Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Big Move

 New blog for Raki's Rad Resources

After 6 years using blogger to run my blog, I have decided it is time for an upgrade. You can now find me blogging at At this new address, I will continue to provide you with tried and true classroom tips, technology suggestions and great resources, many for free. 

Here on, you will still find all of my old posts, by simply searching through the old blog posts. However, I hope you will stop by the new site - and find out about all the new ideas I have.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Many Different Ways to Use Vocaroo - a Free Voice Recording Website

In college I was always told that teachers are known to "beg, borrow and steal" from our colleagues. Of course this means that the stronger our colleagues are, the stronger we are as teachers. This year I have the pleasure of having Veronica from When Inspiration Strikes as a colleague, so this year has made me the strongest I've ever been as a teacher. Today she is allowing me to share one of her ideas for our Website Suggestion Wednesday.

Free recording app - using vocaroo in the classroom - ideas from Raki's Rad Resources

The website I would like to share with you today is called Vocaroo. On this website, your students can record themselves speaking (or reading) and get a link or a QR code that connects to their recording. The website is very simple to use. Students simply click record and talk. Once they are done, they can listen to themselves and choose to save the recording or re-record. When they have it just right and they can share their recording in a variety of electronic ways. 

Veronica's students create QR codes to share their recordings. She prints out these codes and hangs them in the hallway along with the written work. My students love taking our tablets out into the hallway to scan her QR codes and listen to her students' recordings.

A few other ways you could use Vocarooo are:

 - Have students create their own podcast or radio show on a topic they have researched.

 - Allow students to record picture books for younger students to listen to. (This would be a great way to enhance book buddies.)

 - Have students create spoken partner stories, where each person adds a few sentences but they do not communicate about where the story is going.

 - Have students create "mock interviews" with famous historical people or famous book characters. Two students can then work together to make an audio version that interview.

 - Allow students to use the app to record their fluency passage. Then students can listen to themselves, count their own mistakes and even use a reading fluency rubric to give themselves a grade.

 -  You can record center directions, activity expectations or spelling lists into Vocaroo and post the link or QR code in your center.

 - Create QR code scavenger hunts by recording clues in Vocaroo.

How else could YOU use Vocaroo? Let's all "beg, borrow and steal" from each other. Leave us your favorite ideas for recording apps in the comment section.

Monday, February 27, 2017

10 Ways to Make Projects Work for Low Level Students

Recently I wrote a post about why low level/ low income students need projects as much as higher level students. After I wrote this post, I had quite a few questions about how to implement projects with low level students. So today's post is 10 Tips to Making Projects Work for Low Level Students:

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources.

1.) Model clear expectations - Be very clear about what you want your students to do, step by step. I often have these steps written out, like in my Math Projects, AND I discuss them with the students before we begin. Then be ready to explain the expectations again when students get stuck. Be patient, especially the first few times when the expectations of a project are completely new to your students. 

If possible, show students examples of possible end projects. I like to take pictures of student projects to show next year's students. You can also create your own versions of the project to help them have a good visual of the expectations.

2.) Share rubrics with students BEFORE they begin working - Just as you want them to know what the end project will look like, you want them to know what their grade will be based on. With worksheets students generally understand what they have to do to get a good grade. With projects there are many ways to work hard but not be focused on the "correct" key elements they'll be graded on. For this reason, before we begin working on our projects, I always go over the grading rubric with my students. I point out the things that will cost them or gain them points so that they know how to get a good grade.

3.) Gather resources - Lower level students will often benefit if they have specific resources to use, rather than just being asked to "Google it". Especially during the first few projects, I gather together books, articles, videos, website links and other resources where I KNOW my students will be able to find the information that they need. 

Often, I may even have students complete an Internet Scavenger Hunt on the same topic before we begin a project. This way the students have been led through the research and built up their background knowledge before they're being asked to create a project with this information. For example, I may have the students complete the Amazing Americans Internet Scavenger Hunt first, which covers 9 different American heros. Then we'll do the Amazing Americans Project where they choose one hero, do further research and create an informational power point about the person.

