Category Archives: Tuesday Teaching Tip

April is National Poetry Month – Celebrate!

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“Poetry is everywhere – it just needs editing.”        –James Tate

I have had a heck of a time writing this week’s teaching tip.  I had it planned out in my head (sort of) and had begun to collect resources to support teaching that centered around National Poetry Month.  And then I wrote a first draft – it took me nearly 6 hours to write and reflected my ADD.  And, as Rachel kindly and gently noted, “it was pretty long and maybe we needed to divide it into 3 parts.”  In truth, it was not only long, but it was everywhere.  And it needed a lot of editing.  James Tate’s quote about poetry is making me feel a little bit better about it.

So this week’s teaching tip is #1 in a series about teaching poetry, with a focus on “go to” resources for your classroom (or at home) to plan at least a little bit ahead for a month of poetry everywhere.  And parents?  There are some poetry ideas in here for you as well!

April is the perfect time to celebrate American Poets and Poetry!  It has been a long winter and celebrations are great ways to rejuvenate weary students and teachers.  There are countless ways to celebrate:  Collect and read poetry, respond to poetry in writing or art, write poetry or perform poetry.  You can write to poets.  You can make recordings of kids reading poetry.

Poetry is my favorite genre to teach: it teaches kids about good writing, the crucial importance of language, and how to read and think critically and carefully. Moreover, poetry gives kids the opportunity to reflect on the people they are and the world they inhabit, and to imagine the people they wish to be and the world they hope to create.  Remember: Poetry is a worthwhile genre across the academic spectrum: Language Arts (reading and writing), STEM, Social Science and Performing Arts.  


Click on the underlined links to check out these resources firsthand to create poetry units or to weave into previously planned lessons:

The American Academy of Poetspoets.org

This is the place to go for poems, interdisciplinary lessons (many aligned with the common core standards) to teach poetry, and ideas for celebrating poetry in your school or classroom.  Click on the “For Educators” menu to find tips for teaching poetry, poetry resources for teens, curriculum and lesson plans, great poems to teach, essays on teaching, and a teacher resources center.  Check out The Listening Booth.  Other highlights include:

  • 30 ways to celebrate National Poetry MonthTons of ideas to weave into your classroom or school or at home to celebrate poetry!  Put poetry in an unexpected place!  Write a letter to a poet!
  • A POEM IN YOUR POCKET: Share a poem with everyone you meet on “National Poem in Your Pocket Day” which is Thursday, April 24, 2014.  Select a poem or compose an original work and carry it with you in your pocket all day, sharing the poem and the fun of National Poetry Month wherever you go. The site has poems to download (.pdf format) ready to share in your classroom or school or with your friends and neighbors.
  • The 2014 Poet-to-Poet Project:  This is a special multimedia educational project for students in grades 3-12 to write poems in response to the poems of living poets (classrooms can watch YouTube videos of the poets reading and explaining the creation of their poem) and send them to the American Academy of Poets.  Students have until April 30, 2014 to submit their poems. The American Academy of Poets worked with a curriculum specialist to design a series of standards – based lesson plans, with Science connections, together with activities and resources to support students who participate in this project:
  • The Literature of War (Grades 10-12)Students develop a poetic vocabulary and pursue an examination of the effects of war on those involved in the fighting and those they leave behind, moving chronologically through time.  The unit concludes by looking at the world’s most recent acts of war, the effects and ramifications of the events on and following September 11, through the reading of poems written since that date. As a culminating activity, students are asked to respond with a poem of their own that they illustrate with relevant images found on the web.

Poetry-Foundation-Logo-horizThe Poetry Foundation

This is an awesome website with thousands of poems and short bios of poets.  It is easily searchable for specifics.  It also has a wide variety of resources with ideas for teaching poetry across the spectrum:

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Poetry Out Loud

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.  The site has suggested lessons and class schedules.

Although the official contest is designed for high schoolers, the materials could be adapted for classroom use in younger grades.  Here is a link to a downloadable .pdf of the 2014 Poetry Out Loud Teacher’s Guide.


PBS NewsHour Poetry Page

A compendium of PBS features on contemporary poets and poetry that might be relevant to the previously planned lessons you are teaching in your classroom (a simple way to weave poetry celebration into your current instruction).   

In particular, take a look at the project of the current Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway, called “Where Poetry Lives, “which focuses on “issues that matter to Americans through the framework of poetry.”  Some interesting pieces for parents and teachers alike that are certain to generate meaningful discussion.


ReadWriteThink

A comprehensive list of resources and ideas for lesson plans and assessments focused on National Poetry Month.

