Friday, March 30, 2012

Character Court

One of my favorite annual activities is Character Court! Our students choose a fairy tale to debate and work with a partner to write a script arguing the ethics in that particular scenario. Was is wrong for Goldilocks to break and enter? Did Cinderella's stepmother have mitigating circumstances to explain what she did? Was the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood just acting in self-defense? These questions and more were answered by our kiddos. We set up like a wax museum around our cafeteria and invited parents to step on the button and start our debates up one by one.

Not the best video quality I know! But we were rushing to get them taped while they were in costume before we had to go set up.

Princess and the Frog

Rapunzel's backdrop

Sleeping Beauty's

The Fairy and Prince from Sleeping Beauty

Snow White's Backdrop

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pasta Insects

As our insect unit is winding down, our culminating project is one of my all-time faves! I like to give the kids a variety of pasta (I know the grocery store clerks must think I'm carb-loading :) and let them invent their own kind of insect. We use the icon of "rules" and go over what an insect always has-6 legs, 3 body parts, etc. and then they just go to town. At first it's difficult for the students to envision something new-but then they came up with some interesting and might I say, a little creepy-looking new insects.

My insect is called "Art". It lives in a hole and was born [in a] week.

Water ladybug-hatched from an egg. He lives in a water hive and swims fast.

My insect is bad and crazy scary.

My insect lives in the dirt and likes to bite people. (I'm paraphrasing-our new trend is to see who can write the most words-it doesn't really matter that they are saying the same thing over and over :).

Glider-lives in the dirl and curls in a ball to protect itself.

Lives in a house, eats grass and loves me!

Spiky ladybug

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Wish I Had Duck Feet Writing

When we did our Dr. Seuss unit, I went to the bookstore to look for some titles that the kiddos may not be as familiar with. I hadn't even ever heard of this one, but I thought it looked interesting. The boy in the story is talking about how wonderful it would be to have certain animal attributes because you could do things better. I asked the students to write about what animal characteristic they'd like to have, and the most important part--why?

Horse legs to run fast or go slow.

Butterfly wings to fly over traffic--now that would be cool!

long legs of a cheetah so I can run faster than a car.

How creative! :) Flamingo feet because I can stand on one foot.

8 legs-not fun for shoe shopping, but there have to be some advantages to that!

legs of a cheetah because they run fast.

My favorite one! Wouldn't it be advantageous to have a long neck?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Big Idea of Ferdinand

I love, love the story of Ferdinand.

 If you are not familiar, it's a story from Spain about a bull who grows up different from his other bull counterparts who fight with each other all day; he just likes to sit and smell flowers. Bullfighters come to get the most fierce bull for their bullfighting competition and that day Ferdinand happens to sit on a bee and looks quite mad. They take him to fight and he ends up just sitting and smelling the flowers in the ladies' hair.  (I very much edit the part about the bullfighters at the end, because they are after all only 5 and I don't want them to know about that tradition yet). But the rest of the story I think is very poignant and something many parents have had to deal with themselves, the kids growing up different from other kids. I was probably the only one in the audience when we saw the movie Blind Side several years back who got their reference to the book, the compared the main character there to Ferdinand.

Anyway, I wanted to see if the kids could come up with this Big Idea on their own. So we simply read the story and I sent them to their seats to write. This is what they came up with:

I love that they include "brave".

Just smell the flowers and don't fight.

Other calves like to play but he smells the flowers.

My favorite: you don't have to be like your brothers and sisters, you can just be you!

Eric Carle Writing

After reading several of Eric Carle's books: A Very Hungry Caterpillar, Lonely Firefly, Grouchy Ladybug, Quiet Cricket--I asked the kiddos to write their own version of an Eric Carle story. Using an insect as the main character and an adjective to describe him/her. This is what they came up with:

Lonely Frog-I know not exactly an insect, I got a worm story too! :)

Crazy Ant-he was bored with nothing to do--we've all been there!

Stinky Ant

Lazy Bees

Fast-flying Butterfly

Lazy Grasshopper

Fragrant Dragonfly (gotta love when they actually use their vocab words :).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Egg Unit

I know what you are thinking--a silly theme for a unit. When I was in class for my teaching certification, one of the instructors talked about her favorite unit to do with the kiddos: bread. Yes, sounds silly but there are actually a lot of books about bread. So I tried building up my unit repertoire with ones that include foods--bread, pancakes and my all-time favorite---eggs.

