It was supposed to be such a great day with everything ready to go.

Then, the change of plans.

Now, I'm normally a pretty flexible guy, don't get me wrong. And I wasn't upset at all that our schedule had changed. It just proved to me that even though I can plan everything out, I also need to be MAJORLY flexible to the mood and state of my class in the moment. To the last minute changes that end up creating non-profitable teaching moments.

This year, I've decided that I am going to try something new. I am not going to plan more than a day or two out in advance. In the past, I've always planned out a whole week ahead, but this year, I find myself constantly rewriting plans and scrapping them anyway. What I've planned wasn't working.

I needed to throw out my plans and just prepare myself for options. Prepare myself for variety. That takes a lot more time, but in doing so, I'm being more available to my kids and I am able to find out where they want to go next and see how I can redirect them to their true learning target.

Anyways, after everything on the schedule, the only thing we missed out on was our Social Studies activities, and the kids didn't really mind that at all. Flexible. Me and the kids.

Also - check out my post on 'How to Post' from my Monroe5A blog.


We've started blogs this week. I posted this to my Monroe5A blog, the blog which I am using to model for my students this year.

First Day of Blogs

The students were so excited to sign up for their blogs today! It's been a few weeks in the making, but we finally did it. Everyone who came to school today was able to register their blogs!

During our Computer time today, I went with the class to help them log into their Google Apps for Education accounts and activate their Blogger services. Everyone was able to name their blog (appropriately, of course) and select an address for their blog.

In the next few days, we'll be experimenting with layouts, publishing drafts and preparing to launch our blogs to be shared. Watch this space for more information.

First Posts

The students are raging with excitement because today they were able to start drafting their first posts to their blogs! They were asked to introduce themselves to their readers and welcome them to their blog. We encouraged conversations and guided students to close their posts with questions.

A few students were able to finish drafting their posts and publish them. Take a look at them and leave them a comment if you could.

Dominik's Blog
Kamden's Blog

The remaining days this week we will start to post some of our writing ideas and start sharing links to each others' blogs.

Taking it to the next level

We're already in the fourth week of school and I am stuck. My class is great at following directions, just not right away. They are great at showing me respect and giving me their attention, when they know I am asking for it. These are just a few things that are holding us back from taking off for the rest of the year.

It's the processes and procedures that have yet to be solidified.

I thought I had tried everything that I've done in the past three years of starting with a new class. I thought we had discussed, modeled and practiced enough to get things set into our minds. But yesterday I had my first meeting where I had to be gone for the entire day and request a substitute for my classroom and I was worried.

Now, in the past, I've always been apprehensive about getting a substitute. It was mainly because I really didn't like being away from my kids. Also, I'm not a big fan of writing out lesson plans and prepping everything for someone else.

But this time, it wasn't any of those things. I was concerned that my class would not be able to hold it together. That they wouldn't meet expectations without me there. And that my sub would walk out halfway through the day - my first sign that we probably needed more discussions, models and practice.

Last year, our building piloted the CHAMPS program, so I dug out my book and started reading. It's a rather large book (fivehundred&two pages), and I believe it's arranged foundationally, so it's not like you can skip around and not miss anything. I am going to see what I can find to help move our class forward.

Things I will be looking for:

• Ideas on how to bring the classroom together during/after an activity. (ex: attention signal)
• What's going on with kids who appear unmotivated to attempt a task.
• Varieties of positive reinforcement for boys.

Kickin' off with paper blogs

Online blogs have been something I have done with my class every year that I've been a teacher, and it's something I believe really motivates my students to write, type and think.

Last year, our building went through Write Tools training, and I really liked the explicit format of teaching certain styles of writing. We only received the basic training, and I am very interested in learning more about their genre-specific workshops.

Anyway, this year, I want our blogs to drive our writing block, under the structure of the Write Tools program, using Being A Writer to navigate the various styles of writing.

Today, we started our Paper Blogs activity. This will be my first time introducing fifth graders to online blogs. Last year, my fifth graders moved up with me from fourth grade, where they first met blogs. I'm wondering what difference it will make having fifth graders starting to blog as opposed to fourth graders.

