Friday, February 20, 2015

Website for Common Core

A couple of disclaimers before I start this post.  First, I'm not associated in ANY way with Education Galaxy.  Second, I did not find this site by myself. I'm fortunate enough to work across the hall from a fabulous third grade teacher - my cousin.  She found this site and shared it with our third and fourth grade teams.  And finally, I'm not a fan of the Common Core.  I guess right now I'm scared of the unknown.  Our state test has changed SO much, I'm not sure I'll even recognize it.  Our third grade team has been working hard to get our kiddos ready for fourth grade as well as trying to introduce our students to the new vocabulary and concepts needed for the Common Core, but sometimes it just seems that the concepts are not developmentally appropriate.  However, Common Core is here for now, so I have to deal with it the best I can and one of the best ways I've found so far is a website called Education Galaxy.

Education Galaxy is aligned to your state standards.  This is important since they differ slightly from state to state.  Just choose your state from the drop down menu when you set up your account.

It is also one of the few sites I've found that addresses Language Arts, as well as Reading and Math, has activities for every grade from kindergarten through high school, AND is also engaging and kid/teacher friendly.  In the primary grades the kids can even have everything read to them if they aren't ready to read on their own.  This is a sample of a first grade reading passage.  See where the kids can easily click the microphone if they would like the passage or question read to them?
Grade 2 Reading Passage

I suggest starting out by seeing what your students will be seeing.  This is an option on your dashboard.  Simply go to the Student Center tab and select View as Student from the drop down menu.
You can see that this is also where you can Add Students and then Create a Class.  The site is linked to your school.  So as you add students, you may see other students' names from your grade level if your colleagues are using this site.  This is nice since the kids will already be in the system for future teachers in your school, making future class setups even easier.  But add students BEFORE creating your class.  It's not earth shattering if you don't, but it does save some time and frustration.

Back to the Student View.  Below is a screen shot of a student dashboard for third grade.

Third Grade Dashboard
At the top, students can see their ranking, check their stats, and even see their high scores on games.  This is also where they collect Galaxy Stars and earn Rockets.  My kids LOVE this part!  I love the color coded tabs at the bottom.  At the pink tab, My Assignments, they can see if I've made any assignments for them to complete.  The yellow tab is only available for grades 2-5.  It's their My Diagnostics tab and it tests their knowledge of Common Core concepts.   The blue tab, My Recommended Topics for Study, is opened after they take their diagnostic tests.  It is also only available for grades 2-5.  This tab will start them on their own individualized learning path.  Yes!  Differentiation made easy!  It shows them where they need practice and is also linked to short games.  More on this tab and the games later...  The purple tab, My Study Plan, is  a free choice tab that allows them to pick their own skills to practice and is also linked to the games.  In my class they can use this at home, or pick skills from here if they have completed their My Assignments and their Recommended Topics for Study tabs.  The final tab, the green one, is My Resources.  This is where kids can access videos, websites, and documents about concepts they may be struggling with.  It is also a free choice tab and is good for home or after completion of other tabs.

I started my students with the yellow tab, My Diagnostics.  Each subject has its own diagnostic test that differentiates learning paths for individual student's ability level in each subject.  Subjects include Reading, Math, and Language Arts.  My kids took all 3 diagnostic tests first.

Third Grade Diagnostics

Once they finish the diagnostics, I let my kids enter the blue tab, My Recommended Topics for Study.  My kids and I refer to this as their learning path.  This is where the kids learn the skills they need based on the scores they received during their diagnostic tests.  The skills are even color-coded.  Red means there's a critical need for the skill, while yellow designates some need.  If they tested out of a skill it doesn't even show up in their path and they can only revisit these skills during free time in the purple tab, My Study Plan.
Learning Path
While on their learning path, students may choose the order in which they would like to tackle their skills.  They are given the option of starting off with a study session or going straight to the game mode.  During study session, there are no mini games, only questions.

 During game mode, students are still given the same types of questions as in study mode, but are rewarded for each correct answer with a short game.  These games are a one shot deal and don't last more than 5 seconds - at least when I play them!  For example, Tap Rocket is much like Flappy Birds.  The kids get one chance to get their rocket through the obstacles for each time they get a correct answer.  My kids love game mode and the games are so short, it's not distracting them from their learning.

Sample Grade 2 Math Question During Game Mode
Much Like Flappy Birds
The graphics are great and the kids love collecting Galaxy Stars, Rockets, and Alien Cards as they learn.  There's even an app available at the iTunes store.  We use our Chromebooks, but many kids download the app for use at home.  It's all linked, so progress is saved.