Some books that I love to use:

These birds are arguing over the "egg" they found and in staking their claim end up becoming friends in the process. A great surprise ending when the "egg" turns out to be a ball.

Funny story about a cat trying to procure an egg for his dinner. Instead he gets 3 very multicultural birds. Too cute!

Non-fiction with lots and lots of pics of various different kinds of eggs.

About how different organisms grow.

Some critical thinking activities:
1) Of course the always popular egg drop competition. I usually ask for the students to bring various materials and then work cooperatively in groups to create their egg casings.

2) Fragile or not. Eggs are often thought of as being very fragile-but the kids are always amazed at how much weight an egg can hold when you sit it upright and place books on it-you can usually put a lot of books on it before it cracks. Strong enough to care for that little baby inside.

3) Let them ponder the age-old which came first, the chicken or the egg.

4) Give them cut-outs that look like eggs and have them do some divergent art and come up with an animal or object the egg can be part of.

Multiple perspectives: obviously the egg but you can also do the nest or the baby inside, farmer collecting all the eggs.

Rules: What are the rules of an egg and then the students can try to invent their own kind of egg casing using those same rules.

Creativity: Eggshell Mosaics-I'm going to try this for the first time this year. You are supposed to color the egg and then poke a little hole in it, rinse it out and then flatten it with a rolling pin. The kids use the shells to make a design.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be Gifted?

I get this question a lot and attend trainings where sometimes I don't always agree with the answer the presenter gives. It amazes me how many different ways various states and districts determine this status. Some places accept portfolios, some it's straight testing. We test our 4-year olds with an oral administration of 2 different tests and if they don't qualify then they can apply the following year using standardized test scores. Other places, they don't allow an identification until 2nd Grade. Some places have IEP's for GT students to ensure they have modifications. You would think with all this "standardization" going on, there would be a specific method.

One of the biggest myths I hear on a daily basis is that Gifted and Talented labeled children are academically superior. We take Stanford testing right after Thanksgiving in Kindergarten (roll eyes-I know!). Even though the kids are in roughly the 3rd month of Kindergarten and the reasonable expectation of scores would be K.3 for grade equivalency; since many of mine are already labeled GT, they are expected to get one whole grade level above-1.4. So, I'm being asked to teach a year and half's curriculum in 3 months, simply because these kids passed the test to qualify for GT. My typical class doesn't begin the year reading in Kindergarten(although I do usually have a few kids who are advanced in that area) and they certainly, in many cases, haven't been asked to think before. It takes a long time to get past the mundane answers and I still struggle with that. (We did an activity last week that asked them where the light comes from on a firefly-several kids answered with: their behind).

Anyway, from my experience:

1) Kids who are truly gifted just "get" it. I was once reading a story and the Georgie's friend wanted another boy to join their lemonade selling. Georgie didn't want him to. When I asked why many kids gave answers, but one student got it-he was jealous, he didn't want to share his friend. That's deep thinking for a 5-year old.

2) They are thoughtful. We were at dismissal one day and the custodian was changing the words on the marquis and one of my kids asked, "are those letters magnetic?". He's thinking about how those letters are sticking on there (and honestly, I had to ask, because I didn't know how it worked).

3) Many kids have a very quick grasp of vocabulary-they will use words that they have been taught, and use them correctly. One of my absolutely favorite teaching moments was reading Charlotte's Web and this little girl graduated to middle school last year, so it was awhile back. Let me preface this by saying, I always encourage the kids to ask what a word means. I also will often say, oh I love how the author used that word, did you hear that he said it the light "flooded the night". I was reading about that beloved spider and one of the kids raised her hand and said, "Miss Trayers, I love that word--marvel". I was touched, they are listening! Of course, I said thank you, that's a wonderful observation and then on a daily basis someone would raise their hand and say "I love that word--bread". But they got the point.

4) Although I've seen my share of underachievers, most have a yearning to learn. They can apply what they are learning in a real way-not just regurgitate it for an answer on a test, but really take what they've learned and create something new and different. When we read Legend of the Bluebonnet this year, I asked the kids to write about a toy they would give up and what would grow when they planted it.

5) Very sensitive. We have daily drama when someone doesn't know the answer on the test or I have to simply talk to someone about not doing that behavior again and the flood gates open.

