Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sneaking in Blocks as Math

In this era of test prep and bubble-in answers, teachers are under a LOT of pressure to stick to the basics. Of course, I'm a bit of a rebel and will try to sneak things in under the radar that I know are good for developing actual thinking skills. Even though an administrator walking into a classroom may not see it as preparing them for a test, I know in the long run it is.

One of my math workstations is always blocks. I think it takes a lot of spatial reasoning to be able to build and logic to figure out how to do it so everything doesn't come tumbling down. I have a few students who love to challenge themselves-can we make a ramp that will make it roll faster? Can we use all the blocks for one structure? Can we make something similar to this famous architecture? All of that I believe is conducive to learning. This is one my kids made the other day. Now tell me they aren't learning something from this activity?

Thinking Maps

I was sent to this training and I have to admit I was a little skeptical going in. First of all, I hate being out of the classroom, even for professional development. And secondly, I already knew about graphic organizers.

But WOW! What a training! Talk about giving your kids access to critical thinking tools. There are 8 maps that are used and each one follows a pattern-unlike common graphic organizers that can look like anything. After they complete the map they add their "frame of reference" which can ask them to think about things like why it's important or how they know that answer. We've just been "playing" with them in class until our whole staff is trained next month, but here are a few examples. If your school is looking for ways to help kids think critically, I highly recommend this training.

bubble map comparing Sassy's perspective of her herself in the beginning of the story Dancing in the Wings (based on Debbie Allen's experiences) and then her perspective of herself in the end.

Why is it important? You be yourself and always be happy.
Why is it important? Because she's a famous dancer.

Because it shows that she's proud and happy what [she's] doing.

Circle map-I had the kids write details about themselves-parents had to find their child's before our parent meeting. Why is it important to think about these things? "Because you should tell people about your life to be friends".

Flow map for sequencing. We read Ruby in Her Own Time about a duck whose parents are worried about because she's a bit of a late bloomer. I asked them to write about landmark things from their lives. Why is it important-because it is my life.

I love her first box-I was born, but my brothers were NOT. Why is it important? Because I think I'm special.

They're very easy to implement. The kids love them and are really picking up on how to use them very quickly. You can make the map as a pre-writing activity or just to show things in a more visual way. But my favorite part is it makes them really have to think (something you know I believe we don't do enough of these days). Highly recommended! :)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ruby's Biography

My only child is a canine one. I guess I talk about her in class a lot. Sometimes the kids will come in on a Monday and say "what did Ruby do this weekend?" -which always cracks me up-don't ask about your teacher or anything? :)  Sometimes I think they do it to stall a lesson, but I always fall for it-because who doesn't like telling stories about their children? I was showing parents the following example at a parent meeting and they said "oh, we know about Ruby". One of them even wished Ruby and I both a Merry Christmas on our holiday card which made me smile. I guess it's fair, I do tell Ruby all about them too.

I got these really cool blank hardcover books at Lakeshore. The kids in my class are going to write autobiographies and we'll have an Author's Tea later this year. I had to try one out to see what medium would work best-crayons, markers, etc. So I asked my students to write a biography of Ruby. It amazes me how much they remember about what I've told them! I think it came out just too cute!!!!

One of the girls made a "sock" flower for her. Ruby does love socks!

(The picture I showed them last year even had her wrapped up in blue blanket-talk about remembering details).

The text says "her Daddy loves her"-my Dad doesn't have any other grandchildren to spoil. I love the bubble with those words as well.

Playing with her cousins.

Whew! What big eyes you have! If only there was a mascara to give me those lashes.

Love the puppy manicure. I guess Ruby must be part princess!

We're working on reading back through your work to edit. I'm probably the only person in the world who asked for socks for Christmas-I have trouble finding any in my house without holes in them.

Again with the eyes. I guess it's good they see me that way instead of with sleepy eyes.                          

She drew in pieces of chicken for her to sleep with-that's the life isn't it?

This one has to be my favorite. She's actually sliding down the slide. Ruby would probably do that if I'd let her!

They had a little debate over what a jungle gym was-see, even got some new vocabulary in.

I guess I'm channeling a little Princess Leia here.

Love the flip flops!

What a feeling to be on top of the world!

My second favorite. We really do sit out in the yard (basically because she's stubborn and won't get up to come in). But I think we need to take more moments like this just to watch the stars.

