The Fellowship of the Tweet: A Grateful Member

rPhoto by Tim Dawson-free for noncommercial use

I’ve always felt a little odd. A lone wolf. I usually don’t mind, but you rarely grow in isolation. You need others to encourage you. To push you. To inspire you.

I had no idea I needed a Twitter PLN. I didn’t even know what a PLN was until 8 years ago around this time actually. I was in the last PD session before we were out for Thanksgiving holidays. To say we were all ready to go was an understatement.

The PD was edcamp style and the last session was entitled, “Building a PLN.” I went to it because the others were all on academics areas and I wanted to learn something totally different.

However, I  had no idea this session was about to change me in so many ways.

I went to the session and was introduced to Twitter. We all joined and I sent out my first tweet. I enjoyed the session but I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue using it. BUT…I was intrigued enough to give it a try.

My mom had recently had knee surgery so we all had to stay the living room most of the holiday since she was still recovering. We all sat around watching holiday movies and I thought it would be a good time to explore Twitter.

I have never stopped exploring Twitter from that time. I found a new idea, quote, or interesting educator every time I signed on the site.  I lurked for a LONG time but finally started asking questions and interacting with other educators. I was amazed those on Twitter answered me back! I slowly started sharing a few things. I was even more amazed that other teachers started asking me questions about things I was doing in my classroom. It validated so many things I believed about education and teaching.

Then I started joining Twitter educational chats and reading blogs. Now I am the moderator for #2ndchat and cannot imagine teaching without the fellowship of those in my Twitter PLN.

My Twitter PLN has introduced me to project-based learning, ideas for using GAFE for littles, and gamification. The biggest thing my PLN has taught me is that I am not alone. I need my PLN to be better and I’ve learned that I am needed to help someone else be better.

Teaching is like a journey and an adventure. Much like the Fellowship of the Ring. We are from all different places, subject areas, and starting points but have joined up to pursue excellence in education.

My team members are not just the ones down the hall but from around the world.  I will be forever grateful for all they have brought to my classroom and my life. 


Smashups are not just for tech tools!

Restaurant/Rory’s Story Cube Smashup

If you have ever been to a restaurant that has a piece of white butcher paper covering the tables with crayons?  It’s a nice way to pass the time as you wait for your food, especially for kids.

I’ve been planning back to school activities and I thought it would be fun to cover the tables in my classroom with white butcher paper one morning and put out crayons. The students could draw anything. I want opportunities that allow me to see their interests. Kids tend to draw things they love. I can walk around and ask them about their pictures and get to know them better.

I also like open-ended experiences that focus on collaboration and creativity.  When I thought of covering the tables with paper, for some reason Rory’s Story Cubes came to my mind.

Rory’s Story Cubes are a fun set of dice with pictures. You roll the dice and then have to create a story by connecting all the random pictures on top of the dice. These usually create fun stories and it’s interesting to see how a person makes all the pictures work to create one story.

Here is an example of a roll using Rory’s Story Cubes:

So this is where the smashup begins!  The students will not know that they are going to have to create a story about  their pictures so it will automatically create random pictures. After you allow students time to draw pictures, tell them that their group needs to create a story from the pictures on their paper.  I have a set of Rory’s Story Cubes so I plan on modeling how to tie all the pictures together.Many students  have not played with them. If you don’t have a set of cubes, you can use the picture above to model the activity.

Things I am thinking about:

I’m wondering if I should make a grid on the paper and tell them they can draw an object in each box. This might make it easier to tell the story and be more like playing Rory’s Story Cubes.   

What do you think? Do you think kids will like it?

Game Makers PBL- part 2

If you missed part 1, click HERE.

After exploring commercially bought games and making a list of what we knew and what we needed to know, we needed to find experts that could help us design our games. One of my classroom parents is a graphic designer! He designs websites, magazines, logos, and flyers for various companies. He came to our classroom to share about design.