I do have a few ideas already. I noticed one of my twentyfive students could not decided on a topic to write about. I intro'd the task by asking them to think of topics that they could write about for more than five minutes and here is the list our class made:


I gave him some time to think about it, while the rest of the class got busy writing, which always impresses me. They were fairly silent, with a whisper here and there about spelling. Just write - worry about gnilleps later! Anyway, I checked in with him to see how he was doing and to make sure he understood the task. He surely did, just couldn't decide on what to write about.

After fifteen minutes (I had originally told the class we'd write for five minutes, but before I knew it, fifteen had passed) we stopped the class and he still hadn't written anything. After a bunch of other kids stood on their chairs to share, I found out what the issue was.

He secretly wanted to write about hunting guns, but was unsure if he could or not. I got the feeling that in the past he was told he couldn't write about hunting guns. Maybe he was never given the choice, or perhaps he was asked to write about something other than guns.

Could just one more year of a bad experience with writing be enough to bring a student to the place where they are afraid to write?

My legs are so sore

..and I know the reason why. It's because today was my first day back at school after having ninetysix days off. Seventysix of those days were spent in Hawaii, waking up at five to go running, walking to work by seven, clocking out around ten, then sleeping til the late afternoon.

Spending all day in a warm hot room with twentyfour other bodies (sweaty, smelly bodies if youre there after lunch) without a true teacher's desk makes for a lot of walking and on-your-feet-ness.

I love this feeling, though, the strain in my legs. I love not having a teacher's desk to sit at, because now when I think back over the things I did today, I either spent it walking around the class, weaving in and around my students' desks, catching glimpses of their creativity (we did a lot of drawing and coloring today) or standing beside them trying to learn a bit more about them, while also attempting to crash through the "untouchable teacher" facade.

Interacting - that's how I spent the entire day. And it was a great first day back to school.

5th Grade final projects

About three weeks ago, I intro'd this project to my class. Typically, I've had students write letters to the incoming 4th graders (or in this case, 5th graders) giving them the in's and out's of that grade. Since I've (sort of) looped with this group of kids for the past two years, I wanted to do something different. Also, I gave them that same assignment a year ago and I'm not a big fan of repeating lessons with no adjusted purpose.

Enter my brilliant idea. I told the class that their end of year project would be creating a book, "How to Survive Mr. Arakaki's Class". That way, I can keep them every year, no matter what grade I'm teaching. Also, they'd be working in groups (maximum of three) or in pairs or flying solo. They'd create an expository text based on their experiences in my classroom over the past two years.

It was an awesome idea and the kids took it to the next level. Naturally, they created covers and title pages and drew pictures to go along with their writing, but then they started incorporating the non-fiction text features that we've studied this year. A table of contents. An index. A glossary of terms that Mr. A uses on a regular basis. (At the start of the year, I say "rubbish" when I'm referring to trash/garbage, but no one really knows what I'm talking about) Maps and diagrams of the classroom layout. They included all sorts of things.

The project was successful in allowing the students to create their own books in whatever pairings/groups they wanted and utilizing their non-fiction expository writing skills to explain information. They also had a lot of fun coming up with ideas.

Here is one of the pages that I found on my laptop from one of the groups.

Things That Annoy Mr.Arakaki

1. Psychopaths
Save it for P.E

2. Unicorn dances, Unicorn marches, Unicorn discos
It is on May 10. Celebrators: Jack, Piccone, Ririe

3. Kids who are cocky
Like when you think you all that like some people.

4. When the interactive board does not work
Whatever you do, don’t press the red button (I’m talking to you Ririe)

5. When kids just mess around
Like people that don’t pay attention, but get attention.

6. People who like to talk loud
Those that only have one volume (Piccone, Ririe)

7.The writers of this book
(Jack, Ririe, Piccone)

8. Tapping attention wanters

I really appreciated all my students' creativity. Hopefully I'll have time to share other sections from the other books. I do want to share a bunch of them on here.

