ideas, Student-centered, Uncategorized

Some Small Ideas That Make a Difference

I love this time of year because my students really hit their stride.  They are confident, they are disciplined, and they love the ownership they have over the rooms.  It allows me to really push their thinking and introduce new things into the room that I think will keep them engaged.

  1. The Video Newsletter – Thanks to Tony Sinanis for this awesome idea!  For the past five weeks my students have been creating video newsletter showcasing what is happening in our room, rather than me writing one.  Students decide what to put in it and how and then film it during class time.  All I do is make sure they didn’t leave something important out and then upload it for them.
  • The Wall of Thinking.  My students have been furiously researching the Revolutionary War in groups and will create something within the next few weeks to show off their knowledge.  Until then, they have been adding post -its to a cabinet door with something amazing they learned.  I have noticed the students reading each other’s post-its and commenting on them as well.  It has been a blast to see their thinking grow.

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  • Resurgence of the “I have noticed…” Post-its.  I did these earlier in the year and then promptly forgot all about them.  This week I am back on track.  The kids need to know we notice how they have grown all through the year.

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  • The Bully Discussions.  If you have not taken the 3 minutes to watch Will Wheaton’s eloquent response to a girl’s question on what to do when people call you a nerd, please watch it.  We read the book “Bully” and then watched the video.  Then students silently reflected on what bullying means to them, how it affects their lives and any other thoughts they had.  I was surprised at how many of them reported having been a bully without even realizing it.
  • Students Teaching the World.  My students have been skyping into classrooms teaching kids and teachers how to do either Mystery Skype or blogging.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of them.  So think of what your students could etach another class and then put it out there.  I love the maturity, discipline, and presentation skills my students have had to showcase while presenting their knowledge.  (If you would like us to teach you, please let me know!).

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  • Planting the Seed for Summer Reading.  It is not too early to think about what incredible books the students will devour during summer, so this week we did the “Mrs. Ripp recommends” book piles on each table.  I pull out as many books as my arms can carry from our library, new and old, place them on the tables and then give students time to peruse.  They have an “I can’t wait to read…” list in their notebooks which they then add to . This 30 minute book extravaganze leade to each students adding at least one new book to their list.

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I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” can be pre-bought now from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Be the change, Student-centered, Uncategorized

So My Students Cheered for Spelling

“But Mrs. Ripp, we missed spelling!”  Not said with a smile, not said with excitement, but rather with disappointment laced in their voice.  I smiled, that was the first time a student had ever been upset that we hadn’t done spelling.

On my mission to bring more joy into our classroom, I knew I had to drastically change our spelling program.  When my students blog, many times spelling is brought up as the ultimate boredom introducer.  A hassle that they don’t see the need for, or at least not in the format that I teach it.  Every year I have changed the way I do spelling, every year I have tried to make it more relevant, more transferable, more exciting for the students.  Yet my attempts have fallen flat.  Students just did not like spelling.  So over break I decided to throw it all out and rethink how to do it.  This is what I came up with:

  • Make it a team challenge, students are in teams of 4 or 5 that will change every week so no team has an advantage.
  • Rather than make spelling about normal memorization, make it about word understanding instead, focusing on root words and opening up language discussions in the classroom.

Weekly Breakdown:

  • Make sense Monday – this is the day to discover the meaning, the origin, and come up with examples for the 10 root words posted in the classroom.  Student teams are given one device to look up their words and can then decide how they want to memorize it.
  • Try it Out Tuesday – 5 minutes for team charades and then classroom charades for another 5 minutes where students have to guess the root word.
  • Word Jeopardy Wednesday – I created a Jeopardy game for the teams to do, they keep their own score if they want.
  • Test Your Knowledge Thursday – Teams concoct their own quizzes to test each other’s knowledge of the 10 root words.
  • Flaunt it Friday – Each student is tested on their knowledge.  Students are asked to write down the root word, its origin, its meaning and then give me 2 examples of words with that root word.  Scores will be added up for the team and then averaged, this becomes the score for the test for the team.

So why the team approach?  Because I needed students to get excited and this group of kids love a good challenge where they work together.

Why the team grade?  Because I wanted the students to push each other for a deeper understanding.  Because I don’t use grades in my room much the students don’t care much about their grade but they still like knowing how they fared on the quiz.

Why the competition?  Because this group of kids likes competition and I knew it would light a fire under them.

If you walked into my room during our spelling time, you wouldn’t guess that is what we are doing.  The students are so excited, animated, and kind of loud getting the words down.  And the conversations are a thrill to hear, so many lightbulb moments  making word connections.  And those kids that never did their spelling, yup, they are into it too.

I should have done this a long time ago.

Here is a video from our Try it out Tuesday


I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” can be pre-bought now from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


When We Let Our Students Plan Our Lessons

image from etsy

“…So what do you want to do?”

