Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wondering into Summer with our Little Buddies

We are going to be spreading the wonder to our first grade buddies later this week.  We have had 5th grade math buddies this year, and it has been an amazing experience for the class as well as for me to grow professionally.

I decided we needed to give back to our buddies and spread the wonder at Wonderopolis.  Our entire school (K-5) knows about Wonderopolis because our librarian, Bill at Literate Lives starts every library class with the wonder of the day and conversation.  Our first grade friends have been wondering all year with their teacher, but we want to extend wondering into the summer.

Once we brainstormed our favorite wonders, we set up a chart of sentence starters to help them start their thinking in the summer.  Next we extended their "Thinking Book"to "Wondering Book" really similar titles but we wanted to spruce up the covers. Hopefully our first grade friends will enjoy wondering over the summer and next year in 2nd grade I can check in with them to see their books.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Celebrating Math Buddies and Bubbles

Do you ever have one of those days when you wonder why did it take me so many years to figure something out?  Let me rewind, all year we have had first grade math buddies because Shelly and I wanted authentic and relevant activities in math. All year Shelly took the lead and planned thoughtful and responsive activities to support math thinking. I sat in the back seat and waited for my supply list. The great thing about that was Shelly was ok with that, and I had the chance to observe an amazing teacher with huge strengths in math. Thanks Shelly for being an excellent role model for me.

Fast forward, I told Shelly I wanted to organize our last little buddy math time and I knew two things: outdoors and bubbles.  Not much math was included in my thinking. Enter super smart 5th graders. I tossed out my two ideas, and they came up with four rotations including bubbles, an obstacle course, swings and the slide.  A perfect combination for fun, data, and little buddies. I did not create anything for our buddy day. The students created all the graphs for the day.  5th graders figured out the stations, the rules, the tool for collecting data and learned how to modify activities for first graders. Why did it take me so long to learn so many important lessons about little buddies? 

And here is my favorite picture of the day - a constant reminder of the importance of stepping out and enjoying the little things in life like bubbles.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Final Update on Research

Once again, my students have hit a grand slam with their research projects.  I discussed in this post about how I set research up differently this year.  I am so pleased with the outcomes because every project connected their learning to a standard in 5th grade and most of them enriched their learning with going above and beyond. Sometimes I learn better with pictures so I want to take you on a visual discovery.  
 All students had to choose 10 vocabulary words from their science book that supported their project.  Several students randomly chose 10 words but through revision realized they need to choose better words.  This was powerful because they took ownership of the these words in their final project. 

Six students decided to do a science experiment that they designed and following the scientific process from the book. This student chose this experiment because he was reading Diary of a Whimpy Kid and one of the characters was wondering about this question. The light bulb moment for me was on the 2nd day of presentations several students commented they did not make this choice because it was too hard, but now after seeing the projects they wish they would have chosen to be a scientist.  

Most of the class chose to write a literary non-fiction project or write a book of poetry.  There were so many wonderful connections with our focus skills this year that I could not have been happier with their final projects.  It was hard for me to know how to share their writings, so I just started lifting lines as I graded on my iPad to share some with you.  
James:  The Close Call
Let's rewind a bit ... his opening hook for the reader
He flew to his parent's room.
Peter now raced to the computer where he found his brother.
Now all Peter could rely on was his bookshelf.
Peter did most of his thinking on the lawn.
Peter was about to admit defeat and be as melancholy as a pooh bear with no honey or a scientist with no research. 

Christine:  Yellowstone National Park Fires of 1998
The fire smoke turned the daylight into night in some areas of the park.
Flames still burned inside the trunks of the trees. (new fact for everyone including me)
"I'll go get my notebook and sketch the glacier lily and write a few new facts."

Finally a student in my class, who LOVES science and has never been able to choose his own experiment chose to research his favorite pond where he spends all of his time.  He collected water samples. Using his sister's microscope which he had to made "a deal" to be able to use, he counted up different organisims from his pond water.  Never in 25 years, I have seen such a thorough and well thought out presentation. He made a CD of the specimens and shared it with our class. You should have heard the oooohs and ahhhs- WOW is all I could say.
And we can teach so much through our feedback on projects-it's not always about the final grade. Although for C. he knocked this project out of the park!!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Exciting News Check Out Wonderopolis!

