Thursday, June 27, 2013

I took this photo while practicing some techniques with my camera. It immediately reminded me of this story from my kindergarten days.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Children in Charge

This year my fifth graders took charge of their learning.  This is nothing new for my learners. Even when I was in second grade, I designed projects based on individual interests, abilities, and the required curriculum.  Once you know your students, you have a starting point for lesson and project development.  At least, that's the way I do it.

This year, the difference is that the class was able to plan their own Valentine Day's party, and they far exceeded my expectations! Our "We Love the Classics" party was based on their reading of classic works of literature.  The party became what the children made of it, including food and activities related to the books and decorations to match as well.  The children spent their own time (their choice) typing directions for their activities.  They worked on decorations and created extensive menus (also not required) that matched the books they read.  Parents were sent on searches for special food items that were a must for each of five stations we would have at the party.  The activities were also crafted during free time and at home, including a giant "door" that students could walk through to get to one station, "Fantasy Island."  Incredible!  I received several messages from parents about how excited their children were about this projects - that they could not stop talking about it.  Remember, this was THEIR project:  no grade, rubric, test.  And yet, so much effort was put into this "assignment" you would have thought it was a final exam.

In the end, the academic value took care of itself.  There was much discussion about the classic books within small groups of children.  There were "how-to" pieces of writing developed and shared to help party-goers complete the activities.  Students learned about all the classic books as they traveled from one station to the next, and they practiced their presentation skills as they took turns running their own stations (room parents and teachers simply became observers and paper plate distributors). 

Find out what excites your students and then find out how to use it in your classroom. You might even get a cupcake out of it!

See our We Love the Classics web site here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Exciting Book Launch

Exciting! Friday will be my class's amazing book launch 

Daisy Gets a Home:  One Librarian + One Teacher + One Dog  = 2 Best Friends Forever (BFF)

Each child wrote a picture book based on this very heartwarming and true story! For some, this is their first published picture book - they are so excited. Daisy the Dog will even be making an appearance. 

If you love young authors and want to send words of congratulations, click here:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Sacred 25

For many students, there is a requirement to read 25 books in a school year.  This requirement might be based on state or district standards, grade requirements, or teacher plans.  Whatever the reason, it's often human nature that when you HAVE to do something, the task is less desirable.

For example, I really enjoyed reading when I was a child.  But, boy, did I (and my sisters) dread those weekly trips to the library during the summer for the Vacation Reading Club.  Any book that I had to read for the reading club became a chore.  I became quite skilled at retelling the story by reading the first few pages, a few in the middle, and the ending.  Oh, and usually the morning before book club.  Admit it, you've probably done the same with a book or some other reading material that you were required to read.

I taught second grade for 11 years, and it was never a challenge for the children to read 25 "just right" books.  This year is my first year in fifth grade, and it is definitely a different scenario when helping the children to read those 25 "just right" books.  I want the children to challenge themselves, enjoy what they are reading, talk about the books, and grow as readers.  I don't, however, want to develop a group of book counters. When you begin to count the books you are reading, that's when you are reading as a chore and that's when you begin to scam the system to get your log completed.

I know from past experience with my own children, who are great readers, that when you choose "big books," that can really mess up the tally unless they can "count" for more than one book.  So naturally some children will opt out of a book they really want to read for fear of not meeting the requirement. And what about that "too small book" that you heard was really good?  Does that count?  And, if not, do you miss out on reading a good book anyway because you will lose time needed to read the books that do count?

I've built some flexibility into our reading plan for the year.  At the same time, I wondered how difficult, or easy, it is to read 25 book in a busy school year.  So, I decided that if my students were going to read 25 books, I would too.  I also allowed for some of the same flexibility that I was giving them - some easier books mixed in with some challenges.  A few rereads are perfectly acceptable.  A written project does not have to accompany every book, but I have tried to generate at least a casual discussion with other readers about many of the books I've read.  I've recommending some of the books to children or adults.  I've shared in some books discussions both in person and virtually.

I wonder how many adults read 25 books a year.  I'm almost there, but I will say that I'm a little nervous about getting to 25.  It's a busy spring.  I'm definitely resorting to some reader "tricks."  Books on tape for the car are great.  And I found a fantastic scrapbook book (it really was a good book - see #22) that I was able to read in a couple of hours today.  And, I also checked out from the library a photography book (lots of pictures) that I am totally counting when I'm finished with it! Hmm, I just might make it.

Here's my list so far...

1.  The Art and Science of Teaching (reread - required district reading)
2.  Curriculum Materials (counts as a book)
3.  Hunger Games
4.  Catching Fire
5.  Mocking Jay
6.  The One and Only Ivan
7. Night Circus (on CD)
8. Boomerang (on CD)
9. Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking
10.  Republic of Noise
11.  The Dreamer
12. Tales from Outer Suburbia
13.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret (reread)
14. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane (reread)
15. Fables, Volume 1
16. Milkweed
17. Amulet 1
18. Amulet 2
19. Inside Out and Back Again
20. Wonderstruck
21. Lawnboy and Mudshark - counting as one combined
22. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt
23. TBD
24. TBD
25 TBD

Ditched Books:  Hitty Her First Hundred Years; Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire; Anne of Green Gables (maybe will finish)

Plan to Finish:  The Other Wes Moore; Rules of Civility

I might have read other books, but I didn't log them and can't remember them - so, technically, they don't count.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Exploring Scoop.It and Other Possibilities

I'm spending a lot of time this summer looking at tools I've known about but haven't quite explored, those that I haven't used in a while, and also some brand new tools.  I'm trying to decide which tools to use as I begin the school year  - tools to help find information and organize it, tools to help create and share, and tools to help collaborate and connect.  You couldn't, and shouldn't, use every possible tool, although I believe it's important to at least find out what's available.  And, sometimes, you might decide something you thought would be great just isn't suited for your particular needs.  Even if everyone else loves it, if it isn't helping you, then put it aside.

