Monday, April 27, 2015

Need Some Inspiration?

It is that time of year again... the last quarter of the year. I am tired. The kids are tired. Everyone is dragging themselves through the halls and into the classroom. It is the beginning of the end. But wait, we still have 6 more weeks!  How can we end like this?

It's time for some inspiration. Yes, I know I don't feel like putting my full energy into a new unit of study. I know I am overwhelmed with assessment, but don't I owe it to my kids and myself to end the year just right? Why, yes I do!
So I started a mystery unit in my class. So. Much. Fun! We began with a mystery KWL. I was actually surprised to see what second graders know about Mysteries. Most of them could even relate to some of their parents' favorite shows with mysteries, like Castle, and CSI. Some of them have even played Clue! My all time favorite childhood board game. Gotta love Professor Plum! I was thrilled to see they even WANTED to know some more about this lost genre study. They wanted to know how to look for clues. They were eager to determine who dun it in the first reading of our mini-mystery. They were even excited to learn new mystery words like red herring, conviction, detective, suspect, and more!

After finding out what they knew and wanted to know, I introduced a short trailer I created on Mysteries. {You can find it on TpT for free!}
Free Mystery Trailer

So the spark is ignited. For me and for them. We will answer so many questions like What is a Mystery? How do characters respond to events in a mystery? What are the elements of a mystery? How do readers use what they know to make a prediction of who dun it? And on and on...
Unit on Teaching with Mysteries
To make reading mysteries even more fun my teaching partner, Melanie Redden, chose to do a writing mysteries unit. She even created a real crime scene in her classroom. Guess who the guilty suspect was? ME! The kids love it!
Mystery Writing Unit
The kids can even get a mystery writing certificate!
At the end of the unit we will celebrate with a classroom mystery. This is so much fun! The kids take all they learned while reading and writing about mysteries and they try to solve the classroom mystery. Even the guilty person doesn't know they are guilty until the end.
Classroom Mystery
I am hoping this revives our last 6 weeks of school! I know classes from the past always come to me and ask me if we have done the mystery play again. So I guess it sticks with them! Here's to hoping it sticks with your kids as well...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Earth Day Everyday

I LoVe Earth Day!  It’s a great day to celebrate our earth and discover new ways to take care of our earth.  I take great responsibility teaching my students and fellow teachers creative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle everyday in school and at home.

On a daily basis our class recycles our plastic and paper.  We have a bin for paper/cardboard and one for plastic.  This is an easy task that everyone can participate in.   I also encourage my fellow teachers at lunch to use the recycle bins that are provided in our teacher's lounge.  It’s working and I have more and more participation!  But it doesn't stop there.  I of course also collect and melt broken crayons to make new ones, use baby wipe boxes for storage, use bottle caps and dried out marker caps in our counting jars and much, much more but my favorite thing is to repurpose.  

 Here are a few of my favorite repurpose projects that have been successful in my classroom.
You can find these large cardboard squares in any warehouse grocery store.  These make great giant game boards or maps/streets for toy cars or trains.  The possibilities are endless and they are free!!!!
We have used these for our Winter Festival for a number of years.   I have collected enough for three snowmen.  

This was the BEST idea ever!!!  Our school got some new surface computers and I just couldn't pass up these boxes.
They have lasted two years in my classroom.
Free resources are my favorite.  I created some labels for the landforms and we glued them on the map.   This was a week long project and a lot of fun!!

  I hope I have inspired you to not only 

reduce, reuse and recycle but to repurpose too!

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Letter to My Daughter About Testing

My daughter was pale and shaking. My friend mouthed, “Is she going to cry?” I shrugged unsure of what to do. For a moment I felt like I was sending her off to a den of wolves, instead of off to her classroom to take our state's "big test". I have been teaching since 1998 and have pretty much administered one high stakes test or another every single year. I have been preparing students for testing and nurturing them through test anxiety for my entire adult life, but this was different. All the encouraging words that I have said to students and parents over the years came flooding back to me, but they seemed different now that it was my daughter. This time it was personal.

I gave her a big hug and a pep talk and sent her off on her way. I headed off to proctor the test in another classroom. All day I could not stop thinking about all the things I could have said and wanted her to know. I assumed that my laid back “you are prepared, you can do it, do your best” attitude would help her understand that while the test is important today, all the things that make her the person she is are the most important. After really searching my soul I knew I wanted to tell her more. That evening I went home and wrote this letter to give to her before testing.

To My Daughter,

      Today you are taking “the big test”. It is your day to shine and show what you know and can do! Approach it like you approach all things; opt in, rock it, and do your personal best. Please know that I believe in you.

