Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our Recent Addition & A Look Back at October Fun

Sorry for the delay! It has been quite the few weeks around here. Not only have I transitioned to a new school and a new job as an instructional coach, Small Fry has arrived! Today marks her 5th day on the outside. Where has the time gone? Little Bean absolutely adores her and has taken the role of big sister to heart. Every morning she can't wait to get up and go see "her baby", and she makes sure to give hugs and kisses before bed. Here's a pic of the two of them at their first meeting...Love at first sight!

So now that I've had a few days to rest (in short, 2-3 hour spurts of course), I wanted to write a quick post about what we'd been up to in class before all these crazy changes began. First and foremost, Pumpkin Science! I do this activity each year, but this year I decided to create a tab book for the kids to track their data in their science journals. The goal is to both introduce and refine our measurement and observational skills using pumpkins. The kids had a total blast measuring, counting, observing, and predicting.

Here's a little showcase of our fun: 

So there you have it! When we completed all our investigations the kids had the chance to reflect on their learning. I had some great responses! I will be working on a copy of the book and posting it soon. Just refining a few pages based on our use. 

Happy Learning!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What a Week! Five for Funday (October 19)

This was pretty much the longest four day week ever! Hence, I needed the weekend to recover before I could pull together the blog. However, here are a few highlights from the past week.

Big, big changes are coming! As of Monday my move to an instructional coaching position has been made public. It will be about two more weeks before I start my new job, but it is definitely bittersweet. I am so excited to make my next move career-wise. However, I will miss my work family and my students so much. The good news is that the kids will have one less transition since there will no longer be a long-term sub in my room for maternity leave...and I no longer have to make two weeks worth of sub plans! (Those of you who've ever been on maternity leave know this is definitely one of the positives.)

I've started packing boxes. I am slowly filling up a section of the garage, but I've been really, really careful not to change the way the room looks to the kids. Definitely makes packing a little bit harder, but I don't want to make this transition any tougher on them than it already is. Unless my replacement really wants to redo the room at this point in the year, I am probably going to just let him/her keep using the items, and I will pick them up come summer. 

We have officially moved into our first novel study. I always try to do the first one whole group because I think it is SO important that all my students, regardless of their reading level, get to experience my expectations first hand. This means I spend a lot of time scaffolding and preparing my lowers students to be successful in this novel study (while getting in small groups after we read together), but it also means that my advanced kids get pushed to dig deeper and critically think rather than skimming through it because they know they read well. I love using my trifolds for exactly this reason. I can cover all my bases with these questions and set my reading response expectations to match where my students really are.

This year I am using my Charlotte's Web novel study trifolds in a slightly different way. I have some kids who have the trifold just the way it is, but I also have several friends who I've made label versions of the questions. When there are two questions, they get one at a time so I can check in with them to ensure they are answering the first part correctly before moving on. Fingers crossed we finish the book before I switch jobs!

My campus subscribes to Time for Kids. Many times I have trouble figuring out exactly where to stick it. However, this week we used it during science, and I think I have found the perfect way to incorporate it into a cross-curricular science/reading lesson. We've been working really hard on summary vs. retelling because the kids always have so much trouble focusing in on what is really important. It is probably one of the hardest skills we cover in language arts all year. This week we read about Mission 31 together and practiced summarizing the article using the 5W Method. This really seemed to connect the big idea for the kids, and they did a great job when I had them try it out with their own article the next day.

We've made it to revising. I always start by reviewing the differences between revising and editing using the house analogy. I draw a big house and have the kids help me "design" what it should have to be the best place to ever visit. The kids get all excited and I end up with a house with a huge pool, theater, and all sorts of over-the-top things (this year I got a go-kart track). I connect this to revising. My house is a lot more interesting because of all these great things, just like their writing is more interesting with sensory details, varied sentences, and specific word choices. 

After they are all excited, I start drawing cracks in the windows, cut power lines, and talk about how the water doesn't work. Suddenly, no one is interested in coming over. We talk about this as editing. When you don't use capitalization, spelling, and punctuation correctly, it takes away all that excitement you worked so hard to build as a writer. This typically ends the confusion for my students. From there I teach them specific how-to strategies for revising and editing (one strategy for each per writing piece). In my experience kids really have a hard time revising their writing. They just don't get it and they feel like they've put so much effort into drafting that it must be good. This is why I focus on giving them easy-to-follow steps. This time we are working on adding sensory details. 