(added later)

How to Get on Mr. A’s Good Side

Truthfully, the best way to get on his good side is to be yourself. If you act like someone else you probably won't get on his good side. You also don’t want to be any of the things on the 'Things that Annoy Mr. Arakaki' list. Don’t cuss, like @#%&! You need to pay attention to Mr. A when he is giving directions. Don’t act like you're all that. Knowing him will also help. If you follow all these rules you most likely get on his good side.

(added even later)

Things that Annoy Mr. Arakaki

1. Tapping - It is annoying to Mr.Arakaki and if you ever feel like tapping you should tap on your leg.
2. Talking While He’s Talking - That really disturbs him and it also distracts your classmates.
3. Fighting with friends/classmates - It makes him very sad to see classmates fight, so when you guys go to 5th grade, please don’t make him sad.
4. Don’t cuss - He really dislikes that. If you have something to say, think what it is before you say it.

It's amazing to me that they know so much about who I am as a person.

Social Studies Extension + Computer

Once a week, my 5th graders go to the Computer Lab for an hour. I'm so very lucky to have a Tech Facilitator that is super cooperative, flexible and willing to let me direct some of my kids' weekly computer time.

At this point in the year, there are a few things that my class is required to do when they get to the lab:
- A Fasttmath lesson
- Any outstanding AR tests (at their own motivation)
- Check their blogs to approve and reply to comments (to maintain good PR with their visitors)

Occasionally they may have an additional assignment from myself or the tech facilitator, but often they are isolated tasks simply directed at practicing skills in keyboarding, word processing, etc. It is rare (and exciting) when I'm able to extend a few classroom units/projects into the lab, which the students can independently complete.

Yesterday was one of those instances where my Social Studies Unit had a built-in extension with a website, where information on the excavation of the Jamestown settlement is available. I posted the assignment on my blog, and prepped my kids for two minutes about their task.

They were to visit my blog to find the assignment, follow the directions, and submit what they learned. They had two options to turn in their work: leave a comment or share a Google Doc.

What Happened

- Fifteen students left comments on the blog post
- Eight students worked through Google Docs and shared them with me
- One student was emailed the assignment since he was sick (still waiting for him to complete)
- All students in class completed the task without me there
- Variety of responses from students

Need to Tweak

- Students who chose to respond with a comment were able to instantly view their classmates' responses on the blog
- Do I want conversation between students in the comment section of the blog post?
- Students who submitted their learning through Google Docs received an embedded feedback from me in their Google Docs
- Do I want to provide individual feedback to all students? Is it necessary for this activity?


I'd love to do something like this again. Luckily, the website was provided to me by my resources and it was completely student appropriate. Finding the right site to direct students to, and also have it pertain to our classroom learning will most likely be the obstacle that would prevent me from doing this type of computer lab activity soon.

Jeopardy Labs

This is... not PowerPoint! (I totally lifted that from the site)

Found a potentially great resource for my classroom, which I've already shared with the other teachers in my building, that creates interactive Jeopardy templates.

JeopardyLabs features free template creation, and automatic sharing once the template is saved. You can search for existing templates, and also share yours. Each template you create is password protected, so you have the opportunity to go back and edit it later.

One of the things that drew me to this tool was the fact that it lends itself perfectly to my Promethean Board. It also features a scoreboard for teams where you can keep track of points.

It's free to create templates, but there is a donation required for signing up and getting an account, which features an easy way to view all of your created templates in one place and a "fancy template manager" as well. I think it's a great cause and it's by donation, so you can give anywhere between $1 and $20.

I'm considering making a donation as I'll be using this to help a few of my students practice for their Battle of the Books competition coming up in April. We'll see how this shakes out.

Integration success

Today I think I successfully integrated my district reading resources with my own social studies ones, without my kids noticing what I was doing. First time EVER!

Identifying and understanding text features is covered in our building reading program and it was time to review this concept, but I still wanted to press on with my social studies program since we've had so many days off in the past two weeks. Two snow/cold days. A conference day. A waiver day. A holiday. it's taken forEVER to finish this chapter, which should have only taken six days.

Instead of using the suggested model non-fiction text from the reading program, I used our Social Studies Alive! textbooks as a whole-group model. We made a list of the text features we could name off from memory and talked through them before turning the kids loose to find more in their books with a partner.

