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Monday, July 17, 2017

Back-to-School Activities with Rigor

I read a lot of articles, websites, blogs (probably too many if there is such a thing :). I know the focus for a lot of people the first week of school is on classroom management and routines. Of course, I know that's a big part of what we do in the beginning, especially with the little ones, many of whom have not been in school before. However, I also think it's important to see what they can do and where they are academically which includes levels of creativity and critical thinking. Not to mention my major goal the first week of school is to get them excited about coming back the 2nd week!

So here are a few ideas:


1) Invent a new school supply. We list all the different kinds of school supplies and what their purpose is. Then we make a list of needs for our class. For example, wouldn't it be great if we could erase crayon when they make mistakes?




2) New uses for everyday things-you can use a pencil or a paper clip. Model for the students using an object-what else could we use this for. This is my all-time favorite answer to this question. He turned the paper clip into a hanger for ant clothes!




3) Multiple perspectives-if I were a principal. I love to read the book Fine, Fine School about a principal who goes a little overboard with his enthusiasm for learning, then the students write what they would do if they were the principal. It's our first attempt to put ourselves in another's shoes.





4. Schools Over Time-I love showing students what schools and school supplies looked like in the 1800's. So we write what it's like in the past, compare to today and then they design a school of the future. This could also be a first maker activity or project-they could build their schools.



5. Creative self-portraits-one of our art objectives is using a different medium to create. I think it takes creativity to use different things to make art. We use food! Snacks are of course, the highlight of my students' day. The poor babies eat lunch at 10:30 and our day goes until 3:15--so they get hungry. We do a number of different self-portraits including an edible one. I just put out the materials and see where they go with it.



Don't be afraid to set the bar for your year and start off with some rigorous activities. Not only will it give you an opportunity to assess and see what your students are already capable of, but it steps things up for their learning from Day One.






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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Teaching Social Justice to Little Ones

I was watching the Daily Show the other day and Trevor was talking about how at least there is now a broader conversation when it comes to politics. I can remember being in high school and having to learn who the Speaker of the House was, etc. and after that lost an interest in politics. Ignorance is bliss, right?! :) 

 I think now, because of Twitter particularly-good or bad I am much more informed about what is going on not only in my state but around the world. I know many people who question what can they do to get involved and I think this generation is going to be one raised with a vast knowledge of social justice issues and their opinions of where they stand. I can tell you even my 5 year old Kinder students were already pretty well-versed in news stories and already pretty frustrated with trying to understand what was going on. I had a Student Council meeting where the kids were asking me what the difference was between Democrats and Republicans-I don't think I learned that myself until just recently and I vote in every election. We need to be an informed nation!


Anyway, I started cultivating books this year about people who stood up and started sharing them with my students. I actually wrote a Donorschoose proposal for these books and it got funded fairly quickly-many separate donors all voicing their approval of sharing these books with students. 



Of course as difficult as it is, I avoid taking a side politically (even though they begged me for weeks to tell them who I voted for) but simply want to give them role models for empowerment. It's okay to stand up for what you believe in, even if at first you are the only one standing!


 It's a little wordy for the little ones, I think we read it over 2 days. I love that Ruth was a bit of a rebel even when she was young-they wanted to try and make her right-handed since she was a lefty and she wasn't having any of that! I had a student who made "I dissent" her mantra this year. :) 


I tell my students all the time how they should be grateful for being able to come to school-not everyone has that right around the world. There is one illustration in this story that I skip because I think it's very scary but they do enjoy this book. They are very surprised to learn that everyone does not have the same freedoms we do.


I think we all know about Ruby Bridges and her brave fight to an education-but I for one had never heard of Silvia Mendez and her family fighting for the same right. Again, a bit wordy-but worth the investment.



This is the true story of a teacher and some students who took their futures into their own hands. Their city in Paraguay was the location of a huge dump and many people there spend days going through the trash looking for anything of value that could keep them alive. Ada and her friends created instruments out of that trash and went on to tour the world with their music. A great testament to not being stuck with your lot in life, but working toward change.










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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Teaching the Past

I find that my students have a hard time wrapping their heads around history. They just can't imagine a past without YouTube, cell phones and smartboards. We look at a lot of pictures and watch re-enactments in videos, but it's a difficult concept for them. And once you get started talking about historical figures their burning question is always "is he dead?".

There are some books I have discovered over the years that I love to use with my kiddos:


Technology is one of our Social Studies objectives and my students when they think of that word think of cell phones and tablets. This book shows how technology has changed over the generations with just a recipe for whipped cream. My students loved competing to see who could whip it first using just a whisk and then I showed them using beaters and finally a mixer. 