4.) Prepare "background building videos" - Similar to gathering resources, I often spend time building up our background before we begin a project. I often do this with videos. Right now my students are working on the research for the Ancient Civilizations project of their Country Study. Before they began researching their own individual countries' ancient civilizations, we watched multiple videos about ancient civilizations in general. We started with videos about civilizations in general and then moved into videos on the move of people from generally nomadic to generally agricultural. We also watched videos about archeology and how we learn about these ancient civilizations. All of this background helps our low level students to better digest their individual research because they have a frame of reference already built for them.

5.) Be ready to "guide from the side" - Projects are a great way to build independent work skills, but this is an area where most low level students are lacking. Be careful not to take over your students' projects, but be ready to guide your students with a well posed question or a suggestion of how to find their answer. Make sure students are still the ones who are researching or creating, but be available to them when they get stuck. 

6.) Start with group work - Group projects provide their own set of challenges, especially the meshing of different personalities. However, group projects also allow higher level students to model good study skills for their peers. This is true even in a "low level class" because you will always have a few students who are higher in level than other students. Often the first few projects of the year will be group projects with the work broken up differently each project. This way students learn what is expected of them and have a chance to have someone other than you help them out. 

Group projects can also help out the teacher because instead of having 20 different projects going on you might have 4 or 5 to focus on. This means less resources to gather and less chances of a project needing you to prop it up. Eventually you will want your students to work on individual projects so that they have the chance to find an individual area of interest but as you are starting out, group projects can ease the work load both for the students and for you.

7.) Develop procedures for projects - Just like any other activity you are going to do in your classroom, you will need procedures. In my classroom some of the project procedures include: 
 - Students who are working on projects have first priority on a computer or tablet.
 - Students work on their projects at the same time every day. (Country study gets done first thing in the morning. Math projects get done during math centers. Research projects get done during our literacy block.)
 - Students are encouraged to take their projects to the floor in order to spread out, especially with poster making.
 - "In progress projects" can only be stored on one table.
 - All materials must be cleaned up and stored when we move into another activity.
 - Projects must be edited by a peer before I will do a final conference. 
 - Projects must be checked by the teacher for spelling, grammar and conceptual mistakes before they can be published. (ie. typed in a blog post or hung in the hallway)

Project procedures may differ from project to project, but as with everything else students will respond better to procedures that stay the same. So think carefully about how you want projects to look in your classroom for the school year. Then you can teach procedures once instead of each time you start a project.

8.) Allow for plenty of time - However long you think a project SHOULD take, double it. Especially with low level students, projects will take longer than expected, so allow for that time. This might mean starting a project before you start a unit. Or you might continue working on a project from one unit while you move into another unit. This is okay. Call it preview or review. Either way, I'd rather allow plenty of time for a project and have my students (and myself) feel we succesfully completed the project, than to rush through it just to be done "in time". In fact most teachers that I know who get frustrated doing projects are frustrated because the students don't finish in the time they allotted. The teacher often then throws the project out, leaving both teacher and students feeling like they didn't accomplish something. Prevent this feeling by allowing plenty of time. If students finish early, awesome! That gives you more time for revising, editing, publishing and sharing. I'd always rather my students feel like they finished too early than to have them rushing because I didn't allow enough time.

9.) Start out slowly - I've been doing student projects for 10+ years. Right now in my classroom I have three different projects going on simultaneously. We are almost done with our Be an Architect Math Project where we are designing our dream school. We are right in the middle of our Ancient Civilizations project (which is a small part of our larger, year long Country Study Project). And we have just begun the research for a City Comparison Project. My students started doing projects during week 2 of the school year.

