Monday, June 25, 2018

Using Photographs in the Classroom

I work at a school where over 90% of the students live in poverty. They simply do not have same the experiences as students from other schools in our district. I attended a training once at a school in a very different part of town. The students were doing their activity and having a conversation comparing their trips where they went to the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower respectively. They were in 3rd Grade! Most of my students have not even been to the beach a little over 2 hours away. Many of my students' families don't have reliable transportation and visit the places they can walk or take the city bus to.

Knowing this fact, I like to use lots of photographs in the classroom. Photos from different cultures, photos from all over the world. I really like the site: , however there are many different "This Week in Pictures" sites from various news organizations. I would not recommend letting the students on the site themselves-sometimes there are graphic pics from war and protests. But they have a lot of human interest pictures.

So how do I use them in the classroom (all pics are from the site above): 

1) Our objectives include speaking in complete sentences-so describe this picture in a complete sentence as part of our morning whole group warm-up:

2) Telling stories: tell me a story about this picture-beginning, middle, end.

3) Creating titles or captions:

4) Math-how many squares? How many wheels? 

5) Unanswered questions: what questions do we still have about this picture.

6) Social Studies-current events/comparing cultures

7) To inspire writing-look at this picture and write a story. Sometimes I give everyone a different picture-then this can be a workstation.

8) Teaching empathy-how does the picture make you feel? How do the people in the picture feel?

9) Big Ideas-what could this picture represent?

I'm so excited to be starting a Photography Club for our students this year. I am hoping to teach them about famous photographers like my favorite, Ansel Adams and then teach them the basics about taking photos. I want them to learn there's more than just taking selfies. :) If anyone has had a club like this in elementary and has any suggestions-I would love to hear them. Still trying to figure out the logistics. I think using disposable cameras would be too expensive and I don't know about letting them take the digital cameras home. But we'll figure it out! :) 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Debate on Unicorns

I love teaching the concept of Ethics from Kaplan's Depth and Complexity. It is basically just taking a side and defending it. Pro vs con, right vs wrong-what is your opinion. This skill is important for many reasons but one of the reasons I think it's so important that this generation learn how to do it is reading comments people make on social media. So someone says teachers should be paid more and the response is "shut up". That's an argument?! I mean I don't expect people to be able to change people's minds online, but you can at least make a better argument.

We read lots of unicorn books this year because I had a number of students who LOVED them. My question was: are unicorns real? Here were their responses:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Books To Celebrate Dads

I find there are many more books about moms than dads. These are some of my favorite titles:

If I were you and you were me-a dad and his daughter think about what would happen if they switched places.


This beautiful story by Eric Carle has a Dad going to the ends of the earth to please his daughter.

Father/child relationships are the same around the world.

Another great story detailing what dads do for their children.

This is on Reading Rainbow on the Discovery Education site if you have access to that. Many of our students have parents who are incarcerated-this story is about the day they get visitors.

Robert Frost was their father-life with a poet.

This is also one of my favorite videos:

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Year in Review

Now that our school year has ended I've been doing a lot of reflecting on how things went. 

I left my old school where I had worked for 13 years to start in a new school this year. Change is hard for me but sometimes in life, it's just inevitable. I worked for the principal of my new school before and knew that he would let me be me-which was the most important thing as I looked at schools to become my new home.

95% of our students come from economically disadvantaged homes. I've always worked in Title 1 schools, but driving through this area your heart really breaks for conditions these kiddos live in.  My students didn't know what a bagel was, but they could tell you that you go to jail for dogfighting. They came into Kinder definitely on an emergent level. Many couldn't tell you what an A was or count past 3 or write their names. It was really overwhelming thinking about the standards and where they were supposed to be after their short time with me. I need to try some new strategies next year and I will be more prepared with my lessons. 

So our year started with a 2 week delay because of Hurricane Harvey. Houston got hit hard-many families are actually still living with damages from that storm. The district policy was to take any students regardless of zone because so many families were displaced.

Another new thing to get used to was my campus uses a behavior program called Conscious Discipline. I completely agree with the concept behind this program-teaching students how to manage their anger, identify their feelings and kindness are all components. I am a rule-follower but I just found it difficult to implement this program with my students. There are no consequences for actions beyond the natural consequences. We are not supposed to contact parents, no notes home. I found that not all students were motivated intrinsically and it did nothing to curb unwanted behaviors. Especially with these little ones.

About 3 weeks in, all our admins came in to do a walkthrough. And for literally the first time in my life, I did not have control of my classroom. I made a decision that day to implement certain components of the program but to also be me and be tough when I needed to be. When we had assemblies and many kids were loud and impolite-my kids were not. Walking through the hallways some classes stampeded, my kids did not. I waited for someone to come fuss at me for "doing it wrong". But no one ever did and we could finally get our act together and learn something.

Looking at my data, my kids did not make the progress I had hoped for. Some were still on an A reading level (they are supposed to be on a D). But I see the progress they made, particularly in their writing. Students started the year just making scribbles on the page, now they are writing sentences. They use vocabulary words we learned in class and have a favorite poem. They are passionate about books-I let them check out books to take home and read (they just don't have those resources) and they would load up their backpacks. I posted 1,800 artifacts to parents on their Seesaw accounts (all but 1 parent ended up downloading the app).

Working with a new team is always challenging but my team I think understands where I'm coming from and did not question my thought processes-at least not to my face. :) My principal asked me to share ideas for stepping up rigor and I did that in PLC's with many of our grade levels. It was hard, but I'm glad I did it. I had teachers sharing with me activities where they tried some of my ideas.

Overall, I was happy with the way my year went. I have some changes to make for next year and some new goals, but it was a good year.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Invisible Boy

I discovered this book while browsing through the library. It's a story about a boy who feels invisible at school. The other kids don't want to choose him for teams-even the teacher makes him feel invisible. Until one day he makes a new friend and everything changes for him.

I talk a lot to my kids about including everyone. I don't believe in meddling in their relationships at recess-however we talk a lot about empathy and how it would feel to be left out. I share with them stories about how I attended a training recently where the presenter said turn to your partner-but I was at a table by myself. The table in front of me made a conscious effort to include me in their discussions. That meant so much to me.

So the students wrote about how they could help people not feel so invisible. Now there were some students who took it very literally and didn't make the connection with simply feeling invisible as you will see in their work.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Meaning of Life (in Kindergarten)

Even though I teach 5 year olds, I do not shy away from introducing them to Big Ideas. I love bringing in philosophical concepts and seeing what they can come up with.

Here they wrote about the Meaning of Life: 

Now that is a philosophy I could get behind. :)