Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Time Fillers

 You never know what you will find when you have to pack up a classroom!

I don't even remember making them, but I have a box full of index cards with questions to spark a quick discussion so we have no time wasted throughout the day. We all have those moments in the day when there are a few minutes until the next activity or lunch, etc.

Discussion Questions:

1) What is similar/different about a pencil and a crayon, dog/cat, table/chair, book/movie?
2) Why do people always say "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence"?
3) If you were a mother/father, what is one thing you would tell your children not to do?
4) Who do you think wrote the nursery rhymes?
5) What makes someone a good friend/teacher/mother/father?
6) If you could ask Martin Luther King, Jr./George Washington, etc. one question, what would it be?
7) Why do people paint?
8) Who do you think invented make-up and why?
9) What are some things we can do to make our hearts healthier?
10) Where does paper come from?
11)Why do kangaroos have pouches?
12) What happened to all the dragons? What would life be like if they still existed today?
13)  How do you think music was invented?
14)  How do you think they make glue?
15)  Who are your heroes? What makes someone a hero?
16)  Why should people go to college?
17) What do you think a fish/tiger/elephant, etc. would say if it could talk?
18)  How do you think radios work?
19)  Why would people want to travel outside the United States?
20) What would be fun about being a mail carrier/vet/police officer/nurse/principal,etc? What would not be
       so fun?
21) Where does water come from?
22) What would trees say if they could talk?
23)  How do keys work?
24) Why should we learn how to read?
25) Why do you think it would be hard to work at the zoo? the circus? the grocery store?
26) How does food get to the grocery store?
27) If you could ask the President of the US any question, what would it be?
28) Why do we have tests?
29) How could you catch a fish without a fishing pole?
30) How would you get across a river if you were walking through the woods and had to cross it?
31) Why do you think bears live in caves?
32) Why do bats sleep upside down?
33) Why do wolves travel in packs?
34) What invention would help make our lives easier?
35) What would you change to make our school better?
36)  How would you fix a hole in the road?
37) Why do you think there are bugs? What would happen if there were no more bugs?
38) Why do sharks usually travel by themselves and not in packs?
39) What is a family? a community?
40) What could we write with if we no longer had pencils or pens?
41) What if you had 5 friends over and only 4 cupcakes to share with them?
42) What do you think french fries are made out of?
43) How do you think toothpaste was invented?
44) Where does night come from?
45) What would happen if dinosaurs were alive again?
46) What would happen if there was never any more rain? (kind of feel like that right now in Texas :)
47) What would happen if there were no more schools?
48) Where do stars come from?
49) Why do people sometimes do bad things?
50) Where do rocks come from?
51) What's the hardest/easiest thing about being a teacher?
52) Why are flowers different colors?
53) How do you think we could make the world more peaceful?
54) How do you think they discovered popcorn?
55) Why can't penguins fly?
56) What would grass say if it could talk?
57) What do you think babies would say?
58) Why do people say "it's raining cats and dogs"?
59) What would computers say if they could talk?
60) Why do fairy tales all have happy endings?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Real World Connections

Luckily, I don't teach Algebra! I'm not sure I could make a real-world connection to the use of that math subject. :)  I do try, however, to connect what we are learning to real-world events. One of my favorite ways is to use photographs to start off our morning meeting. I tie it into Unanswered Questions and into Social Studies. It's a 5-minute activity and a great way to warm-up those brains. This site:

MSNBC This Week in Pictures

has pictures submitted from around the world and update it with new pics weekly. They range from political to human interest to nature to downright adorable. They have archives that go back years-I've been collecting their pics for awhile now. I usually put them in a powerpoint format, so I can project it for the students to look at.  (You can't save them, but if you hit "print screen" then you can paste them into any file you want to). We ask questions like who are these people, what is their relationship, what are they doing, where is this, is this America, how can you tell? Sometimes we compare 2 pictures-like an Inuit child playing in the snow and a Saudi Arabian child jumping rope-what's the same, what's different? How are they like you?

Because of this activity my students can talk about cultures of other countries, make inferences (I take all their guesses to what is happening first before I tell them what the picture is really of), and sometimes problem-solving-what would you do in this situation, how can they solve this problem (one pic has a car in a swimming pool, for example). They practice speaking in complete sentences, learn new vocab. All those objectives hit, in like I said, about 5 minutes per day. I wouldn't allow the kids on the site on their own-there are some images from war and protests that wouldn't be appropriate-but I find at least 2-3 pictures per week posted that we can use.