However, my first year in teaching we did 4 projects during the entire school year. For a long time I never had more than one project going at the same time. You don't have to try and do what I do or what any other teacher does. If you've never done projects before, choose one small project and try it out. When you're done, take some time to hash out what worked and what didn't. Then choose another project that's slightly bigger and try it, maybe even after you've taken a significant break. Use your reflection to build better procedures or guide your students differently.

Don't overwhelm yourself, just give projects a good solid try. Eventually you (and your students - no matter their level) will find your groove with projects. Projects can and should be fun for you and your students. They should also make your job easier, not harder. Projects that are working well will allow your students to begin to "teach themselves". Projects should also decrease the amount of grading you need to do. I'd always rather grade one solid project, which integrates several skills than ten seperate worksheets.

10.) Celebrate the results - No matter how the projects turn out, take time to celebrate. End projects will often look different than what you dreamed about when you were planning. However, that final project is the result of your students' learning and persistence. Take time to celebrate that learning with your students.

Allow students to share their projects with someone else as well. This could be their own classmates, another class, their parents or even administrators. Students DO NOT have to stand in front of the class to share out their projects. Check out this old blog post on 4 Ways to Share Projects Without Standing in Front of the Class. No matter who your students share with, watching them get excited about the work they did is one of the best parts of doing projects with students, especially low level students.

If you're ready to start projects in your room, but you're not sure where to start, consider one of these projects from my Teachers Pay Teachers store:

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. Online Book Report

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. Rock Research Project

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. Biography project

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. holiday recipe math project

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. plants needs experimentation project

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. create your own cookie science inquiry project

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. earth day video project

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. african folktales online poster project

10 Tips to making projects easier for elementary students and lower level students - classroom suggestions from a seasoned teacher at Raki's Rad Resources. Amazing Americans technology project

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Silly Songs Boost Memory

Using silly songs can help books your students' memories and improve their test scores. Raki's Rad Resources will be hosting a Facebook Live Video on this topic on February 23, 2017.

Memory tricks, mnemonics, hand movements, dances; every teacher I know has a few tricks up her (or his) sleeve to help their students remember things. For me it's silly songs. Some songs I find online, some songs I've learned from other teachers and some songs I make up (often on the spot in front of my kiddos). Each year I seem to add more songs to my repertoire. Now that I have been teaching over 10 years, I feel like I should have a song for everything, and yet I've added 3 more just this month!

I tell my students that these songs are meant to get stuck in your head like the commercial songs that you sing without really meaning to. My explanation is that on test day I can't give them hints, but they can remember the songs and that will be like me giving them a hint. The songs help them remember specific things, and so we focus on making sure they know what the song MEANS and not just memorizing the words. For this reason, I have found that the simpler the song the more helpful to the students.

Some of my favorite copyrighted songs are the grammar songs by Shurley English. They are catchy and get stuck in your head so bad I am often still singing them while I'm cooking dinner! But the ones the students remember the most are silly things like "A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, that is where you're comma should be!" which I learned from my mentor teacher while I was student teaching. This song is sung to a Jackson 5 tune and used when we are trying to figure out where to put a comma in a number with at least 4 digits.

I can promise you that often when I am singing these songs I feel like an idiot. I really hate when my instructional coach decides to walk in while we're singing. But then on test day I love watching the students sing these silly little songs in their head. I love seeing the "aha!" moment when the song actually helps them. This makes all of the silly embarassing moments completely worth it.

Since it's hard to really share these songs in a blog post, I have decided to try out my first Facebook Live Video. Tomorrow evening (Thursday, February 23, 2017) around 6pm MST/ 8pm EST I will share a video with you of all kinds of silly songs that I use in my classroom. So even though I know I'll feel silly, please tune in at my Facebook Page and see if any of these songs could be a good memory jog for your students. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Math Fact Quiz Updates

So it's that point in the year for me that my supplies are slowly starting to run out, including copy paper. One of the biggest uses of copy paper in my classroom is math fact quizzes. We started out the year taking addition and subtraction mixed quizzes and now we have moved into multiplication quizzes. After years of doing these quizzes, I had "Duh!" moment this week and realized that if I made the quizzes two per page they would still be big enough for the kids, but I would save a bunch of paper. So I've just gone through and revamped all of the fact quizzes in my All Inclusive Math Fact Quiz Bundle so that now all offer 2 quizzes per sheet, as well as the original 1 quiz per sheet.