 

shel silversteinShel Silverstein

This page contains teaching and learning materials using the poetry of the late, but forever beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein.  Who doesn’t love The Giving Tree? Here is a  link to the downloadable .pdf of Shelebrate National Poetry Month 2012, which is representative of the engaging curriculum found on this website.  Shel’s poems are accessible, meaningful and so much fun.  Parents should  might want to check out Shel’s website to access Shel’s poetry (samples), animations and activities and for a list of his poetry books.


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NY Times Learning Network

Here are thirty, easy, quick and engaging ideas for ways to respond to and appreciate,  create,  and perform poetry, all with connections to the larger world.  With links to specific teaching resources.  Designed with teachers in mind!

 

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The Poetry Archive

I couldn’t leave this site off this list even though it seems to be a UK site.  It contains a wealth of materials about poems, poets and the art of poetry,  with online recordings of poets from around the world reading their own work.  There is a menu of teacher resources with materials for teaching students at all ages starting at age 5, with ideas about how to incorporate listening into a lesson.  It also houses “The Children’s Poetry Archive” which allows a search by “poetic form.”   Here are some Tips for getting the best out of the Archive.


More next week!

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Tweet, Tweet, Tweet…

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This week’s teaching tip focuses on Twitter and its use as a teacher resource.  It’s a great source for professional development and it supports collaboration among teachers within a school, a district, a country, and yes, the world.  It is also a wonderful social medium to practice writing.  Really. 

Twitter tweets rock.  Honestly, I never thought I’d say this – 140 characters?  Are you kidding me? What can anyone say that’s worth reading in 140… but wait.  It takes a lot of writing prowess to write a meaningful and coherent thought in 140 characters.  True sentences, often, are whittled down to the pith (think Ernest Hemingway).

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway revealed his struggle with writer’s block: “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

twitter hashtags

Twitter can be a good place to practice writing — and also search for — that “one true sentence.” It is chock full of sentences (okay, “tweets”) that can lead the reader to knowledge, personal/professional support, and often, the truth (always be on the look out for trolls, political ax grinders and The Onion, among other Twitter accounts, that can lead you astray).  And yes, Twitter is full of digital noise (think about the notes or texts you confiscate during instruction).

In fact, teachers can use the power of Twitter to build a one-of-a-kind, fully-customized, digital network that permits them to quickly share resources, voice concerns about educational policy, and lend or seek support from other teachers. Differentiated teaching & learning? Yes.  Twitter can be utilized as differentiated professional development (who has not yearned for this in the teaching profession?)

If you haven’t created a twitter account, and aren’t sure how it would work, here are some examples of teachers on twitter.  Then, go to twitter.com and create your free account. Remember, it’s public so put up a nice photo of yourself and take some time to set up your profile.   And then, tweet!

twitter reader

Twitter is NOISY! Determine which accounts you should follow.

Twitter can feel like being in the middle of Grand Central Station during rush hour and being hard of hearing.  People, ideas, music, videos, are flying around all over the place.  OVERWHELMING.

BUT, the user (that’s you) has total control of the accounts he or she follows (and unfollow).  You decide what you want to read and hear.  So,  begin by following educators you know or have worked with.  Twitter helps you:

  • connect and converse with those other teachers who attended professional development with you last week
  • lend support to one of your colleagues who is struggling with classroom engagement.

It makes sense to follow the established “experts” – these tweets will often have timely information relevant to your teaching practice, and can help you hone your craft.

twitter books

Here are a few of the twitter accounts which provide valuable teaching resources/guidance that Rachel and I both follow:

  1.  @edutopia:  Inspiration and Information for what works in education.  This account and its companion website (www.edutopia.org) have tons of research-based teaching ideas with an eye on the looming common core standards.  Love this.
  2. @DiscoveryEd: This is a global account that focuses on all aspects of classroom teaching and technology.  Companion website: www.discoveryeducation.com.
  3. @pbsteachers: PBS loves teachers!  Free digital resources and loads of great content for your classroom in all subject areas.
  4. @USATeducation: Resources from USA Today to connect student learning to the world around them.
  5. @NCTM: Tweets about Math teaching  from the the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Also take a look at their companion website Illuminations for additional teaching resources).
  6. @Tolerance_org and @Facing History:  A plug for my most favorite teaching resources as a social science, history and literature teacher. Teaching Tolerance provides teachers with phenomenal free teaching materials and Facing History provides meaningful curriculum (and supportive, ongoing, reflective professional development from amazing people) geared toward promoting tolerance and combatting racism across the globe.
  7. @NCTE:  The National Council of Teachers of English tweet information on teaching (resources), common core and educational policy for pre-k to HS educators.  (Also check out www.NCTE.org and www.readwritethink.org for great teaching materials and ideas).
  8. @rethinkschools: Rethinking Schools focuses on teaching for social justice, anti-racist education & equity in public education policy & practice.  Tweets provide information, links to resources and thoughtful education policy discussion.
  9. @NSTA: The account of the National Science Teacher Association with a focus on all things STEM!
  10. @NEA:  The twitter account of the National Education Association which covers happenings and discussions on teaching and educational policy.  Here’s a place to help you stay in touch with what’s happening in terms of common core and teacher evaluation, along with other issues in education, even if you don’t have time to read the paper or watch the news!

