Thursday, October 25, 2012

Circle Time, Part 2: Everyday Math

I love to run my teaching groups in circles.  There is something powerful about everyone facing everyone and sitting next to each other.  This year I'm trying to teach most of my Everyday Math lessons in 2 groups.

Here is how it works or at least how I hope it works:

1.  I have 2 groups--Group Amazing and Group Brilliant (A and B)  They are mostly ability groupings--but I don't have a perfect science on that.

2.  We usually check homework or do time drills or review vocab or do the Math Message whole group for the first 15 min. (Notice I said or, or, or.  I don't try to do more than 1, or if I'm lucky 2 of those things.)

3.  Then I meet with Group Amazing--they require more time.  I run through the main teaching part of the lesson.

4.  While working with Group A, Group B is doing their seat job (usually Math Boxes, but sometimes other practice tasks) for 15 - 20 min. and then a Game for 10 min.

5.  Then we switch.  Sometimes Group A is finishing up at their seats or together while I get started with group B.

6.  With many lessons, Group B catches on quickly enough that they support each other after the first 10 - 15 min.  I often have 5 minutes to field questions from the seat work in Group A.

7.  I'm super fortunate this year because a tutor comes in 3 days a week to support Group A members at their seat.

I teach a lot from a little white board.  It works well when we are in a circle.  Kids are very motivated, and it's much harder to zone out because everyone can see if you're working.  The time always flies by.  I feel like I have less control, but the students have lots more opportunity for independence, self control, and support from peers.

Do you use groups for Math, especially Everyday Math?  What works for you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Super Simple Evaporation, Condensation, and Sublimation

Science lessons do not have to be complicated or expensive for kids to enjoy them.  I'm often surprised how much enthusiasm the simplest activities can garner.

We are just wrapping up a Changing Matter Unit.  We've had these 3 little cups and bags that we have been observing for 4 weeks now.

The first is a bag of water taped to the window in which condensation continues to occur.  This is the most static of the 3 observations.  Since the bag is sealed the process just continues.

Next we have a cup that was filled with water, and we are watching the process of evaporation.  We also see some foreign particles that are kinda' gross.  When the heat was turned on in the building, the students were surprised to see an obvious change overnight.  {Did I mention that some kids literally check these every single day?  It's true.  You would think they would be over it, but they aren't!}

Finally we have sublimation taking place.  This is the best because I love the word sublimation, and kids think they smell horrible!  The plastic cup is crinkled all around the bottom, and those little guys are about 25% of their original size!  Kids are mystified by the fact that there is no liquid in the process--solid to gas.  It seems like magic to them.

I really like process in Science.  I like this because it ends up being about 6 weeks, but it's only a focus for about 3 day.  In there science notebook, students label a page with these 3 words.  Then they eyeball dividing the page in thirds.  {We do half first and then go for thirds.  Most are surprisingly good!}  They draw what they see and write a very brief description.  About half way in we drew the changes we had scene and described.  They will do this one more time.

It's super simple, but the students are engaged, learning vocabulary, and practicing scientific observation skills.

What is your favorite simple science?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Autumn Art With Kids

This year I'm trying to spend 30 - 45 minutes at the very end of our week doing something FUN!  You know the kind of stuff that kids will look forward to all week.  {The kind of stuff that can be hard to justify inside Common Core and other regulations that suck the joy right out of the whole deal.}

For my students this year one of those things is watercolor painting.  We played with paint on paper to just see if we could follow the procedures for a whole class of wet paint and dirty water.  Then kids went to town on self portraits.  I realized that most of these kids have not done this sort of stuff in their life away from school.  So all week I said we would water color on Friday.

We were running out of time, but I had some fruits of the season--gourds, apples, corn.  We talked about how they could be inspired by these pieces to do whatever they wanted.  I also invited students to stay and sketch because sometimes it's just fun to draw what you see.

I loved what they saw!  I only had a chance after school to snap a few pieces that were left behind or unfinished.  Aren't they cool?

So how to fit this in with CCS:  I think writing/speaking are the perfect places.  I don't have the standards right here with me now, but a huge focus is giving reasons to support your choice or argument.  Here are a few ideas that have come to mind:

Is Fall your favorite season?  Give 3 reasons for your answer.
Explain why it is important for our class to watercolor paint.  Support your answer.
Explain the process of water color painting.  Explain the steps of the process in order.

I think these could be both written or oral arguments/discussions.  I also think it would be very fun for kids to make little movies responding to one of these questions.  {That will probably require a month of Fridays!}

We're on our sides!  Can you see the ghosts and pumpkins and big moon?

What are you doing to have fun with your students?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mommy Magic

I've been feeling very restless in my spirit.  I know there are some big changes on the horizon.  I'm cautiously excited and scared out of my wits.

The one constant is Sam.  The way he never ceased to amaze me and make me laugh and test the limits of my patience.  We share these crazy moments that I call Mommy Magic.  These are the moments {sometimes rare} when I feel like I'm doing my mom job well.

I have mommy magic when I get him to eat vegetables he wasn't planning to eat--usually because I'm eating them.  He will sit on my lap and take a bit and then more--mommy magic.

I have mommy magic when we go shopping and it just so happens that Skippy John Jones shows up.

