Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Science Activity: Design a Cell Phone

Many students own and an have an interest in cell phones.  Channel their interest into this science activity for the middle grades.  This interactive science activity from applies engineering principles by challenging students to design their own cell phone.  

The site presents a problem:  senior citizens are dissatisfied by many popular cell phone designs, and students must come up with a design that addresses the particular needs of that demographic.  The site allows students to research, design, and test their model before it is put on the market for consumers.   The teacher's page for this activity also has tips and extensions, such as designing a cell phone for business people and middle school students.  Discussion questions, printables and assessment tips are included.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Journal Prompts Galore: Story Starters

Are you looking for a quick writing assignment for students?  Would you like to give them practice with different forms of creative writing?  I found a website with some valuable resources for you!

Bic's Story Starters offer some excellent writing and journal prompts for students.  Borrow some ideas directly from the site, or print the prompts as cards.  This is helpful because you can assign everyone the same prompt, or pass out individual cards for each student.   

The downloadable Story Starters give students practice writing for different purposes, such as entertainment.  

These are great for substitute plans as well.  Keep a few of them ready for emergency lesson plans.  

Substitutes, you can also record a few a use them for when you need a few activities.  Just pass out the prompt cards or write one on the board, and students and respond in their journals.  You all know I'm a fan of journal writing!

The great thing about these is that they are FREE and look a lot like some expensive products I've seen on the market.  Yay, Bic!


Monday, April 25, 2011

Video: Teacher 'Flips' Classroom Methods

In this clip, a teacher shows how he flipped traditional teaching methods.  Instead of introducing science concepts and lecturing in class, he does it all by video, which kids watch at home.  In class, they do what is normally saved for homework and extra practice:  apply what they learned at home.

It's called a "flipped" classroom, and he says it's been successful for his students.  What do you think?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Inspiring Video: Calculus Class

Check out this Edutopia video of a calculus teacher who motivates his students to learn and succeed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Rigorous Classroom

A couple of weeks ago, I made a post about "challenging students mentally."  It turns out that there is a lot of literature out there about this exact concept, more commonly referred to as "rigor."  I've been doing research about rigor in the classroom, and much of it is very helpful.  It all points back to having high expectations for students, and demanding higher-level thinking and high-quality work from all of them.

As I continue to research this concept and do more thinking about it, I will give updates about valuable things I learn, or questions I have.

In the meantime, check out this quote from a book I've been perusing.  If you're thinking about what kinds of materials to use in the classroom (for lessons, instruction, assessment, activities, etc), here's something to remember:

"... The kind of learning material to look for is that which is just within but at the outer edge of students' current abilities."

How to Plan Rigorous Instruction (Mastering the Principles of Great Teaching)

With this is mind, I can remember to keep students striving for the next level in their understanding and capabilities.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Substitute Advice on Consequences

This is a post I found helpful on the A to Z Teacher Stuff forum in a discussion about giving out consequences.  The context was about substitute teaching, but I do think this post applies to any teacher giving out consequences for misbehavior.  

Thanks again for allowing me to post this, EdEd!

One of the biggest secrets I've found is not what the specific consequence is, but how it is structured. For example, all of the consequences you've listed above are "one and done." The behavior happens, you give the consequence, and you are out of ammo - nothing left to do. If the behavior continues, you have to move on to something else because they already have a note going home.

Often, you can get away with much smaller consequences than you'd ever imagine, if structured right. For example, you can take 10 seconds off of a 2nd grader's recess, and they might be devastated! Naturally, that leaves you with a lot of ammo - you can take off a lot of "10 seconds of recess" and still have a lot left over. Likewise, because of the nature of the consequence, you can also add it back on - for example, kids can earn back a portion of their recess if lost.

Also, think more immediately. A lot of the things you've mentioned above are consequences that occur well into the future - note written to the teacher won't be felt until 24 hours, referral won't be read by a parent for a few hours. Think about things in the child's immediate environment that they care about. Here's a little trick - the closer in time the consequence or reward, the smaller it can be. Believe it or not, kids may act up even when they know they will get a playstation for Christmas in 3 weeks. But, if they know they could be moved to the front of the lunch line if they walk quietly in the hall way, they may just shape up. Why? Because they don't have to wait 3 weeks. Extend that out into "adult time." What if I said to you as a sub, "I will pay you $140 tomorrow morning, or $300 in 10 years." Which one would you chose? 

The mental trick to creating these momentary reinforcement/punishment opportunities is to put yourself in the minds of the kids standing in front of you - what would make the next 10 seconds of their lives that much more awesome? For example, an extra 30 seconds of centers might do it, or offering to the class that you will pick one person who is particularly well-lined up to move to the front of the line. Or, 10 minutes before recess, you might say that you'll pick one student who is particularly well-behaved (define what this is to them) carry out the basketball to recess. 