twitter dude

Tweet: but don’t forget the #hashtag#

Compose tweets – talk about your teaching, your thoughts about educational policy, what is happening in your classroom, and concerns about assessment, lesson planning, common core or classroom management.  Post links, post multimedia.  Post what has meaning to you – what you wish to have a conversation about.  Tweet once or twice a day.  And respond to the tweets of others. And use:

twitter-hashtags

What’s a hashtag?  It is a word or phrase that is preceded by a # or hashtag.  In the noisy tweeting world of twitter, the hashtag categorizes tweets.   Use hashtags when you tweet and want your message to be part of a larger conversation beyond your followers.

There are standard hashtags (that the tweeter professionals all know and monitor) that will pull your tweet into a larger conversation beyond your immediate followers.  Make sure you use a relevant hashtag and you will reach others who are talking (whoops, tweeting) about the same topic.  Use more than one hashtag if your tweet applies to more than one topic, but choose wisely. If you want that hashtag’s community to value your input, take care to keep that twitter stream relevant and meaningful.  

Here is a long list of the Educational Hashtags which will allow you to place your words (tweet) within the purview of others monitoring those hashtags.  Use this list to monitor other conversations that might be meaningful to you (just type it in the search box on your twitter page).

A worldwide Twitter conversation known as #edchat takes place every Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern time and 7 p.m. Eastern time.  It’s worth monitoring and any educator can join in to discuss and learn about current teaching trends, how to integrate technology, transform their teaching, and connect with inspiring educators worldwide. Click here: #edchat  to learn more.  Discussions here also focus on education policy and education reform.

Try it!

Twitter-leader

Practice and read and learn.  It’s cool.

And, in conclusion, take a look at these wonderful teacher: Painful Hashtags.  Some might look woefully familiar!

De-Stress THE TEST!

calvinpanic

So, the time for standardized testing has nearly arrived.  Kids across the country will soon spend hours carefully filling in bubbles with #2 pencils, or writing essays in response to a specific prompt, or writing out a specific explanation of the steps and calculations used to solve a math problem. Despite all the teaching and learning that took place in the days before, together with the constant and sometimes frantic test prep, this is a stressful time for families of students and teachers, for teachers and, primarily, for students.

This week’s teaching tip focuses on ways to de-stress the classroom and keep students motivated.  It also includes some ideas to help families and kids handle the stress of testing days.

calvindonttestwell

Helping the Classroom Community “Chill”

The kids know the test is important – to them, to their teachers, and to their school.  They’ve been working steadily and often by the first day of testing, they are apprehensive and anxious.  And for good reason:  everyone has been telling them (for months!) that they MUST “do their best on the test.”  A good dose of adrenalin might help kids focus, but true worry and fear can block the ability to think clearly and rationally.

There’s nothing like having a kid enter the classroom and vomit all over her desk because of nervous agitation.  Not an auspicious start to bubbling in the circles for anyone in that classroom.

overtest

Here is a list of ideas to help your students keep it together so that they can deal with the unavoidable stress of high-stakes testing:

The Power of Positive Thinking:  Students, no matter where they fall in terms of quartiles, should believe in their ability to perform on the test. Teachers, you’ve prepared your students.  Parents, you’ve helped your kids with homework all year.  The week before the test, it is time to talk about the worry and then throw it out the window.  Let them know you believe in them and their ability.  Remind them that you’ve been working to reach this point all year – there is nothing to worry about. And remind them, it’s about the learning.  Period.  Tests tell us what we know, what we don’t know and what we still need to learn.  That’s it.

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Empowering Pre-Test Activities:  Our students are so resourceful and so darn clever.  To empower them, which in turn will help them manage their stress levels, two days before testing give them a fun task to create in collaborative groups.  There is so much “shhhh” on test days – let them use this pre-test time to engage and talk together while working.  Some ideas of collaborative projects which can be adapted easily to your classroom or school needs:

  • Create a video: Students can rewrite the lyrics of a popular, upbeat song and then record themselves performing it. Some schools have gone so far as making a school-wide video: Test Taker Face  and Hunger Games: Testing Version.  Post on your school’s website.
  • Share test-taking strategies with a partner classroom:  Partner with a teacher of a different grade and have the older students mentor the younger students on test taking strategies and advice.  Empowers all ages and builds school community.
  • Poetry and Posters:  Students could partner or work in small groups to create poetry about testing and then publishing the work in a poster to be displayed on a school bulletin board.
  • School-wide Pep Rally: Watch your video(s) at the school-wide rally where kids have a poetry jam using the poetry they’ve written or give motivational speeches on rocking the test and the principal tells all students that he/she knows they all will do well.  Not too preachy – just fun.
  • Mindfulness Practice:  Work  together as a classroom community on breathing exercises and even some guided meditation a couple of days beforehand and then on the day of the test to help students be centered and focused.  Here’s a link to a blog called “Kid’s Relaxation” with short guided meditation scripts free of charge.