First, we put a box around all the nouns in our writing piece...or at least tried. It didn't have to be perfect because we are going to focus in on 10 specific nouns for this part of revising. You'll notice these in green above. Next, we underlined any words we used that help the reader visualize that noun. Sometimes it was adjectives. Other times it was behaviors or actions. Basically, we wanted to see the areas we've already started to give our reader a clearer picture of the events. From there the kids each picked 10 nouns they hadn't given any description to and listed them on a separate paper. In pairs they brainstormed words that could give the reader a picture of this noun. Their last step was to reread their story and pick the best word or words based on the mood they were trying to create in their story. If it was a narrative about being frightened, they picked a word that made the reader feel their fear. If they were trying to have the reader feel their personal victory, they selected a word more focused toward that end. It is a super easy way to get the kids to add more details and consider their story in a new way.

We've been subtracting with regrouping! Early next week we should be ready to wrap up our unit, but this is always a tough concept for at least a handful kids. We have been using Base 10 blocks and the amazing app Show Me to work through problems in small group using the iPad. If you aren't familiar with this app, but you have iPads in your school...or even a personal one...I highly recommend it! I typically do not use it to record, but it is great as a handheld mini whiteboard. However, if you are looking for a way to give directions (like for stations or enrichment), here's an easy tutorial on how to get it all set up! 

We made it to the pumpkin patch this weekend. Little Bean was so excited about the petting zoo, she could have cares less about the pumpkins. She was completely and totally enthralled with this baby rabbit. Thankfully she was incredibly gentle, which we praised her for repeatedly. Let's hope she is just as gentle with her sister when she arrives in a few weeks!

Happy Sunday,

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grading Smarter, Not Harder Book Study Week 1

In an effort to read more professional books, I have joined a digital book club. I am super excited to be joining a great group of ladies as we read and discuss. 

From what I understand so far, this book is really focused on the standards-based grading movement. However, I am just starting this book, so I could totally be wrong about that. I am not 100% sure I am on board, but I am going to do my best to wait to pass judgment until I get reading. In case you are looking to find out more about the book (Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies that Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn by Myron Dueck), you can get your copy by clicking on the picture below. 

This is officially the first week of our book club, but we only focused on the introduction. We will be posting weekly on Thursdays to share our thoughts and reactions to the weekly readings. This is new for me so I hope you will bear with me as I get my feet wet. So without further ado, here we go. 
My biggest take-away from this section was the concept of the CARE model. Dueck posits that these four factors should be the most important things to take into account when determining whether to penalize students. As I am sure you can guess, CARE is an acronym. Here's a little overview of the model: 

    • C: Students must CARE about the consequence. 
    • A: The penalty should fit the AIMS you are trying to achieve. 
    • R: It should reduce the behavior. 
    • E: The students should feel empowered regarding the actions for which they are receiving a consequence.

As I consider the model, I can honestly say that I am not trying to completely revamp what I do. Of course, I am not opposed to this if the book provides a really persuasive argument, but I also feel that the system serves a purpose. My goal is to really find ways to make my grading more useful and meaningful for both myself and my students. 

I really want some strategies that I can apply to my grading to help increase the meaning of grades. I work in a school where the majority of students are highly motivated (whether internally or via their parents externally). Therefore, it isn't about pushing my students to take more stock in grades. In fact, I would like some of my families to take LESS stock in individual grades considering I am sitting one-on-one with their child for every assignment. However, I am open to the idea that the grades could be more meaningful and a better representation of true knowledge. I guess I am hoping Dueck gives me the HOW for this. 

So bear with me, it is only the intro. However, I do have some pretty big questions for Dueck before I am going to be persuaded that this is the way to go. 
  1. Where does personal responsibility come into grading and shouldn't it be reflected in a student's work? 
  2. How do parents take this alternative method for grading, especially those who are hypervigilant about their child's grades? 
  3. What about the statement that grades are earned not given? Does it apply to this text? How? 
Seem like an interesting read? Pick up a copy and join in on next week's discussion, where we will work through chapter 1. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Science Saturday: Energy

Welcome back to another Science Saturday! We are just wrapping up our 10-day energy unit, and it has been a really fun one for the kids. You'll notice we only covered sound, light, and heat energy in depth. We worked in a little mechanical energy on the first day, but our district has a separate unit on force, motion, and mechanical energy later on in the school year. Here's a peek at what we've been up to.