He taught us the importance of color and how to draw attention to different parts of a design.  Did you know that companies choose the colors for their companies to make you feel a certain way?



Then he shared about magazine layouts. The placement of titles and pictures is important.  We learned a lot about graphic design. 

Later that same week, we talked to a game designer from the game company Gamewright. He Skyped with our class and answered ALL of our questions. We had over 20 questions to help us design our games for our kindergarten friends.

skypewith gamewright


Now that we found out all our “need to know” questions, it was time to start design a game! (part 3)

New at the Zoo: A Survey

Please help my class. We have been collecting data at our school but we would love to collect more outside of our building.

We researched 19 animals that are currently not at our local zoo, The Birmingham Zoo.  After completing research, students used facts from their research to write persuasive letters to their groups explaining why their animal would be best as the group’s animal.  Each member of the group voted on an animal but could not vote on their own animal. Once the animal was chosen, the members of the group worked together to create a presentation for the Birmingham Zoo using the app Explain Everything.Below you can view the persuasive presentation from each group.

Please watch each presentation. Each presentation is between 30 seconds and 1 minute long. After viewing all of the presentations, click the link below them to vote.

Thank you very much!

Miss Mac’s 2nd grade class








White-lipped Deer:

whitelipped deer



Canadian Lynx:










So now that you have heard the presentations, which animal would you like to see at the zoo?

Click the link below to vote:


**All pictures were free to use or share. ( google advanced image search)

Doubting Myself: Morning Work

I had a conversation the other day with someone about the use of  “morning work.” After hearing them share about using it and how much it was helping the students, I realized I was bothered.  First I thought it was because I’m not a fan of run-off morning work. But it kept bugging me.  So I kept thinking about it.  Why was it bothering me so much?  Then I realized what it was. When I hear teachers using something and how much they feel it benefits their students and I don’t use it,  it makes me doubt my belief about it.

Here are the things that were running through my head without realizing it:

  • What if it is really good for my students and I am keeping them from it?
  • I know it doesn’t meet the needs of all my students but would it really hurt them?
  • I like my students to come in and start reading or writing something that interests them but could that 2 sided worksheet be beneficial to them since it reviews skills every day?

So I called a colleague and friend who also happens to be a former parent. I had her son a couple of years ago and I just wanted to talk it out with her.  She in turn asked me some questions which helped me a lot.

  • Was there anything on that sheet that you don’t cover another way?
  • What type of environment do you want your kids to walk into each morning?
  • Are there questions/problems on the sheet that you could use but in another way that matches your philosophy of education?
  • What do you think most teachers use that sheet for?
  • And then a statement or two: Your students are happy and excited to learn when they are with you and successful after they leave you. Your parents and students are happy with what you do. Don’t doubt what you do and believe.

These reaffirmed what I believe:

  • I want my students to come in every day knowing they will learn but have fun doing it.
  • I am HUGE advocate for choice in learning. We have standards to teach but there are many ways to get there and kids should have options to show their learning.
  • I build review in naturally throughout the day/week/year where it makes sense and is needed.
  • Morning work aims for the average kid. The high kids don’t need it, the low kids can’t do it without some help and the average kids can do it with very little attention from the teacher. So why would I need to use it?
  • I don’t like morning work because it is very fragmented. It picks random skills even if it is organized and the skills are set in isolation and not in a natural context for the skill. I doubt kids will be remember it let alone apply it to a new situation.
  • I have to think there are better ways to spend our time in the morning. I like to help kids with individual projects or needs in the morning. We start out excited, happy and relaxed.

If you use morning work, I don’t think it’s evil. It just doesn’t fit me or my classroom.  I used to use it a lot.  I quit because I could tell you who was going to make 100, who would miss a few and who would need me to help them redo it the next day before I ever gave it. The “review” wasn’t helping many of my kids.  It  may have given me a few minutes to get attendance done but if they are engaged in their own books/project, I get the few minutes I need to complete that task. Everyone has to make so many decisions about their teaching and their classroom. Just make it based on what you believe. 🙂


It’s just funny how hearing one person’s success can make you doubt your core beliefs.  I didn’t think it would be so easy to make me doubt myself.

