Monthly Archives: March 2014

B “LOOM”ing with Connected Learning

images

Recently, a mentor posted on Facebook about the Banding Together project (here is his blog post from today).  I have been looking for more opportunities to incorporate service learning into the classroom.  Today, we had a “Project Friday”.  During the project portions of our daily rotations, students created bracelets and rings using rainbow looms brought in by students.  We also made necklaces with beads or created toys with craft sticks.  All of these items will be sent to students in India.

download

To preface the lesson, I asked if anyone had ever heard of India.  Hands were raised, but no one knew where it was.  They all knew it was a different place from year.  A global view, geographically speaking, is a difficult concept for kindergarteners to grasp.  It all just seems far fetched that there are imaginary lines that divide continents, countries, and states.

We have become very interested in maps lately, so I went to National Geographic Kids to find a friendly link for us to research.  This site did not disappoint.  We saw a map, photos, and a video.  We also read information together.  A student asked how the items would get to India and so we learned about US Postal Airplanes, lay overs for long flights, and the oceans between our two countries.

From that mini lesson, we set to work!  Students worked collaboratively using the looms.  They showed such patience with each other.  If a student said, “I want to keep this!” Another quickly reminded her, “These aren’t for us!”  Such big hearts inside such little bodies.

9780152165963

After lunch, we read a popular trickster tale, Monkey.  We compared the monkey to the fox in Gingerbread Boy.  We wondered if students heard Monkey more than Gingerbread Boy since India is a different country.  A student asked if we could Skype with a class there.  That led to a lesson on time zones!  Which was a great connection to our previous lessons on Earth and the sun.

Here are some of our creations from today:

20140321-143509.jpg

20140321-143459.jpg

20140321-143452.jpg

 

20140321-143439.jpg

 

How are you connecting your students learning?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Collaborative Learning, Connected Learning, Science, Technology

Über Books for Upper Grades 2

Book-open-300x298

For me, books have always been a trusted friend.  A friend that is just like me, the complete opposite of me, or me transformed in another world.  Books are mirrors or windows (I think I’ve said this before).  In books, we see ourselves or through to something else.

Reading realistic fiction with my students, picture or chapter books, has always provided opportunities for connections in my classroom. Honest questions are asked, discussions are had, and at times – tears are shed.  And if we are lucky, a student falls in love with a book.  Magic.

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about some of my favorite historical fiction books.  Today, I hope you add some of these realistic fiction books to your classroom.

9780142405444_p0_v1_s260x420 bird by Angela Johnson

A sensitive story of a girl trying to keep her family together.  Bird is thirteen and cannot accept the fact that her stepfather has left.  She follows him to Alabama to try and convince him to return to Cleveland to rejoin her family.  In searching for security, she becomes security for two young boys with problems of her own.

9780399239892_p0_v1_s260x420 feathers by Jaqueline Woodson

Two things led me to pick up this book at the bookstore – the author (one of my favorites) and the main character’s name (characters never have my name!).  Woodson is one of my favorites because she speaks to readers with honesty, compassion, and understanding.  Her books tackle difficult topics such as race, gender, and relationships.  In feathers, Frannie begins to view the world around her in new ways after hearing a quote from a poem at school – “Hope is the thing with feathers”.  A powerful read aloud or book club selection, Frannie helps readers realize the beauty of looking deeper.

9780689866968_p0_v1_s260x420 deaf child crossing by Marlee Matlin

This book is a window for most students.  The perspective of a deaf child is a rare one in children’s literature and Marlee Matlin does a beautiful job.  Megan and Cindy become fast friends when Cindy moves into the neighborhood.  They are inseparable.  As summer approaches, their friendship becomes tested when they go to camp together.  Matlin explores friendship and all its facets through the eyes of two young girls.

9780064472074_p0_v1_s260x420 Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

I love a book that is told from several different perspectives.  Some readers find it difficult to follow, bouncing back and forth from character to character, but I enjoy getting the whole story from all those involved.  Seedfolks uses a vacant lot to connect neighbors, stories, and lives together in an inner city neighborhood.  Two years ago, a group in my fifth grade reading class chose to read this book together.  I had to make a judgement call.  I knew some of the content was heavy (pregnant teenager), but I also knew where my students were coming from.  I knew why Valerie connected to it after skimming through the pages (pregnant sister).  I knew Eric would idenifywith Kim’s optimism. I knew that Seedfolks was going to be a mirror and a window for my students. Just as the characters saw promise in the soil, I saw promise in this book.

