Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Cougar News

We have an after school club of 4th and 5th graders who produce The Cougar News. We meet once per week for two hours to produce the daily news for the next week.  It’s so much fun!  At the beginning of the semester, students who have done lots of learning in our Tech Club register and I put each student on a production team.  On a Google Calendar, each team is scheduled to rehearse, record, edit, and produce the news. Here’s an example:

Each day, we tell what’s for lunch today and tomorrow, what birthdays and events are happening during the week, activities after school, and there’s a feature story.  Some of the features are interviews with staff or students.  Some are Fun Facts from the Media Center.  Some are Specialist Showcases where students report on the learning being done with our specialist teachers, Art, Music, Media and P.E.  Our production crew has a lot of fun and provides a great service to our K-5 students and staff. You can download scripts and more information HERE so you can have your own School News program!

Sunday, October 25, 2015


It’s Socktober!  Kid President has inspired us! 

My Fifth Grade Students are running a sock drive for homeless children and adults in our city this month. They have produced slide show presentations to tell younger students all about the project. They made signs and flyers for our school and community. They visit classrooms, tally totals, and box the socks for delivery. We have a goal of donating 2,000 pairs of new, crew socks.  I love their civic engagement.  Service Learning IS Social Studies!

Social Emotional Learning

Core_Competencies_Short_FINAL_O.pngMy students do a Social Emotional Check-In at least 3 days/week.  I have studied CASEL's Social Emotional Learning and you can too, by clicking on this link: The students click on a link to THIS FORM and fill in the boxes.  Sometimes I ask the kids to tell me something about their culture or family or traditions with a question on the board.  I get to know them a little better every time they fill out the form.  I'm the only one who can see the responses, so they tend to divulge more information than they would in a Morning Meeting Sharing Activity.  Sometimes, I send an email to the student to get more information.  The door is opened for conversation, trust, and relationship.  Love it!  Anybody can fill in the form.  Give it a try.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Twitter in School

Tweet! Our school has embraced Twitter as a means to communicate all the great things happening at our school.  Administration and parents were a little leery about posting student pictures online, so we put a permissions form out to everybody.  We decided to jump in with both feet and it has worked very well.  We posted signs at our Open House Night that encouraged parents to follow the school.  It’s a closed group, so each follower is approved by staff.  Parents follow our Twitter Feed, but the school doesn’t follow anyone, so it’s one way communication.  That’s the beauty of it, though.  Six of our teachers are approved posters.  They post pictures from class and school events highlighting great things happening at our school.  Our parents, it turns out, love seeing what their kids are doing during the day. 

Everybody should be tweeting at their school.  You should tell the story! People are talking! Contribute to the positive talk! This inspiration came from Brad Gustafson, an elementary school principal in Wayzata, MN.  He was a presenter at our district’s Tech Camp in the summer of 2015.  Read his blog, Adjusting Course HERE.  He suggested we do something brilliant.  We did.  

Do you use Twitter at your school? Tell us your success story.

Classroom Economy

We started our Classroom Economy two years ago.  Our 5th grade team loves it.  We share kids because we rotate for Science, Math, and Social Studies.  Each of us has a clipboard that travels with the class for marking fines and bonuses.  Actually, it’s someone’s job to carry the clipboard.  

At the beginning of the year, I present this presentation and let them apply for three jobs using this application. I take a look at their top three choices and write out a job offer on this form.  Every student has a job and gets paid $200/week.  Jobs include
  • Crossing Guard AM or PM,
  • Primary Cadet,
  • Banker/Bookkeeper,
  • Homework Helper,
  • Attendance Manager,
  • Messenger,
  • Materials Manager, and others

You can see more about our jobs by clicking HERE and can download the editable slideshow HERE.  

We pay in Cougar Cash in denominations of $50, $100, and $500 with a big paw print in the middle.  Each bill is printed with the school year on it and each denomination is a different color.  This prevents an older sibling from passing down their money at the end of the year to a younger sibling.  You can download money templates HERE, so you can print your own.  

A $50 Bonus can be given for earning 100% on a test or making the teacher or other staff member incredibly happy.  Fines of the same amount can be collected for forgetting homework, not being prepared for class, or making a teacher unhappy.  A lie will cost a student $500.  We don’t tolerate lying!  