Math fact quizzes - you have the choice one quiz per sheet or two quizzes per sheet - with a level to meet everyone's needs - math fact all inclusive bundle from Raki's Rad Resources.

On Wednesday, I printed my first set of half sheet quizzes and the kids looked at them and said "Why didn't you do that a long time ago Mrs. Raki?" Good question kids, good question!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Low Level / Low Income Students Need Projects Too

Why we should use project based learning with our low level students - a research based presentation from a teacher in a low income school - Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

In my experience, I have found that low level / low income students often don't get access to the same projects and higher level thinking activities that their higher level / higher income peers do. Mainly this is because teachers feel like there isn't time for those things when students are behind in basic skills. So instead, we spend a lot of time drilling and skilling low level students in hopes that they will remember those basic facts because of the repetition. 

Now I'm a big fan of repetition. I use it in certain ways in my classroom. It's great for building math fact fluency or memorizing site words. It can also be helpful for building classroom routines. But, it's not the end all and be all of education. In fact, it often leads us to the quote "Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results is the definition of insanity."  Understanding content and using critical thinking skills to solve a problem do not come from drill and skill repetition. Those types of understanding come from making connections between what we already know and what we are learning.

Why we should use project based learning with our low level students - a research based presentation from a teacher in a low income school - Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

Brain based learning research shows us that students need to be able to connect what they are learning with background knowledge in order to understand and remember what they are reading. One thing that many of our low level students are lacking is background knowledge. So realistically the best thing we can do to help our low level students is to build their background knowledge. Student will more background knowledge learn faster. As teachers we know this to be true because we see it in our classroom all the time. I can personally think of multiple students in my classroom right now who do better not because they have better processing skills but because they have more background knowledge to connect to. 

Projects are a wonderful way for students to build their background knowledge. They are also a wonderful way for students to make connections between different background knowledge that they already have because projects ask them do work with multiple different skills and concepts simultaneously. 

Another thing that brain based learning research shows us is that students (and people in general) remember things better if they are invested in them. The choices that projects allow students make it more likely that they will be invested in these learning experiences. For example, my students who are working on country study projects have chosen their countries for their own personal reason. This gives them buy in and personal investment in their learning, ownership if you will. How many students take ownership for drill and skill worksheet learning?

Why we should use project based learning with our low level students - a research based presentation from a teacher in a low income school - Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

Maria Montessori is famous for developing a hands-on curriculum that gets students engaged in learning through real life projects like cooking meals. Few people remember that her first famous schools was in a poor, inner city area of Rome. She saw unprecented growth in students of low income, low background knowledge and low academic levels. Why then are our American Montessori schools private and geared towards middle to high income students? Why are we not using the Montessori methods, or at least project based learning, in our low income/ low level schools with the kids who need these methods most?

I teach in a school like this and I try to incorporate as many projects as I can. Here are a few of the projects I have used this year with my 3rd graders:

Why we should use project based learning with our low level students - a research based presentation from a teacher in a low income school - Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

Why we should use project based learning with our low level students - a research based presentation from a teacher in a low income school - Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

Why we should use project based learning with our low level students - a research based presentation from a teacher in a low income school - Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

Why we should use project based learning with our low level students - a research based presentation from a teacher in a low income school - Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

What projects are you going to do with your low level/ low income students?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Using Weebly Blogs as "Cloud Storage"

This year my school has 2 computer labs that the elementary classes can access, when they are not being used for testing. I also have 6 computers in my own classroom that students use regularly, so we have quite a bit of access to technology. However, we don't have any school specific "cloud storage." So, at the beginning of the year, my students would begin typing a story in my room and then we would go to the computer lab and they wouldn't be able to get to their story. My school alsodoesn't allow flash drives because some students were accidentally bringing viruses to school with them. So I had to think up a quick way to have "cloud storage" for my students. 