9780439372947_p0_v4_s260x420 9780439693684_p0_v1_s260x420 9780439852081_p0_v1_s260x420

Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Caulder Game:  A trifecta of awesomeness!  Although considered more mystery than realistic fiction, Blue Balliett’s series sends readers on journeys through art and architecture, friendship and hardship, trials and tribulations.  Secret messages and codes are woven into each story with pentominoes, riddles, mazes, and more.  Readers are exposed to the art of Vermeer, the architecture of Wright, and the sculpture of Caulder while following friends as they investigate mysteries throughout Chicago and England (Caulder Game).

Maybe you have already read some of these with your students, maybe you’ve never heard of them, but I hope you give them a chance.

2370b1a305b546b686a3f3222721c09e

Leave a comment

Filed under Literacy, Read Alouds, Reading Workshop, Upper Grades, Writing Workshop

“Spacing” Out With Blokify

20140307-150911.jpg

Spatial thinking is often an intelligence (literacy) we neglect to address in our schools. It is one of those things we consider ourselves to just not be so great at – “I’m not that great with depth perception” (guilty) or “Geometry and measurement has never really been my strong suit”.

This week, after reading a post by a mentor of mine, I suggested to a colleague we download the app Blokify for our student iPads. It is addicting to the children, especially if they have played Minecraft before, and it is addicting in a good way. The level of engagement is outstanding.

20140307-151027.jpg

20140307-150824.jpg

Blokify offers two modes for users to create 3D images. Images can be built according to a pattern, or using free play. Hints are given for the pattern, telling the user where to place blocks and of which type. The less hints used, the more diamonds one can earn. The diamonds can be used to “buy” additional types of blocks or worlds to create with. All in one app, my students are building, creating, collaborating, visualizing, and problem solving. It requires a level of spatial reasoning that can be difficult for our kindergarten minds at first – as this is a developing intelligence. Together, students and teachers, we are learning through trial and error and perseverance to become more skilled.

20140307-151733.jpg

Today, we shared a Skype session with another kindergarten class with the creator of the app. Jen was incredibly helpful and patient with our questions, answering each one. We learned about improvements that are upcoming for the app (as it is very new) and how images created in the app can be produced with a 3D printer. In our classroom, we know to ask 3 friends before coming to the teacher. Each person is an expert at something. It was amazing to be able to communicate with the ultimate expert of Blokify and ask for more information.

What does building with 3D blocks have to do with good ole “traditional” literacy – the reading and writing of it all? Well, more than you may think. Increasing spatial intelligence can have an impact on reading and reasoning skills.

In my own research this week, I discovered a plethora of knowledge regarding spatial intelligence and children. On the parentingscience website, Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. writes about the importance of spatial intelligence and improving these skills within children. Evidence from studies suggests that simple practice with spatial activities heightens one’s abilities in later spatial tasks. This training also closes gender gaps that are often seen between men and women performing the same spatial exercise. Students who have a foundational knowledge of spatial vocabulary perform even better. Familiarity with shape and position words increases understanding of spatial relationships, which then in turn increases a student’s ability to visualize, manipulate, and problem solve efficiently. In a 2011 study, students who heard more spatial vocabulary, used more spatial vocabulary and scored higher on tests. We all know how a child’s working vocabulary directly impacts reading ability and in turn writing ability. My personal belief regarding this research is that the skills students build upon – problem solving, visualizing, and perseverance – have the greatest impact. Our struggling readers and writers often give up at the first hint of a challenge. By cultivating confidence, we can help all students succeed.

So if you are looking for a way to address multiple intelligences, increase engagement, collaboration and problem solving; I highly recommend Blokify. It is a free app available in the iTunes App Store.

Leave a comment

Filed under iPads, Literacy, Lower Grades, Technology, Upper Grades

Über Books for Upper Grades

Unknown

“Our Land is alive, Esperanza…This whole valley breathes and lives…He picked up a handful of earth and studied it. Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe? That you can feel its heart beating.”
― Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

If a stranger glanced at my book shelves at home, he or she would never know that I currently teach kindergarten.  An entire shelf plus a row of the next contain chapter books – Multiple copies of the Harry Potter series, Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, and Christopher Paul Curtis wave to me each day.  They are old friends from previous teaching years who have the privilege of being on my shelves at home.  Their spines are worn, well loved, by children and by me.  Occasionally, one finds its way back into my hands to be read once again.  Even better, one is loaned out to a teacher friend to be shared with students once more.