Every month, the students owe the bank $1000 for rent of their desk.  On the last Friday of the month, the bankers collect rent.  In order to be able to pay rent, students have to have earned some bonuses.  If, for some reason, they are not able to pay their rent, they have to see the Bank President (me) for a loan.  Loans have to be paid back within a week.  A student can buy his or her desk for $3000, so he or she no longer has to pay rent.  But then they have to pay property taxes (April 15) and watch out for natural disasters that happen to owners.  

One of the natural disasters came about after a nasty thunderstorm in our city.  A (ficticious) tree fell onto a desk and Miller’s Tree Service had to come to cut the tree and clean up the damage.  OOOOOHHH!  Miller’s Tree Service charges $200 each.  To tell the students about this natural disaster, I found a picture of some arborists with chain saws and made a sign on my SMARTBoard.  The kids loved it, even though they had to pay for the ‘repairs’.  Another natural disaster had to do with snow removal and in another month, the sump pump at each owned desk had to be replaced.  These give owners a need to raise more Cougar Cash.

Students need Cougar Cash for two more things.  First, we collect donations for our service learning projects.  You can read more about that in my Service Learning IS Social Studies blog post.  The second way students spend their Cougar Cash is with passes.  I have passes for
  • Hat Day
  • Stinky Socks Day
  • Switcheroo
  • Music to my Ears
  • Rock and Read
  • Lunch Buddy
  • Homework Pass.
Students use these to wear a hat or go shoeless in the classroom, switch desks to sit by a friend, bring music to share, read in my big rocking chair in the classroom, sit by a friend from another class at lunch, or get out of doing a little homework.  The store (my student teacher desk) is open on Fridays during Banking.  Students can buy one pass each week, but once in a while I have a sale and they can buy one of each if they like.  

Ultimately, the Classroom Economy is used to foster discipline and good decision-making and to teach real-life saving, budgeting, and profit benefits.  Everybody’s job contributes to the smooth running of our 5th grade and has value to all.  It has turned out to be lots of fun.  You can learn more about Classroom Economy by clicking and you can download my passes, cash, and book-keeping forms at my TPT Store HERE.

Service Learning IS Social Studies

In 5th grade Social Studies, we mostly learn about the history of what is the United States. I have brought a component to 5th Grade Social Studies that involves current needs in our community through Service Learning.  The MN Social Studies Standard states Identify a public problem in the school or community, analyze the issue from multiple perspectives, and create an action plan to address it.  My favorite project is the one we do in October that benefits those adults and children living in shelters in Duluth called Socktober.  You can see on Twitter, using #Socktober, that projects like ours happen all over the country.  I have read about many other ways to do this Service Learning Project, but this is what we do.  

At the end of September, the 5th graders have learned to make slide presentations and need practice.  Groups of students work together to make a slide presentation that they will use to tell younger students about Socktober.  They also make a poster that they give to the class to hang in or near their classroom as a reminder.  We post coupons and deals on our school's Twitter feed and FaceBook Page.  Once each week in October, the students go to the classroom where they presented and they collect new, packaged socks from the youngsters.  They count the socks and tally on an all-school chart.  At the end of the month we add up all the pairs of socks and donate the adult ones to a homeless shelter and the kid-sized ones to our local clothing depository for needy children. Last year we collected 1199 pairs of socks! The kids were wildly excited to meet this standard!

Here's a picture of our students and their 2014 sock collection.

We participate in some Service Learning Project each month of the school year.  Our schedule of activities this year goes like this:

September: Build and stock a Little Free Library for our playground
October: Socktober
November: Toys, Treats and Tour of Animal Allies Humane Society
December:  Mitten Month
January: Blankets for Bethany Crisis Shelter children
February: Valentines for Mount Royal Pines Assisted Living
March: School-wide food drive
April: Earth Day Month Neighborhood cleanup
May: Build corn hole and checkers playground games

It's always fun to share our time and talents with others! What a great learning experience! What kinds of Service Learning Projects do you do? I'm always looking for more ideas!