Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Changing the Way I Teach

What is best for kids? How does this improve learning? If I was to do this what is the balance of risk vs. reward? Is this serving the majority or a few? Thanks to George Couros, I am always thinking of those questions before I try something new. His questions were originally guided for an IT department, but I use them for all I do. When making changes to my approach with students I answer each of those questions, and then reflect at the end of the lesson with students.

In teaching minerals, I used to use a power point (I shudder at the thought of that now) and a packet created by a colleague along with the science text. I stood up in front of the class, giving a lot of information to students. I would talk to the them about the properties of minerals, and then give them time to practice testing out each one. This passive way of learning is not best for kids. When thinking of it, I do not think it improve learning. Rather I am giving a set of facts to students and they do them like automated robots. Students really aren’t learning deeply so there is more risk than reward in this way of instructing students. And I am not serving anyone, even me because I am not engaged or talking to students when I am up in front of the room teaching. The role of the teacher, in my mind, has changed to learner or facilitator during my tenure. I have slowly transitioned to student centered learning, which is more challenging to manage and students might struggle more. However, putting the learning in the hands of the students is best for them. They get way more out of the learning experience by figuring things out for themselves.

Yesterday I decided not to teach students about properties of minerals. I brought students to the science lab. They were allowed to bring their book, packet, and a pencil. I asked them to work in a small team (3-4). I started with getting them to think about how to identify a mineral. No one knew so they were tasked with figuring it out. Several students got to work hunting in the book. One group noticed the features of non-fiction, and the sub headings allowed them to identify the properties. Students also struggled with where to begin and were confused, because I was not telling them what they were. We talked about how in life often we are left with tools and have to use them to figure out things ourselves. Students took notes on each of the six properties. Others used sketch notes per my suggestion to help them remember information. Each group was asked to be able to all identify the properties before gaining access to the tools to test the minerals. Through digging for information they figured it out. One group was given the materials and a second group was ready to move on at the end of class. We reflected and all students told me they would have tuned me out if I explained all this to them. That learning through doing is better for them. And they all discovered the properties of minerals. Others are developing stronger collaboration skills and gaining confidence.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Introduction to Split Screens and #hyperdocs

When students are working on multiple tabs in Google Chrome and need to go back and forth between them it might be easier for them to split their screen. Thanks to Alice Keeler they can now do this! Today I had students download the extension AliceKeeler Classroom Split to make this happen. When students are working in their hyperdocs during reading this might be something they want to use. This way they can have their directions open on one screen and their work opened on another. Splitting the screen allows students to be more productive and efficient while working. If you do not have chrome you can create side-by-side windows. Learn more about that here!

Many of the students reading classwork is done in Google Classroom. I encourage parents to take an active and vested interested in their child’s work. You can ask your child to show you his or her Pax and hyperdoc work at home! Some students will be sharing their work at conferences, but it is available to you at home any time you want to look at it! Conversing with students about the books we are reading and how we are exploring books is another wonderful discussion point with students. If you do not know what a hyperdoc is visit this site to learn more. These have been an enriching experience for students and I to discuss books together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What We Are Thankful For

Students were asked to think about what they are thankful for this week. They had insightful things to say!

Katie is thankful for friends and family.

Josh is thankful for family, friends, and money.

Jake W. is thankful for pigs.

Quinn is thankful for his pet.

Sophia is thankful for her family, friends, food, and shelter.

Marissa is thankful for family, food, and friends.

Stella is thankful for her home, family, health, and friends.

Rayyan is thankful for his family.

Alexis is thankful for family, friends, shelter, and food.

Archith is thankful for his family.

Julia is thankful for her home, family, and friends.

Olivia is thankful for her family, acting, and singing.

Zoe is thankful for acting, family, friends, and food.

Charles is thankful for family, friends, teachers, and life.

Anthony is thankful for family, friends, food, shelter, and his education.

Iniyan is thankful for his family.

Ryan is thankful for his mom, dad, a house, and a great life.

Maddie is thankful for her special family that loved her very much.

William is thankful for a house and food.

Emma is thankful for her kind family and my home.

Shawn is thankful for his leg no longer being broken.

Dylan is thankful for food.

Jake S. is thankful for family and friends.

Ms. Freedman is thankful for her agent community, her immediate family, and innovative thinking. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bringing Joy to Others

During this season I love to provide students with opportunities to give back to others.  This year we are doing a service-learning project with Catching Joy! I love this charity because a child who saw the need to give back to his community started it! It shows students where an idea can take you! It puts the joy of giving in the hands of the child. Check out Maxwell’s idea for the world he wants to live in here! The values of the organization are similar to those in our classroom community:

  • We believe engaging children in volunteering teaches them to be caring and compassionate towards people, animals, and the environment.
  • We appreciate that every child has time, talent and treasure to offer.
  • We value the importance of families and friends volunteering together as it fosters stronger and more loving connections and community.
  • We recognize the ripple effect that one person and one good deed make in the world.
  • We affirm that Catching Joy means helping others.
  • We have learned that true joy belongs to the giver.

Students can join any Catching Joy event! The one our class participated in was to help create Blessing Bags for those in need. The bags will be filled with cards, water bottles, toiletries, and snacks. They will be delivered to Second Step, Women's Lunch Place, Pine Street Inn, etc. The message of kindness, joy, care, and love will be spread on  the bags. I hope our students enjoy creating something that will put a smile on their faces! Joy will be dropping off items for our students to stuff the bags, but if anyone would like to donate items to go in the bags please feel free to send to our classroom the week after Thanksgiving. Contact Joy at for more information or to learn how you can help!

Feel free to follow Catching Joy on Facebook to learn about other volunteer opportunities for kids!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What if You Were Hired By . . .

I knew I had to teach students how to write for expository purposes. I thought long and hard about teaching kids the standard 5-paragraph essay. Then I did some research of my own. I came to the conclusion that no one writes that way anymore. Expository is to inform so I wanted to provide my students with an engaging writing experience to teach them this kind of writing.

I had an AHA moment. What if my kids thought they were going to be hired for Wonderopolis and they had to write a wonder of the day? I went online and printed out the wonder of the day, which coincidentally tied right into our social studies unit. I wanted students to do a close reading of it.

The day of the lesson I told the students the exciting news! They were hired by Wonderopolis to write the next Wonder of the Day. A lot of buzz went around the room. Is she serious? Can we really do that? Will she really share our work? YES! YES! YES! I opened up the site online for the class to see and handed out the printed copy. We discussed features on the page, and students recognized the heading, image, caption, questions, and paragraphs. There were 10 paragraphs, as some were short. We discussed expectations would be similar for their own wonder. We then transitioned to talking about main idea. Students were able to tell me how it could be what the paragraph is about. We discussed how it could be sentence of a few words. I asked if it could be an interrogative sentence. A few hands went up and said yes. We reviewed what type of sentence that was. Then I asked about a declarative sentence. Nice to tie in some grammar!

Then students met in random groups by using the agent stick mug. They were tasked with reading the passage and highlighting the main idea.

Students and I reviewed the main idea of each paragraph, learning about the importance of supporting details. Some students still get confused about the difference so seeing how a main idea has to capture the essence of the whole paragraph is important. Students were then asked to give me three wonders of the day. I will be taking these and forming PLCs within the classroom of students interested in a similar wonder. Students will then be paired with someone to collaborative work on their wonder of the day together using Google tools. I am excited to see what they create. Our next lesson will cover research tools!