Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal..."

Ok, so they weren't filthy, but I'm currently watching "Home Alone" and I do want to share "Animated Animals" with you!

Last month, 3rd grade students completed animal reports.  With Common Core curriculum, exposure to nonfiction is vitally important.  So is writing!  Enter animal reports.

Building Background Information:
We began with habitats.  Each guided reading group was given a habitat to research during their background group time.  At our school, we are lucky to have a "push-in" teacher during our reading block.  Each background group met with Mrs. Dolf, our P.E. teacher and reading push-in, and researched their assigned habitat.

We had a giant butcher paper chart that listed the habitats, characteristics, challenges, resources, and adaptations within that habitat.  Students used post-it notes to record their research.

Since we were also learning about synonyms and "spicy words," they also created posters for their habitat.  On one half of the poster they created an illustration. On the other half, they wrote adjectives that described their habitat.

In guided reading groups with me, students read leveled readers about different animals and habitats.  We used a RAN chart to catalog our learning about animal adaptations.

Animal Vocabulary/gestures:

  • Vertebrate: Students run a hand up their spine
  • Invertebrate: Students slump over like a rag doll
  • Adaptation: Students pretended to pet something (fur) and flapped arms (wings)
  • Reptile: Students shivered (cold-blooded)
  • Mammal: Students fanned face (warm-blooded)

Research Reports:
After a couple weeks of reading and taking notes about habitats and adaptations, students chose an animal from their habitat to research.  They were given graphic organizers to organize their notes as they read.  We went through the whole writing process: graphic organizer--> rough draft -->final draft on notecards.

Students used encyclopedias and animal books to find their information.  It was great practice with nonfiction text features like the table of contents, indexes, and glossaries.  This is a hard concept for third graders!  Using specific graphic organizers helped the process along.  I also met with students periodically during guided reading groups to check on their progress.  

We used Whole Brain's genius ladder technique to edit their sentences.  Having a log of spicy habitat words in their writer's notebooks helped too!

Since Common Core includes several Speaking and Listening standards, we wanted students to have a chance to orally present their reports.  

Students created cue cards for themselves.  They put a heading on each card: habitat, looks/characteristics, protection, food, and interesting facts.  On one side they recorded their final drafted sentences and on the other they illustrated the information.  

Our fabulous art teacher helped students make masks for their presentations.  We also turned the classroom into different habitats! Groups worked together to create their area.  I was amazed at their creativity!  Desks were turned upside down to make trees and one group created a giant iceberg!

As classes came in, students stood with their hand out.  On their hand was a marker drawn "button." When a visitor pushed the button, the "animal" came alive and began the report.  They held up their cue card so the visitor could see the illustration and they could use the notes for reference points.

Parents and several classes visited our "zoo."  The kids had a fabulous time and really retained their knowledge.  Several students incorporated gestures in their reports! 

Rainforest habitat


Polar region (see the poster with spicy words?)

Temperate forest- one tree for each season!

Ocean habitat

All in all, it was a great experience for the kids.  One student said, 
"How do you stand all day, Ms. Mahan?!" :) 

If you're interested, I have an Animated Animals pack for sale on TPT, complete with cue cards, graphic organizers, resource materials, and teacher tips! 

There's also a free graphic organizer for animal adaptation notes.

How do your students research in your classroom?
Happy Whole-Braining!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Testing it out

After watching Coach B's state test prep video, I wanted to try out some of the labeling techniques in my classroom.  So began Doofus, Trickster, and Smarty.  These are labels for multiple-choice answers on

Doofus: answers that are obviously wrong.
Trickster: answers that are close or "tricky" in another way
Smarty: a right answer that can be proven with work (math) or underlined in a reading passage

My kids LOVE doing this.  Since when do kids love test prep? We made up gestures and faces for each one (their "doofus" faces are hilarious) and they're quickly able to pick out Doofus and Tricksters.