I pulled some of the reading program tips and encouraged the kids to make mental lists while thumbing through the chapter we are currently studying in Social Studies, then sharing their thoughts with their partner and then finally writing their ideas down on paper.

They worked pretty well for about ten minutes, and then we shared together as a group. We added to our class list and pointed out examples in the text so everyone could find them and spent a little while explaining what kind of information each feature provides. Some of the tricky ones were map scale and map legend/key, but I'm glad we covered those.

Later in the day, I pulled small groups to do guided readings through our Weekly Readers, continuing to point out the text features and important information that each provides. A lot of the kids noticed the maps this time around.

Then in the afternoon we wrapped up our Social Studies with some map skills, which they were required to study the map scale to answer some of the questions. Everything just seemed to work well together, and the kids didn't need to be reminded what a map scale was.

Looking back on it, I was able to cover the reading skills I wanted to review, while continuing to finish up our social studies chapters and incorporating our Weekly Readers, which I tend to fall behind on.

If only every week started off with a day off so that I could have enough time to plan thoroughly, every day could be as smooth.

Polygon Scavenger Hunt: Student Edition

Today for math we spent the first twenty minutes review the different types of polygons. We spent some extra time distinguishing between types of triangles (isosceles, scalene and equilateral), quadrilaterals (trapezoids, parallelograms, rhombuses and squares) and also reviewing angle size and side length.

After some good review time and identifying shapes on the Promethean Board, I set up the activity that would take up the next twenty minutes of class. I said they got to go on a scavenger hunt around the building. Their task was to find as many polygons in the school as they could and provide reasons why those shapes were indeed what they said they were.

We have building-wide hallway expectations, so I reminded the kids about that which encompassed respectful behavior and voice level. I also had one HUGE rule. If there were students in a room, they could not enter it. If the room was student-free, they needed permission from the adult in there. And lastly, if no one was in the room, it needed to stay that way and they had to move on.

They'd be equipped with their notebooks and their teams of five. I told them they didn't need pencils. That was kind of fun, to see their reaction.

We'd use FlipVideo cameras to document their findings. Then I whipped out my example video from yesterday, and showed it to them. I pointed out the things I was looking for in a good explanation during my video example. We talked for a very short time about what was good about the example and what could be improved. Short as in 55 seconds short.

Then we split into teams, kickball style and went off. I stood at one of the hallway intersections of my school so that I could monitor teams wandering around. Then I started to think about some things...

Things I Didn't Consider

- How was I going to make sure they all came back in twenty minutes? Some teams I didn't even see in the hall where I was standing.
- Some kids will have poor videographing skills. I hope they don't stand too far, or zoom in too close.
- Super quiet ones who don't speak loud enough for the camera to hear.
- Should I have given a list? Like at least one of the following polygons: rhombus, square, parallelogram, octagon, etc.

And with five minutes left, I signaled (to the teams that I did see) to make their way back to class.

When it was all over, they turned in their cameras and I told them we'd review all the clips tomorrow and we talked about what went well and what didn't.

Things That Went Well

- Using the FlipVideo cameras was fun
- Taking turns speaking and recording
- Working quietly in the hallways
- Coming back to class on time

Things That Could Be Improved

- Not enough time
- Wanted more turns recording

Overall, I think it was a good first time lesson. I asked the students what did they need to know in order to do this game.

"We needed to know the different ways we name polygons and what makes it that way. Like how a regular quadrilateral is a square because all of its sides are equal and so are the angles."

Here's the video montage of all the clips from the kids that I'm going to show today. There was one clip where the person completely named a shape wrong. It was obvious enough that I know most of the class would pick up on it, so I didn't include it in the collection. I don't know if this is good or not, but I'm going to talk the person about the segment they recorded - maybe rerecord it with them today and then throw it in for a version 2.0 or something. I still really haven't figured that one out yet.

I'd like to incorporate more FlipVideo activities because I saw that all the kids were intensely engaged and were applying mathematical vocabulary (sometimes not as accurately as I'd hoped) to these tasks.

If you have an idea to make this better or a question about something I most likely skipped over and didn't explain, leave a comment.