Workstations: since housekeeping centers have pretty much become rare in Kinder classrooms these days, I try to make up for that in some workstations.

For one example: I have a real picnic basket and very life-like plastic food. The object is to match the names of the foods to the correct words on the plates. They learn particularly names for fruits and vegetables that they weren't familiar with in this activity. I really like the ESL component in it as well-as close to real food as we can get!

A class favorite:

When my sister was little a neighbor built this dollhouse for her. She was tired of storing it; and asked if I could use it for my class. Again I saw the potential for my ESL learners. They talk to each other-often with the mom yelling at the dad for being late-not sure what that's about! :) Use their imaginations, learn new vocab (we don't have many fireplace pokers in Texas). Then after the timer goes off they write a story about what happened with the dollhouse family. Very exciting writing workstation for the kiddos.
The kids need learning to be connected to what they see everyday-it definitely makes things more interesting for them!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Article on Harnessing Student Potential

I thought this was a very apt analogy:  harnessing high potential

It amazes me sometimes I ask a certain question or do a certain activity and I can something in the students that hadn't been apparent before. I have a student who really struggled this year with reading. I've been fighting to prevent him from being retained because I truly believe it's some sort of learning disability that is holding him back. We did an activity where they were comparing the park and the beach with a double-bubble map. Most of the students answered that the similarities between the 2 were: you could play there, it was fun, there are people there-obvious answers, in my mind. His answer: it's free to go to both places. That was an outside the box answer for this group of kiddos. I can see that giftedness in him, even if it doesn't appear on paper.

I do believe we have to get to know our students individually-not just their strengths and weaknesses, but also their interests. Good teachers use those interests to feed into that potential. It always amazes me (and frankly bothers me) that my students go to their specials classes or to lunch and other staff will comment-"that child is GT"? That giftedness appears in different ways with different students. I agree with this author that we are coaching them in a way. Guiding them towards making those gifts more apparent. It's our job to teach them how to be creative, how to think deeply. Many kids don't come to school already with those tools in their toolbox. It's an important thing for us to remember as teachers.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Digital Portfolios

Ok I'm totally inspired! :) I read this article: digital portfolios

Going to try to implement this next year. I have to play with the programs they recommend and see what will work for my little guys. I often take pics of their work for our classroom website and of course, to share here so I don't think it will mean much more work. I like for the parents to be able to see what they do (I often hang up their work or save it for a tangible portfolio-which we return at the end of the year)-but it would be nice for them to see the progress they are making.

The other benefit I see is that they can record themselves reflecting on what they did, what they learned from the activity. I've really been trying to incorporate those metacognitive strategies with them-so we'll see.

Now I have another project to add to my list this summer! What is it I keep hearing about how teachers have summers off? :) :) :)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Preventing Summer Slide

I gave my parents this list of ideas. All teachers know about the "summer slide". I actually experienced it with my kiddos this year. Since I moved up with a majority of them from Kinder to 1st, I knew precisely what their former teacher (me) had taught them. It was a little disheartening to see how much they had forgotten over the almost 3 months of vacation. Of course, kids need a break too-I'm not suggesting all work and no play; but here are some ideas for keeping those brains from turning to mush.

1) Start a Kids' Book Club-the student could run a book club with friends or cousins. The book could be read aloud and then discussed. Maybe even an activity to go along with it. They could read a story about camping and make s'mores. Or about Hawaii and make fruit kabobs-anything to keep them reading and make it fun.

2) Take regular trips to the library. I can still remember walking into my 1st public library as a kid and just being daunted by the amount of choices in stories. If they pick out the story themselves-it will be something more likely to keep their interest.

3) Practice measurement. My kids had so much trouble mastering this concept. When I am determining whether to measure in gallons or cups I picture a milk jug and the measuring cup. These kids just don't have that real world connection to measuring. Take a bucket of water or better yet a little plastic pool outside and give them a bunch of different containers to "play" with. Reviewing measurement and a way to keep cool!

4) Math is everywhere. If you are taking a drive-have them try to find a license plate where the numbers add up to 10. Or a sign with a certain number on it. At the grocery store have them pay attention to prices or count your change. Anything to keep those math skills fresh.

