Looking for Mystery Skype Connections

My 5th graders in CA are looking to connect with classes east of the Mississippi River for Mystery Skype. If you’re a teacher and interested in scheduling one with us in the next few weeks, sign up here!

Mystery Skype is a fun and engaging way for students to learn geography and broaden their worldview. It also provides students with an opportunity to sharpen interpersonal and critical thinking skills. My students love it!

I’m happy to explain how it all works if you’ve never done it before. If you know a teacher who might be interested, please share this with them. We are open to scheduling with any age group and size.

Learn Through Play, Stimulate Innovation, Create a “Not-a-Box”

What better way to learn than through play? Want to encourage your students to think outside of the box and utilize their problem solving skills? Read about my “Not-a-Box” challenge and consider doing it with your kiddos.

Last week, my 5th graders were innovators. It began with reading the picture book Not a Box . After receiving a little inspiration from the book, my 5th and 6th graders were presented a 25 minute challenge. With limited supplies, they had to think “outside of the box” to create their own “not a box”.

Guidelines Given to Students

  1. Use your box to create or invent something.
  2. You may use as many or as little of the supplies provided. Supplies provided: construction paper, tape, glue, scissors, yarn.
  3. You may only use the supplies provided.
  4. As long as you are following the first three guidelines, my answer to every one of your questions will be YES. (This is the most critical guideline as it is this freedom that best encourages creativity. Without it, many students will aim to please the teacher or shape their projects based on teacher feedback. This is a rule I use for all of my creative writing assignments as well. )

Note: Students were asked to bring a box to school ahead of time, but they weren’t told what it was for. They were told the box could be as small as a jewelry box or as big as a refrigerator box.

My students were encouraged to be creative and they delivered! Many came up with something original, an invention of their own. After the allotted time expired, we turned the room into a museum. Students were given a piece of folded card stock on which they wrote the name of their creation to display in front of their box.  The students then took took turns touring the museum and showcasing the “not a boxes”. This performance task provided students with a fantastic opportunity to sharpen targeted skills.

You can use this video read aloud of Not a Box if you’re unable to purchase the book.

Of course you do not have to present this activity as a timed challenge, but for me, it added to the excitement and required students to use even more of those problem solving and decision making skills that some of my kiddos so like to keep locked away. My students do not have a lot of timed experiences so I felt it was a needed addition.

Here are a few pictures, shared publicly through the school Facebook page, that show what the activity looked like in action.


Students are hard at work as they start on their “not-a-boxes”.


Creativity at work!


The on-the-go-case can transport items from home into the briefcase. Did you forget your homework? No problem, as long as you have the on-the-go case with you. Hit the homework button inside, close it, and when you reopen it, there it is!


Hungry? Type in any food along with the quantity you’d like delivered, and this gadget will whip it up for you.


Your flowers will grow better than ever when you use this garden planter. It releases a secret potion that keeps your plants alive and strong.


The Compliments Project


I read this post on The Cult of Pedagogy’s blog over the summer. It’s about a teacher who began a project she called “The Compliments Project” and later renamed to “Spread the Love”. I absolutely loved the idea and purpose of this activity and knew I wanted to incorporate it in my class at some point this year. I hope you read this and decide to use it in your class, too!

You can read the original post (linked above) to get the backstory.  My goal is to post the resources I created to go along with the activity so they can be reused in your classroom. I liked the ring of “The Compliments Project”, so I’ll be referring to this activity as such from now on. Below you will find an overview of the project as executed in my classroom.


Purpose of the Compliments Project

  1. Vocabulary – gratitude, thankful, appreciation, compliment
  2. Students learn to generate thoughtful compliments focused on character
  3. Students develop an understanding that giving compliments is just as uplifting as receiving them
  4. Students will feel recognized and appreciated


The Compliments Project In Action

I created the following PowerPoint to introduce students to The Compliments Project. It highlights key vocabulary, examples of compliments focused on character, and includes a brief overview. A slide for reflections as well as a slide to close the activity are also included.

  • Slides 1-4 introduce the project to students. When on Slide 3, have students practice creating compliments focused on character by sharing compliments for their parents. I found that students find complimenting appearances and possessions easy, while complimenting how someone makes you feel and recognizing personality traits is a little more challenging.
  • Slide 5 kicks off The Compliments Project. Ask for a volunteer to be in the “hot seat”.