Alice Roosevelt was the Princess Diana of her time. The people loved her and I actually think Eleanor was a little jealous of that fact-the two didn't really get along. Alice's father Teddy once said he could keep up with her or be President he couldn't do both. She would go around saying the wanted to "eat up the world!". Spurns a great discussion of children in the White House and how their lives must be different.


Imogene loves history and when they want to tear down a historical site in her town she protests it! This is a great story to show how important it is to remember our past.




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Saturday, July 1, 2017

My New Idea for a Comics Club

I facilitate for student book clubs with lists of books that are provided by my district, and I enjoy it very much! I like seeing the students get excited about certain books and certain authors. There are great discussions that the books have inspired. Every year though, without fail when I go around and ask the students what were their favorite books--inevitably they are the graphic novels. Not only are they easy to read, quite often the stories are exciting and involve a hero of some kind. One of the things I LOVE about this current trend is there are so many strong girls depicted! Parents have come to me asking if they should encourage them to read these books and my answer is always--YES! Anything your kiddos get excited about reading should be encouraged, even if you don't think it has "literary" value.

I am starting at a new school and am going to pitch this idea to my principal. I want to do a book club where all we read and discuss is graphic novels! We can look at the history of how they started, maybe even get some local authors to come visit with us. Watch videos on how the stories are drawn and then at the end of the year I want to have our own Comic Con where the students can dress up like their favorite characters and maybe some will want to display books of their own that they have written.

I wrote a Donorschoose proposal for the books, I know many of you are poor teachers like me but maybe it's something that you can share:  Comics Club

Here are some of my favorite graphic novels:


This is a great story about a girl who saves the day (and her sister).


This is a great book for growth mindset. When she sets off to do roller derby she finds it's harder than she thought. But she keeps at it and does not give up!


A story of a different kind of hero-the main character goes deaf and her world completely changes. But when her teacher has to wear the microphone connected to her hearing aids-she sometimes forgets to turn it off so she can start hearing her teacher's conversations in the lounge (gasp!) and becomes a class hero. Turning lemons into lemonade.






Do you have any favorite graphic novels?



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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Suggestions for Saving the Environment

I tell my students all the time-they will need to be the ones to come up with innovative ways to save the earth. Whether it's fighting pollution or new ways to create energy-we are in trouble if these future generations don't step up and fight for us. Luckily, my students do show a lot of empathy toward nature and after a little bit of modeling I do think we have a few future treehuggers!

I wanted to share some books that would work for not only your Earth Day unit but could be included year round to emphasize caring for our environment.


Famous naturalists and the difference they made in the world:




All about trees and how we should take care of them.




Saving our precious resources like water:



And my all-time favorites-to show even kids can make a small difference in saving the Earth!







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Monday, June 26, 2017

My Favorite Books to Encourage Risk-Takers

One of the first lessons I do in my class at the beginning of a new school year is about taking risks. I explain very clearly that I am encouraging risk-taking like skateboarding off the roof of your house into a pool or anything, but risks like raising your hand even if you are not sure of the answer or getting up in front of people to speak. I was not much of a risk-taker growing up, if I'm being honest. I wish I had more of that in me when I was young. I always sat in the back of the class, never had the confidence to raise my hand or speak up. I envied people who had those traits. I think my fear of failing overtook my innovative thoughts.

 I would like to think that I am helping to empower my students to stand up in this world that encourages you to just go with the crowd.

These are my favorite books to echo those lessons:


This is a story of some chickens who are scared of EVERYTHING but they keep going on and in the end realize maybe they were braver than they thought.


This book is my all-time favorite book published in recent years. The penguin wants to fly and even though everyone tells him it just isn't in the stars, he makes it happen anyway.


I love the message of this book! Woolbur is who he is regardless of how much it makes his parents worry and everyone else look at him strangely. Sometimes just being an original is taking a risk.


A true story of a little girl in Cuba who wanted to play drums when only men were allowed to do that. She persisted and became a huge influence in music there.


Oddrey is a little, well, odd. Instead of changing herself to be more like the others (even if it would please her teacher) she ends up saving the day.



The boy stutters often, unless he is talking to animals. Another true story of someone taking a risk to do what they really believe in.


Ada has an innate curiosity which often gets her in trouble, but that she never gives up!


I had never heard this story before. Katherine Sessions was the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a science degree. She loved growing things and put that talent to use. When she moved to San Diego it made her sad that there was such a lack of vegetation-so she fixed that! Her work still makes the city beautiful.


I love this story about boys playing soccer with their new ball. Some bullies come to steal it away, but they use their minds and trick them so they get to keep the ball. Sometimes we have to take risks where we really feel scared.




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