5) Take nature walks. Even if it's in the backyard. Give them a magnifying glass and a clipboard to record what they find. Let them discover that little world out there we take for granted.

6) Keep a journal. I have always been a list-maker. I still have a list I made in high school of "Things I Love". It's so interesting to go back and look at how my priorities have changed. Composition books are for sale at Wal-Mart and Target 2 for $1.00. Start them off with prompts to make lists: places I'd like to visit, things I love to do, my favorite foods, my favorite people, my favorite words, etc. They can also write letters in there to anyone-have them write to your dog, their siblings, anyone-sounding out the words to write, spelling words they know how to spell, will hone those language arts skills even more.

If you take some time every day to do something academic, I guarantee you that "summer slide" will be limited and they will begin the year with most of the same skills they had at the beginning of summer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Higher Level Questioning

We learned about Bloom's Taxonomy in college and occasionally they will reference it in a training or workshop. I think it's a hard thing to consciously implement in the classroom. I wasn't even aware the wording had changed for those top levels of thinking. The levels now highest to lowest are:

Create, Evaluate, Analyze, Apply, Understand and Remember.

I believe they are all important strategies. I'll never forget my first year teaching when I tried so hard to make all my oral comprehension questions higher-level and then when my kids took the required tests the questions were more like-what color was the house? I think you have to spend equal amounts of time on getting to all levels; however the goal is to get them thinking as critically as possible. My summer homework this year is to take my read-aloud books and identify questions I can ask. I write them right inside the front cover so I'll have them for reference because it's hard for me to even think deeply on the spot sometimes. I'm going to post some examples as I go along.

Getting to those higher levels I think is especially difficult in the younger grades-particularly Kindergarten. It's not that they aren't capable; it's just that no one has ever required them to do it before. I've posted previously about how frustrating even teaching the concept of compare and contrast is to kiddos this young. They just can't wrap their little heads around what you are asking them. But you have to push them to that level!

One read-aloud I can practically recite by heart: Where the Wild Things Are, possible comprehension questions/discussions/activities from least to highest levels of thinking:

Why did Max get in trouble?
What were some of the changes to his room?
Is this story real or make-believe? Why?
Did Max really travel anywhere?
What was the pattern in the story?
How do you think Max felt when he met the Wild Things?
Why do you think Max left?
What do you think the Wild Things did after he left?
What do you think Max learned from his journey?
If you were Max what would you have done?
Was it right for Max to leave the Wild Things?
You are a Wild Thing, how do you see the world from your perspective.
Create the world you might go to in your imagination?
Create a new version of the story using a different adjective instead of Wild, how does that change the story? (My kids loved this activity by the way-we had Where the Stinky Things Are, Where the Beautiful Things Are...).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tooth Fairy

The subject is a sensitive one for me since my mother still won't let me live down the fact that I swore up and down I actually saw the tooth fairy when I was about 6! We'll be having a conversation today and she'll say, sure, I believe you...and you saw the tooth fairy too, right?!

My students look like a bunch of jack-o-lanterns with their lost teeth at this age. I was listening in on their conversation the other day and thought they came up with some pretty good questions about her. I'm kind of glad they didn't ask me, because I don't know how I would have answered them. It's interesting to me there isn't as much backstory for her as there is with Santa-maybe she needs a new agent! :)

 They asked:

What does she do with all those teeth? ( I mean, what can you do with teeth anyway? sell them on Ebay? :)

How do you get that job? (that interview has to be difficult-do they have to do a demo tooth/money switch? or are you born/married into it, like the "job" of being princess?)

When does she sleep? If China is sleeping when we're awake-she would have to work all day and night! There are kids all over the world, you know.

This was my favorite....Where does she get the money she leaves? (I mean does she invest in the market, is it that well-paying of a job? I'm guessing she may have hit hard times in this economy like everyone else. Although we used to get like a quarter per tooth-now the kids are getting like $10 - that's inflation for you!)

I just thought it was funny the way their little minds work. The questions they can come up....:)

Monday, June 6, 2011


It's such a funny word that people outside of education really don't understand.

I "looped" up with my kids from Kinder to 1st Grade this year. It's the 1st time I have officially taught a grade other than Kinder. I absolutely loved the challenge of the experience (and it was very challenging) and would do it again if my principal let me in a heartbeat. I kind of learned as we went along so I know I would be much better at it if given another opportunity.

