Tuesday, November 11, 2014

When Things Just Work

Who knew something so simple would spark so much in the children. I LOVE that! We've been learning all about the different ways to build comprehension. We recently completed our learning about summarizing and have moved on to visualization. I love this book. It was the perfect link today for our visualization talk. We started with an activity here using four simple lunch bags. Each bag had one item inside. We talked about picturing things in our minds, but since we are just finishing up our unit on Helen Keller, this fit in nicely. Students had to feel instead of see what was in each bag. Then we made a picture of the item in our minds. We spoke about what we were picturing and how even though we had technically seen nothing, we could still visualize the item due to previous experiences we have had with these common items. This also tied in nicely with our unit on adjectives and we used some of them to describe what we were feeling inside each bag. The students in my class were really excited about feeling what was in each bag. And you and I both know that excited students equals high levels of learning. In the middle of my lesson, I altered things (I do that when a great idea hits me randomly). We took a blank white paper and folded it into fourths then numbered each of the fourths from one to four. Next, while reading the Bible story for today, we stopped every few minutes to do a quick sketch. We were really able to dig deep into visualizing and discus the images that our story was evoking in their minds. We talked about including feelings, etc. Simple, right? But very meaningful to my students today and they really seemed to connect and make sense of what we were learning. I just love moments like that.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Underground Railroad

I love that our classes somehow coincided this past quarter. I love that we were studying about George Washington Carver, a former slave, while also learning about the underground railroad. I love that we also had chapter books to do book groups with for reading. For me, I am able to pull so much more out of the students and really submerse them in the information we are learning.

The students loved learning about Henry "Box" Brown and how he escaped to freedom by mailing himself. They even got to try out a box to see how it would feel to be squeezed in there for a day or so (Of course we just stayed in the box for a few seconds).

Students getting ready to shut me inside the box. They all tried it and of course wanted me to try it too.

We also learned about the secret code that slaves used on the underground railroad and how many of the codes were sewn into quilts. We created a quilt code collage during art class.

My favorite activity was the culminating simulation that we had. I am so fortunate to have wonderful parent volunteers to help out on days like this and the other teachers were great about allowing my students to use their rooms as needed for the day. Here's how it basically worked: the students were split into different groups. Some were slaves, some were conductors on the underground railroadd, some were bounty hunters, and some were slave catchers. The slaves were to follow their conductor, who had a map of the school showing all the "safe houses" which were located in certain classrooms. In each safe house, the students were suppose to collect a ticket to prove that they had been to that safe house. They had to collect three different colors of tickets before they could make their way across the field at our school and touch the back fence, which was "Canada." Meanwhile, slave catchers were looking for safe houses to close down. If they spotted a safe house, they were to take all the tickets, leaving it useless. And the bounty hunters were guarding the path to freedom and trying to stop any slaves they could.

(A "safe house" that had been shut down by the slave catchers.)

(One conductor, holding a copy of the map and three safe house tickets, after reaching freedom in "Canada".)

When we were done, we debriefed by discussing our experiences and writing about them too. And I think all students were in agreement that they wanted to do it again. It was definitely the perfect ending to our unit.

Here are some of the books that we used in our class during our unit.

 What was the Underground Railroad

 Who was Harriet Tubman
Midnight Journey

Henry's Freedom Box

 Underground Railroad Simulation (This is the simulation I used for the Underground Railroad Activity

Underground Railroad Bundle  This pack is by Courtney Eller (Blue Ridge Second Grade Days). We used the quilt part to inspire our art projects. I wish I had not passed them back to the students before taking pictures. Some turned out really great.

Heroes of the Underground Railroad I really loved this pack by Little Red's Schoolhouse. I used it for comprehension building. It would be great for Close reading too. I loved that the students got to hear about all sorts of people who worked on the underground railroad. We could speak a lot about determination and also about character. These people were risking their lives so many times to help others. Really, a great read. We did two of these each Friday during our unit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Super Improvers Wall

I love the idea I ran across, a few years ago, of the super improvers wall from whole brain teaching. The thought behind this is to recognize students who are improving. Students start at the bottom level. Each child has a white card with their name on it to begin with. For improvement, they earn a star. After ten stars, they move up a level. There is not a bunch of prizes or anything like that attached to the different levels, but some (not all) may have a surprise behind them such as being the line leader or some other privilege that kids love. What's great is that a student does not have to be good at their classwork to earn stars. Stars are for improvement in any area. So if a student keeps a messy desk and I notice that they are being more organized for a few days, I might reward them with a star. Or if a child has behavior challenges and I can really see that they are working on that, I will reward them with a star. It can also work for improvements in classwork. If a student always bombs the weekly spelling test and I see that the past couple of weeks they have studied and passed the test, I will reward them with a star. It's a very simple thing, but the students look forward to earning the stars and being noticed for trying harder to improve in a certain area.