Today is exciting @wonderopolis because NCFL has launched some NEW changes on the site.  There are so many I don't know where to start....Let's start at the top:  not there is a Listen button so the wonder of the day can be read aloud while the text is tracked on the wonder to help to follow along.  Next there is a Wonder Gallery where you submit your own pictures that support the wonder. Perhaps one of my favorite parts is: Test your knowledge:  an on line quiz that you can take after you have explored the wonder.  Within the wonder, the vocabulary words are linked to past wonders to help with background knowledge and/or enrichment opportunities. 

With the change to Common Core, the new pull down menu from clicking on the Explore Wonders tab is perfect for specific searches.  You can choose your grade level and topic.  It will make using wonders connected to curriculum much easier to find and then you can make great connections with strong non-fiction text. Make sure you check out all the changes and tell your friends-it's a great time to be wondering with your students right before summer.  Have you considered summer wonder journals?  More on that soon :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wonder Wednesday: Free Choice Really?

At this point in the school year with 3 weeks to go until summer, I am trying to immerse my students in learning that pulls everything we discussed, learned, explored into one full circle.  I am a huge advocate for choice in my classroom, but I have shifted from total free choice to focus free choice.  

I think about "free choice" differently after several years of teaching.  I want my students to choose a topic that they are interested in to learn more; however, I am not sure learning about their favorite video game or researching the height of the Demon Drop at Cedar Point constitutes higher thinking. After all with the internet, most questions can be answered with a click of a finger or a google of a search. I have organized "free choice" differently the last few weeks of school.  
I asked my students what were some of the important "thinking" strategies we have focused on this year, we brainstormed a list.  At the top of the list: vocabulary, main idea/supporting details, compare & contrast, cause/effect, predictions and #1 was evidence for your thinking.

 As I read this wonder work, I was intrigued by the opening sentence " because when I go out to eat I usually get chicken fingers, and I learned 3 new facts."  I was pleased how they chose to create their own compare contrast chart with textual support. 

I was thrilled to see a math connection with"data" because that idea did not make our top list of strategies, yet this students wrote all about data and sloths? Who would have thought to compare humans to sloths-not me, but how creative.  So as you wind down your school year, think about "free choice" along with allowing your students to explore Wonderopolis. It is an excellent site for your students to be aware of before summer vacation rolls into the picture.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Random Literacy Thoughts on Saturday

I have virtually turned a new page in my teaching career this year with twitter. I have found twitter to be the best virtual PD for me because the people I follow have the same genuine interest as well as concerns about literacy.  I do however appreciate that 90% of twitter conversation is positive and rarely goes off the deep end.  The tweet above really hit me as I read it, and I started thinking about reading in my classroom this year.  

As an educator, I often think from year to year about the successes I had and how I will implement them into my classroom the next year.  What I find the most interesting about that is sometimes WONDERFUL plans from last year do not always work with this year's class.  I found this graphic today on face book posted by Edutopia.

Which brings me back to reading, my wonder colleague, Paul Hankin's posted several strong opinions on face book about the power of NOT rewarding students for reading a set # of books.  I followed the entire conversation as a parent of two adult children who still don't love to read, and I believe because they were made to read set # of books or a certain genre every month and as a teacher who does not require a set number of books or required minutes from my students.

Which brings me to the picture above -- my weekend HW. I will be reading my students Reader's NB and writing back to each student reflecting on their thoughts about their JR book, their reading life or just thoughts about reading. To me the power in literacy is about the conversations that happen inside and outside our classrooms including the time I spend reading books so I can book talk, the time I spend reading blogs about new books and ordering new books for our classroom.

Finally, I am thankful for all my "friends" I have never met on twitter or face book that support my literacy thoughts and encourage me to grow virtually. I am anxiously awaiting the summer so I can continue to grow and start to read my ever growing book pile waiting for me on my desk.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wonder Wednesday: Vocabulary is Differentiated

Questions that I often am asked on Wednesday morning include: Which wonder did you choose?  Did you see this mornings Wonder?  I am so excited to watch the video together as a class. How many words are there for us to explore?