Standardized Tests

The Powerful Parent Connection Enlist your parents – they want to help.  A couple of months before testing, after being besieged by moms and dads who wanted to know how to get their children ready for the test, we sent home this letter: Parent Test Prep Letter.  It gave them some ideas for supporting kids during the months  prior to the test.  A couple of days before the test, send your parents a letter reminding them of the testing window, encouraging them to get their kids to bed early (importance of a good night’s rest), stating the need for a good breakfast (but not too heavy), and stressing the importance of arriving at school on time.

testing

Test Day Decompressors:  Here is a list of some potential supports for the days you actually test:

  • Distribute sport-sized water bottles and mints to each student to have on hand during the test (peppermint may stimulate brain activity).  
  • Some classrooms may respond to tapes of ocean waves or other natural sounds (I would avoid running water as that might increase trips to the bathroom).  
  • Use Guided Meditation, Breathing and Stretching Exercises (see above and our prior post on yoga in the classroom)worry stones
  • Present Worry Stones: I used worry stones in my classroom and would distribute them to my students prior to the start of the test as part of a mindfulness routine and to help ease the tension in the room.  I would use smooth stones or jewels from the dollar store or target and wrap them with a card that had a worry stone saying on one side and an encouraging personal note to each student on the other.  You can also make your own stones using clay as shown here.  Here’s a template of the poem I used: Worry Stone Poem.  I explained that if you hold a worry stone between  the index finger and thumb, rubbing them is believed to lessen one’s worries.  This action is a stim which usually creates feelings of calmness, reduces stress levels and encourages focus during testing.  My students loved the ritual around the worry stones (I solemnly passed them out to each student the first day of testing) and some of the younger kids who came into my class the following year asked for them prior to testing. Here’s a great read-aloud to use prior to testing:worry stone
  • Have on hand Relaxing stuff to do after the test but before everyone else is finished:  Coloring sheets (Mandalas), crossword puzzles, word searches, and glyphs are great options.  Materials should be organized and handy so that there is minimal movement in the classroom while other kids are finishing up testing.  I found that these activities were soothing and calming, especially coloring!
  • Don’t forget the SNACKS/TREATS as a pre-test AND post-test incentive!  Take a look at these really cute ideas for testing treats and explore Pinterest for others.  Here are photos of a couple of other ideas: 
      test day incentive2Test day incentive

A Final Note to Familes and Friends of Teachers:  Testing days are stressful for students and for teachers.  It might be a good time to nurture the teacher in your life:  Bring over a casserole, a $5 Starbucks card, walk the dog or write an inspiring note.  I had a dear friend who made me an inspirational quote a day countdown where I flipped through a stack of cheerful notecards with thoughtful sayings each day.  You can bring over a great book to read (a page turner, nothing to do with teaching) or offer to walk with him or her after school as they decompress and listen as they process their day.  Grab a movie from Redbox and drop it off with some microwave popcorn.   Or better yet, treat your favorite teacher to a yoga class!

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De-stress and Namaste.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2Karen

There’s An App For That (FREE GIVEAWAY!)

ipad

You have an iPad. One. What good could that possibly be for your classroom? I bought my iPad, so excited for the doors it would open in my classroom, only to find it primarily being used to play Plants Vs. Zombies. (By me, obviously. I wasn’t going to let my students play that garbage.) Who has time to scour all of the education apps to separate the wheat from the chaff?

There’s good news! Today’s teaching tip will highlight a few excellent apps for different subjects and different grades. They can be used with one iPad, or with a center of many iPads. Some can also be used on the computer. I tried to talk about only those apps I have actually used successfully, and I also tried to stay away from test-preppy drill type apps and games, and stick to apps that I felt had quality graphics, content, and useability.

One final word, scroll to the end to see the app that changed my life! And see the details for our FEBRUARY GIVEAWAY!!!!

Reading

For our primary readers, the ones who are struggling to recognize letters and sounds, there are some excellent resources. Here are two that have been kid-tested and mother (me) approved.

