Saturday, February 28, 2015

Using Photographs in Reading and Math Warm-Ups

I have always had an interest in photography. We have a great story in our family. When I was 5 years old I took a perfectly centered, perfectly focused (no auto-focus back then) photo of my parents posing at the public pool where we used to spend the summer. My sister, always wanting to copy me, then took a perfectly centered, perfectly focused picture of the sneakers at the end of the blanket! I always had a knack for it and have studied some of the greats.

Well, for that reason and the fact that many students are visual learners-I use photographs ALL the time in the classroom. If you need a good place to find them this is a great site: This Week In Pictures .
There are archives where you can go back several years into photos culled from various news agencies. It's not something I would let kiddos just surf because there are violent photos sometimes. But they have great human interest pictures. I store them in a powerpoint presentation and just make my own slideshows each week.

I would use something like this: 

For my reading warm-up before the lesson. We can practice oral language and I ask them to give me a complete sentence describing the picture. We can ask unanswered questions we have about the photo. They practice making inferences--all objectives we have in reading that are ongoing all year.

I have also started using them in math as well:

As part of our math talks: what unanswered questions do you have in the realm of math? They might say-how many cups are there? How long is the string? I really think this has helped them differentiate between what math is compared to other subjects areas-that's something we have difficulty with every year.

And then I ask math questions about the pics myself. Do you notice a pattern? Estimate how many phone books do you think there are.

Photographs can be such a great tool in making connections between what they are learning and real-life experiences! 

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GT Frames for Kinders

When you go to any kind of GT training, they always talk about frames. Frames are a way to get the kiddos to think more deeply about a character, historical figure, concept, etc. You take several different ideas from Kaplan's Depth and Complexity and have them complete them all with one thing in mind. You can do several different kind of perspective for example ( I always do this with the Lorax-perspective of the Lorax from the tree's perspective, the Once'ler's, etc.)

We are reading the Mouse and the Motorcycle, which honestly, my kids are not really getting into the way I thought they would. But we haven't given up on it yet! :) I asked them to write their unanswered questions about the story so far, about the ethics-was it right or wrong for him to ride the boy's motorcycle. I asked them to think from the perspective of the mouse and also across disciplines-what would a scientist like in the story so far or a mathmatician? It was a challenging activity for them but some of them really did a great job!

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

What I'm Reading

I am so proud of myself for keeping up with my reading goals this year! It helps that I have totally adopted audiobooks as what I listen to when I drive to and from work.  For the kids I read:

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

A story about a girl from a fine, wealthy family who has to get her hands dirty when she's in the middle of a mutiny on board a ship. Many of the negative reviews said they couldn't imagine a girl of that stature foregoing her billowy dresses for pants and helping the crew of the ship. But I didn't get that feeling at all. I thought it was an interesting story and definitely had some good new ship -related vocabulary.

Platypus Police Squad

One of those books I have to read for my student book club. A kind of silly take on a platypus and his rookie days joining the police squad. A mystery that I know the kiddos liked!

I listened to:

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

A book about a family of dog breeders/trainers who have a son that is mute. The little boy read stories like Winnie-the-Pooh to his puppies using his rudimentary sign language. The opening talks about how the grandfather was "born with a little too much whimsy" which was my favorite line in the whole book. If only we all had that problem! :) It's supposed to be Hamlet-ish and in some ways I guess it is, although that story doesn't start unfolding until about the middle. I am not an openly emotional person but I was listening to this story in the grocery store and at one part,--when he was talking about a special dog that had been his companion since birth, I started actually tearing up and had to stop and finish that chapter in the car! I thought a worthwhile story though.

The Bluest Eye-I love listening to a story read by the author who wrote it because you are hearing it the same way they heard it in their head. And Toni Morrison has a very soothing voice! :) I am trying to incorporate more "classics" into my reading list. I knew going in that this book was going to be disturbing (it's on all the top banned books lists), that's not the reason I didn't like it. I didn't like it because it started reading like short stories toward the middle and I didn't have as much interest in those characters as the kids in the beginning.

I am still reading:

Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac-a very quirky, odd story for sure. But I like quirky and odd! It's another story that reads more like a bunch of short stories because it profiles the background of different characters that we have already been introduced to. A boy sees his mom run away with a hairy monster of a man when he is little and spends his life obsessed with trying to find him-therefore the Sasquatch Hunter. If you like movies like Grand Budapest Hotel, you might like this book. Very out there and I think bold of the author to write. I haven't read a lot of the reviews (I read them after I finish the book usually) but I can see people not getting the story line and opinions really being split.

And now I'm listening to:

I don't like the audiobook version because the narrator does accents that I just don't think work very well. But it is another mystery and I'm anxious for them to solve it! A formulaic mystery story but still interesting to follow.

