Thursday, July 22, 2010

Creating Little Philosophers

I took a philosophy class in college; it was titled "The Meaning of Life". I still remember coming as close as I ever have to falling asleep in class.

This summer I discovered a book called : Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children's Literature by Thomas Whartenberg. He talks about how kids are little philosophers and anyone who has worked with young children knows that is the case. They are quick to point out when something just doesn't make sense. For example, my first year teaching we were learning about dinosaurs and I was telling the kids that people weren't around in that time period; it's not like the movies where cavemen were fighting these mighty beasts. One of my particularly precocious students raised her hand and asked "then where did people come from?". I really did not expect to face a question about evolution from a 5-year old-but that's how their minds work.

I was planning to add the concept of ethics to my curriculum this year-a big concept for young kids I know (it's even a big concept for adults). My summer school class this year discovered a book called "Princess Justina Albertina". A story of a completely spoiled brat who requests pet after pet because none rises to her standards. Finally her nanny brings her a gryphon, which she loves, until it gobbles her up. I want my kids to explore why that seems like a fitting end. Another concept I look forward to exploring with them is fair vs. equal. I can't tell you how many times I hear them say "it's not fair" simply because it wasn't the outcome they rooting for. What does "fair" really mean?

We won't be discussing the "Meaning of Life" but I'm inspired to encourage the kids ways to justify their arguments, to listen, to debate. It might be a once-a-week 10 minute activity but I believe it will help them be able to express those ever-important opinions in the long run. Who knows maybe one will grow up to a be a lawyer or Senator one day!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Encourage Higher-Level Thinking

As I work this summer to prepare for next year, one focus is how do I use every moment of classroom time to our advantage. If a transistion or activity wastes just 5 extra minutes each day-that adds up to roughly 12 hours for the entire school year-that's 2 days of instructional time lost. The other advantage to implementing these kinds of activities is-you are keeping that level of fun high for the kids as well. They want to learn, they love the challenge (for the most part anyway). Here are some ways I try to spice up their critical thinking skills:

1) Making a category-when I'm dismissing kids to line up, instead of saying "ok, girls line up" or "anyone with blue on line up"-I give them 3 words and their task is to give me another word from the same category. For example if I said apple, Andrew, action - their word would have to begin with the letter "A". If I said daisy, rose, tree - their answer would have to be a plant or something that grows. What I love about this activity is the categories the kids sometimes think of, that I hadn't. They beg to be dismissed this way!

2) Compacting: I have a friend who had a daughter in Pre-K. The child could read independently, probably on a 1st Grade level and her homework was to color the letter "A". That was not meaningful for her at all. Compacting ensures that if the child already knows the objective, they can work on something else that will teach them something new. I assess on Monday-either with an oral assessment or I do use paper-and-pencil as well (we do standardized testing in Kinder :0 - so it's important for the kids to get used to that format).

The test includes my objectives for the week-if I'm teaching compound words, for example, there are questions asking them to identify some. The student who scores an 85% or higher will not have to complete all the work on compound words-I will work with them in small group on another objective and their work will reflect those new concepts. IT'S OK TO GIVE DIFFERENT KIDS DIFFERENT WORK! When we have a special education student, we usually have no problem modifying for them-but we're afraid to modify for the advanced kids.

3) Analogies- Kinders are not too young to start analogies. There are activities out there that ask them to think about what goes together, what doesn't belong. These lay that foundation for thinking skills. I would use them as part of their warm-up activity in the morning. boat:water as car: _____, puppy is to dog as joey is to ____?

4) Compare/contrast - even as an oral activity to begin our whole group I would give them 2 sometimes not related items to compare. It gets them really reaching for similarities and differences. Let's compare a human and a computer, or a dog and a dinosaur-they will think of things that are the same between them, it's so cool!

5) From a different perspective: this is a very difficult activity for the kids at first. Since you know their world revolves around them! :) Write from the perspective of the giant in the story, compare the perspective of a flower stem to a root. "If I was a bird, I would...". We do this kind of writing activity so often, even when it's not the objective the kids end up writing that way. That lays the foundation for voice which we know is so important in their writing down the road.

6) Mental Math-this is how I usually start my math whole group lesson. I write a problem on the board and ask them to give me a thumbs-up when they have figured out the answer. Now, the answer is not as important to me as how they got the answer. They should be able to verbalize the steps and also may learn more than one way to figure it out. For example, if the problem was 2+2+1? Some kids just count-1, 2, 3, 4 to get to 5. Some add 2+2 and then one more. It's making them think and also justify their work.

7) Speaking of justifying opinions...For/Against: I picked up this activity in a training last year and my kids love it. I pair them up with a partner-one is for and one against. I don't jump right in with the big ideas-but start with something they can understand. Would a shark make a good pet? One student is saying yes, and defending that opinion, the other is against. Now, here's the tricky part-after about 1 minute they have to switch sides! They argue the opposite. Again, making them think and verbalizing an argument.

8) Think Pair Share -those words actually get on my nerves, however I love the concept. When my kids are in whole group-I'm not lecturing to them the whole time. I take many opportunities to have them turn to their partner and discuss something. What do you think will happen next? Tell your partner about a time you were angry? This is also a great thing if I get interrupted while teaching or remember I haven't submitted my attendance. Turn to your partner and discuss the word of the day from yesterday.... And they are still engaged.

9) Word of the day-vocab is soooo important! These kids soak up words like sponges soak up water. They should be learning at least one new word every day. I introduce it with a picture of what that looks like. Elegant-explain the meaning and have a picture of a fancy dress, ballroom with a chandelier. We also have journals where the kids fill out a Frayer Model. They write the word in the center, definition, illustration, examples and the big thinking skill-non-examples. I have been so amazed at some of my kids' answers. Devious was our word one day and for non-examples one of the kids wrote "Santa". How smart is that!

10) Quote of the day-along with the word, we have a quote of the day. I read it to them and we discuss it. Now 90% of the time, when I read the words-they just don't get it. But thinking about it, talking about their ideas gets those juices flowing. Even if they don't get the underlying concept: forgiveness, creativity, generosity-they are able to discuss it-how many times in life will they be faced with that situation.

It's so important to use every opportunity for a good lesson. We really don't have them very long each day when you subtract time for lunch and specials. Every moment counts!