Day 1: What is Energy? 
We started our inquiry into energy by creating a mind map in our science journals. As the kids made theirs, I called on volunteers to share their understanding to create a shared mind map of our collective understanding. 

This was a great intro activity because it allowed my students to start thinking about what they already knew on the topic (nothing like activating some prior knowledge), and it gave me a clear understanding of who had misconceptions and what areas we really needed more intensive attention on. 

After finishing our mind map, I put the kids into groups to read the mini-book Energy is Everywhere. There are three levels of this book, which was perfect for my group because I have a range of students and background knowledge so I was able to assign kids to a book that was just hard enough to give them new information but not so hard that they were totally confused. The groups read together and took shared notes in their science journals. 

We wrapped up our lesson by sharing out our notes and looking back at our mind map to see if our understanding had changed at all. The kids had lots to say as they noticed some misconceptions that we had only 30 minutes earlier. It was really cool to see. 

Days 2-3: Sound Energy
We started out with sound energy because I have a group of tappers this year! They are full of sound energy...all the time. This just let me channel it into something more useful. 

Each day we did an investigation and a little learning. It kept things fun, and the kids really got the chance to explore while they learned to help fit their new knowledge into their pre-existing schema. 
The first day, we watched a short BrainPopJr. video on sound energy. Then the kids went out into our common area to use cups to investigate how they could manipulate pitch using glasses and water. 

After documenting their learning, the kids were challenged to work in groups to play either "Hot Cross Buns" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" using only three glasses and water. The kids reflected on this experience in their science journals, writing about what they learned about manipulating sound to create music. Of course like the good science teacher I am, Mr. D, Little Bean, and I tried this one out before I took it into class. It was a great activity for a Saturday. 

The second day, we explored sound vibrations using metal cans, plastic wrap, and rock salt. The kids had to problem solve to figure out how to make the salt move without touching the can. There was lots of trial and error before they realized that they could use sound energy to make the salt move! 

Days 4-5: Light Energy
As we worked with light energy, my goal was to explore how the light can be manipulated and bent. This was important because we were going to use this to direct the sunlight into our solar ovens later in the unit, but it was also fun. The kids played a target practice game as they explored how they could "move" the light from a stationary flashlight using a mirror.
Each group was given a target to hit. They had to write in their journals to explain what they did to move the light and why they think it worked. The kids had a great time trying to hit the target, and they really felt like it was a game vs. an experiment. Little did they know they were learning about light at the same time! 

Days 6-7: Heat/Thermal Energy
Out of all the forms of energy, my students seemed to have the best grasp on thermal energy. My big goal was for them to make connections to the Sun being a source of thermal energy (to prepare them for the solar oven project) and the idea that thermal energy causes changes in matter.  After watching a BrainPopJr. video on Heat Energy, the kids and I had a great discussion about where they see heat energy around us. We even came to the conclusion that our hot cars on a sunny day are an example of heat energy from the sun. 

We did a brief experiment focused on the idea that heat energy changes matter. The kids were put into groups. and given three ice cubes, three pieces of chocolate, and three paper clips. They hypothesized what would happen to the items when placed by the window for five minutes and held in their closed hand for five minutes. Our third set was just left in the room as a control. 

The results were MESSY, but so fun. The kids created a table of their before and after diagrams, which allowed us to have a FABULOUS discussion about how the source impacted what happened. The kids came to the realization that body heat impacted the items more quickly, but the heat from the sunlight coming in our window would have eventually served the same purpose. Of course, they also had some questions about the fact that the paperclip didn't change at all and whether the starting temperature of the three objects impacted the effect of the heat. (Which led to an extra mini-experiment later that day where were started all three items in the freezer.)

Day 8: Solar Oven S'mores
My partner teacher and I (we share adjoining rooms) did this activity together. Over the course of the week, the kids brought in boxes of different sizes and shapes. We wanted the kids to have some idea of what to do so they watched a short, super straight-forward video by Steve Spangler to give us some background knowledge. 

From there the kids were put into groups to select their materials and draw their design. They had the choice to follow the design they saw in the video or modify it to make it more effective. Surprisingly, even my most conservative, non-risk taking students decided to go their own direction. In fact, only one chose a pizza box to start with! The results were not always pretty, and I was not even sure we would have any luck when we actually put them in the sun. Once they diagrammed their design, they were allowed to get their supplies and get to work cutting, gluing, and designing. 