      A few months from now we will get the results of the test. It will tell us some information about how you did this day. It might show us some areas where you excel, some areas where you are right where you need to be, and some things that you are still working to master. It will show how you did on a test, over a few days of your life this year. If your life was a scrapbook, this would be one picture in it. It tells one small part of the story of you.

     There are so many things this test can not measure. It will not measure the kindness in your heart, your leadership skills, or your ability to be a good friend. It can not possibly tell what an amazing sister, daughter, and person you are growing up to be. It will not show the soccer goals you scored, the gymnastics skills you have worked so hard to master, or the flips you can do in the swimming pool. Your test results can not possibly measure your imagination, the creative way you solve real world problems, or the epic blanket forts you make on rainy days. It will not measure your capacity to love and do good things for others, to make a difference in the world, or to dream about your future. The test results will show some things, but they do not measure the things that make you who you are, the things that make our heart swell with pride and love; the smiles, laughter, friendships, and love that you will carry in your heart on your journey towards adulthood. The things that really matter.

     The test today is important, but it is one piece in a giant puzzle. So do your best on the test, but more importantly live your best life everyday because that is the real “test”.


Monday, April 6, 2015

PiNt-SiZeD pOeMs

I love poetry and (yay!), April is National Poetry Month!  

I think most people have a deep-rooted fear of poetry and I'm guessing you're already remembering some horribly dreadful class you had in high school where you were forced to read (and harder yet, understand) a bunch of poems you couldn't have cared less about.  Been there.

And another confession... I used to think all poems had to rhyme.  Total rookie.

I actually didn't start liking poetry until I became a first grade teacher.  Now I love it and it's one of my favorite writing units to teach.  And (not lying) most of my children love it, too.  Why?  Because it's the one form of writing that's without strict rules and who doesn't love that?  The more I learned about poetry, the more I wanted to teach it.  For years, I scoured book stores finding amazing books for children that eventually became my mentor texts.  If you're a primary teacher, you need pint-sized poems for your pint-sized learners.  The children need to see poems they can understand and that look like poems they could actually write. 

There's really no sense in planning your poetry lessons until you've settled on some great mentor texts for your specific group of children.  As you consider books to use for modeling, think, Will my students like these poems?  Do these poems look like a style or level of poetry my young writers could emulate?  (TIP: Save rhyming and highly rhythmic poems for reading workshop.  They're great for developing phonemic awareness, but they're rigid in design and difficult for most primary children to write.  In my experience, they tend to keep children from writing creatively.)

Hands-down, my favorite book for introducing writers to poetry is Little Dog Poems by Kristine O'Connell George.  My first graders LOVE this book of poems. Each page is its own poem, but they work together to tell the story of a typical day in the life of this little dog. It's a super age-appropriate way to introduce my students to concepts like:

• choosing a small topic near and dear to your heart
• different forms, shapes, and lengths
• line breaks
• white space
• creative use or lack of conventions (capitalization and punctuation)

Consider beginning with this text because there's no single specific style throughout the book.  Children will see that poems can take many forms.  And because poetry is a genre that is typically shorter than personal narratives, you'll find the children are very prolific writers during this unit.  As a matter of fact, I usually start them out with blank half sheets of paper and they often produce 2-4 poems per writing session.  My struggling writers love this because the size of the paper implies the writing won't be long and labor intensive.

When you're ready to model something new, try acrostic poems.  Silver Seeds by Paul Paolilli is a great beginning choice for this type of poetry.  The common thread throughout the book is nature and each page features a new acrostic poem about something found outside... the sun, clouds, trees, leaves, hills, etc. You'll notice the nice "no rule" feature of this book is that each line doesn't have to have a certain amount of words... it's up to the author and what they're trying to say.

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth is a collection of modern haiku and he explains how the rules of haiku are changing.  No longer does there have to be a certain number of syllables per line... and that's why I like this book as a mentor text.  This book opens up another form of poetry to young writers.  And notice how short and sweet they are.  One of these literally reads:  Eating warm cookies on a cold day is easy.  I agree.  :)

Actually, I don't care what the temperature is.  

This next one is a little bit trickier, but I know some of you have older children and they might get a kick out of these puzzly-poems.  The book is Lemonade:  And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka. Each poem is written using only the letters in the title.  (It's kind of like a "Making Words" lesson!)  On one page, the author drafts it like a puzzle to be deciphered. On the follow-up page, the poem is written out so it can be read easily.

These are a few to get you started, but begin your own hunt.  See what appeals to you, too. If you like a book, it's easier to get your kids excited about it.  If you're starting to plan your lessons, check out our Pinterest board where we've been collecting ideas to help you teach and celebrate poetry.

Do you have a favorite book or idea you use when teaching poetry?  We'd love for you to share it with us.  If you have a minute, leave a comment below.

Happy teaching!  :)