Use weebly to create cloud storage in the classroom - ideas from Raki's Rad Resources

I decided to have my students type their writing on their very own Weebly blogs. This way the students could work on their writing anywhere that they had access to the internet. We generally type in the computer lab, but my fast finishers can use those extra 5 minutes to type on the computers in my room. My slower typers can continue typing while we move into another activity, or even take the typing home for additional practice. It's been a life saver this year, and on top of that the kids have created nifty little "writing portfolios" where they can see their own writing progress and share that progress with their family and friends.

Creating Weebly blogs is quite simple. As a teacher you can create up to 30 blogs for free on your account. Then the students can access them with their own individual usernames and passwords. The students have the ability to individualize their blogs and to create many different kinds of posts, including those with picture slideshows, hyperlinks and embeded text. This year on their blogs my 3rd graders have:

 - published realistic fiction stories

 - published narrative stories about a time they were brave

 - published informational articles about animals where they added pictures with captions

 - completed a 2 day "quick write essay" about a book we read in class

Next week the students are publishing their completed storybirds by ebedding the HTML code directly into a blog post. While this may sound complicated, Weebly is set up on a very intuitive drag and drop system that the students pick up on very quickly. In fact, the students often figure out additional things they can do with their blogs that I didn't even know was possible. This is generally because kids are more open minded than adults, and because they have more time to fiddle around with things.

So if you're looking for an easy and free "cloud storage" or a way to make student blogs, Weebly is the place to be.

*** I am not in anyway affiliated with Weebly, these are own observations based on really using this website with my own class.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

3rd Grade Hallway Displays Connected with Serious Learning

My hallway displays are often very minimal but right now I have a few cute displays that I would like to share with you. The reason I generally don't have great hallway displays is that I refuse to do "cute" for "cute's sake". Every assignment in my classroom connects to a math or literacy skill. These assignments just happen to allow students to create "cute" products while they are working on real skills. 

Text to self connection posters to increase reading comprehension and engagement - created by Raki's Rad Resources.

My class has been working on text to self connections. The students made connections with this week's story The Frog Princess using my Reading Strategies Response Posters. The students loved getting to decorate the posters in any way they chose and I loved getting them to write good, solid text to self connections.

Multiplication and division fact family houses - a great way to introduce students to the inverse relationship between multiplication and division - created by Raki's Rad Resources.

Understanding the inverse relationship of multiplication and division is an important concept for my students to understand. I usually teach this concept through fact families, stressing to students that in a fact family only the numbers who "live" in the house can be a part of the related multiplication and division sentences. These houses help students with this concept, because the only number tiles they are provided to make the house are those of the "relatives". These houses are a part of my Fact Family Interactive Notebook Pages.

Mystery genre book reports with many different creative ways to present your understanding - created by Raki's Rad Resources.

My students' Mystery Book Reports created a great wall display that was very individualized. Each student read a different mystery and had a different choice on how to present their comprehension. The book reports in the picture are "haunted house posters", comic book summaries and a diorama.

What is in your hallway display right now?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

3rd Grade Lesson Plans for the First Week Back from Winter Break

The winter holiday for me is always a time to relax and enjoy time with my family. I recharge my batteries and then right before it's time to go back to work, I do what I call "super planning sessions" where I look at what we have left to do during the school year and I map it out. Then I turn the idea map into a series of lesson plans. Taking the real break before I start planning allows me to come at my plans with a clear mind and not the frustration that has often built up by the craziness of those final weeks before the holidays. 

