Monday, February 8, 2016

Classroom Snowball Fight

A classroom snowball fight is an engaging, easy and most importantly fun classroom activity that can be modified for any grade level or content area. 

Here's how it works:
  1. Students can work by themselves or with a partner.
  2. Students will take out a piece of loose-leaf paper and a writing utensil.
  3. Depending on the subject area/grade, students will use the content taught in class to write down a couple of questions on the piece of paper. For example, when teaching Comparing Fractions, students wrote down various questions that related to the skill such as "Which is greater: 3/4 or 4/6? Compare using the symbols <, >, ="
  4. When students are finished writing down their questions, they will crumble up the piece of paper into a ball (hence the "snowball!")
  5. Remind students of behavior expectations when tossing the snowball. 
  6. Once all students have their snowballs ready, the teacher will begin to count down "3,2,1... toss!"
  7. Students will toss their snowball into the air, find another snowball on the ground and get to work! They will open up the new snowball, read over the questions and solve in their notebook, on a whiteboard, or verbally discuss.
  8. During this time, the teacher will walk around, observing, jotting down notes and assisting when needed. Once most/all students are finished, the teacher will call for attention and repeat the process as many times as desired. 
To see a "snowball fight" in action, view the videos below:

How can I implement a snowball fight during my day?
  • Vocabulary/word study instruction
  • Math skills, word problems, reflection questions
  • Open ended reading discussion questions (How has your character changed throughout the text? What is the mood of your story?)
  • Science terms/concepts
  • Getting to know you questions, classroom community building
  • Revising/editing sentences
The possibilities are endless!
With all of the snow we've been having lately, why not bring that winter wonderland into the classroom! No hat, gloves or coat required! 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Google Sheets for Small Groups

          I've been feeling uninspired with my anecdotal note taking organization. After analyzing formative assessment data from exit slips, quiz results, homework, classwork, and online programs, I found myself jotting down small group notes wherever I could: post-its, clipboard paper, in a binder... it went on and on. To cut to the chase, it wasn't working for me. I had papers everywhere, my binder was too heavy, my handwriting was rushed and it wasn't "pretty." Face it: we love when work looks "pretty." This is why we spend more time choosing fonts and backgrounds than we do working on our actual content. I am guilty as charged!
         I decided to take my anecdotal note taking process into the digital age. The idea seemed great at first, but then I was stuck. I tried researching more about this process on various blogs and articles online, but I was left empty handed. There were articles about using Google Forms as a data keeping system, but it was geared more toward primary grade teachers and wasn't as interactive as I hoped. I had to brainstorm a way to stay organized and make my note taking system more of a living document. Google Sheets was exactly what I was looking for! It had everything I needed: organization, creativity and ease. Since most of my data was online, it only made sense for my anecdotal notes to be digital as well! That way, I wouldn't have to lug my binders home to organize my small group plans. No more worrying if I accidentally left my binders at school. Everything could be planned and accessed online from my computer, phone or tablet! 
        Below is my reading anecdotal notes on Google Sheets. For this subject, I separated my sheet by month. Each month is organized by its own tab, that way I won't have to keep scrolling down every time I open the program. I separated my sheet by Date, Data used, Skill and Materials. Then, I added columns for four students and a Notes column next to each student. I chose four "Student" columns since I limit my small groups to four or less students at a time. If you conduct small groups in a different way, you can always add more or less columns. 
         So how does it work? Well, after looking at my data, I fill in all of the columns ahead of time, except for notes. I analyze my data, see who I need to meet with, what skill I need to teach and what materials I should use. That way, when I meet for a small group, the only thing I need to jot down is the individual student notes. How are they grasping the skill? Do they need prompting? Can they make real world connections? Can they apply the skill independently? The list goes on and on. 
            Since everything else is filled out ahead of time, I can actually meet with more groups since because I am planned and ready to go!

         The same concept can be applied to writing conference notes. Since writing conferences are individually based, I changed the tabs on the bottom of the sheet to represent each student. The student tabs are color coded to represent a day of the week. For example, the students I meet with on Monday have a yellow colored tab. This is a wonderful visual reminder for me. That way, I can ensure I meet with all of those students during that particular writing block. 
        On each student's sheet, I have the following headings: Date, Writing Unit, Compliment, Teaching Point and Other Notes. When I meet with a student again, I can see past skills we've worked on, all in nice, neat rows! This is also beneficial for parent-teacher conferences. When leading a conversation about writing, you can share student strengths and areas for growth by looking at your nicely organized anecdotal notes. Your evidence is right there, in an easy to read format! 

         Recording my anecdotal notes on Google Sheets has rejuvenated my small group note taking process. I feel well-prepared, organized and excited to go back into my notes, something I was lacking with pen and paper. This is a living, breathing document. Will you make the switch to Google Sheets? Do you have another note taking system that works for you? Would love to learn from you!