Easy Place Value Activity

As I said in the previous post, I attended a great math training in my district.  Another great activity the presenters shared was made with craft sticks.  It is  super easy to make and it can be adapted to meet the different needs of students in your room.

Materials needed:

Up to 10 craft sticks per student and different colored permanent markers

Here is a picture of the stick when it is finished. One side has one dot in the middle. The other side has 10 dots split into 5 and 5.


math craft sticks

This is how you can start the activity. Then you can adapt it in different ways to practice multiple math skills.

I started my 2nd graders with 5 sticks each. The students hold the 5 sticks in their fist, place their fist on the table and release the sticks.  Then without flipping any of them over, they count how many dots landed face up.  I walked around to see if any had trouble counting by 10s and 1’s.  They write down their number and share their number with the group. The one with the highest number wins that round.  You can change it to the one with the highest or lowest wins.  They continue playing for four rounds. Then a new game starts.

Extensions I have tried:

  • The group can write down the numbers for 1 round and organize them from least to greatest or least to greatest.
  • Students can stop after 2 rounds, add their two numbers to find the total.
  • The groups can add up each round to see how many dots the entire group had in one drop of the sticks. They can check their answer by using the sticks to verify their answer.
  • You can add more sticks to students who need higher numbers and remove sticks for those that need smaller numbers.
  • It is a great way to see if students can count by 5’s, 10’s and 1’s. If students do well counting with 10’s and 1’s then ask them if they can count them by 5’s and 1’s.
  • Ask students how they know they have more than another student.  This will help them practice comparison.
  • You can have students record 2 rounds and then use greater than, less than and equal signs to compare the 2 totals.

There are so many more ways you can use this activity. The best thing is the kids love it.

Here is a very short video of one group combining all of their craft sticks to find the group’s total. In each group of 4, there was a captain who was in charge of staying “sticks up/sticks down/release” and also recorded the group’s total. After each game the captain changed so everyone had a chance to record but everyone in the group was responsible for verifying the answer each time.


Answer in written form

Finding the total

Verifying with the sticks

These take very little time to make and can be used for so many math concepts. 🙂

Have fun!


**I would give you this advice.  Get a plastic bag for each group. Choose 4 different colors and make sets of sticks for 4 students. Then place these in a plastic bag.  This will help students sort the sticks after each release. 🙂

Disclaimer: I googled this activity when I left the workshop and while I found several teachers who were playing it, no one seemed to know who created it. 🙂  It seems to be an activity that just gets passed on by word of mouth. 🙂  So I will join in with sharing it because it is a GREAT activity.





Stand Up and Be Counted

The power of counting collections

I recently attended 3 days of district professional development on math.  I learned tons but I want to write about one activity that I reached all my students and also provided valuable insights into my students’ mathematical understanding.

We read this article on Counting Collections. After reading this article, I was intrigued and wanted to try it with my students. Most elementary classrooms have  materials on hand to do a counting collection activity.  I went through all my math manipulatives and also pulled out school supplies that I had in the cabinet.  I used the following materials: dominoes, counting bears, interlocking cubes, 2 sided-counters, paperclips, game tokens, beads, pattern blocks,  and craft sticks.  I had several different types of game tokens and beads. I had 12 different collections. They were going to work in  pairs and I wanted all pairs to have many collections to choose from.

