Join the GRA Discussion

{F0F0CC0D-D171-4AFD-B3B8-62991F0328E2}Img100.jpgMy class will be participating in the Global Read Aloud this October. We’ll be reading the middle school book, A Long Walk to Water. My kiddos are in 5th grade, but this novel is definitely appropriate for 4th and 5th graders. If you don’t already know about the Global Read Aloud (GRA), it isn’t too late to get on board. HERE is a link to the GRA website for more information. The schedule requires you to read about 3 small chapters a week, so it isn’t overwhelming to add to your plans. With so many classes participating, it is an excellent way to break down the four walls of your classroom and expand your students’ worldview by connecting them with the global community. It’s also an excellent way to generate excitement around reading!

A Long Walk to Water is a short novel that tells two seemingly separate stories that take place in different time periods. One story takes place in the 80s and is about a lost boy of Sudan. The other story takes place over twenty years later and tells the story of a young girl living in Sudan. In the end, the two stories are woven together. This novel is going to lead to valuable discussions.

In order to collaborate with students from around the world, I’ve put together a website where I will post discussion topics based on the chapters of the week. Our students can participate in a global discussion by responding to the discussions questions and one another. I hope you’ll check this website out and consider participating with your class. Please check in HERE to build some excitement by letting others know where your class will be connecting from.

The GRA starts October 2nd. Here’s the weekly chapter breakdown that was published to the GRA website:

Week 1 – Chapters 1-3

Week 2 – Chapters 4-6

Week 3 – Chapters 7-9

Week 4 – Chapters 10-12

Week 5 – Chapters 13-15

Week 6 – Chapters 16-18


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!

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!

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)


4 Things That Happen When Your Students Know You Love Them

Take five minutes to watch this video. It might make you tear with happiness, but it will also remind you of the choices we have and the impact we can make if we act with love and compassion in mind.

One particular remark in this video got me thinking. “Teachers are supposed to have these professional boundaries and what not, but really, her heart has no boundaries.” There are two things that I wish teachers would do more:

  1. Hug their students (show some emotion!).
  2. Let their students know they love them. When you mean it, it can transform a student.

I know some schools forbid teachers from hugging their students. In graduate school, I was advised by my professors of the side-hug and that one must never actually hug a child. I began teaching with this in mind. I made sure to only side-hug and to be careful about how much I opened my heart to my students.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that censoring care, kindness, and an outward expression of love was BS. So I hug my students. I tell them that I love them. I tell them whole class. And I tell them at appropriate moments one-on-one. Here are some things that begin to happen when your students know you love them.

  1. Improved self-esteem. They smile and feel good inside. Going to school feels less painful, less of a chore. The perceptions of school can change to a safe, fun and happy place.
  2. Student motivation increases. Love is reciprocal. When students know you truly care, they work harder and take greater risks.
  3. You become a real person. Too often students don’t see their teachers as real people because they do not seem like real people; they do not share or offer real emotions. Attitudes shift when students stop seeing you as a thing or a position and begin seeing you as a person.
  4. They love you back. 

We spend a considerable amount of time with our students in the classroom, and yes, after a couple months, I love them. Why hold that back?

School isn’t all academic. Whether you have a character education program at your school or not, building character is a byproduct of schooling. And what better way to teach strong character than by example. We want kids to be kind, caring, compassionate and loving. So, mustn’t we be the same?

Don’t be afraid to tell your students you love them.

Teach your Students about SMART Goals

Setting goals in class promotes student independence and ownership, improves self-awareness, and boosts motivation. This post is for any teacher who wants to provide students with opportunites to develop a lasting lifelong skill–the ability to set SMART goals and evaluate success. Setting and evaluating goals is a monthly routine in my class, and I firmly believe that this acitivity significantly impacts personal growth and academic success. In addition to the short-term benefits, when done consistently, students are able to practice a real-world skill that will stick with them and can have lasting benefits throughout their lives.

I introduce my students to SMART goals in the beginning of the school year. During the month of September, we create a “Goal Setting” book. I break it up throughout the month, so students have time to digest each new vocabulary word. Below is a sample of the book we create in class.

