Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WONDERful Start to the Year

The best lesson plans do not always make it into my lesson plan notebook. I had thought long and hard about how I was going to introduce my class to Wonderopolis. I even blogged about what I was planning on doing to set the tone for the year. Enter 23 new shining faces that are eager to learn and explore and my lesson plans changed instantly.  Some would call that pulling out of a hat I however call it great teaching.  

As I introduced my class to Wonderopolis, and I explained the different sections of each wonder and of course they fell in love with the videos and all of the fun links.  I knew this would happen what I didn't expect was their curiosity and excitement for other wonders. They automatically wanted to search for past wonders to watch the videos and learn some new facts. How could I say no?  We headed over to the computer lab and as they left the room I handed them their WONDER notebook which I made up at the end of last year just to have in my cabinet for a day like this. I sure am glad I did that because I had no idea this was where the lesson was going to end up.

You can see the WONDER notebook on his clipboard.

Before I "set them free to WONDER" I asked them to write the WONDER they chose at the top of their page and to take some time to notice the different sections of the wonder.  They were encouraged to write 3-4 new facts they learned as well as 1-2 ways the vocabulary words were used in the article. Finally they were able to make a prediction about the next day's wonder which was fun because that led them to another wonder to see if they were correct. I wish I could have audio taped the comments that I heard: "Did you know that a praying mantis does not pray?" "When you make colored glass, you have to use sand." "I didn't know that flamingos are pink because of what they eat."  It was fun to see and listen to their excitement on the second day of school, and they didn't even know they were reading non fiction-priceless. 

How do You Color Glass notes-great new facts!

On a side note, as we were in the computer lab, our assistant superintendent came into the lab on his walk through of our building and asked what the students were doing?  I answered, "They are researching and learning about topics that they are interested in." He responded, "Wow on the second day of school" and I said,"Yes" with a huge smile. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Building Bridges-A New Start To the Year

My school year officially starts with students this Thursday and I have to admit I have done the same team building for the past 12 years.  Actually I am guilty of starting it because I used to do it when I taught in MO and brought the idea to my school.  But I am bored with it, and I know that so I started thinking about how to start my school year differently.  If I have learned anything about my teaching if I am bored then I teach a boring lesson which isn't great for anyone. 

As I was looking through my summer mail from school, I came across an article in Weekly Reader entitled "From Here to There" A new bridge across the Colorado River connects Arizona and Nevada. It took TEAMWORK to build it.  Light bulb moment -building bridges.

As I thought about the idea of building bridges and connecting it to TEAMWORK, I automatically thought of marshmallows and toothpicks and having the students work in cooperative groups and build a bridge.  I then went to Wonderopolis and found Wonder #236  How Long is the Longest Bridge? which is a perfect introduction to Wonderopolis.  After that I googled bridges and found numerous links that I think will be beneficial as well as interactive.  Finally I tweeted out to my friends about bridges and my friend Tony sent me this amazing link from TED entitled "Build a Tower, Build a Team."Although I am not starting with these materials, I definitely  will come back to this idea.

Then my word study mind kicked in, and I started thinking about the multiple meanings of "building bridges."

*connecting 4th grade to 5th grade
*connecting home learning and school learning (Wonderopolis is PERFECT for this)
*connecting teamwork with the different skills it takes to build their bridge (we will create a class chart)
*discussion of the design process which connects with science
*conversations about how the key to our success this year is TEAMWORK!

I am even going to assign homework the first night. The students are going to share about their building experience as well as share Wonder #236 and try the experiment at home with their families or even post their first comment of the school year.  For the students who don't have computers, I will print the Wonder off and send it home on paper and if they want to post, we will post at school.   I am excited about the new start to the school year!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bah Humbug to Apple Computers

For those of you have have been reading my blog for the past year hopefully you have noticed my thirst for knowledge about the 21 Century Skills.  I have spent many hours on the web researching and then purchasing apps to use with my class including 5 new apps that I was going to purchase for this coming year.  Thinking about the phrase " the glass is always half full or half empty"-now I am writing about the half empty.

At the end of last school year, I got an email from our district technology coordinator telling me that Apple has changed their policy about how many apps you can install on iPods.  Last school year,  because of the teacher/student agreement if I bought one app I was allowed to load the apps on all 25 iPods for free.  This supported my learning as well as the students and honestly I was very careful about the apps I purchased.

However, Apple has now changed their policy for this school year.  You no longer can purchase one app and add it to the 25 iPods.  I now have to purchase the app for every iPod.  Which means a .99 app now will cost me $24.75.  A $2.99 app will cost me $74.75. For my classroom specifically last year I purchased 14 apps and spent about $20.00 this year to get the same apps I will need to spend $764.46.  In these times of budget crunches, I know that I will have to choose very few apps and will not have the flexibility that I had last year to try and find an app for each subject.  Pardon me while I rant for one sentence:  I thought Apple's philosophy was to support teachers as well as students in education how does this change support 21 Century learning?

Now my glass is half full, and I am thankful for strong educational sites like Wonderopolis sponsored by NCFL that I have been writing about in my blog.  Wonderopolis is FREE and is available to anyone on the web.  It is a site that includes all the crucial parts of education:  inquiry, collaboration, new knowledge, excitement/hooks for learners and finally a connection between home and school.  In these challenging financial times, I am thankful to Wonderopolis for an amazing FREE site that allows teachers, parents, and students to continue their thirst for a wonder everyday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Buidling Word Work in the Classroom

This summer, I have been teaching a few workshops on our new Word Study program in our district.  I was excited to be on the committee from the ground work up and now we are getting ready to launch it K-8 for this upcoming school year.  I have always been interested in words not only in my writing but probably more in my reading.  At the workshop, one of the teachers asked me how do you build a love for words in your classroom?  As I answered that question, I stopped and reflected on this past year in my classroom-Wonderful Word Wednesday is a great place to start.  But more importantly I know that I talk about words all the time not only new vocabulary including definitions but the sounds of the words, the relationships, and what do we know/observe about this word.  We had a powerful conversation about WORD WALLS and how if we don't integrate the words into our instruction the words just become wallpaper-invisible to the students. I suggested several ways to integrate the words:

*put the words up on the board prior to the lesson allow a few minutes for students to talk about the words/wonder about the words (my words are magnetic)
*use those words-pull them down as I teach the lesson with the words
*allow the students to come up to the board and move them around -How are they similar? How are they different? How many vowels? What part of speech? Is there a synonym? HINT: at first I had a cheat sheet index card with these questions to help me-after time they just become part of your thinking
*allow the students to write the class definition with the words (4-5 students at one time at the board)
*finally allow the students to move/walk the words to the word wall (allow them to put in ABC order)

This gives them the ownership of that specific word (some students "adopt" that word-become an expert) Very exciting when this happens.  Actually I have had students say, "Mrs. Caplin my word is in our science book."

If I ever have extra time before we leave for specials for example, we play Mystery Word....I am thinking a of a noun that means the answer to a multiplication problem?  For example.

The transfer of word work is KEY! Looking at the Wordle above, isn't the goal to have students gain comprehension and meaning from vocabulary.  I would say YES but I believe the transfer of the words to their writing is also an integral part of word work.  More on this later.....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

10 For 10 Picture Books

This year it is so much fun writing this blog post because I have had the opportunity to get to visit with both Mandy @ Enjoy and Embrace Learning as well as Cathy @ Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community.  Both of them have helped me grow through their blogs, books, and tweets.  So I am thrilled to be a part of this wonderful opportunity.
I have decided to focus my 10 picture books on Word Study.  My heart and passion is in vocabulary and increasing my students love of words as well as transitioning BIG words into their writing. I believe picture books are a powerful tool for word learning.

#1 I always read Big Words in the beginning of the year just to start our conversations about collecting words-searching for BIG words.  Follow up activity: Have the students choose any article or internet site ie: Wonderopolis and choose some BIG words. We then create a large anchor chart of BIG words.

#2 Max's Words another favorite because of the story. Max collects words and his two brothers see know use in this collection and is unwilling to trade their collections for words until......you will have to read the book to find out what happens.  Follow up activity:  I have students collect words and this is our introduction to their Word Study spiral.  They glue all the words on the first page and then we share!!

#3 The Boy Who Loved Words:  a great follow up to Max's Words because the story line is more detailed.  I like this book because the boy walks all around town collecting words.  Follow up activity:  We walk around our school (inside and outside) I even take them into the teacher's lounge, back into the kitchen, and the hidden staircase-- they LOVE it  As we walk, the students collect words in their Word Study notebook. 

#4 How I Spent My Summer Vacation is an adventure picture book with a surprising ending.  I enjoy this book for voice as well as perspective.  Follow up:  We discuss how the young buckaroo uses his vocabulary to give great description to all of his journeys including the horrible stampede at dinnertime!

#5 Postcards from Pluto connects with our Earth and Space unit. I love to read it to launch off our unit. Follow up activity: students write all the space words they can think of on the left side of a T chart then I read the book and they write down the new words on the right side while circling the words they already know on the left side.

#6 Courage is an all time favorite-just discuss the title for a while. Follow up activity:  simple sentences describe situations that you might need courage. Students make a list of words that describe a time when they felt they needed courage. Then we share the list of words and guess the event when the student needed courage.

#7 Agatha's Feather Bed: Not Just Another Wild Goose Story is a great book about puns and introduction to figurative language.  Follow Up Activity:  I pass out the puns ahead of time and ask students to write down what they think they mean then as I read with a colored pencil they * if correct or write a new meaning if they want to change their thinking.

#8 You Read to Me, I'll Read to You is a group of picture books that are perfect for Poetry Friday.  Students take turns reading the poems in choral reading.  Follow up activity: I start the year with the Very Short Stories one, and we discuss the flow and sound of words extending into rhyme patterns and the spelling of these patterns. Here is a follow up blog post about our Halloween Poetry Friday share time.  