When teaching fourth and fifth grades, I would often stray from the traditional guided reading approach and use literature circles.  With practice and support, these groups would become amazing environments for reading and learning.  They could function independently while I worked with other students or I could sit in and participate as a reader as well.  Being an active participant in the groups meant that at times, I could be reading 3-4 chapter books at once.  I found the juggling of multiple characters and story lines to be worth it in the end though.

As a student, I liked learning about history, but in a round about way.  I enjoyed documentaries, first person artifacts, journal entries, and – most of all – historical fiction.  My love for historical fiction carried over into my teaching.  If you have ever paid attention to the span of time upper elementary school teachers and students are expected to cover in one school year, you know it is absurd.  Yes – students will hear the material again in future years.  Yes – students will go more in depth in future years.  But the fact still remains that an expectation to cover 200+ years is there.  Exploring history through historical fiction proved to be a savior for me.  We could cover content material and students could (hopefully) identify with a character and enjoy themselves along the way.

Some of my favorite historical fiction titles:

Watsons1963Christopher Paul Curtis is, by far, one of my favorite authors of all time.    He has an amazing ability to connect readers with issues of long ago in a relatable, non frightening way.  In The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, 1963, we are transported into the Watson’s home and travel with them to Birmingham at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Many teachers I know, use this as a read aloud in order to edit some of the content and language (few curse words).  I made a judgement call, and used this for a literature circle group two years ago with fifth graders.  I’m so glad I did.

6702075-MWhen teaching about World War II, I find it important and beneficial to share as many experiences as possible.  Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes  tells the story of a young girl and the impact radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima has on her life.  She uses her knowledge of a Japanese legend to bring hope to herself and her country.  Without fail, each year I read this, we made paper cranes.  I discovered that origami is not really a strength of mine – but there is always a student who excels and helps others fold the cranes.

51zqk1y72TLJust add Laurie Halse Anderson to the list of authors I am obsessed with.  I love how she dives into history and creates strong, dynamic, female characters that are heroines any student can identify with and admire.  Yellow Fever does not usually get much attention in elementary history books.  However, it is a fascinating piece of our history.  I read Fever 1793 out loud to my students.  We then connected it with the nonfiction text The American Plague.  Through the eyes of Mattie, we learn about the spread of the fever and how no one (not even famous historical figures) could escape.  Anderson writes in such a way that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.  Fever 1793, is part of her historical fiction trilogy.  Other titles include Chains (amazing) and Forge (on my to read list).

weedflowerFollowing the attack of Pearl Harbor, the lives of Sumiko and her family are thrown into turmoil.  Once flower farmers, they are separated and sent to internment camps.  Sumiko is sent to a camp in Arizona on Mohave land.  Readers are able to gain perspective of two other groups during World War II through Weedflower.  Cynthia Kadohata writes with genuine emotion and addresses very complex issues while still leaving room for readers to make connections.

51YxIHMJa1LThe Great Depression affected all parts of this nation in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  In elementary history texts, attention is mainly placed on the stock market crash, Hoovervilles, and the New Deal.  In Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan brings us a “riches to rags” story of a Mexican family forced to flee to California after a tragedy.  Once part of a wealthy family, Esperanza becomes a migrant worker.  Poetically told through the growing seasons, with Spanish intertwined, our heroine’s story takes us through different ethnicities and the organization of labor during the Great Depression.

UnknownThe spring after 9/11, I chose this book as a read aloud for a class I was student teaching in.  I was teaching in a rural area, where closed-mindedness still had a home.  Students were making comments about middle eastern people that they didn’t really understand.  My hope was to show students another view of a side of the world completely foreign to them.  The Breadwinner is one of three books by Deborah Ellis that tells of Parvana, a young girl living in Kabul.  After her father’s arrest, Parvana puts her life at risk to take care of her family.  Ellis spent several months with refugees researching young girls’ experiences in Afghanistan.  Parvana is a hopeful, strong, and determined heroine.  Her voice shows that even in oppressive climates, humanity can shine through.

al-capone-does-my-shirtsDiscussions of the 1930’s always led to students becoming intrigued by Alcatraz, Al Capone, and the original “gangsters” of that time.  Gennifer Choldenko created an entire series around Moose Flanagan and his family’s experience on Alcatraz Island.  The spirit of the era shines through Al Capone Does My Shirts and acts as an additional character.  The characters are well rounded, developed, and relatable.  Readers close the pages and immediately want to do research to learn more.

Stay tuned for more über picks – up next, realistic fiction!

1 Comment

Filed under Literacy, Mentor Text, Read Alouds, Reading Workshop, Upper Grades