This is where I made a few changes. Since I’m working with younger students, I decided to have the student in the “hot seat” sit outside of the classroom while we wrote compliments on the SmartBoard. I also gave students a piece of scrap paper and invited them to brainstorm compliments for their classmate on the paper first. This was helpful, as students were able to create several compliments and then choose 1 or 2 of their favorites to write on the board. Last, since I have a SmartBoard, students aren’t able to write on the board at the same time. Unfortunately, this meant that the project took a little longer that it would have if I had a whiteboard instead. Still, the time was well worth it! I invited three students up to the board at a time so they could quickly transition.

When we were done, we invited the student in the “hot seat” back into the classroom. This student was directed into the classroom with eyes closed and took a seat facing away from the board and towards the rest of the class. Another student was selected to summarize what occurred while he/she was outside and then invited our compliment subject to turn towards the board for the BIG REVEAL. The student in the “hot seat” then read the compliments aloud. It’s important that the student read the compliments aloud rather than just look them over…this part is particularly rewarding for the rest of the class. Just wait until you see the gigantic smiles on your students’ faces!

  • Slide 6 was used after the activity. I went back to these two questions after each student was in the “hot seat” to really drive home the impact of giving and receiving compliments. I also loved hearing the students reactions and responses.
  • Slide 7 is the big takeaway. I also challenge students to offer at least one other genuine compliment to someone throughout the day.

After The Compliments Project

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I printed two copies of the compliments we brainstormed (see example above). I laminated one copy and taped it to the front of the our classroom door. The other copy was given to the student to take home. I wrote the following note on the back of the print-out.

We are so thankful to have you in our class. Post these compliments above your bed or by your mirror, someplace where you can see it each day, so you can be reminded of how awesome you are and how much we all appreciate you. 

I also laminated Slides 1 and 2 and put them on our front door as well. Each student’s compliments were added to the door, along with a picture of them in front of their compliments on the board. I recommend doing the same someplace in your classroom.

The Compliments Project is MOVING, UPLIFTING, and INSPIRING. Try it in your class and be a part of teaching and spreading positivity. 

A big thank you to Stephanie MacArthur who was willing to share this idea with other teachers. The more we share, the better we become!

5th Grade Reading Strategies

I created the following reading log and reading strategies guide for my 5th grade students to use for their evening reading assignments. Feel free to download and use with your own class. Click on the image to download via Dropbox.

Student Reading Strategies Form


Student Reading Log

Students circle one of the three strategies in the final box. If they choose visualization, they draw a picture in the box, along with a short response.


Have your students write the page range they are assigned to read ahead of time. They will fill in the # of minutes it took them to read that section in the “# min” field. I included this field to monitor student reading rate.

The reading strategies form I created was adapted from Mendhamboro.org for use in my classroom.

Teacher Hack: Mystery Skype Wall Map

Keep track of your Mystery Skype visits with a Mystery Skype wall map in your classroom.


Last year, I wanted to keep track of my 5th grade Mystery Skype visits with a large wall map, but I didn’t want it to be a costly expenditure. I created the above map (3ft by 2ft) by using just what was available in my classroom. As we visited different states, we highlighted it on the map and added a flag, labeling the city and state. It was an easy way to keep track of our visits, and we were easily able to add multiple flags within the same state.

Click HERE to print a large map. I chose the 3 x 3 “USA continental” map and then drew an outline of Canada and Mexico. I then printed Alaska and Hawaii separately and added them to the map. The link I provided also offers a printable USA map with Alaska and Hawaii included if you’d prefer it. I chose the former because it allowed me to include bodies of water and adjacent countries.

Mystery Skype Wall Map Flag.jpg

Regular school glue will dry white, and I didn’t have any problems with it holding the eraser flag while it hung on the wall.

My Open Letter to Congress on Gun Control

Dear Congressman,

I am writing to urge you to vote in favor of common sense gun reform. I am a 31-year-old teacher living in California who wants you to honor and respect the shifting public opinion on gun control in the United States. I choose to write to you at this time because I want my voice, the voice of an under-represented, often disengaged, and desensitized generation to be heard. I know you do not hear from us enough. We want change.

The fact is the United States has a serious problem with gun violence. Mass shootings in the United States, which people of my generation have grown up knowing as well as sporting events and elections, far outweigh those in any other country, even when adjusted for population. What’s worse is they are occurring in greater frequency. We seem to be going in the wrong direction. Since 2011, the US has faced a mass shooting every two months. Looking the other way, not passing common sense gun reform, is not only irresponsible, it is deadly.

Although our losses from mass shootings are catastrophic, mass shootings actually represent only a small fraction of deaths in the United States from guns. Significantly more people die from guns as a result of homicides and suicides each day. Our gun homicide rate, adjusted for population, pushes far beyond that of any other country. The number of gun deaths in the United States since 2000 exceeds the number of Americans killed by AIDS, drugs, wars and terrorism combined. This truly is an epidemic, and it is time for you to do something.

There are well over 300,000,000 guns in the US, and they are easy to obtain. The more guns in a country, the more gun deaths. Period. Let’s work to fix this problem and save some lives. Our gun death rate will not get better if we do not make changes. Crime in the US is so lethal because of our lax gun laws. Let’s get past the 2nd amendment debate and work on a solution to this fatal dilemma. I would like you to pass common sense gun reform. Considering our current state, restrictions on firearm ownership are sensible and reasonable.

Mass shootings shine light on our gun problem here in the United States, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The problems that underlie, the 92 people killed daily with guns in the US on average, are massive. We don’t have a gun problem here in the United States; we have plenty of gun problems. You are in a position to save lives, to make our country a safer place, and I urge you to cast your vote in favor of progress and common sense. We want change, and we want to see progress. Please, do your part to pass reasonable restrictions on firearm ownership. Thank you.


Celeste Caso

-When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, -Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.- to this day, especially in times of 'disaster', I remember my mother's words and (1).jpg


When there is a problem, look for a solution, act, be the helper Mister Rogers describes. Have a problem with gun laws? Does it make you angry? Rather than kick the same complaint around, look into what you can actually do to help move things forward. Consider contacting your representative and make your voice heard.

On a related note, children are very aware of adult’s concerns, tone, demeanor, etc. In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, and in anticipation of the next one that is likely to follow in two months, keep this in mind. We should be mindful of what we watch and discuss in front of or around children. Children will fill in gaps to make sense of the world, perhaps even creating an understanding worse than reality. Here are some tips on talking to children about tragic events from The Fred Rogers Company.


Meet EdPuzzle, My New Best Friend

This is for my teacher friends who run a flipped classroom. For those who haven’t already met him, I’d like to introduce you to…(drumroll) EdPuzzle. This little sucker is going to make your flipped classroom life easier and further engage your students.


With EdPuzzle, you can make your flip videos interactive. It’s similar to Socrative in that results are recorded in real-time and reports are produced for teacher review, making it easy to evaluate how students are performing and limiting the time you take to grade or review flip video answers with students.

During my preps, I typically look through my students’ notebooks, checking over their flip homework, checking for understanding so I know where I should pick up with our next lesson. I’m looking to see if there are common misunderstanding; do I need to review or reteach the material, or are we ready to push right along? In Math, I’m the teacher who never sits down and is constantly checking over student work as they complete independent problems. THIS, EdPuzzle, frees this time for me. Now, I can spend more time with the students who need it. As students complete their work and receive immediate feedback, I have more time to reteach or engage those who need additional instruction. The EdPuzzle analytics allow me to review student progress on my computer so I can quickly and easily see who needs this time. It’s beautiful.

Here is a short and basic video that shows how an EdPuzzle video works and looks to students.

Here’s what you need to know.

Teacher benefits:

  1. You can turn any video into your own flip. You can use resources from others that have been posted to YouTube and the like, or you can upload videos of your own.
  2. You can prevent skipping. The analytics show a completion percentage, so you know who completed the full assignment.
  3. Like Edmodo, you can add a due date to assignments.
  4. You can embed questions throughout the video. The video pauses automatically and moves forward only when students respond. THIS is gold!
  5. You can provide feedback responses to show after a student has submitted an answer so they receive immediate feedback. I like that when I require students to submit answers to open-ended questions, they can see the correct answer immediately after along with an explanation if I choose to include one.
  6. A report is produced that shows completion, grade, and turn-in date. Multiple choice questions are graded for you. Grading open-ended questions is easy, simply check whether is was answered correctly or not and EdPuzzle will calculate the overall correct percentage.
  7. Grades are given as percentages out of 100, not letter grades.
  8. You can add a comment to a students answer. I use this to clarify a misunderstanding, give tips or provide encouragement.

My students are begging me to put all our math assignments on EdPuzzle because they love it so much. The immediate feedback is invaluable. Not only does it help them stay on task, but it is motivating. This is a tool that I plan to use frequently in math. If you’re flipping any subject, I strongly urge you to give this tool a try.

Here is the EdPuzzle promo video that gives a short overview.

I’m by no means an EdPuzzle pro, but if you have any questions about how to use it, feel free to comment and I’ll respond. Also, if you have a helpful EdPuzzle tip or success story, I’d love to hear it!