SMART Goals Book

This activity is perfect for homeschool mamas or classroom teachers. If executed properly, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled with the growth you see once you begin setting and evaluating SMART goals!

Have You Discovered BiblioNasium Yet?

I think I just found a gem. And I’m really excited about it. Really.

As I was on my own Goodreads account yesterday, I was wishing that they’d create a classroom version – an area for me to create a private group safe for my fifth grade kiddos to explore books and read each other’s book reviews. Figuring that I can’t be the only teacher who’s had this thought, I started a Google search and discovered BiblioNasium, a “cool new reading community for kids.”

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I’ve done some exploring on the website, set up my own class and added a sample student so I could see how the site works as both a teacher and a student. In the past, I’ve encouraged my students to share book reviews on our class blog, but I think BiblioNasium is going to be better for a few reasons.

  1. BiblioNasium can keep track of all the books that students read during the school year, making it easy for me to view their progress and book interests.
  2. Students can view one another’s shelves. This means they can see which books their classmates have read during the school year and view their recommendations.
  3. Students can search specific books. If a classmate has written a review for the book, it will show up in the search.

Using BiblioNasium will put all of my students book reviews in one place. It’ll make it easier for my students to share and recommend books to one another, and I’m pretty sure that it will be a motivating factor and feel a bit rewarding for students to add a completed book to a shelf. Anyone within the class can also send recommendations to each other. So, if you think a book would be fitting for another student you can recommend it to them and it will show on their “my recommendations” shelf. Pretty cool!

In addition to organizing the books a student reads and recommends, the site can also be used for reading logs. Instead of paper logs, you can convert to digital. It’s easy for students to record their minutes and it can’t get lost. And it’s just as easy for the teacher to pull a reading log report. It looks like BiblioNasium is exactly what I was hoping to find. This year, I’ll be saying goodbye to the index-card review system and paper reading logs I’ve been using and giving BiblioNasium a try.

Best of all, this resource is ad-free, kid friendly, and FREE!

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When students log into their accounts for the first time, they must read and agree to the BiblioNasium Honors Code. As I said, super kid-friendly, right? The honors code reinforces internet safety and proper online etiquette.

See, what I told you? A gem. I’m pretty sure I found a gem. 😀

I can’t wait to try it out this year. I’ll let you know how it goes!

“I’m Not Capable”

The belief “I am not capable” is one of the biggest obstacles I face in my classroom. 

Before moving to California, I worked at a middle school in Philadelphia where students’ basic needs weren’t being met. How can students focus on schoolwork/homework when they’re hungry or concerned for their safety?…basic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right? In spite of this, many students did work hard. They did believe in themselves and they worked hard to persevere. Many of these kids had GRIT and due to the hardships they faced, they developed problem solving skills. Although unsure of themselves at times, they would embark on their work and take risks. Academically, many of these 7th and 8th grade kiddos performed beneath my current 5th graders, but considering the disadvantages, the lack of parental support, encouragement and attention, and their schooling, this is not surprising. Upsetting, yes, but not surprising.

I moved froI can't do it.m this inner city school in Philadelphia to an affluent community in San Diego. And I’m saddened. While my students in Philadelphia were disadvantaged for the reasons mentioned above, my current students can be disadvantaged as well. However, their disadvantages aren’t financial or socioeconomic; they are the result of other factors. It saddens me because, to me, it seems easily preventable. In the introduction to the third edition of Positive Discipline, Jane Nelson writes,

[Parents should pay close attention to] how damaging it is to children when adults do too much for them, overprotect them, rescue them, don’t spend enough time with them, purchase too many things for their children, do homework for their children, nag, demand, bawl out, and then bail out.

The foundation for healthy self-esteem is the development by children for the belief “I am capable.” Children don’t develop this belief when parents do any of these things. Nor do they develop the skills that help them feel capable when they are always told what to do without the experience of focusing on solutions…

Positive Discipline, p. xxiii

The above quote perfectly explains the situation for too many of my students.. Parents, knowingly or not, overstructure and overplan so much of their children’s time, complete their homework for them, do not involve them in decisions, hire nannies to help raise them, rescue them from every conflict, buy their children’s love with things, and handicap their children by the time they arrive in 5th grade.