Endless Alphabet ($6.99USD; intended age 3 and up)

endlessalphabet

Yes, this app costs money. But it is also incredibly fun. There are fun and interesting words for each letter. Kids pick a word. Once they have picked the word the letters scatter around the screen. Kids drag and drop the letters onto the corresponding letter in the word. As they drag the letter wiggles and jiggles and says its sound. Once the word has been formed correctly, an animated movie defining the word comes across the screen. The cartoons are fun, and the app helps teach letter recognition, letter sounds, and vocabulary.

ABC Mouse (FREE for teachers; intended age 3 and up)

abcmouseOnce you have spent some time in the home page of this app, you will wonder, “What doesn’t this app do?” Aimed at Pre-K through K, this app focuses on letter recognition, letter sound, word families, sight words, and early online readers.

As a teacher, you can see a dashboard of your students and their progress. It’s also possible to assign work that your students can do at home with their own log-ins. This can be done on a tablet, or on the computer. It has most everything you need for early reading skill practice–and it’s free for teachers!

And now a reading app for the older kids:

youchoosepirates
You Choose: Pirates! by Honeybee Labs ($1.99; intended age 9 and up)

Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? There wasn’t a boy in my class in third grade who didn’t have one of those books in his desk. This is the online version. In this app, after creating an avatar, children get to read a short introduction to a story. Then, they are faced with several choices of what to do next. Depending on the choice they may end their journey in victory or in death.

The app allows for a collection of trophies as you play. It also has games interspersed throughout to make the play even more engaging. I imagine this app is a fun reading adventure, especially for reluctant readers. I enjoy scrolling back and forth to all options (something the app allows) until I get a favorable ending.

poetryapp

Poetry App by Poetry Foundation (FREE!; intended ages 12 and up)

While not the most visually stunning app, this app does have a wide variety of poems to pull from. Created by Poetry magazine, the poems are categorized by subject. There are two search functions, so that you can spin to match two categories of poems, such as “Optimism & Aging” or, for your more cynical self, “Boredom & Love”.

Writing

bookcreator

Book Creator ($4.99; ages 5 and up)

Book creator allows you to write and illustrate your own books on the iPad. This is perfect for early readers and writers, but can also be used for more advance writers (having a separate keyboard might be a good investment if the students will be doing extensive typing.)

The great part of the book creator is that once the book has been created it will go into the iBook app, and then can be shared with other students, possibly during independent reading time. It’s also a great way to “publish” student work. The books can be sent to family and friends for viewing. Books can use photos from iPhoto, or from the internet.

It does take some time to do the book creation, so this one is not a simple drill and kill app, but I think it is worth the end results.

Mathematics

bugsandnumbers

Bugs and Numbers ($2.99; ages 3 and up)

This app features incredible graphics to teach children mathematics concepts starting with basic counting and going all the way through early fractions. It is ideal from Pre-K through Kindergarten.

The app has three levels with a total of eighteen games that students can play. I especially appreciate the activity featured above, in which an egg carton is used as a ten frame to teach counting, doubles, and pairs used to make ten.

This is a large app, so it will take up a decent amount of space, and you will likely need to be connected to WiFi to download it.

mathmateer

Mathmateer ($0.99USD; ages 7 and up)

In Mathmateer, the object is to build a rocket that will propel you into space. Once in space, you can earn points by answering math questions. Along the way, you can solve math problems to earn money to improve the quality of your rocket ship.

This app allows kids to practice a lot of math facts, while also using their engineering skills to create a rocket that won’t fall on the ground immediately after launch (as mine did the first two tries). While it is a little “drilly”, I thought it was a fun way to practice the skills while also creating and building.

icrosss

iCrosss ($0.99; ages 10 and up)

iCross is a geometry app. It has a comprehensive list of geometric solids. Once you’ve clicked on a solid, you can manipulate it, seeing it from multiple angles and views. To further manipulate, you can designate cross sections, or cut the solid into parts, and then rotate it to look at it from multiple perspectives.

I really wish this app had existed when I was in geometry. Even my most artistic teachers weren’t able to create this level of manipulation on a chalk board, and seeing the solids from different angles allows for a visual take on simple and complex geometric concepts.

Problem Solving

There’s a whole category of app games called “Puzzles” in which the object is to use the items in a room or a level to figure out how to get to the next level. There is minimal instruction, depending on the app, and it involves patience, trial and error, and sometimes a little bit of luck. Here are two of my favorites. (These are good for ALL AGES, and teach excellent problem solving and critical thinking skills!)

machinarium

Machinarium ($4.99USD; ages 7 and up)

This is my favorite iPad game of all time. The animations are breathtaking. The game starts outside a town of machine trash, and works until you get your robot back to his space ship. While there are some clues on each level about how to progress to the next, the hints are minimal, and it requires perseverance to make it to the end. But it is SO FUN!