Many of us make our ways through less exciting parts of our own lives like this - we let ourselves eat extra ice cream after we clean up the living room; we let ourselves go to happy hour Friday after working hard to do lesson plans Thursday night; we let ourselves watch 10 minutes of Tivo after grading 10 papers. We give ourselves little treats to keep us alive, interested, and motivated to get through the less interesting parts of day.

Of course, there is something to be said for not encouraging our culture of momentary and immediate reinforcement, but as a sub you probably won't find yourself with opportunities to utterly influence kids' worldviews on reinforcement through your one-day classroom management plans. In addition, even asadults, we need reinforcement. Some things we love to do - for everything else, there's ice cream .

--EdEd, A to Z forum

This gave me something to think about after a bad day a couple of weeks ago, in which I spent most of my time repeating the same reprimands to the same students.  It was particularly aggravating because there was nothing I could really use as "punishment."  There was no recess for that day, and there seemed to be no real classroom discipline policy for me to enforce.  The warnings that I would be reporting their behavior in a note to their teacher fell on deaf ears.  I was, as EdEd described, "out of ammo."

What did that class want "immediately" that I could have used as an incentive?  After reading this post, I was reminded that several of the offending boys tried unsuccessfully to fold paper and draw instead of doing their work.  If I had been proactive, I could have compromised and required 15 minutes of real work to earn 5 minutes of free drawing time, or something to that effect.  Some would disagree with this method, but 15 minutes of productivity is 15 more minutes than they were willing to give me that day.  Anything would have been better than what I was doing!  

Sometimes, it's good to have a reminder.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Gardening in the Classroom

Here are a few ideas for starting a small garden in the classroom.  Students enjoy watching their seeds grow, and there are several options available for just how to do it.

  • Intellokids has a wide range of seed-plating methods for the classroom.  This contains descriptions of planting seeds in jars, in fish tanks and on paper towels, among other places.
  • This is actually a craft project that describes using recycled materials to create a "garden" of flowers and other plants.  This is a good activity for Earth Day or any lesson about recycling or reusing materials, perfect for spring. 
  • This idea comes from Family Fun magazine, a good way to save space by using a window for your seeds:
Hanging Garden

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Two Creative Poetry Activities

School Library Journal's Fuse 8 blog encourages us to use some creative activities to celebrate Poetry Month.  These ideas would be ideal in an advanced classroom.  They use techniques some may find unfamiliar and unconventional, but that could manifest as fresh appeal to students and broaden their interest in poetry.  If you're looking to journey beyond the haiku, try out these two Fuse 8's tips:

  • The Newspaper Blackout Poem, created by artist Austin Kleon.  His website shows tons of examples.  The basic idea is to build your own context to words in newspaper articles by obscuring all the other words with a dark marker.  This activity allows students to reveal their own short poems, proverbs, aphorisms and other messages.
  • Fibonacci Poems, which creator Greg Pincus affectionately calls "Fibs," are a good way to integrate math in a poetry lesson.  This challenging activity requires students to use the Fibonacci sequence to construct their poem.  If math and numbers appeal to your students, I think they'd like this!  

I like these activities because they help students focus on using a few words to great effect.  

Fuse 8 has other creative poetry activities listed (including poems about food and daunting 20 consonant poems), so check out the link!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Crafts: Caterpillars, Bees and Other Insects

These projects were designed to recognize the crawling and buzzing creatures that thrive in the spring.  I've included butterfly and ladybug crafts in previous posts, but these ideas highlight the less glamorous bugs that kids nevertheless find interesting:

  • These cute caterpillars are made from egg cartons.  The creator astutely suggests pairing this project with a reading of Eric Carle's classic Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  • This is a simple bumblebee project that's ideal for young students.
  • These bees are made from paper plates.
  • This last resource is actually a list (provided by Scholastic) of science activities that focus on insects. These engaging activities include everything from exploring bee pheromones, to journeying outside and predicting what foods attract the most ants, to using butterflies as a model for symmetry.  If you like these, there is another list with even more suggestions for springtime science activities.  

image: microsoft

Spring Crafts: Make Kites, Umbrellas, & Birds

Here a few more ideas for spring classroom crafts:

  • This first grade teacher introduced her class to dictionary skills with little kite decorations.   What a great idea for spring! 
  • These adorable, vibrantly colored birds are a nice project for the ambitious and talented.  They're made from lightbulbs!  The step-by-step process is clearly outlined.
  • Speaking of birds, why not combine a springtime theme with Poetry Month lessons?  The Crafty Classroom shows what can happen when birdseed and poetry unite in this simple activity.  A downloadable template is included.
  • If you’re reading any books about rain, or looking for a craft project to accompany a lesson on weather, how about these April shower umbrellas made from paper plates?
  • Finally, check out these beautiful window silhouettes decorated as Easter eggs and bunnies!  Lovely adornments for your windows at this time of year.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poetry Activities: Shel Silverstein

Where the Sidewalk Ends 30th Anniversary Edition: Poems and Drawings

Shel Silverstein’s books (which include classics like Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and others) are excellent resources to have for exploring poetry.  Since April is National Poetry month, a simple visit to Silverstein’s official site provides several ideas for using his work in the classroom over the next few weeks.

Here are a few suggestions:

·      Here is a list of Poetry Month activities.  You can work with students to uncover rhymes, deciphering mood, identifying personification and much more by using some of these ideas.
·      Students can examine poetry and illustrate their visualizations in these two amusing printable booklets
·      There is also a lesson plan for Silverstein’s Runny Babbit book.  More poetry exploration and practice for fluency is encouraged.
·      Even more poetry printables


Check out the site for more information on the author and his work.  His books and activities are always a great way to inspire a love of poetry within students.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Using Captain Underpants in the Classroom

The New Captain Underpants Collection (Books 1-5)

I came up with this idea after seeing what must now be hundreds of Dav Pilkey books in classrooms.  Boys in elementary school seem to have their eyes permanently affixed to Pilkey’s various graphic novels, and I think many would enjoy any classroom activity that uses the stories.

Pilkey has written several popular series, including the Captain Underpants and Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot books.

I’m most familiar with the Captain Underpants books.  The books contain a series of what the author calls “mini-comics” created by a few of the characters.  Pilkey says he wants to inspire kids to create stories without worrying about perfection.  It’s a noble endeavor; many kids forsake the writing process, and expressing their ideas creatively, simply because they struggle with spelling and grammar.

At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with giving students a bit of practice with spelling and grammar, especially if you’re using one of their favorite books.  One of the issues many kids have with spelling or “sentence editing” practice is that they are bored with the typical skills practice sheets and language arts texts. 

Try using those Captain Underpants novels instead!  The “mini-comics” are full of spelling and grammatical errors.  Here are a few example pages.  Kids who enjoy the novel can engage in a “scavenger hunt” activity to find a certain amount of mistakes in each of the mini-comics, rewrite the sentences correctly, and check their responses with a partner.  Chances are they will be more engaged by the activity because they are using an enjoyable text rather than a dull worksheet.  This is essentially the same method used by Caught'ya! and other story-based editing activities, but Pilkey novels (and others like them) offer the chance to use stories that are likely already familiar to and beloved by students.

 The activity could be a writing center or “word work” station.

Here are a few more ideas:

·      Follow Pilkey’s example and encourage students to create their own “mini-comics.”   You can have them make purposeful mistakes to trade with a partner and “hunt” for errors, or they can be a chance to write and create stories without worrying about corrections.
·      For a more challenging activity that explores the use of voice in writing, ask students to work backwards with the mini-comic format, translating correct sentences or scenes from another book into a comic created by George and Harold.
·      Use the official teacher’s guide to Pilkey novels.  This spelling/grammar editing is actually recommended within it, so it looks like my idea is on the right track!  There are also tons of other activities listed, such as writing a letter to a favorite character, as well as designing a robot and creating an advertisement for its design.  There are also discussion questions for several of Pilkey’s novels.
·      Visit Pilkey’s official website for a lot of other information on him and his work.  There are several games on the site based on the books.  If you have Pilkey fans in your class, keep these computer games in mind as a possible reward or incentive.


Monday, April 11, 2011

5 Butterfly Crafts for Spring

If you want your students to create these beautiful insects to celebrate the spring season, explore these 5 ideas from various sites:

  • ·      These are some of the most eye-catching butterflies that I’ve found, and the site even features some helpful templates.
  • ·      This art class used tissue paper and liquid starch to make these colorful butterflies.
  • ·      These butterflies would look wonderful hanging near a window where they can catch the sunlight.     
  •      This easy butterfly project is made from a paper plate.
  • ·      From the Mailbox:  use templates to trace the butterfly body, and then trace the wings onto black construction paper.  Use some glue on the wings, and then sprinkle glitter over the glue.  Shake off the excess after drying, overlap the wings, and then glue the body over them.  Add antennae and other decorations.  Here is an illustration from their site:

image:   The Education Center

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Using the Mysteries of Harris Burdick in the Classroom

                                          The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

I wanted to start the series with this book because it’s one of my favorites from childhood.  One of the reasons I still enjoy it as an adult is because of its ability to inspire the imagination.

Caldecott-winner Chris Van Allsburg wrote this book nearly 30 years ago, and it’s still a classroom favorite.  You can use this book whenever you want to encourage some creative writing amongst your students.

For those unfamiliar with the book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is about a man who wrote and illustrated stories, delivered samples to an editor, yet never returned.  The editor saved the remnants of these stories, which were then passed on to this book’s author.  The author compiled the fragments of the stories into the book we have today.

The book is full of wonderful, unrelated illustrations on each page, accompanied by a single-sentence excerpt from the story of its mysterious  origin.  Because the elusive Harris Burdick was never found, and never gave the any background on his illustrations, the reader may freely imagine their own story based on the pictures.

The book showcases everything from homes flying like rockets, floating orbs of light entering a sleeping boy’s room, and a vine growing from inside an open book.  Each picture appears like a snapshot from a fantasy story and begs several questions:  what’s going on here?  How did this happen?  What’s the story behind this picture?

There are thousands of potential stories behind each picture, as the author describes on his website.  He still receives stories inspired by the book, all written by readers who breathed life into what he began.  Keeping a copy of the book for extensive, long-term use would be a good idea.  The pictures and (sometimes cryptic) excerpts offer a million possibilities, which is why it’s ideal for the classroom.

·      For classroom use, you can simply introduce the book to the class, read a page, show the picture, and allow students to finish their own story.  Return to the book later and go to the next page for a new story. 
·      You could also leave the book in your writing center and encourage students to peruse the book, find a page that intrigues them, and create their own story based on it. 
·      If you have students who like to write their own stories, or they're experiencing writers’ block, point them to this book for inspiration.
·      Challenge advanced writers to play around with genre or the elements of the story.  For instance, is the picture from a scene at the beginning of the story, or from the end?  Could their story be a poem, historical fiction, science fiction, etc?  Could it be in first or third person?  Could it be a reader’s theater play made almost entirely from dialogue?
·      Finally, you can use van Allsburg’s model with entirely new images and words.  If this book proves anything, it's the power of pictures.  Anytime you find interesting photos or illustrations (other picture books, magazines and calendars would be useful), save them for student stories.  You can encourage students to also be on the lookout for any exciting images, or illustrate their own to share with the class and use for writing stories.

Also, check out these two resources:  Houghton Mifflin's guide to using the book for writing lessons, and the official site for the book, where you can read stories people have submitted as well as submit your own!

A true sense of wonder is sparked by van Allsburg's work.   If you ever want to motivate creative writing, or create fantasy stories with your class, look no further than this book.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

6 Flower Crafts for Spring

Flowers are a quintessential part of spring, and these craft ideas are perfect classroom projects for this time of year:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Popular Children’s Books in the Classroom

This week, I’m beginning a new series that explores popular children’s books and how they can be used in the classroom.  My aim is to help teachers capitalize on the books their students already love to read by using them for lessons and classroom activities.

I should point out that literacy is one of the things I focus on a lot in teaching.  I love seeing what kids like to read, asking them about their books, and thinking of ways they can used in the classroom.  This blog series came to fruition after I paid attention to what students read and talked to them about books.  Most of the books I highlight will be popular series books, since kids love them and they offer the most opportunities for activities.

Here are a few ways you can use the activities and links from this blog series:

·      Use them as a springboard for lessons
·      Use them after read-alouds for brainstorming and writing activities
·      Use them for booktalks, independent reading or discussions
·      Use them for “extra activities” when students are done with their work
·      Use them for substitute lesson plans, or extras for early finishers
·      Journaling, research, options on a menu of assignments, extra credit, etc.
The goal, of course, is to encourage student reading and build off of their love for their favorite books.  If you can connect skills and standards to what they already love to read, it may their learning a bit more engaging.

Looking forward to it! 


3 Ladybug Crafts for Spring

Celebrate spring by having your students create lovely ladybugs!  I’ve looked around the net for ladybug classroom craft projects, and here are my three favorites:

  •        This Fabulous First Grade teacher shows you how to make ladybugs from paper plates.  Click the comments to view the teacher’s instructions.   She also included a printable to use this activity with a popular Eric Carle book.  
  •     Arts and Crafts Kids’ website provides an easy, step-by-step process for ladybugs, also made from paper plates.  The photos and instructions are quite easy to follow.
  •     Another idea from The Mailbox:  use the same paper plate ladybug concept, but cut the wings in half, hole punch the top, and connect the wings with brads (or, use this template from  Underneath the wings, glue an index cards for students to write a poem about ladybugs.



image:  The Education Center