The best part is adding the "because" clapper.  "I think this is a Doofus because_______".  Some serious critical thinking is happening!  The kids really enjoy picking out the Tricksters.  We often talk about the mean old test makers who are out to trick unsuspecting third graders.

So far I've had success with this will all levels of students.

  Be sure to watch Coach B's video for more ideas!
After we finished, one student said, "Ms. Mahan, this is easy!" 
(This from a student who previously sighed heavily and rolled his eyes whenever we got out books!)

Teacher Heaven.

Do you use Doofus, Trickster, and Smarty in your classroom?
What are your favorite test prep techniques?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Blessings in Disguise!

After watching Lindsey Roush's video of her fabulous Whole Brain classroom, I was inspired to try "Disguise Cream" with my students!

To use "disguise cream," students pretend to open a bottle of cream, spread it all over themselves and a partner, and turn into something else! In Lindsey's science lesson, her students turn into armadillos and explore their adaptations.

After our state acuity benchmarks, we have been working very hard on multiple-choice questions.  Part of analyzing a multiple-choice test is identifying the "tricksters," or answers that are designed to distract students.

After a perimeter lesson, I showed students some perimeter problems that had been solved incorrectly.  They used disguise cream to turn into professors on an error analysis team.  They took transformation very seriously!  They put on mustaches, bow ties, straightened their jackets, and even talked with "proper" accents! Several students adjusted pretend glasses and straightened up as they talked with their fellow "colleagues."

They still used "teach-ok," but this time they were old professors.  Students continued the accents and gestures even when teaching their neighbors.  As I walked around, I realized that nearly all students were able to detect the errors.  Using the "because" clapper, they were also able to state how they knew it was an error! Teacher heaven!

Try disguise cream with your students!

Other uses for disguise cream:

  • Numbers turning into other forms of numbers
  • Becoming historical figures
  • Becoming authors to discuss reasons for writing a piece
  • Becoming characters in a book
  • Becoming detectives looking for clues (inferencing, test prep, context clues)
  • Becoming plants, planets, animals, or other scientific objects
  • Multiplication problems morphing into other forms (repeated addition, equal groups, commutative property)
  • Numbers morphing into other equations (12= 6*2, 3*4, 10+2, a dime and two pennies)
Happy disguising!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Flaky Freebie

Snow snuck up on Oklahoma City... school has been out since last Thursday.

The relaxation has been nice, but cabin fever is beginning to set in.  A teacher friend of mine is referring to this as "cold summer."  With all this free time, might as well brush up on Whole Brain!

If you are unfamiliar with Whole Brain Teaching, it is a phenomenal teaching method created by Chris Biffle (Coach B!)  The website ( is definitely worth a visit.  Here's what you'll find:

  • FREE stuff! (Downloads, powerpoint slides, resources, etc. etc.)
  • Webcasts explaining and modeling all of the techniques (hundreds!)
  • Forums to discuss ideas and issues with other Whole-Brainers
  • Certification information
  • Testimonials
  • Links to buy the Whole Brain Teaching book
This is going to sound like hyperbole, but the book is the best teaching book I've read so far.  The layout is exactly what I've always wanted from educational materials.  There are real-life examples and a timeline, people!  Game changer.

I won't go into all the details of Whole Brain here, but if you are a teacher who loves learning and desires to know what "Teacher Heaven" is truly like... check it out.

For those of you using Whole Brain, I created a rule reflection sheet.  Our school adheres to a PBIS program, which involves a "recovery area" in the classroom.  Since I've started the Scoreboard and 5 rules, I haven't had to use our recovery area (hooray!), but the forms are ready just in case.  I made a PBIS/Whole Brain form for kids to reflect upon while taking a quick break.  A few students have even requested them on rough days! Wow!
The front details the problem at hand, while the back is meant to get them thinking positively about the classroom, themselves, people that believe in them, and their ability to turn their day around.  These could be a form of Practice Cards as well.  Click on the top picture to get yours for free.

Happy Whole Braining! Stay warm!