I highly recommend this app if you want something to occupy your kids for hours. And I think it would be especially rewarding for some of our visual/tactile learners who might not always be successful in paper and pencil activities. It involves a completely different way of thinking.

roomThe Room ($0.99; ages 10 and up)

Enter “The Room” and start the most fascinating investigation into where and why you are there. A series of puzzles, you manipulate the chest in the middle of the room to unlock more clues. Visually stunning, this is a great problem solving app, and certainly teaches perseverance.  There is some reading involved, so this one is geared for a slightly older crowd.

Coding

hopscotch
Hopscotch (FREE!; ages 5 and up)

Maybe you remember the days of “Turtle” on Apple2E computers. Maybe I’m dating myself. In any case, this free app teaches kids basic coding skills through the use of fun images and games. By manipulating an object, kids learn the basics of code.

As kids get more comfortable, they can start to create a project, so that the object can do a series of actions. Eventually they can start to create whole scripts to manipulate their object.

I cannot wait for my son to be old enough to use this app.

THE APP THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

levelitLevel It ($3.99; all ages)

With this app, you can scan books and find their lexile and reading level. Pretty cool. But that’s not it! You can also use this app to catalog your entire classroom (or personal) library. Wow!

But that’s not it, either. Once you’ve cataloged your books, you can use this app as a CHECK OUT SYSTEM! I know my friends will think I am dorky when I start scanning the bar codes when they borrow a book. But who’s laughing when three years from now I still have documentation that they have my copy of Pride and Prejudice. And I want it back.

Not to mention that this solves the ongoing dilemma of how to get students to quickly check out books to take home without losing your entire library.

The app also allows you to create a wish list. If you’re like me, this means you can scan every book at your local independent bookstore to remind yourself of the one million book you have yet to purchase, all of which you can then add to your birthday list.

It’s OK if you aren’t as excited as I am, but hopefully you’ll at least look at what the app can do.

FEBRUARY FREE GIVEAWAY!

We are invested in making sure that you can try out at least a few of these apps. While there are LITE versions of many of them that allow you to try a limited version for free, the full app is always better. We’re giving away a $10 (USD, sorry) iTunes gift card so you can see for yourself how great some of these apps can be for your classroom or home. To receive the gift card, do one of the following:

1.) Comment below with your favorite way to use your iPad at home or in your classroom.
2.) Leave us a note on our contact us page, telling us what additional topics you’d like to see covered on our blog.
3.) Tag “Teacher Reader Mom” on your facebook page. Or comment on the post for this entry, and tag your friends in your comment for extra entries!

That’s it! Contest ends next Tuesday. Make sure to include your email so that we can contact you if you win. iTunes gift card will be emailed. Good luck!

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel

Using morning messages…

responsive classroom

“Good Morning.”  Two simple words, a customary greeting among the polite and civilized.  Two little words – that can sometimes help a challenging day ahead feel a little less daunting.  These words can help students feel that they matter – and that it matters to us, their teachers, that they show up in our classroom.

When I was in the classroom, I was a huge fan of the morning meeting, as defined by “The Responsive Classroom Approach.”  And one crucial component of the morning meeting, is the “morning message.”  As the school year careened toward testing (for my kids, first week of March), the morning meeting often, sadly, fell by the wayside.  I used to think there wasn’t time – but I will write about that at some other time (I’m not sure I was right about that).

But I tried to hold onto the morning message. Teachers must always remember that the shift from home to the classroom isn’t always easy for our students. I wanted my students to know – as soon as they walked through the door to the classroom – that my day was about them – about who they are and about what they would learn.  I wanted them to know I was waiting for them – and that I had been thinking about them before they walked in the door.  I wanted them to feel welcome, to know that they were important and that I believed in every one of them.

The morning message can do these things – and much more.

The morning message is an “interactive” message and should always be positive in tone.  It should welcome our kids to the classroom – their classroom, their community of learning.  It can provide a context to acknowledge class accomplishments or challenges; it can help generate group thinking, planning and reflection.

The message should anchor the learning plan for the day (or the hour) ahead and help students know what’s ahead.  It should generate interest and excitement and allow students to feel competent and skilled.  Generally, morning messages provide students with practice in functional reading and always include an interactive task.  They can focus on all academic subjects:  math, writing, science, social studies or literature as well as community building.   

The essential elements of a morning message include:

  1. A greeting ( “Good morning, students!” ” Welcome Mathematicians!” “Dear Awesome Artists,” “Hello Cooperative and Caring Students” )
  2. The date (at the top or as part of a sentence: “Today is …”
  3. Body: This should draw attention to something students might look forward to doing later in the school day and should be written in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them.  It should also invite the students to think about or respond to what you’ve written.  It is best to focus on a single topic and KEEP IT SIMPLE.
  4. Your signature.