So here is what I'm looking at today -  Choose a topic to "curate."  Resources come to you.  Add them to your page, or not.  And you can also collect your own resources that you want to include on your page.  Share with others in a variety of ways.  See what others are curating as well. For now, I'm just exploring.  My page on creativity is still a work-in-progress. Click on the image to see the full page -

Friday, July 29, 2011

Home Depot - Free Teaching Materials!

What are some of the important things to consider when creating a learning environment for your children? We want the learning to be meaningful, relevant, appropriate, interesting, and, especially in today's tough economic times, as inexpensive as it can be without sacrificing quality - free would be great.

This year I discovered a great teaching resource that has all that.   That's right, Home Depot!

Our second graders used this web site for a fantastic project.  The problem:  Our classroom was in need of some new carpeting.  Their task:  find some new carpet and explain why this would be the best choice for our classroom.  They had to keep in mind that we were trying to spend our money wisely. For example, although all three teachers have the initials "MM," the carpet tile with giant "Ms" on it was three times as expensive as most of the other carpet.  Darn!  Students had to look at cost, durability, and ability to be cleaned.  They also had to agree on a color and type of carpet (carpet squares or wall-to-wall).  Additionally, they had to find out the amount of carpet to purchase, meaning they had to figure out how to calculate the area of our classroom, which was quite a challenge for young second graders.  In the end, the carpet teams presented their choices, and we voted on the carpet we thought would be best. The proposals were outstanding, and the questions posed to each team by the other students showed a good understanding of the process and the information they had learned.

This project was an extension of our math lessons.  The children had to use skills such as calculating area, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, figuring out tax, comparing prices and other data, and, at the same time, cooperating with team members. Some of the the time, support was given, either by a teacher or by anther student who had already figured out what another student was now trying to do. Peer support was a huge part of this project, and it gave several students a wonderful opportunity to use their strengths for their own enjoyment and to help their fellow learners. In the end, the children not only built their academic skills, but they are now more savvy shoppers!

So, how can you use Home Depot in your classroom?  Take a look at some of the great learning you could be doing by just hangin' out at Home Depot:

Map Skills

  • Store Finder
  • In Store Layout

Environmental Awareness

  • Energy Star Appliance - what does that mean?
  • Check out the Eco Options of Home Depot - very cool!!

Social and Life Skills

  • What is stress-free shopping?  Why would shopping be stressful?
  • How to communicate with customer service (By the way, Home Depot was extremely quick to respond when I sent a note asking if using their site as a teaching tool met with their terms of use! Well done! And the answer was "yes" so go ahead and teach away!)
  • Credit card - a good idea or not?
  • What is your budget?

How-to Videos - Home Depot on YouTube

  • Your school will be repair-free and looking gorgeous in no time - and with the kids doing all the work as great school projects, you can't beat the cost - FREE  (sorry custodians).  But seriously, children could learn to plan, create and present their own how-to videos just by watching some of these videos, and they might develop some interests along the way. They might also learn to critique by asking questions about the effectiveness of the video, which is another way to help them learn to create their own videos and presentations.

Vocabulary Building - Here's just a sampling...

  • qualified appliance
  • special financing
  • campus essentials
  • exclusive offers
  • eligible items
  • practically the entire lumber and composites section (I have some homework to do!)

And, finally, FREE FIELD TRIPS (OK, I'm kidding, sort-of)
Check out the Kids Workshops at Home Depot. That's right! On the first Saturday of every month Home Depot offers FREE how-to workshops for children ages 5-12.  They learn how to build things, and they get one of those snazzy orange aprons.  Did I mention, it's free!!

I can't wait to check out the Pottery Barn site...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Little Me - Birthday Edition

A birthday is a great time to reflect on your life.

Well, I've written before about the importance of recording memories.  I try to emphasize this with my students and with my family.  There have been times when my "recorded history" has come in quite handy when someone tries to say, "You never..." or "I never got to..."

We are fortunate to have so many ways to record memories. There's everything from a basic journal, to blogs, videos, photos, and paper and digital scrapbooks. Although oral storytelling is still one of my favorite ways to pass on events from the past, a bit of supporting evidence, such as photos, video or a written document, certainly does help one's case when there's a dispute.  Multiple points of view definitely help.

Make sure your students and your own children are keeping a record of their history. Work together as much as you can to make it real and accurate.  For me, I only have one side of the story and a terrible memory of my own, so I can only imagine how things really happened.  For fun, here's just one example...

"Comments on Maryann - at 2 1/2" - as recorded by my mom

She is still very stubborn.  She always wants to do everything Carolann [my older sister] can do, but doesn't like me to show her.  She cries that I only give her a "little bit" to eat.  She eats half then cries that I gave her too much. She is very clumsy and enjoys being bad.  She has an "eternal smile" as big as can be - even when she is getting yelled at.  She climbs, touches and gets into everything. She doesn't like to be helped.  She can't keep still a minute.

Rebuttal, by me  :) - I was very smart and skilled and frustrated at being held back by the unfortunate circumstance of being born second.  I was further frustrated by my parents' inability to appropriately portion my food, either giving me too little or too much.  I tried to be pleasant even though I was constantly criticized.  As soon as no one's looking, I'm outta here.  

(Now the record is straight.)