What I didn’t realize was how much this activity would show me. I expected most of the pairs to automatically count the objects by tens. I thought some might even count by 20’s.  As I walked around observing students, many pairs counted by ones. BY ONES!!!  I did have pairs organize in fives and tens but not as many as I thought I would have.  I was also amazed that some groups decided to organize by other attributes such as color. So they would have piles of 8, 11, 4, 6, 15. When I asked them how many they had counted so far, they realized it was difficult to add them but continued with this strategy. I also saw strong math students struggle keeping up counting by 2’s past 32. They were GREAT until around 30 but then they would skip numbers. They would say, “30, 32, 36, 38….time passed…40, 42”  It was worse when they counted over 100.

I think kids need to count real objects more often. Students count a lot in kindergarten but then many move on.  I found that many students were great until their collection went over 100. Then everything fell apart.  This is caused from everyone stopping the count at 100 every time.  How many times do we count to 100 by 2’s, 5’s, & 10’s but never go past it?  Kids shout “100!” when they reach it because they think it ends it all. 🙂

If you would like to try a counting collection, I would make these suggestions:

  • Read the article about counting collections.
  • Gather lots of different collections so students have choices.
  • Provide paper for students to record their work.
  • Make a simple form to write observations. I had a form but needed a LOT more to record notes.
  • DO NOT SUGGEST A WAY TO COUNT. In other words, do not say “What if you counted by tens?”  You can ask “Could you try another way to count the objects?” But then walk away!  Let them struggle a bit and think of a way to make the counting easier. You can ask them to walk around the room and ask other groups how they are counting if they are really stuck.
  • Make large collections that will require more than one math session or counting time.  One important part of the task is being able to organize what they have counted, record what they have counted and also what is left to count.  I had plastic storage bags and sharpies out if they needed them. (The funny thing was many just made 2 bags: counted and uncounted but they didn’t record the number in each. The next day, they had to start ALL over but they didn’t make that mistake the next day.)

What do look for:

  • How do they organize the counted and uncounted objects?
  • Do they have a strategy to count? Did they make a plan?
  • How are they counting? Is it random? Did they choose to count by 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s?  If they counted by 10’s how did they get to ten? Counting by 1’s, or 2’s to make 10?
  • When you come by and ask them to count for you, can they each count the collection? I noticed some pairs had one student who could count the collection but the other student could not. When they finished counting, I asked them to rearrange with a different number (easier) to verify the total. This gave support to the one who struggled and stretched the other student to work with a different strategy.
  • If they are counting by 1’s, interrupt them with questions about other things. Then ask them how many they have. Most of the time, they will forget because it is a not an organized plan and is a poor strategy for such a large number. Once you do that a few times, I ask “I am so sorry. I keep interrupting you. Could you organize these in a way so that if I come by, you can find your count again quickly?”  They usually move to more efficient strategies.
  • When they find a total, ask them to record how they counted and to show their count in some way.  Then ask them to verify the total by counting in a different way.  When I asked them if they would get a different answer, some said “Yes,” but most said, “It will look different but it will be the same number.”
  • Just take time to sit and listen to them count.  They will amaze you and you will also find gaps in their understanding.  Many students struggled over 100, then again over 200.  Most did well counting by 10’s but when they had to verify the total by counting by a different number, I discovered areas we needed to work on.  I don’t think we do enough of just sitting and listening to our students.  You need to ask lots of questions. 🙂
  • Some questions: How are you counting your collection? Why did you choose that strategy? How many do you have now? Looking at how many you have left, what do you think the total will be? Do you think it will be over ____?  How are you going to show what you have done so far on your paper? Can you make it clear to anyone how you counted your collection?

Here are some pictures from our first counting collection activity.  My students LOVED it. One day we had inside recess and I gave them tons of choices. They ALL chose counting collections. I was amazed. 🙂













Check out this article about counting circles in middle school. It is another math routine involving counting.  It just shows that counting is powerful and important at any level!

What’s New at the Zoo? part 5

In case you missed the first 4 posts…Click here for part 1part 2, part 3 and part 4.

Ready for group work!