The Interactive Task:  I think it is helpful if students can respond below the message you’ve written and then you can use the message as an anchor chart when you move on to the subject of the message.  You can also ask students to respond in their journals or on a post-it note which is affixed to a chart or a bulletin board.  Think of this task as a meaningful part of the day’s instruction, a way to engage the students in what lies ahead.

A couple of examples:

scholars     morning message science

Planning:  Use a weekly rotation for different academic subjects and try drafting a week’s worth over the weekend so you don’t feel stressed about thinking about what to say.

Resources:  There are examples on the web (where I pulled the two above).  Here is a good resource from The Responsive Classroom website:    Ideas for Morning Messages.    I also enthusiastically recommend getting your hands on the following books:

morning meeting book               morning messages

Final Thoughts: It’s never too late to add a “morning message” to your classroom routine.  I found them to be helpful throughout the school year and thought they were essential to community building and a great way to address classroom behavior challenges thoughtfully and effectively.  How do you use morning messages in your classroom?  Please provide your ideas in a comment!  

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A Place to Reflect: Using a “Think Book”

think book photo

It’s that time of year:  pedagogy has been tossed out the window for worksheets, practice tests and practicing “extended response” or “writing to a prompt.”  High-stakes testing is the culprit.  Administrators and teachers themselves have a hard time trusting that the “learning” in their classroom is enough to prepare students for the standardized tests that will determine whether a school has made adequate yearly progress, a teacher “adds value” to the school, or a student is meeting benchmarks and is ready to tackle curriculum in the next grade up in the fall.  High stakes, indeed.

All the practice testing before the testing wearies the soul, even if it reassures administrators and teachers that students are READY to fill in the bubbles and write an essay that fits “the prompt.”  And admittedly – it is important to teach “Tests” as a reading genre unit of study prior to the big day. Click on the links below for pdf resources concerning this unit of study:

Standardized Tests as Genre     Grade 5 “Test Taking” Unit of Study Sample

Another option that just might be as valuable is using  interactive notebook/dialectical journal approach to enhance student critical thinking skills. During my last two years in the classroom, I utilized a “Think Book.” I want my students to ask questions, not just answer them.  I wanted them to think about and reflect on and write about (or draw about) information.  So I designed Think Book Labels for marble composition notebooks (discourages students from ripping out pages) and these books became sacred spaces used for capturing student-generated critical thinking.  Students were required to have their “Think Books” with them in every class and routinely they were needed for homework assignments.

So, what makes a book of pages a “Think Book?” In these pages, you will find a student’s work geared toward developing all levels of  what is defined as “critical thinking”:

Critical Thinking Skills

We used them to practice taking notes, to organize and analyze information, to write reflections, to create charts or visual depictions of concepts.  I loved using them for independent reading work and used a lot of the ideas from this book:

Independent-Reading-Inside-the-Box-9781551382258

Here is an example from the book which shows how to use graphic organizers in an intentional way to organize, observe and assess reading strategies to improve reading comprehension:

Reading Boxes

Think Books are flexible tools.  Here is a wikispace describing math and science interactive notebooks as a tool for inquiry-based learning:  Interactive-Math-Science-Notebooks.

Think Books can be created for each subject or Post-it Tabs can be used to divide the pages into sections for each subject.  Teachers need to keep their own Think Book which can be used to track assignments and to model possible entries.

And, although it is February, it’s probably not too late to introduce students to using these notebooks as annual standardized testing dates loom – if you’re not using them already.  Think Books can be valuable tools for assessing student skills and levels of growth.  I’ve seen a multitude of versions of “Think Books”  on the web and I think more precise terms would include:  Interactive Notebooks, Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) or Dialectical Journals.

Whatever you decide to call them, Think Books should be structured around the idea of students creating a portfolio of work that is creative, meaningful and uses higher level skill sets (see chart above).  The web is loaded with resources with structured ideas of how to create a Think Book that can be tailored to work in any classroom or at home (Parents: For the kids who just don’t get science or math or social studies – create a Think Book at Home that helps them work with information using the skills listed above).  I’ve listed some links at the end of this post that should help you work with notebooks for your classroom.

I can hear some rumbling in the back of my own teacher brain:  are you crazy?  It’s one month until standardized testing in Illinois schools and teachers don’t have time for this!  But maybe they do.  The work students do in a Think Book could help them navigate different portions of the test:  Science (what should fourth graders know?  seventh graders? Diagrams, Charts), Language Arts (literary devices, plot diagrams), Math (data analysis, graphs).  Those of you who love graphic organizers…use them in the notebook!  Here is a link to a great presentation on “foldable” graphic organizers (developed by Dinah Zike) which are three-dimensional graphic organizers – engaging and a great change of pace for the pencil and paper work of test prep:

Basic Foldables

Here is an example of a foldable:

grammar foldable

Engaging, thoughtful assignments can be created and kept in this Think Book.  And after testing?  Keep using them – a valuable overview of student work that will inform your assessments and teaching will be contained in them.  At the end of the year, let students take them or recycle them or save the best ones for your teaching portfolio – and to help you use authentic student work to inform your teaching for next year.