Since it was cold and cloudy, we only did our design on the first day. Thankfully, Day 2 was sunny (and windy) so we were able to get our solar ovens outside to cook and get our reflections written the same day. 

Days 9-10: Review & Assess
We did our review in stations. One group was with me doing a whiteboard quiz. Three other groups were around the room working on related review activities. The kids rotated through all four stations before they completed our assessment. 

  • Station 1: Teacher Review
    • Using questions based on our standards and essential questions, I had a small group quiz game at my table. Some kids used whiteboards and markers to record their answers, but we also used our two iPads and the free app Show Me in place of a couple whiteboards. 
  • Station 2: Mind Map Reflection
    • It was really important for me that the kids had a chance to reflect on their learning in this unit. Therefore, we took our original mind maps to help us think about our learning. The kids wrote a short reflection and had a chance to update their mind map to include their new understanding. Right before they took the test, we reviewed these as a class to create a new version of our class mind map. 
  • Station 3: Energy Games
    • Although they were from different levels on Science A-Z, I really liked the variety of energy games available. I let the kids choose their game and materials, and they were able to play partner games during this station. There was lots of great vocabulary review, but the kids just saw it as fun!
  • Station 4: Science Through Literature
    • The final station had my students reading and practicing their nonfiction note taking (which is something we've been doing in our reading time and during our Genius Hour) using a variety of energy books. I got a collection from the library and the energy leveled readers from Science A-Z. 

So there you have it! Feel free to link up all those great energy blog posts and resources that make your unit great! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Five for Friday: October 2

Can you believe it is already October? Seriously, where did September go? We sent home our first progress reports today, and the quarter ends in only a few more weeks. I've been busy conferencing with parents pretty much every day for the past 2 weeks. Since I cannot do late nights with our daycare schedule, I've only been able to do one or two per day and it is taking FOREVER!!! Thinking it might be time for a nice decaf pumpkin spice latte.

We've been wrapping up our study of energy this week. On Monday we explored how heat energy can cause matter to change. After heating a paper clip, Hershey Kiss, and ice cube for 5 minutes using body heat, we explored the changes that had occurred. Who doesn't like to get a little dirty in the name of science? 

My favorite part was our post experiment conversation. When we were discussing whether we could melt the paperclip, I had a couple students recommend using a volcano... Interesting idea, right? Several students hypothesized that the difference in starting temperatures was the reason the ice melted but the paper clip didn't. Seeing a teachable moment, we got new chocolate, ice, and a paperclip and put them all in the freezer only to discover that it wasn't the starting temperature at all.

I started an awesome new math activity for my early finishers. After seeing some great stuff on Pinterest about having kids write math word problems to fit a given answer, I took a great set of array task cards by my TPT buddy the Evil Math Wizard and challenged my students to write a word problem that matched one of the pictures. (We'd already used these cards to write multiplication and repeated addition sentences so the kids were familiar, but this let me get another great use out of the cards.)

My students  wrote some super awesome problems about the delicious looking mini lemon tarts that you can see above. I told them I would pick several of the problems they wrote to highlight as a challenge problem of the week so they were REALLY excited to get their ideas up on the board.  

Unrelated to teaching, I decided to capture a few pictures of Little Bean this week after her uncle asked to see some recent shots. Over the course of three photos (taken in about 30 seconds), you could see her come to the realization that I was taking pictures. I about died when I looked back at the last one. Pure cheese!!! Every time I have been a little grumpy this week, I look at this photo, and I just cannot keep from busting out laughing. What a ham! 

Have you ever built solar ovens? I had never done this before, but I decided to go out on a limb this year and try something new. The kids had a blast designing and creating their own solar ovens using this instructional video by Steve Spangler

I did this activity with my partner teacher and allowed the kids to make any changes they thought would improve the design. Boy, did they take that challenge to heart! We weren't able to cook because it was overcast and looked like rain all day, but we are hoping tomorrow will be a better day to test our prototypes. Not sure we will actually get any cooked s'mores from the deal, but it will be a great learning opportunity. 

The honeymoon is over. My kids are officially bringing out their true colors. This week has been full of "I forgot my homework/lunch/etc.", "I don't know how I am getting home.", "So and so said he'd hurt me if I didn't show him my middle finger." incredibly thankful it is finally Friday!

Happy Friday,

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