I also once had a student I truly believe was GT, who decided to put a small pebble up her nose during recess. One year a student purposely got on the wrong bus because the other one seemed like more fun. I caught 2 boys wetting toilet paper and throwing it on the ceiling of the restroom one year, so it would stick there (our very tall custodian needed to use some critical thinking on that one to figure out how to get it down). One of our older GT students was overheard the other day asking when Saturday tutorials were. :) They don't always have common sense to go along with their natural abilities.

My point is there is no tried and true test. In my experience, I've never seen a checklist that I wholeheartedly agreed with. Just because a child is advanced, doesn't mean they are GT. Just because a child is below average academically doesn't mean they are not. There are many different ways a child can be gifted and we need to make sure we are challenging the ones who need that challenge, so they will work up to their potential.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Different Kinds of Products

I know you are probably given a list of alternative products in your pre-service training based on Bloom's just like we are and it gets filed away in the back of a cabinet somewhere. It's hard to find the time sometimes to do these types of projects because they are working in groups or with you individually-- but I'm telling you, if you start using alternative ways to have the kids apply what they are learning-it's addictive! I am always looking for new ideas!

1) Skits-many kids love to be the center of attention-put that to good use. You can use it to introduce research or give Halloween costumes some educational value. Here's one we did for Black History Month this year. Now they wrote it themselves, so I know there are a few discrepancies with actual history, but I do think they got the main idea. The one below is Halloween-they dress up as literary characters and talk from that character's perspective.

2) Photography. Kids love taking pictures! Give them an assignment to take pictures of something that inspires them on your campus and then write about it. Have them document 3 things they are thankful for at Thanksgiving and make a little photoessay (my favorite pic from this assignment was a grilled cheese sandwich). Disposable cameras are not very expensive-have the kids check one out for the night and rotate through your class. You can even get the very nice developers at Walgreen's to make them look more artsy and not develop the color part-so they come out in black and white (I just had to play the teacher card a little bit to make that happen! :)

3) Debate: Pit two characters from a story against each other and talk about who was wrong and who was right in the situation. This is such a valuable skill. I find myself having to try and convince people to come to my way of thinking all the time (ahem...conversations with my wonderful principal on the benefits of early childhood for example). The limit to most kids' arguments is: "because". They love the concept of ethics-it's never to early for them to be thinking in that mode of thought. It does backfire when they start making great arguments for why they should have recess, even on a very busy day, etc. :)

4) Commercials: they can make PSA's on why bullying is bad or why we should recycle. They can create an invention when you are studying technology and sell it to the audience. Again they are having to defend their side or their creation-great critical thinking skills at work there.

5) Art: I know, I know-for many people this is not a new kind of product. But in this test-prep world of education we live in art is falling by the wayside. Play a kind of music and have the kids paint what they see in their heads, recreate the techniques of famous artists and paintings. My all-time favorite idea and I wish I could give it credit-I don't know where I saw it-had an extremely brave Kinder teacher put butcher paper on the underside of the tables and the kids painted like Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel. Could you imagine! I can tell you right now I have kids I taught in Kinder who are 4th graders now and still remember Starry, Starry Night-that was almost 5 years ago. I also very selfishly love doing art projects because each and every picture is different-I just adore seeing that creativity in action. Even if they don't speak the language very well, even if they don't speak much at all-put a paintbrush in their hands and away they go!

6) Sculpture-goes along with art-but give them a big idea that you have been studying like civil rights
or honesty. Have them represent that idea with a sculpture made out of clay. Talk about applying thinking skills! And they have an opportunity to get their hands dirty as well.

7) Interview: this can be a real interview-like asking Grandpa questions about the past for Grandparent's Day. Or assign kids in pairs-one is the interviewer, the other is a leprechaun or Dr. Seuss or a butterfly. Thinking of the questions you would ask this creature has a level of difficulty all it's own. Then the partner is answering from the perspective of that author or character. You can record them so easily today digitally and play it back for them, even maybe as something you invite parents to come listen to.

8) Use different kinds of media to showcase a project. I love using those green containers fruit comes in. We had a local market that used the wooden ones-I swear I bought so many cherry tomatoes one summer-just for the containers :). Make a triorama, use baby food jars or even the old-fashioned shoebox.

Their rainforest dioramas

Compare/contrast with 2 trioramas.

They are capable of applying their skills in so many different ways if we give them the opportunity!