#9 My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks is an excellent book to review similes in word study. By 5th grade, most students are blue in the face when you mention similes and you get the same definition; however the hook comes with what do they mean and how do they effect the story?  Follow up activity: The students wrote their own poem about themselves using new similes they learned from the book. Our class displayed their poetry out in the hall.

Finally #10 pardon me if I go off the beaten path, but I have to tell you about Donovan's Word Jar true not a picture book but a very quick and powerful chapter book.  Follow up activity: As I read it aloud, the students listen to the power of words and how Donovan uses his words to change his friends lives. Many students end up building their own word jar similar to the one on the right.  Sean collected words all year and then donated the jar to me but kept the words :)

So there it is my 10 for 10 almost all picture books-enjoy reading all the other posts at Enjoy and Embrace Reading. Again thanks for hosting Cathy and Mandy!! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Collaborative Thinking About Reader's Notebooks

Once again I have continued to grow through twitter, and I met Tracy because of an email that Mary Lee and Franki sent inviting Central OH bloggers to breakfast before the school year starts.  Unfortunately I will not be able to attend however Tracy who writes at Thinking Stems saw my email and contacted me telling me that she has been reading my blog.  I was very excited, and we started a conversation about our classrooms and wound up having lots in common including our love for school supplies!   On to the professional growth,  Tracy posted this blog Need to Make a Decision about Reader's Notebooks that I commented on and Tracy asked me these questions.

This started an amazing conversation about different ideas on how to set up  notebooks and every year about this time I am thinking about what "tabs" do I want to use, do I need to change them?  How does the students Wonderopolis thinking fit in the notebook?  So through our conversation I have decided on this set up. Also notice the the times of our conversations we were able to comment and learn on our own time line which is another huge benefit of blogging and twitter. Thanks Tracy for our virtual conversation-it really helped me organize my note book thinking. Check that off my list-yea!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Start Your New Year Off With Inquiry

How do you learn about your new class? Do you play Tic Tac Toe get to know you game?  Do they create a poster about their favorite activities?  Do you play 3 facts and 1 opinion?  I have done all of these in years past, but this year I am going to try something new.  

I have been pondering how to introduce Wonder Jars as well as Wonderopolis and I believe I have found the answer.  I have decided to start the year with looking at past wonders that I know last year's class LOVED. For example Wonder #100 (What is a Milestone?)  Wonder #152 (How Does a Species  Become Endangered?) Wonder #162 (What is Pi?) We will probably even eat pie and have a little Word Study integration. I plan on looking at a wonder a day and just talking about it but more important in the beginning is to ask the students what would be some artifacts that would represent this particular wonder.  I know this would have them think differently about the wonder as well as begin to hook them on the site.

Connecting all of this back to getting to know my class after 2-3 days I am going to model for my class my artifacts that tell about my life.  I will bring the artifacts in and explain why I have chosen them. I will ask my students to bring in a few artifacts that would describe them and encourage them to share about different parts of their life. Right now I am thinking about taking their picture and having them glue it in their writer's journal as an anchor picture for future writing projects. 

My artifacts that I will bring into my classroom.
  I am very excited about a new inquiry start to the school year as well as introducing non fiction the first few weeks of school and they might not even realize it :) 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fired Up and It's only Aug. 1

During the summer, I have time to reflect I am thankful for this time but do you ever read or listen to an article and get all "fired up?"  How can we as educators be all rested enjoying our summer and all of a sudden you feel like it is January 12, and you are right back in the trenches of school year.  Well this happened to me when I listened to a podcast with Kelly Gallagher on Choice Literacy. If you don't get the Big Fresh (which is Choice Literacy's weekly newsletter-you should subscribe and it's free)  I printed off the transcript before I listened to the podcast interview to highlight and take notes.

Before I go any further, I absolutely agree 110% with his perspective on Readicide in our schools.  I wish I taught right next to him so I could be a part of his school and listen to his conversations about his classroom. However, since I am not high school qualified, and he is in CA and I am in OH I will continue my professional learning through reading blogs, having conversations with colleagues, and follow twitter.  Here are some of his BIG ideas that I need to remember as I prepare to go back to school in about three weeks.

*Our goal is Life Long Readers and to instill the desire to read in our students.

*it is important to put books in our students' hands and provide a rich print environment in our classrooms-it's all about access

*Model reading as the teacher as well as a reader, model what readers do when they are confused, build prior knowledge and understanding of the world with all text.

Bringing me back to January 12:

*...teachers are being held to these tests, that the idea of recreational reading has been not put on the back burner but completely taken off the stove."

*"I think the kids who read the most will score well on the tests."

Recently my daughter asked me how I was preparing my lessons for the new school year, my answer surprised me. I told her that I haven't prepared one lesson and haven't looked at one CORE standard. I have spent my summer thinking about how to build inquiry into every lesson, how to raise the level of thinking in my classroom, how to allow my students to be problem solvers as well as collaborators with each other.  If all of these things happen, I believe we will have a successful start to our school year.