5 hands shoot into the air and our discussion quickly gets underway.  As one student shares an idea for a long-term project, another quickly jumps in with their take, and a picture starts to emerge of just what we can accomplish.  As students figure out whether they want to work alone or with partners, what they want to create, and what the objective should be, my brain calms down.  I knew the students would know what to do, I knew the students would have a better idea than mine.  And now, after 15 minutes of discussion, socials studies for the next 4 weeks has been planned with every student excited and aware of what they will be doing.  Welcome to lesson planning in my classroom.

Augustine didn’t care that I had not written sub plans.  Nor did she care that we had no sub.  She arrived when she wanted to and I have furiously been trying to keep my classroom “normal” ever since that day.  Or at least as normal as you can when you have different subs and your brain is rather fuzzy.  This week I returned to school part-time, not just to offer my students a sense of transition to a long-term sub in February, but also to see if they were up for the biggest challenge of the year; working independently with teachers as coaches, not leaders. And oh, are they ever.

All year, I push my students to be independent learners, to carve their own path, to take control of how they learn something, not just how much they learn.  All year, I challenge them to speak up, to step up, and to push for a better education.  One that revolves more around their own needs, rather than just what the curriculum says.  I have told them they need to be independent learners.  I have pushed them to be independent learners.  Now is their time to actually do it.

We don’t know who the subs will be in the afternoon, we hope that they will come back more than once, but we have to plan like every afternoon brings a new face that has no idea what we are doing.  So the students and I decided that together we would come up with a plan that covered all of the curriculum but freed up a poor sub from reading lengthy lesson plans, and my students from being taught straight out of the book.

I could have come up with my own project.  I could have told them exactly what the plan would be.  I even could have created a great learning opportunity for them.  But I needed their buy-in, I needed their excitement, their independence for this to work.  So instead of more me, it became more them.  Instead of more text book, it become more research.  Instead of one size fits all, we will now have more than 20 student-driven projects ready to be presented come February.  All of them will learn the material, all of them will become experts on something, all of them will create.  And they all had something to say.

When was the last time you let your students lesson plan with you?





being a teacher, reflection, Student-centered, technology, Uncategorized

It Is Not About the Gadgets – Why Every Teacher Should Have to Integrate Tech Into Their Classroom

image from icanread

When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress last summer I mistakenly assumed that all posts would seamlessly transfer.  I have since found the error in my thinking and have decided to re-post some of my more discussed posts.  This post first appeared in February of 2012 but still rings true to me. 

I once sat on an interview committee in which the candidate proudly proclaimed that to integrate technology her students would use word processors and publish their work in a monthly book.  My toes instantly curled.  It wasn’t so much that she had used the words “word processor” but rather that she thought tech integration meant to have students type on a computer and then publish their work, that that would make them ready for this century of jobs.  So a couple of things come to mind whenever we discuss tech integration in schools.

Students have often more seamlessly integrated technology into their lives than their teachers and didn’t even need to take a class on it.  We chalk this up to them being digital natives or because they have an interest in it.  Yet not all children are digital natives and most of them have had role models that show how to use the technology.  They also know that tech is valuable and can add to their lives rather than detract from something else.  And then there is the fearlessness, many students are simply not afraid to mess around with tech, but many adults are.  It is time for us to be role models in our own fearlessness.

Some teachers assume that clicking on a SmartBoard or having students type their papers mean that they are “integrating” tech.  This is one very limited usage of tech, in fact, it doesn’t really count as integration.  Better integration is when a student decides to film a video to show off learning rather than create a poster.  True integration is when students have ideas and fearlessness to use technology to show their learning as a natural extension of the classroom.  Not to type a paper.

There seems to be no urgency when it comes to actual technology integration into the classroom, but more of an urgency on how to buy the flashiest gadgets and then offer limited training or support.  How often do we hear about a district that has spent too much money on 30 SmartBoards, 100 iPads and how they will be placed in the hands of the students to enhance their learning?  How often do we then hear about the support they will offer their teachers or how those products will actually be used to enhance learning?  There seems to be an assumption that if you give it to teachers  they will use it effectively, which we all know is not true.  Some teachers might, but most will use it superficially and after a while the product will languish, unused, outdated, and just another relic of someone’s hastily thought out idea.

Some teachers feel that integrating technology is optional.  Integrating technology is no more optional than teaching how to use a pencil.  And while many may find that extreme, we cannot equip our students with the skills they need to be successful learners and teachers without teaching them to use technology properly.  Many schools see typing as a necessity but then cannot bring that view into how to stay safe on the internet, how to search properly on a computer, and myriads of other things that technology can offer us.  How to use computers effectively is now a life-skill and as teachers it is our job to equip students with these.

Teachers who have been labeled “techie” teachers are sometimes viewed as a one-trick pony, that is all they are passionate about and therefore they cannot possibly have an effective classroom.  I certainly am one of the techie-teachers in my district but many are surprised at how little we use tech on a day to day basis.  That is not to say we don’t use it, because we do, but we also do many other things.  In fact, using a tech tool is just one option my students have to show their learning.  What I do practice is fearlessness in tech usage and that I pass on to my students.  Not that they always need to use some sort of tool, we use our pencils more than a computer, but that they can effectively use whatever whenever they need to.

Teachers think they have a choice in their classroom.  I am sorry but the choice should not be teachers’ anymore; every school should have an effective technology integration curriculum to offer students the skills they need.  We do not have a choice in teaching literacy or math and should not be given one when it comes to technology.  This is not about what WE want the kids to know but what the KIDS need to know.


And I am sure I could continue the list, however, these are my main concerns.  We cannot afford to not focus on proper technology integration in our schools.  It is not about the gadgets, it is not about the typing, it is how to use technology tools fearlessly, respectfully, and effectively.  All things every teachers should be teaching, no excuses.

being a teacher, building community, classroom expectations, classroom setup, new year, Student-centered, Uncategorized

Back to School – January Edition

image from icanread

January comes at us like a lion it seems bringing students who were just getting used to being on break, miserably cold winter days where no sledding is allowed at school, and more assessments. Every year January always reminds me of the beginning of the year and last year I started to treat it as such.  Goodbye January humdrum, welcome January excitement.  So what will we be doing to battle the January blues?

  • Reassess our classroom rules.  Students get a little tired and a little more restless so it is the perfect opportunity for them to set new rules for the classroom.  They also know each other a lot better, particularly each others’ quirks, and so I find the conversation tends to go much deeper then it did in September.
  • Set up the classroom.  While I think our work space works really well, I am not the one constantly using it. Time to ask the students if things need to be moved around and then do it.  Also time for me to re-evaluate the room.
  • A heart to heart on work habits. While I ask the students to self-assess constantly throughout the year, we need to have some honest reflection on how they have been working independently.  I like to think of it as new year’s resolutions set with an eye on middle school.
  • Take stock of projects.  How have they been doing on projects, are they pushing themselves into new venues or are they sticking to much of the same old same old?  What are new ideas they can’t wait to try and how will they try them?
  • Re-introduce genius hour.  We took a break from genius hour in the last month or so because we have been too busy, but January is the perfect time to refocus on it, this time in science rather than social studies.  Students have been busy at work learning about landforms, now is the time for them to take charge of what they want to learn.
  • Have a classroom reading challenge.  The students have been excited about reading but January is typically the time they start to feel overwhelmed or bogged down.  Last year we did the classroom reading challenge and it really brought in a lot of excitement.  It is quite simple:  Every child sets a secret goal (they only share it with me) for how many books they will read in the month of January, the goal can include picture books, graphic novels, or chapter books.  We then reveal the total number of books we pledge to read on a bulletin board.  They then read as much as they can and report to me whenever they finish a book (paper on my desk), I print out a picture of the cover and add it to our huge bulletin board.  Nobody knows who read what or how many books they have each read but everybody is reading and if we meet our goal, we have a huge read-in party as a celebration with an author Skype call.  I cannot wait!
  • Re-do routines.  We have great routines but now is the time to re-assess, what do we still need to work on, what is no longer needed, what should we streamline?  Again, this discussion is student-led with input from me.
  • Throw some surprise challenges their way.  They have been working hard on our team challenges  throughout the year and now is the time to give them even more.  I am thinking the boat building challenge, as well as marshmallow catapults.  Oh, and I do believe we have to build some vinegar rockets as well.
  • Re-assess my own opinions.  Have I labeled students unknowingly, do I really know the child in front of me?  What are the priorities we need to have for their learning journey and what will I do to help them accomplish their goals?  Now is the time to reflect about each child.

What will you be doing to re-energize the classroom?

Be the change, being me, Uncategorized

How to Combat The Negative

image from icanread

I don’t think anyone becomes an educator to spread negativity.  At least not anyone I have ever met.  And yet, there are some that seem to thrive on negativity, that cannot wait to spread the latest bad news, or relive someone else’s failure.  Sometimes you can spot them a mile away, it is like a cloud of negativity surrounds them, but other times they sneak into your life and you don’t even realize the conversation you are engaged in until it is over and you are left with a stone in your stomach or your smile gone.

I used to get sucked into negativity all of the time.  It makes for juicy conversations and it creates an instant bond between those who are commiserating.  It wasn’t until Brandon, my much smarter husband, pointed out how I brought it all home that I realized what I was being sucked into.  I was so eager to share the failures that I didn’t leave room for all of the happy that happened every day.  I had become the negative myself.

So what can you do if you find yourself surrounded by negativity, big or small?  My aha moment was realizing that you don’t need to be a part of it.  You are allowed to leave the conversation or steer it in a different direction.  Now, when a negative conversation starts up around me I try to find the positive in it or crack a joke.  Of course, I am never perfect but this works a lot of the time.

But an even bigger aha moment?  Don’t give the person spreading negativity any power.  When you give your time to someone, you are offering them a part of you.  If you listen to someone, you are giving them power in an audience.  Remove the audience and all they will be left with is their negativity.

In the end, we have to find out own happiness.  We don’t go to school to bring students down so why should the words we pick bring others down?  I laugh more now because I choose to.  Happiness is a choice, as is negativity, don’t be the one others try to steer clear of.