Of course this isn’t everyone, but it’s enough of a problem to warrant this post. Let me say this, I’m not a parent. Due to this fact, I always want to strike these thoughts, feeling that I have no right to them by not experiencing parenting myself. I understand that parenting is hard and my intent is not to slam anyone. But the point is, I interact with kids, build relationships with them, and see their great need for attention and feelings of inadequacy. I’m analytical and I’ve been cursed as a deep-thinker. So, I have these thoughts, these observations, and their valid whether I’m a parent or not. I’m a teacher, and based on my observations, these are my wishes.

I wish parents could see how capable their children are.

I wish Mom and Dad could be a fly on the wall during class time, so they could see Joe persevere through a seemingly difficult task. I wish Mom and Dad could have the confidence to let him persevere at home. 

I wish parents understood wait time. 

I wish parents easily understood how children rise to the occasion and seek to perform at expectations.

I wish parents could see the constant encouragement and feedback that sparks a child to believe in himself. I wish they could see and use that fuel at home.

I wish parents could find a balance between leaving their kids to raise themselves and micromanaging their lives.

Instead of over-scheduling play dates, I wish parents would give their kids unstructured play time. I wish parents saw the impact this has on problem solving and critical thinking skills.

I wish parents could hear the disappointment in Kent’s voice when he tells me, “I don’t have any time to read. I have activities until bedtime.”

I wish parents would involve their kids in decisions.

I wish all parents could all see that continuously solving problems for kids prevents them from learning how to solve their own. I wish parents could look far down the road and see what long-term effects this can have. Better yet, I wish parents could see the effects already taking place. 

I wish parents would hold home meetings, like we hold class meetings.

I wish all parents read the book Positive Discipline.

I wish Mom and Dad could see how lack of attention at home prevents Amy from tackling work independently at school. I wish they could see how she will only complete work when I’m next to her, even though no help is needed/provided. I wish they could see.

I wish parents would spend valuable time with their kids and talk. I wish Mom and Dad dates were the trend, instead of structured play dates. 

I wish parents could see that homework is completely pointless if the student isn’t independently practicing.

I wish parents would always send me a note when reteaching during homework time in necessary.

I wish parents understood that I spend 35 hours a week with their child. We can focus and improve upon skills, but that can be wiped out in one homework session if the encouragement and reinforcement isn’t there.

I wish parents could see the glow in their child’s eyes when I tell them that I believe in them, that they are capable, and I can’t wait to see their finished work. 

I wish parents understood the fact that naturally all creatures will take the easier route. If you offer to help, whether needed or not, most students will welcome it. 

I wish parents understood that completing assignments for their children helps no one. In fact, it teaches the student that help is needed to produce quality work–it hurts the child.  

I wish parents could see how much more capable and equipped students feel when they work through challenges and persevere. 

I wish parents could see the satisfaction in the child’s eyes when he completes something independently, the PRIDE.

Parents, I know how capable your child is; I wish you knew and believed it too. 

Anyone can develop the “I am capable” attitude. And with home-school cooperation, I’ve see children completely turn around in a school year. It has to be one of the most satisfying shifts to witness as an educator or parent. The “I am capable” attitude will change the course of a child’s life.

In my first paragraph, I said many of students in Philadelphia, “although unsure of themselves at times, they would embark on their work and take risks.” I hope to see a shift in my classroom in the upcoming years. My students in Philly faced many hardships and were required to make many of their own decisions thereby sharpening their problem solving skills. For many, this produced GRIT and work ethic. It’s great that parents who are financially stable can buy gifts for their kids, send them on trips and bring them to playdates at various places, but I HOPE that parents stop minimizing conflict and decisions in their kids lives to the point that some students have never dealt with conflict or making their own decisions by the 5th grade. The effects this has on learning cannot be overlooked. I’m concerned about the future if we fail to foster the skills needed to become creative thinkers, problems solvers, and innovators.

Do you have a wish for parents? Add it to the comments below.