Here are some links to other sites that have their own super improvers wall. If you would like the photoshop file, leave a comment below with your email address.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Losing Sleep

As any great teacher knows, there is a lot of sleep lost the closer  the beginning of a  new school year gets. For me, that new school year marked my 16th beginning. It was August 11. And all summer I was torn about how I wanted to see my classroom. I had two theme ideas picked out. Several years ago I ran across this book called Creating a Yearlong Theme and it really changed me as a teacher. For the past couple of years, I have really gotten into adding that special spark to my room with a theme that I can use all year. Last year, I put together a circus theme, which was great because part of our curriculum was learning about the 50 states. And of course a circus travels all over our country, so I held on to that idea and ran with it.

This year, thanks to Pinterest, I had even more ideas swirling, keeping me up at night. I finally decided that I would do a camping theme and once I decided, I was super excited and ready to get down to business.

 Here's a shot of my entire classroom, which is very long and narrow. You can see my classroom library, but I will do another post about how I organized all that later.

I was most excited about my morning meeting area. I have my master's degree in outdoor education, so naturally I love the great outdoors. I am loving have the feel of a campsite right inside my classroom, and the students were all pretty excited too. That tent is definitely a prime location during Daily 5 reading time. Also I sewed these little log cushions for each student and a felt fire too for the center, so when we meet, we meet around the campfire like a real camp. (So fun!)

Here's a close-up view of the front of the meeting area. I borrowed two Christmas trees from my coworkers and put some real pine cones on the branches along with a bird nest and a bird. Later I added some forest stuffed animals that are not pictured here. You can see the wolf, though, and an old hollow long. I keep a stuffed animal inside of that too. The picnic basket is the perfect place to store my mentor books. We often meet right here during writer's workshop. Also, you notice the picket fence. I have long and skinny flower pots behind that and am planning to fill those with plants or maybe plant some grass. The camp sign was a perfect addition for me. My dad was kind enough to spend some time cutting it and getting it just right. We used an old pallet for the arrows and purchased a 4X4 and 2X4 for the stand.

I could not part with my big "Read" sign. I'm all about reading and getting my students reading and learning...so it stayed right where it was from last year. There's also a little desk next to my door. I store a tray of whiteboards there for easy access. We have a bulletin board for announcements and a calendar. My dad also made that bulletin board for me a couple of summers ago and I thought it would still work for my new theme. I dressed it up with a mossy wreath from Michael's and an Owl that looks like it is carved from wood. That owl came from Old Time Pottery. On the top shelf of the bookcase there are four little frames that I purchased from Ikea for 99 cents each. I have my students split into groups that we call cabins (I so stole this idea from Ron Clark, who splits his entire school into tribes). And there is one colored frame for each team and also each group has a tree stump with a matching ribbon to earn honors hanging on the wall (I'll tell you all about that later too.),

If you know of Whole Brain Teaching, then you know about the super improvers wall. This is my super improvers wall. I wanted to take the idea, but also make it my own, so I created these little cards that matched my theme. I will do a whole post about those soon.

My homework club for students who turn in their assignments all month. If they don't turn in an assignment on time, they have their firefly moved to the outside of the jar. I was super excited about how these turned out. I wanted something, again, that matched my theme. Photoshop to the rescue!

I loved the idea of having one little word that could be our inspiration for the year. Ali Edwards has inspired me to do this personally, but I had never chosen one for my classroom until this year. I decided on "grow" because it has so much meaning to a class of students. For me, I wanted to see them grow academically throughout the year. To learn the hard things that, coming in through my door on the first day, they did not already know. I wanted to see them grow in their relationships with each other. I wanted to see them mature as they move one year closer to adulthood. And I most importantly wanted to see them grow spiritually (I teach at a small, private, Christian school.). I think it was important to tell them all that this word meant for us this year. If I had not, most would probably have stopped at the obvious. They will all grow in height throughout our next several months together.

Those letters came from Joanne's (one or two at a time because I HAD to use my 40% off coupons, of course!). I covered them with a mossy sheet that came from Michaels. I absolutely LOVE how they turned out. They are a little tipsy, but I'm O.K. with that because I just used the two mushrooms I got at Old Time Pottery to stabilize them and it all looked really cute together.

I was excited to find this little owl at Kirklands. It was a candle holder, but the moment I saw it, I knew it would be great for a pencil cup.

It may be hard to tell, but this is a board with five vases. There are no flowers there right now, but won't it look lovely? I just love the rustic look and the jars too. Can't wait to fill them with flowers.

One more touch was to add a set of three candy jars to the corner by my sink. It gave just a splash of color and looks fun right there. I filled one far with colorful feathers that I had gotten a while back from Michael's for another project, but never used. Then  I filled the center jar with tiny pinecones from my parents' yard. And the last jar I filled with felted acorns that a friend of mine gave me a few years ago.

I'm so excited about how everything came together. Yes it was a lot of work, but it was all worth it. I love to create an atmosphere like this because it makes learning so much more exciting. Students really get into guessing what my next theme will be. And I love to hear them chattering at open house about it all. And of course it creates an environment that they actually look forward to spending their time each day working in. So there you have it... my room.