Education Galaxy also offers printable worksheets and an assessment builder tool, as well as the ability to give students virtual assignments on the site at every grade level.  It even keeps track of all the data from each student and is simple to use.  There are SO many reports you can run, both class and individual.  There's also an option to easily print reports as PDFs to share with the kids or parents.  Personally,  I love the usage report so I can see how long each student has been on the site and how many questions they've answered.  The report below gives me class data on based on the Language Arts Diagnostic Test.  I can see at a glance which subjects I need to concentrate on for whole group instruction.

I'm sure you're wondering how much this all costs.  Well you can set it all up for FREE - if you only have 10 students!  I don't - but the free option would be great for home school students.  Personally, I started with the free version and then immediately clicked the link to try the premium service free for one month.  Then I could get my whole class started at once and also had access to all the reports, worksheets, and assessment building features.  After less than a week I realized that it was worth the $5 a month the site charges per class.  Yep.  Just $5 a month for all of that!  So for $20 I used some of my remaining requisition money and finished out the year for my class.  Then our third grade team told the administration at our school all about it so they could think about getting it for everyone next year.  For the price and the benefits - they're definitely thinking about it!

Here's an introductory video that I watched before deciding if this site was a good fit for my class and I also had my students watch it on the Promethean Board before I let them begin their diagnostic tests.  It really explains the program much better than I could here.  Of course, the video's on the site, but I've downloaded it here so you can watch it and see what you think.  It's worth a look.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Adorable Jars from Trash

So, a week or 2 ago, I came into my room to find an American Girl bag and a note.  Since I only have boys, I was a little confused by the American Girl bag.  Then I read the note and peeked inside.  It turns out our school guidance councilor had been given a set of 5 candy jars from a friend who thought the jars were too cute to throw away.  We all think this at times, don't we?  But her friend couldn't think of anything to do with them and so passed them on to our guidance councilor to give to her sister-in-law who is also a teacher.  I guess everyone knows teachers are thrifty and hoard other people's trash.  Well, her sister-in-law knew she was too busy to do anything with them and they would just sit around collecting dust in a future-project-pile.  We all have those piles, right?  So they both thought of me!  Yeah, me!  I was thrilled to be given these adorable jars and immediately began contemplating their many possible uses.

Well, this weekend is drill weekend for my husband, which means a little project-time for me.  So I pulled out the jars and grabbed my old friend, Goo Gone.  Yep, use him a lot!
The candy labels on these jars had a plastic-like cover over them, so I first scored the labels with a steak knife.  Yes, I could have used a razor blade, but I was in the kitchen and didn't feel like looking for the razor blade.  Scoring the paper is a trick I learned from years of removing wall paper.  In order to dissolve the glue, the product has to be able to touch it!  So I scored the label first and gave it a good dousing of Goo Gone.  Then I relaxed for about 30 minutes.  It gave me time to work on requisitions which are due Monday!  I came back and most of the label peeled right off, kinda like skin after a sunburn.  If it doesn't all come off, give it another treatment and don't rush it.  Then I did the back labels the same way.  Afterwards I washed and dried all the jars to remove any residue.

Then I grabbed some of my clearance silk flowers, my hot glue gun, and my box of sparkly, fake gems.  I pulled the center off of the silk flowers and discarded the fluffy center and the back, keeping only the petal parts from the flower.

I hot glued these to  the center of the jar lids and then finished it off with a jewel in the center.  Easy!

I haven't decided exactly where I'm going to put these little beauties.  My first thought was on my desk to hold paper clips, thumbtacks, rubber bands etc., but I also considered using them in my candy shop behind my guided reading table.  After a group finishes a book, they get to play a skill game such as Apples to Apples, or a fact and opinion game, or whichever skill we're working on at the moment.  Anyway, afterwards, I usually let each kiddo pick a treat from the candy shop.  I use a little catch phrase with each candy.  I have collected quite a few.

 "You're on Fire" - fireballs 
"Beary Good Reading" - gummy bears
"You're on a Roll" - Rolos or Tootsie Rolls
"Smarty Pants" - Smarties
"Bookworm" - gummy worms

The kids love the tiny occasional treat and the sayings.  So my new jars may end up back there - replacing my old Talenti Gelato containers!  Wherever they end up, I'm glad somebody always thinks of teachers when they have trash that's too cute to throw away!