 Whole Brain Teaching Rule Reflection (PBIS)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Brains Behind The Machine

Colleagues have long teased me about the activity in my classroom.  There's always been singing, dancing, acting, and just general craziness tied into the curriculum.
So, this summer, when I happened across Whole Brain Teaching, I could almost hear the "Hallelujah" chorus.  I just knew-

"That will teach them."

Unlike other teaching books, this one was extremely practical.  I knew exactly what to do and when.
Best of all, it made sense.  Everything was backed up with brain research!  Deep down, I knew this was the right way to teach kids.
Then came the videos! A friend of mine and I began watching webcasts one after another, comparing notes and looking forward to the beginning of the year.  Everything I saw reiterated what I believed about kids and learning.  So, this year, I dove right in.

I began Whole Brain techniques before students even stepped foot into the classroom.  I had studied the webcasts about the first moments of WBT and the whole day was jam-packed with the 5 rules, the Scoreboard, Class-Yes, and Teach-Ok.  I didn't feel like a single second was wasted.
For the past four months I have implemented Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom, gradually adding new techniques.  I was convinced before trying it out, but watching the results proves all the theories outlined by Coach B.  The techniques are slowly starting to seep through the building as other teachers notice the results.  Classroom management is a breeze, scores are raising, and everyone's having fun, including me!
I look forward to becoming certified and enjoying the results of Teacher Heaven.
Thanks, Whole Brain.  Thanks, Coach B.
Here goes!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Teach them right"

How is it March already?
Here comes testing. Crunch time! Data! Skills! Drills! Strategies! How do you not know this?! What are you doing?! Bubble! Bubble! Bubble!

In an attempt to survive last year, I kept a running Microsoft Word document on my computer as an ongoing journal. I came across it late tonight as I was frantically searching Pinterest and old documents for any and all materials to aid the upcoming testing cram.

Unfortunately, many of the anecdotes are abbreviated, but they still brought back fond memories...

"First day: forgot pencils. Kids had to use colored pencils until I could frantically sharpen. Oops."
"Day two: need marshmallows."
"We earned a dance party."
"Next time: put dance party at the absolute end of the day."
"G dressed up as 'gigantic' for the vocabulary parade- he got stuck between several desks."
"This is the hardest job in the world. Considering benefits of a cubicle job."
"L read Mac and Cheese today. Whole class celebration. Best job ever."
"I wonder if any teacher has ever started using drugs after Red Ribbon Week."
"Went outside for math on the sidewalk. Felt like Ron Clark."
"So proud of J's dolphin story... only to find out it was the plot line of Dolphin Tale."
"M was mad at me today... she wrote all her spelling sentences about me.
 Examples include: 'My tractor is cooler than Ms. Mahan's,' and 'My freezer is better than Ms. Mahan's." (ir/ar/or words week) Every word is used correctly! Celebrated them and hung them above my desk, much to her mortification."
"J sat on all the tadpoles. Mass chaos. Still finding tadpoles in the carpet. Room stinks."
"D ate lamination. Just ate it off the floor."
"T's journal entry: 'We ate the goat this weekend. Mom ate the nuts..'"
"Can't seem to let go of my babies that move. Where are they? I wasn't done yet."
"Cried proud momma tears all throughout the talent show. What talent. Not one bit of it was measurable by state testing standards. Our kids are amazing. Best job ever."

Now I'm sad I haven't kept up the same journal habits as last year.
Funny, though- very few of the memories have to do with what I taught academically... and hardly any of my favorites are academic based.  The same holds true when I look back on this year.

Sure, their test scores are what my job depends on.
Those are what keep the school's doors open.

But it's not what makes it worth it.

That student- "M," who hated my guts (and expressed it through spelling) coming back to hug me and sheepishly read her sentences from the previous year... that's worth it.

Watching J, one of my toughest cases, mentor a younger student about how to control his attitude while she kills it in 4th grade and earns student of the month.... that's worth it.

Every teacher knows this.  That's why we're still teaching.
Testing season makes us forget, though.  So this year.. let's not forget.

Let's teach 'em right.