Benefits to looping:

* You know the kids-how they learn, who can't sit next to whom, what their strengths and weaknesses are.
* You can really start teaching right out of the gate. Of course we have required assessments, but I really
    already knew where they stood academically.
* You know the parents and families already and have already established that communication.
* The class is already a community-they already care about each other, you have that aura established
* The really know you-I love that know when I'm joking or being sarcastic
* You will be able to prepare future classes better for the next grade because you saw 1st-hand what they
    had to learn.

Drawbacks (more advice really,  if you ever do this with your class)
* They get very comfortable-with you and with each other. They know how far they can push. With each other they become like brothers and sisters-getting on each other's nerves more often. You have to do what you can to shake up your management techniques a bit and I changed their seats often.
* It is really challenging to come up with ALL new activities. I think most teachers have certain books or projects they do every year--nope, already did that. It was a good challenge because I think sometimes teachers get in a funk and start putting in the minimum. It definitely keeps you on your toes creatively.
* New curriculum and for me I actually had to deal with grades! It wasn't the grading part that was hard, but actually coming up with assessments that were fair and properly showed where the kids stood academically that's something I'm still not sure I mastered.

Like I said-I loved the experience and would whole-heartedly recommend every teacher do it at least once. The last day was much more bittersweet because I had them for 2 years, I felt like I taught them all I could and new I had to let them move on. But it's hard when you have a group like I did! One student asked if I could be their teacher all the way up to high school and I almost, almost would consider that! :)

Teaching Creativity

I am such a proponent of teachers sharing ideas for lessons with each other-I am so grateful for finding ideas that way. We talk in meetings about how to get kids to think creatively and colleagues will often comment that their students just aren't capable of doing some of the things we do in my classroom. Well, I think that's just bologna! :) I think any child can be creative-they just have to be TAUGHT how to tap into that energy. I love sitting down with my kiddos and their portfolios from the year and they outright do not believe they ever made that! They just come so far from that point.

Anyway, we read the book Trees Hanging from the Sky as an example in how an author can be creative. The book is not incredibly well-written-there are parts that I'm not sure belong in it. But it's about a boy that dreams about these very imaginative trees-some that hang upside-down. I asked the kids to use their own imaginations to create a different kind of tree. Some of them made me chuckle, some made me just marvel at how far they have come! :)

He's obsessed with the word "shish kabob"!

Bonus points to this child of course for calling me "pretty"! Oh yeah and using similes :)

Have German Shephards-don't know why she chose that breed (whistle innocently).

Love the image of trees dancing and doing the mambo!

Lego leaves-could you imagine?

A jicama-chocolate tree-hmmmm.

Just can't get him to write about anything except sports....

Miss Rumphius

This book is one of my all-time favorite stories (my kids say "you always say that" :). It's about a little girl who makes goals for herself to see the world and to make it a more beautiful place. As she grows up she realizes she has met most of her goals, but hasn't made the world more beautiful-so she sets out to do just that. She spreads seeds all around her little beachside home and they grow into flowers that spread more and more seeds each year. What a great message, that we should leave this earth a little more beautiful than when we found it.

I read this story to my kiddos every year and then I ask them to write about what they will do to make the world a more beautiful place. Here are their responses:

Inspiration Projects

The idea for this project was given to me by a colleague. Her son did the project in his school when they were much older and for his he chose a "door" which I think is very meaningful.

The students took a picture of something on our campus that inspired them-it could be anything, however we were a little limited because they are building a new school on our campus. After we printed the pic, they wrote about why it inspires them. Then they represented the photo in 2 different mediums of their choice. Most did a collage and painted it. After that they put it all together on a posterboard for display. I think some of them really "got" the meaning behind the assignment.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Creative Responses

I love giving my kids questions they already know the answer to and asking them to come up with a creative reason for it. We've done "why flamingos are pink", "why the leaves change color", etc. I asked them to write about what happened to the dinosaurs, but to be creative in their answers. Some of them came up with some great explanations!

This one is my favorite.

This is "honked the clown's honker". I do understand clowns being scary. :)

She wrote it in a poem format.

She has a little brother who just turned 2, can you tell he's starting to get on her nerves? :)

Not a bad way to go.