After hearing each group member’s letter, the group decided on one animal. The researcher of the chosen animal became the group’s expert.  The research was completed so now all the groups had to focus on was thinking of four opinions why the zoo should choose their animal. They also had to provide reasons to back up each opinion.  Here is the group form that the group used to organize their thoughts.  When finished each group met with me to review. Once they were cleared, they went back to assign each member a job to do in the presentation. Some of the jobs the groups created were: fact checker, presentation designer, photo manager, and captain. We used the Explain Everything app for this presentation.  The groups found lots of pictures of their animal and worked very hard trying different layouts for the slides. They made final edits on the script for their presentation and then recorded.  I was proud to see how much they cared about the project. Some students took 5 or 6 tries before they were happy with their final recording.

Here are their final presentations for the zoo!  The zoo will choose one animal from the presentations. We are waiting for their final choice. Once we know the final animal, each group will design a zoo exhibit for it. 🙂

Click the links below to view each group’s presentation! 🙂 I am so proud of their hard work.

Snow Leopard

Mountain Lion

Feather-Tailed Glider


Bat-Eared Fox

Part 6 will focus on designing the zoo exhibits.

What’s New at the Zoo? part 4

In case you missed the first 3 posts. Click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Here’s my favorite part of teaching with project-based learning: THE SURPRISES!

This is only my 2nd project-based learning unit but I am amazed at how many content standards are covered beyond the ones I chose as the focus skills.

Because of one student’s research we ended up doing this!



So are you wondering what animal he was researching?  It all started out with the Black Mamba.  One of my students loves snakes.  He chose the Black Mamba as his research animal.  If you decide to try something like this be prepared to hear “Did you know…?” MANY times but it made me so happy to hear it. They were so excited about all they were learning and they just wanted to share.  One morning he came up to me with a book and said, “Miss Mac, did you know that the Black Mamba is 8-10 feet long?”  I did not know that so I asked him how long that was. He held his hands out about 3 feet.  I grabbed a yardstick and we reviewed how long a yard was and then he realized his snake was much longer than he assumed.  So I told him to go figure out how long it really would be.

IMG_0477This was a great unexpected lesson in measuring an object that is longer than the measuring tool. He asked  a friend to help.  This of course grabbed the rest of the classes’ attention.  Once they measured 8-10 feet, they laid down by it to show it was bigger than 2 of them!




By this time, my principal walked in.  She told a story of a middle school student who told her she could not measure paper for some tables because the yardstick wasn’t long enough. 🙂  She was bragging  on my students for outwitting a middle school student. She knighted one of my students as “Sir Measurement.”



Of course my students loved this! 🙂 Who wouldn’t want to be “Sir Measurement?”

My principal stayed for a few minutes to talk to me about what they were learning but also about something totally unrelated to this activity.  When she left, I looked up and this was happening. (The picture was taken after they finished with it.)



I asked them what they were doing and they said, “Morgan told us that the Anaconda can be between 25-30 feet long so we want to see how long that snake would be!” They really didn’t have room to do this well in my room so I told them we would take up their “cube snake” and take it to the school lobby to check for an accurate measurement.

I thought this is  PERFECT chance to practice using yardsticks, meter sticks and measuring tapes.  It is a CCRS (Alabama’s version of Common Core) standard and one that I still needed to cover.  We head off to the lobby to rebuild the snake. We took turns measuring with the different tools. They learned you have to be careful with each tool and look for zero and also where one ended.



The final measurement unit was the most fun.  We wanted to see how many 2nd graders it would take to match the anaconda.  I took my tallest and my shortest student and stood them side by side and asked “Is there a problem if we use random students in our class?” They decided we couldn’t do that so one student said, “We need kids about the same size!” The lined themselves up in groups around the same size. We used the group in the middle that had the most kids in it.  We used them to measure the “snake.”  And that takes us back to our first photo!



Did I plan on practicing measurement when I planned this unit? NO! Did it fit BEAUTIFULLY? YES!  It was a GREAT way to practice our measurement skills in the context of our animal research and they LOVED it!