I have mommy magic when we go hiking in the woods and he dances on tree stumps, hugs trees, and runs down the trail.

I have mommy magic when he wants me to sing the theme song to Inspector Gadget with him or read him Geronimo Stilton books.

I have mommy magic when I hear the angelic sleep breathing of that 3 year old.

There are so many moments and hours and days when I feel completely incompetent and I think he would be better off without me, but there are those moments.

And they are pure magic, mommy magic.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Circle Time In 4th Grade: Part 1

I used to teach first grade.  We had circle time.  It was a powerful time of learning and growth and socializing.

I never thought it would be even more powerful in 4th grade.

I'm starting an occasional series of ways I'm using circles in my classroom to develop all sorts of skills.

So I've written some about this before, but the most frequent way we use the circle is for our class meetings.  We take a little break, some kids have snacks from home.  We all move our chairs to sit in a circle.  The circle is kinda sacred.

Recently I've spent a good deal of our class meeting time discussion expectations and giving kids a chance to share.  4th graders really count on this time to have their voices heard.  You don't have to talk about the topic, but you must say Good Morning.

We went on a field trip yesterday.  It was a little unusual because there are 3 fourth grades classes in our building, but our trip was split in 2 groups.  Our class was split, so we didn't all have identical experiences.

This morning I was trying to rush our meeting because we had an assembly, but one fairly quiet student said, "Aren't we going to talk about what we liked on the field trip?"  I could have rushed right over that, but I would have missed the smiles and enthusiasm as kids talked about their experiences and compared notes a bit.

We also use the time to work on a variety of social skills.  I'll write more about those at some future point.

Do you use any sort of circle time in your classroom?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hosting A Family Night

I find that family involvement is very valuable component to a successful school year.  These events don’t have to be fancy or have lots of bells and whistles.  Usually I try to get buy in from kids, and then the rest is easy.

I just had my first family event of the year.  It was called Multiplication Madness.  It was one hour of basic fact games and activities.  Doesn’t that sound like just more homework?  But kids will beg parents to return to school for just a little incentive like door prizes or snacks.

I had about one third of my students attend.  I also had a few siblings. 

Here are the steps I recommend for planning and hosting a successful family involvement event:

  1. Choose a theme or focus.  Keep it very positive and upbeat.  Some themes I’ve chosen in the past include math games,  homework success, out of this world reading, etc.  I try to choose something that is well suited to my students and timely to what we are learning.
  2. Promote it with kids.  Really talk it up.  This time I said I had multiplication games that they had not seen yet, they would be able to use the Smartboard to play the games of their choice, and there would be door prizes.
  3. Have the students promote the event and invite adults.  I copied the basic info of the night--what, where, when--on half a sheet of paper turned landscape.  The students folded that in and decorated the front to make an invitation to give to the adult of their choice.  In the past I’ve had grandparents, aunts, adult siblings, and babysitters attend.
  4. Continue to promote with parents.  I sent an email out to my parent list.
  5. Gather the materials you need, but keep it simple.  I went to a dollar store to buy door prizes.  I try to relate these to the theme.  If we are doing reading, I give away books.  If we are doing homework help, I make little homework boxes.  This time I had an assortment of calculators, bendable rulers, compasses, mechanical pencils, and fancy erasers.
  6. Put together a page or a packet that the grownups can take away with hints, ideas, and resources related to the topic.
  7. I try to spend little time talking, and set up activities for kids and adults to do together.  For Multiplication Madness we had time drills (kids vs. adults), 2 computers with online games, wipe off practice boards, a game to make and take home, various decks of flash cards, EM game--Multiplication Baseball.  
  8. I try to mingle, encourage, and respond to questions.
  9. I did the drawing for door prizes about 30 minutes in.  It worked out for everyone to get a prize.  Cost of prizes:  about $8  I do NOT always do prizes, but I usually try to for the first event of the year.
  10.   Ask kids to help clean up.  The adults will follow.

I find that I over plan, and that less is usually more.  I reap great rewards from these sorts of events.  {They really pay off when I need to share difficult information of any sort.)  

Some people ask this:  Don’t the same people always show up?  Isn’t it the ones who don’t need it who attend?

My response:  In this day and age the parents who are really parenting their kids need to be encouraged and supported.  At the very least those people are getting the message to keep doing what they are doing.  {There is almost always one kid or adult who attends that really surprises me.  I think my job is to offer it not control the results.)

I wish I could find a job where I got to do this all the time!  It’s like being an educational party planner!

What sort of events do you do with your students and their adults?

Monday, October 1, 2012

I Choose Kindness

My students are on a Kindness Campaign this year.  They are practicing kindness.  {I wish more grown ups would do this!}

A little over a week ago my students made Kindness Wands.  This was a Friday afternoon Investigation where we expand or extend our learning or thinking.  This was a little twist on the great ideas of Patience Salgado's Magic Wand Project over at KindnessGirl.

Students made Kindness Wands with ribbon, popcicle stick, foam stars, and a label that says, "I choose kindness."  They made one for themselves, and then they made more for friends, siblings, and other kids.  Our goal is to eventually have one for every kid and adult in our school.

It's such a great little visual reminder to choose kindness in what we say and how we choose to treat other people.

My students are so empowered by the Kindness Campaign.

What are you doing that empowers your students?