I'll treasure my little book. They wanted to write MY biography next but that makes me a little nervous. They might remember, but I don't remember what kinds of stories I've told them. :)

Enrichment Club

We started Saturday tutorials at our school-getting kids ready for upcoming state testing. I decided to hold what for lack of a better name, I call "Enrichment Club". The GT kids are doing art/poetry in the 1st hour and learning to play chess in the second. I think I had as much fun as the students did! One of the first things cut in education is the arts-these kids didn't even know what primary colors were. But they learned today!

Every training I go to that for GT education talks about teaching kids to play chess. The only problem is, there's not enough time in the day as it is. I was really excited to start sharing strategies with these 1st through 4th Graders. Some of them were intimidated at first and it took some time for them to understand how to play (and to stop calling the Knight a horse! :) ) but I really think they enjoyed it. What a great critical thinking activity

Here are our paintings. We painted like Joan Miro.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's Worth It!

It has been such a crazy week already. I asked where the pizza was at lunch today (pizza is the staple of Thursday lunch)-they looked at me with very quizzical looks as they said- "'s Wednesday". That's how long it feels like this week has been already!

We have progress reports coming up-- grading to catch up on. It seems like meeting after meeting. I'm trying to prepare activities for tonight's literacy night, tomorrow's parent meeting, Saturday's Poetry Club. Attended a community meeting about budget cuts after school where everyone complained, but no one had any solutions. I went home in such a bad mood yesterday.

Today didn't start any better, my soda exploded in the back seat of the car this morning (I was honestly glad to be alive, because for a minute I thought I had gotten shot-couldn't figure out what would make that sound and then get liquid everywhere!). I came in early to try to get a head start-the copy room was still locked, I asked a custodian to open it, waited and waited-it gets open and what do you know-out of service.

Ugh-I feel like Alexander in the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day (though for me it's been this whole week!).

First thing this morning, this is what my kids decided to spell in their spelling workstation:

Kind of puts it all into perspective, doesn't it? Makes it all worth it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Do Fish Drink Water?

There are many things I adore about teaching GT children. One of them is they often stump me with their questions. We were talking about getting a class pet for the room and we're going to go with a fish. They were discussing names when one of my quieter students raised their hands and asked "do fish drink water?". My response: "what an excellent question! I'm going to have to look up the answer to that".

That's not the first time I've ever been stumped by these little ones. They've asked why flamingos are pink, how they make bulletproof glass (I think it was after an action-movie weekend)-because you have to be able to still see through it, but it has to be strong too. They are something else.

What I do every year is post a Wonder Wall. Which is just a posterboard with sticky notes available for them to record their questions. On Fridays we take some time and sit down in front of Brainpop or Discovery Education and find the answers. I think encouraging this kind of questioning is so important with any students, but particularly with GT kiddos. It's how everyone learns new things, to think of the question and ask!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Rules Icon

It's difficult for my students to apply rules to anything except what you are not supposed to do in class! We are getting there, however. We've used this icon in math often-the rules of 10's and 1's, the rules of identifying shapes and spelling is easy-the rule of using "y" at the end of a word. Now we are moving toward incorporating it into science.

We discussed the "Rules" of being an artic animal. The fact that artic animals need to have ways of protecting themselves from the cold and from being open to predators. They have blubber, thick fur, ways to camouflage--all rules of these animals. Then I asked them to invent their own arctic animal using these parameters. It was again challenging for many of them to come up with something NEW. They wanted to do a dog or cat-many of them combined 2 animals-a penguin/shark. In the end, I believe the activity at least made them think a little harder, which of course, is my classroom mission!

Perspective of a Penguin

My kids are working hard on their writing. They have come a long way, but still have a way to go. The spelling and grammar are improving, but I'm still working to have them come up with creative ideas when they write. Perspective is old hat for them. It's the first icon we learn and utilize. But I asked them to go beyond "I am black and white" or "I feel cold" and really try to envision life as a penguin. I truly loved what some of them came up with. And again, a way for me to see they truly learned the facts about penguins we have been working on.

Applying Knowledge of Civil Rights

It's a big concept for kids. Even just thinking about the past is hard for them. They can't imagine a world without cell phones and internet, much less a world where some factions of our population were considered to be unequal to others.

After lessons about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony we discussed the ethical implications of civil rights. Then I then asked them to pretend they were a snowman.

 Does a snowman have any rights?

What would you do if you were a snowman to make sure you had equal rights?

I know it sounds silly, but I could really see who was able to apply knowledge of civil rights and who was still struggling with the real meaning of it. The kids wrote about what they would fight for and then made protest posters.