So yesterday I sat down and wrote out four weeks of lesson plans. I worked subject by subject and walked through what I want to accomplish in the coming weeks. So for example I did 4 weeks of math lesson plans first, and then moved on to our shared reading plans for the same 4 weeks. This allowed me to connect my guided reading plans to my shared reading plans and my writing plans. One reason I enjoy lesson planning for multiple weeks together is that I can see the links that I want to build for my students betweeen the various lessons. I'm kind of a big picture person.  

Now I have only sent next week's plans to my administration because as much as I like to plan, I live in the real world and I know that nothing in life, and very little in my classroom works exactly as planned. So on Friday of each week I will take five minutes and look over where I planned for us to be and where we actually are. Then I will adjust the plans as necessary. When I get to that last week that I have complete, I will repeat my original process and plan out another month of lessons.

Now that I have shared the process I use to create my plans, I'd like to share with you my actual lesson plans for this first week back from winter break. Each Friday or Saturday this school year I will be posting my actual lesson plans here on my blog.

3rd grade lesson plans with activities and center suggestions from Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

We start our day with Math every day. We review homework, begin our calendar books and take our daily timed fast fact quizzes, which my students call "number sprints". 

Then we do problem solving centers. I copy and paste each of the word problems from my lesson plans onto my problem solving graphic organizer (which is available at my TPT store in an editable format). Then I work with a small group of students on that problem while the remaining students work in small groups to solve the same problem. We have 30 - 45 minutes for this activity so many of my students finish the daily problem early. When students finish their daily problem early, they work on our problem solving path journals or tiling puzzles.

Once we have finished problem solving, we spend an hour on math rotations. Many people would call this time "guided math". However, for me this time is different because I very rarely do whole group lessons during Math, so this is really my minilesson teaching time. There are some days that I teach the same lesson 3 times as students rotate through their centers. However, more often the students are working on independent practice while I am there to guide them. While students are not with me, they work on calendar books, practice math facts and work on IXL.

3rd grade lesson plans with activities and center suggestions from Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

After math we have about 45 minutes and we use that time for writing. This week we are going to use the excuse of the new year to look back at the writing we have already done this school year and make some writing "resolutions" for the new year. We will also start exploring Story Bird, a great website for creating online storybooks. My students are going to be using this website to create their own folktales.

Lunch follows writing and after lunch (and recess and bathroom break) we work on grammar. A portion of our time goes to reviewing Daily Language, which we use as homework. Then we will spend time working on our parts of speech worksheets from my parts of speech unit.

Also featured on this part of my lesson plans is our country study project. We only do country study on Fridays. Fridays are an early relase day and the day my students take all of their "specials" - PE, music and keyboarding. So rather than try to squeeze in math and literacy too, we do all of our science and social studies on Fridays. My students chose countries earlier this year and we are working through monthly units using those countries. This Friday we will begin our science unit on rocks, soils and fossils. First we will learn about the types of rocks and then they will figure out which of those types of rocks can be found in their country. The students build incredible buy in to each of our science and social studies topics by making it personal by researching "their" country.

3rd grade lesson plans with activities and center suggestions from Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

We end our days with reading. First we do whole group and shared reading, introducing vocabulary and working on genre and reading strategies. This week we begin our unit on folktales with the Alaskan folktale The Frog Princess. We will also begin looking at making text to self connections with our reading strategies posters.

Next my students take a Spanish class. And then we do our guided reading block. During the guided reading block this week, I unfortunately have to complete reading assessments. My students know that when we are rotating, if I am doing assessments, they will have a different activity to work on. This week they will be creating genre charts using old scholastics order forms. 

Meanwhile at the other centers, my students will work on: contractions vocabulary packets, IXL and book reports. My students have been slowly working on book reports all year long. They started with mystery book reports, which most (but not all) of my students have finished. Then we began working on informational book reports, this is what most of my students are working on. However, some of my fast workers have finished those and have begun working on their historical fiction book reports.

Finally, we finish the day with our read alouds. This week we are working on folktales, so we will be reading The Little Red Hen and two versions of The Emperor's New Clothes.

So that's what my class is doing this week, what's your class doing?