Explore the Genius of Dr. Seuss This Read Across America Day – A Dr. Seuss WebQuest

Last year hundreds of students used the Dr. Seuss WebQuest I created for Read Across America Day. I posted this WebQuest on the blog for the same reason I post everything else – I hoped someone besides myself and my class could utilize my work. Well, I’ve been blown away by its popularity, and I’ve updated it so that it can be better utilized by teachers and classes outside of my own.

I’ve received over 300 survey submissions, and it’s been on my to-do list for quite some time to update the webquest to include survey results, making it more engaging and fun. I finally had time to do so this week. Now, when you submit a survey, you’re led to a results page. Also, since last year, a few links have gone by the wayside. They’ve either been replaced or removed, so everything is fully functioning and ready to go for this year’s Read Across America Day.

It’s time for your class to complete the Dr. Seuss WebQuest (pictured below) and get to know the writer, poet and cartoonist known as Dr. Seuss better than ever. They will explore his books and characters, and even create a Dr. Seuss inspired character of their own! Click HERE to begin.

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Purpose: Students complete a WebQuest to learn more about Dr. Seuss and his books. They then use this to inspire them to create their own Dr. Suess characters. This WebQuest is motivating to students as it allows students to explore and learn at their own pace.


  • Students will use online resources to learn about Theodor Seuss Geisel, the writer, poet and cartoonist known as Dr. Seuss.
  • Students will explore books written by Dr. Seuss, discovering new books and reflecting on personal favorites.
  • Students will create their own imaginative Dr. Seuss inspired character.
  • Students exercise technology skills to compile learned information in a Microsoft Word document. Students will: create a bulleted list, insert a table, use shading to fill table background, use text alignment tools and insert headers.

13 Colony Reports

Mr. Robert James, a 5th grade teacher in PA, created a solid colonial brochure project for his class and posted the guidelines along with the rubrics he uses on his class Google site. I came across his site when I started teaching 5th grade a few years ago, and I’ve been doing this project with my class since. My kiddos create a brochure, just as outlined by Mr. James for his class. The students are then able to dress up as the governor of their colonies as they present a speech to convince the parent and student audience to settle in their colony.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who will find Mr. James’s project outline helpful, so I provided links to the resources I use for my class’s 13 Colony Report below. As mentioned, the guidelines and brochure rubric are credited to Robert James. You can view his website here. I use his wording in the overview I created for my class. You will find my overview along with links to Mr. James’s overview and scripted notes below. I also provided a link to a Weebly of approved websites I designed to help students when researching.  Last, I included a video I created a few years ago to explain the project to my class while I had a substitute. I then decided to share the video with parents since it provided an overview of the project, and they found it very helpful. I now share this video with parents each year.

13 Colony Websites

Mrs. Caso’s 13 Colony Weebly  – created to help students research online

Assignment Overview, Guidelines and Rubric

Original Guidelines and Rubrics (created by Robert James) – I plan to use the feedback form on the last page this year.

Scripted Notes (created by Robert James)


Historical Fiction Book Clubs – Free WebQuest

We’re starting historical fiction book clubs in my class this week. This will be the first year I’m doing books clubs for the historical fiction genre – we read Blood on the River as a whole-class novel study and I usually move on to another genre afterwards. This year, I’m doing great on time and have the opportunity to add another club. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and it’s one that kids tend to look over most frequently when searching for a book in my classroom.

I’m thinking I’ve found some great books to hook them! Sophia’s War, The Sign of the Beaver, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, and Zane and the Hurricane all made the cut.

5th grade historical fiction book clubs.png

I put a WebQuest together for students to complete before beginning their assigned novel. The students click on their assigned book and then progress through four steps. Within the WebQuest, students read the information from the back of the book and analyze the cover to make predictions, learn more about the author of their novel, and learn some important historical background information. Click here to view my Historical Fiction Book Club WebQuest. It’d be a long and boring post if went through each step to complete the WebQuest, so I won’t do that. It’s self explanatory – my 5th graders completed it yesterday and all went smoothly. I had them work with partners which made if more fun. They were able to discuss each section and hear another person’s ideas; I loved the conversations I heard as I circled the room. We got through the first three steps in class and students completed the fourth step for homework. I hope you can use all or part of it with your class. Click through and explore!

I hope to post the guide I created for Sophia’s War soon. I just have to proofread it before sending it out into the world with my name on it. 😀

Looking for another 5th grade historical fiction recommendation? As I mentioned earlier, we read Blood on the River as a whole-class novel study. This is a fantastic book that pairs wonderfully with 5th grade Social Studies. If you’re looking for another great historical fiction novel to use, Blood on the River is the best! My class loves it each year.