What are you reading these days? We have Spring Break in 2 weeks and I have my pile to tackle then all ready! :)

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Art for Art's Sake

I have always admired artists! One of my favorite things to do is walk through a new exhibit at the museum. I took an Art History class for fun my senior year of college-if it had been my freshman year I may have changed my major. I loved learning about the different techniques, different artists and different inspirations.Even 10 years ago we had art objectives in our district curriculum for Kinder-unfortunately, no more. Many of my colleagues complain that they do not do art projects because it is too messy. My admins complain that it is not preparing them for standardized testing in any way.

I was in a meeting last week where we were discussing getting rid of one ancillary (specials) classes because we want to add something more academic. Right now the kids rotate through computers-where they do our district reading program, library-where most of the time is taken with AR tests rather than real lessons on books. We have music, PE and art as well. Well, art was the first on the chopping block because people said-what are they really getting out of it.

Oy! How do you teach kids how to be creative without art?! You want them to enter 4th Grade where they take their writing test to pass and say "be creative"-have they been taught what that means? I think it helps with fine motor skills as well-which is something our program also sorely lacks. So regardless of whether or not it would be approved by my administrators--we do art projects simply for the sake of doing art projects. This is one of my favorite sights in my room:

We got out our tissue paper squares and the kids made dragons. They could use any color, any technique. I love the rainbow of creations they came up with:

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Sunday, February 22, 2015


Can you believe this is post # 800 for me!!!! I can't believe I have had so much to say over the years.

As I've mentioned before, I'm doing a bit of professional development with Twitter friends started by @TechNinjaTodd. He shared a wonderful resource of technology bingo and one of the items I thought I could do with my students was suggested by Terri over at: https://engagetheirminds. It's called FakeBook and you can find it here: FakeBook.

It's very easily navigable. You can make a FB page for a book character or a historical figure. I love giving kids options on how to apply what they are learning. They definitely have to know about a character's personality and actions to be able to invent what they would say. My only issue with the site is the ads-but the real FB does have ads so it wasn't unmanageable. We did Junie B. Jones because we have read-aloud 2 of her books now. Here's what it looks like:

Yes, when I typed in "Lucille" the guitar came up. Probably not a reference the make-believe Lucille would understand, but my kids didn't mind.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

My Principal Thinks I'm Crazy!

I am very passionate about what I do (if you couldn't tell). I get an idea in my head and I want to try it right now, share it right now. My principal mostly communicates through e-mail, so I'm always sending her ideas and requests. I met with her this summer with some thoughts on how to incorporate more technology, she didn't think any of them would be plausible for our school-but I asked! I wanted to set up a blog where teachers could share ideas and communicate-again, they didn't really think it would work. I wanted to share the merits of using Twitter as a PLN and start a book club-even if it was a fiction book club-didn't think anyone would be interested (and she was actually right in that aspect I couldn't get any takers). I read about how to make a YouTube channel and thought that would be great for our school to do-especially because we are a magnet school and have to recruit students every year! She tiredly admitted that she never read the e-mail. I think she sees things from me now and just kind of files that away-another crazy idea from my crazy employee.

We were in a meeting and discussing how our population (we are a Title 1 school) doesn't have the same access to resources at home that students in other schools in our district do. One teacher said "remember bookmobiles-where they would bring the books to the students?"-well, a lightbulb went off over my head!  I wrote a Donorschoose proposal for 70 books-I chose ones that I thought were high quality and also interesting for the kids to read. I asked my sister to post it on her Facebook page (my friends are mostly poor teachers like me) and within hours it was funded!!! The generosity of people never ceases to amaze me!

So, I e-mail my principal and say-hey, this is my idea. I am not going to drive around with books in my backseat (although if we don't get many kids to show up for this, it is something I'd consider). I want to open up the lobby of the school (they are open anyway for summer school) one day a week and let kids come check out books they can read at home and then return the following week. We can help prevent summer slide and give those kids who like to read an opportunity to do so. I have not heard any kind of response yet-but if she even read the e-mail, I picture her just shaking her head--that crazy teacher! 

I truly believe you have to keep coming up with ideas and sharing them though-regardless of the response! Even if they think you are crazy! :)

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Performance Assessments

I am a big believer in giving students various ways to apply what they are learning. Several times a year I plan a performance assessment for them and we invite our parents to come watch them display what they have learned. Our big exhibit of the year we call Character Court. After studying fairy tales, the students wrote a debate that 2 characters would have. We brought ethics into the discussion because they were arguing about who was right and who was wrong in the situation. For example, Mama Bear told Goldilocks she was wrong for eating their porridge and Goldilocks replied "but I was hungry". They painted their own backdrops (some of them ended up very abstract :). The parents helped design the costumes and we held a big performance in the gym where everyone could walk around and see their hard work pay off.

Not only are they applying their knowledge in a different way, but they are also getting an experience with speaking publicly. Some of them started off saying their lines to their shoes, but ended up projecting them very nicely by the end-their confidence grew. 

Here is one example:


Backdrop for the Egyptian Cinderella

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Snow White

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