We celebrate wondering everyday but especially on Wednesday.  We take time to celebrate the idea of wondering and connecting a wonder to our core content. Today we will be exploring:  Totem Poles for our Native American Unit. 

Students working in the computer lab on wonder assignment.

We start with a class meeting with the wonder on the Smart Board and make several predictions including the WHY.  Next, we watch the video and discuss new facts they learned and how the video supports the 3 questions of the day.  We then look at the new vocabulary and with the changes that NCFL has made with the differentiation vocabulary lessons are much easier. This change was recently made so earlier wonders may not have this organized list of vocabulary.

After we discuss the words and brainstorm definitions, my students know that their next challenge is to read the wonder and answer the 3 questions along with choosing five words to write their own sentences showing meaning.  Finally, if the students have extra time, they explore other wonders and write about them in their wonder spiral which is pictured above below the computer.  Thanks for wondering about vocabulary with us on Wednesday!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Let's Be Honest

This is the month for state testing in Ohio. My fifth graders just completed 3 days of testing-math, reading, and science.  I live in a state in which 50% of my evaluation will be based on this year's reading and math scores.  My students this year will determine my evaluation for next school year 2013-2014. Does it make sense?  Can I explain it even to my husband, parents or neighbors not really.  When they ask me questions that I can't answer as an educator of 24 years it makes me extremely disheartened.  
But let's be honest.

I chose to integrate test taking strategies all year.  My school has implemented a K-5 procedure for helping students with their extended responses. We worked on our RACE strategies all year, and my students know how to break a question apart (TTQA) and answer with evidence and support.  But let's be honest.

When my door is closed, and we are having rich conversations about our read aloud this year. Sharing Wonder and How to Steal a Dog. Allowing students time to work on their weekly reading goals which for several students includes reading a poetry book or a non fiction book for the first time. That is true celebration!  These success stories will not be a part of my evaluation because there is not any way to "measure" the value of these experiences. I would argue there is a way-

I would argue the value is 100%- all of my students have read a new genre this year-one they never would have considered in the past and several are now hooked on that genre.

I would argue that the value is 90%-almost all of my students wrote and published their first poem ever. By publishing, they read it front of their peers on Poetry Friday.  

I would argue that the value is 85%-most of my students have a private vocabulary notebook that they carry around from school to home and collect their words on the weekend, watching ESPN, reading the paper, or at a soccer tournament. 

I would argue that the value of 100% is ALL my students are readers because they want to be-they do not record minutes, they don't have to read a genre every month assigned to them. They are all readers because they choose what they read, when they read and set their own goals.  My students are all READERS!

Let's be honest-isn't that what we want for all students from K-12?  Not individually assigned a color of red, yellow, and green?  Let's be honest.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day and OLW

The end of the month snuck up on me with my blogging.  I am immersed in state testing this week enough said about that subject, so I had not realized until this morning that today is May 1.  Every May Day my mother always reminded me of how she and her sister would make May Day baskets and hang them on their neighbor's door with flowers in them. They would ring the door bell and run. A much nicer version of "Ding Dong Ditch."

compliments of Google Images
As I changed my school calendar this morning, I paused for a moment as I prepared for our big day of Math OAA testing.  I often wonder what happens to those family traditions if someone does not continue to tell the stories of the past.  My mom used to have me make May Day baskets and since I am an only child she would help me. Our own children grew up with not having real neighbors unless cows and horses count. So I didn't continue the traditions with our own children. I wonder in our busy worlds and everyone being so connected through technology -- are we really connected?  Do we still share the important family traditions that connect our families from the past?  

My sunflowers next to our barn.
In my defense, our children know how much I love flowers, and we have several flower beds and every Mother's Day we plant flowers. They help me with the sunflower garden, the new perennials that will start a new garden. This year may be different with our daughter teaching in SC and she will not be home. Perhaps traditions change because we are further apart?  Perhaps we start new traditions because of distance. Something I am pondering as I am thankful for our memories.  Last year, I carried on the tradition from my father and planted a knock out rose garden. Much easier to take care of but still totally beautiful.  

So as I think about OLW: gratitude I am thankful for my family traditions, and most of all for the lessons learned from those older and wiser than me. 

Check out other OLW friends:  Tracy and Erin