Students need to invest – and see the point of the Notebooks.  So…teachers should grade them.  Rubrics work well and again, depending on your approach, there are a wide variety of options available through a simple internet search.  Here is one that I think would be helpful in terms of thoughtful assessment and to inform instruction (how should I group these kids?  Do I have any Stage 3 kids?):

Science notebook rubricAnd next Fall, you just might be anxious to make them part of your curriculum and routines.  Think Books help students engage with, reflect upon, organize and process information covered in class in ways that are meaningful TO THEM.  Used effectively, I believe they empower students to be responsible for their own learning and are powerful repositories of assessment – for both teacher and student.  I think the possibilities are endless!!!

Please share your own Think Book/Interactive Notebook experiences in our comments section below!

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RESOURCES:  USEFUL LINKS FOR LEARNING ABOUT THINK BOOKS/INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS 

THE SCIENCE INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK (PPT)

EXAMPLE OF INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK  (YouTube Video)

HOW TO SET UP AN INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK (PPT)

THE ELA NOTEBOOK

IDEAS FOR NOTEBOOKS: CRITICAL THINKING ACTIVITIES

Bringing the Joy Factor: New Energizers in Your Classroom (Or At Home)

It’s January, the polar vortex has taken over our lives, testing is coming to a head, and in spite of our extra days off of school, we’re exhausted and our students are, too. It’s time for a Tuesday Teaching Tip.

One of my favorite things to do in my classroom is an energizer. Energizers are brief breaks between lessons that have structured play. Once the expectations are set for how to do energizers (or how not to), it’s easy to introduce new energizers on a weekly basis until you have created a base to choose from.

My students have their favorites, but even a devoted energizer enthusiast can run short on ideas. Nothing is worse than standing up to energize your students and having them all groan when you call out what you’re going to do.

Here is a list of brand new energizers sure to excite your students.

1. Zombie Tag

zombie

In Zombie Tag, the students start out by walking slowly around the classroom. The teacher calls out one student who has become a zombie. They must start walking with hands out, slowly. Anyone they bump into then also becomes a zombie. If zombies are slow to be made, then the teacher can call out more students who turn into zombies. Anyone who walks too quickly becomes a zombie. The game is over when the whole class is zombified.

2. Psychic Faces

fortuneteller

In Psychic Faces, students pair up and stand back to back with one another. Students each put their hands on their partner’s head to “mind read” what action they will choose to act out. On the count of three, both partners turn around and display an action. The goal is to choose the same action.

The actions can vary. This video shows “Bear” (two hands up in claws, make a roar noise), “Samson” (hands in muscle position with a “huh” noise), and “Delilah” (hands to the side like a skirt). However, I might change those to be three different animals, or some other familiar actions.

3. Dinosaur Stomp

dinosaur

This is my students’ favorite energizer. Although you can probably sing this one, it really helps to have a projector and speakers and have the students follow along with the youtube video.

The basic song is:
Pick up your feet and stomp it, stomp it (3xs) Now let’s do it again
Open up your claws and chomp it, chomp it (3xs) Straight to the end

I cannot recommend this more highly. The classes that walk by our door when we do this energizer inevitably stop and stare, most likely wishing they, too, could act like dinosaurs.

4. Popcorn’s In the Popper

popcorn

This is another favorite. We usually play this during our morning meeting, but it can be modified to an energizer by having students make a circle around the room. Three students crouch down in the middle of the circle.

The teacher leads out with this call and response song:

First you poor in the oil (pour in the oil)
Sprinkle in the popcorn (sprinkle in the popcorn)
Cover up the pan (cover up the pan)
Turn up the heat (turn up the heat)

(Together, while rubbing hands together):
Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle, sizzle,
Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle, sizzle,
Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle, sizzle, POP!

(Students in the middle who were crouching stand up and start jumping around the circle while everyone else sings):
The popcorn’s in the popper, let it pop pop pop
The popcorn’s in the popper, let it pop pop pop (repeat)
Pop, pop, pop, pop,
Now it’s time to STOP (everyone freezes)

You would be surprised how much fun this is, and how much older kids enjoy playing it, too.

One last thing: Clicking on the links will bring you to the youtube page of each of these videos, but you can obviously watch the embedded video instead. However, each video is from a different organization, and they each have a lot more videos with other ideas to check out. If you do find another good energizer, leave us a comment and let us know!

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel