Sunday, January 31, 2010

"A Place for Wonder"

I was working Saturday and would have lapses of time between work sessions. I pulled out a book that caught my eye-it's called "A Place For Wonder" by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. This book reminded me how important it is to encourage a child's (particularly a GT child's) natural curiosity for the world around them.

I get questions pretty much all day long from my students (which I always love, by the way). Where to chairs come from? Why are flamingoes pink? (actually had to look that answer up because I didn't know). What else is in space? Why is the sun so hot? It amazes me sometimes how their little minds work.

I am going to start implementing some of the ideas from this book and make a "Discovery Center". A place for kids to bring in their treasures from nature. I feel like in the past my-nothing comes in from outside rule-was doing them an injustice. (You wouldn't believe what their pockets were full of some days). And we are also going to start a "Wonder Wall" a place where they can post their questions and have other kids attempt to answer them. How much will this help them later in there education? Being able to model for them how to find the answer to a question or how to critically think about what the answer may be. I'm so excited to tell the kids about this tomorrow-I know they will just adore it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Open-Ended Art Projects

I like letting the kids have a free-for-all on art projects sometimes. You should have seen how giddy they were to discover "googly eyes" in our art box. We read the story "Snowballs" where the narrator is using all different kinds of objects to make a snow family. We did something similar with free range over the art box. Some of the students make people with popsicle sticks or feathers for arms, used part of the mesh from who knows what for a dress and rope for hair. I just love to watch their minds work. Whenever they would ask-can I use this for... or can I make this color... my response always is "you're the artist"!

Advanced Level Products

I think all Kindergarten students are capable of more than we give them credit for. Every year I change the chapter books I use for read-alouds. Sometimes I go with something new, sometimes the classics work, every class is different but I am always reading to them a story several grade levels above their recommended level. This is fabulous for building vocabulary and listening comprehension skills.

Anyway, we're reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and I was very proud of the projects they made. Before we got to the chapters where Willy Wonka shows off his magical inventions-I asked my kids to invent their our out-of-this-world candy. They decorated the triorama and then modeled their candy out of clay. I also had them write about their creations. One invented a candy cane that lasts forever, one a chocolate that looks and tastes like a hot dog and my favorite-gum that makes you smarter! Who couldn't use some of that.

I think this is a really good example of asking kids to apply what they are learning and it's an activity that fits right along with their ability levels.

Best Laid Plans

Teaching GT students you learn to be flexible with your expectations. Very often you can see the little cogs and gears working overtime turning a simple task into something completely different. This, for example, was a workstation activity. The second photo shows the expected outcome-making growing patterns with color tiles-simple enough. The first picture shows the outcome for one student-maybe a future architect. And it's very hard for me to redirect, because I do encourage them to use their creativity!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Divergent Art

Big title for a very simple activity. The kids are simply given a squiggle or a shape on a piece of paper with the directive to turn that shape into something. I emphasize that I want everyone's to be different and I want them to come up with something no one else would think of. The first couple of times they might make a design or pattern, but I really want them to visualize taking that shape and creating something with it. My favorite parent actually found me shape-a-day type calendar to use at Barnes and Noble-but before that I just drew the shape with a dark marker.

These pictures come from the corner of a square and you can see I have some creative minds! Good for creative and critical thinking.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Depth and Complexity

Many people think teaching a GT class is much easier than teaching a "regular" classroom. After all, the students already know everything, right? First of all, many times GT does not mean the student is working above grade level-it simply means they have innate abilities. I still have students now in January who cannot read yet, but I have no doubt are truly GT. I have the complete spectrum of academic levels in my class. It's actually more difficult if they are above grade level-I have to teach reading backwards. They already can call the words, but they still don't have phonics, spelling or comprehension abilities. I truly believe it's so important not just to touch upon as many topics as possible, but to go as deeply as possible into those topics.

Perspective is a tough concept for the little ones. If you have ever walked down the hall opposite a Kindergartener, they typically don't get out of your way. The world revolves around them. So at every opportunity I have them write about life from another perspective. If we are studying homes-they write from the point-of-view of a mansion or a hut. They pretend they are penguins, snowmen or even the Grinch. I ask them to consider what those things feel, hear, see, do, dream, etc. We compare perspectives (and that is what the picture is of)-there it was city vs. country. My favorite is comparing the perspective of a butterfly to that of a caterpillar or the moon's perspective to the sun's.

When we do fairy tales I will literally jump up on the table (a la Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society) and have them tell me how my perspective has changed. Last year when I did this one very observant student said "oooiiii, a teacher just walked past and saw you". I tracked the teacher down later to explain and I do have that teacher's daughter in my class this year-despite the theatrics. But I do think it gave the kids an opportunity to visualize what I was talking about. So no matter what your theme or objective-have them put themselves in someone else's shoes-it's not as easy as it sounds.

Making Workstations Work

If someone gives me directions to drive somewhere and I'm listening or they are written down-I may be able to find that location ( I am somewhat directionally challenged). But after I do it once, I can find it again and again. I believe kids learn the same way, especially young kids-by doing, discovering, experimenting. I have a set of soft blocks in my room and several kids who turned into amateur scientists making ramps to make the round one roll down. This interest came naturally to them and I used that interest to spark a lesson on ramps and speed. They discovered for themselves those theories and know now them.

Many teachers out there do not agree with workstations. Some have tried them once and they didn't work. Others view them as being too time-consuming to make. As I take some time this vacation to work on some new ideas for workstations I wanted to share some ideas.

First of all, be creative. I've been reading a lot lately about the use of games in the classroom and how it is beneficial not only to critical thinking skills but also interest in learning. Now I'm not talking about having the kids play tag or checkers (although I do think there is a place for that). I make workstations from gameboards and turn them into an objective we are learning. Recently I found an Indiana Jones Life game on sale at Target and my friend made fun of me for buying it (what, you have a thing for Harrison Ford?). But the gameboard not only had blank spaces, it had a built in sturdy spinner and a rugged terrain for its theme. I knew I could turn this into a workstation for reading.

The pictures are not entirely clear-but the Candyland game has blends written on it and the cards have pictures of things that begin with those blends. They draw the card "sheep" they move to the "sh" space. The other one is a picnic basket with foods that normally belonged in our kitchen center. The kids matched the foods to the proper plate with the word that corresponds. They pick up corn and match it to the plate that says "corn".

I will add more as the year goes on but these are just 2 examples of easy-to-make, easy to implement, fun workstations that believe it or not do advance their reading skills. Workstations are important not only to be able to differentiate for students on different levels, but to make that learning exciting for them.