Part 5 will be about their group presentations.

What’s New at the Zoo? part 3

Here is the part 1  and part 2 if you missed the previous posts.

I teach 2nd grade. Research is a new concept/skill for them.  I decided to have my students do a lot of their research during reading groups on ipads.  I did this for many reasons.  The best reason is that they were reading and writing the entire time. In fact, most were encountering vocabulary much higher than their current reading level. Being in small groups allowed me to meet individual needs. We learned LOTS of vocabulary and were able to practice using nonfiction text features.  I could also help them search safely and model which sites to trust and which ones would need verification.  These are all skills that they need to learn. They have information at their fingertips but do not always know how to navigate through it all. Here is the research form I created using their list. (see part 2).



As I said earlier we learned lots of new vocabulary.  We found that we encountered the same vocabulary on almost every animal site. Here is a picture of a chart we created after a class discussion on what were learning by researching animals.



These are AMAZING vocabulary words. I found that my 2nd graders confused the term endangered with dangerous.  They thought they meant the same. Through research and discussions in small groups, we discovered the meaning of both.

Once the students finished their individual research, they created a nonfiction magazine article for our class magazine on animals.  They will use Publisher to design their magazine article. We used magazines in our room as models for layout designs. If you don’t have time for a magazine, you could always use Haiku Deck , Educreations, or any other creative app or website. The magazine articles continue throughout the project.  Once the research was completed, we moved to the group part of the project but students continued working on their individual magazine articles. This is separate from the group project. 🙂

They also began thinking about reasons why the zoo should choose their animal.

One important side note:  I knew I wanted this project to focus on science, writing and speaking standards. With the new CCRS (Alabama’s version of Common Core standards), students are expected to state an opinion and provide reasons for that opinion.  I asked our reading coach to model the new Lucy Calkin’s unit on writing opinions during our writing block.  She and I co-taught the lessons. Once we taught the first introductory lessons on writing opinions about favorite books, we moved the students to using the strategies with their animals.  You do not have to use Lucy Calkins’ lessons but you will need to teach your students how to write an opinion with reasons to support it.

Writing an opinion beyond “because it’s cool” is hard for 2nd graders.  I had to ask really good questions to help them think about the animal with the zoo in mind.  Example: They would say, “The zoo should choose this animal because it’s so cute.” I would ask: “And why would the zoo want a cute animal?” They would say, “Because it’s cute.” and I would say “But how would this help the zoo?” They would eventually come up with a good reason such as “OH…people like to see cute animals so more people will come to the zoo!”  Don’t give up and tell them. Just keep asking good questions! 🙂

Once the research was finished (or mostly finished for some), the students wrote a letter to their group. In the letter they wrote why their animal would be a good addition to the zoo and give reasons for this opinion.  Each person in the group would share their letters to try to convince the group that their animal was the best for the zoo. The group choose 1 animal and then begin working on a presentation about that animal for the zoo.  Did they all want their animal chosen? OF COURSE! But this is a good lesson in itself. Every student’s animal will be featured in the magazine article but only one will be the focus of the presentation.

Here is an example of one of their opinion letters:



In case you can’t read it. Her letter says: (spelling corrected in typed version 🙂  )

Dear Group,

You should pick my animal because it is a very unusual animal! And it’s very cute. It’s not endangered but you can barely find them. They have lots of special features to survive and it might be fun to watch and they’re the most… (I didn’t take a picture of the back but she introduced her animal and talked about the special features of her animal.)

So we went from 19 animals to 5- one for each group.  I was going to write about the fun rabbit trail here but this post was longer than anticipated. 🙂  I will write about it on the next post.

By the way, the letter above won over her team but just barely.  🙂 They all wrote very convincing letters!

Here are other examples of their letters:



Part 4 is about the fun surprises that happen in project-based learning!