Monday, April 28, 2014

Pop Culture Play

Bert and Ernie.  Most of us are familiar with these two lovable (or not-so-lovable, it's all in your perspective!) characters that many grew up with while watching Sesame Street.  You may be wondering, "Marnie, you teach fourth grade, what do these muppets have to do with fourth graders?"  Here.  Let me show you.
First, out of 24 fourth graders, two recognized Leonard and Sheldon and the Big Bang Theory.  One even asked, "Ms. Diem, where do you get all these cool pop culture shirts?"  Hello.  What nine year old recognizes and acknowledges pop culture?  Love it!

Anyway, this shirt was a spring board for a somewhat impromptu, yet quite animated, conversation about comparisons, pop culture, parody, allegory, and a handful of other things.  What was great about this lesson was that it really stretched the kids thinking.  It showed me who is still quite literal, and recognized Bert and Ernie as they were, but were unable to imagine them outside of Sesame Street.  Whereas others, by the end of the lesson, were placing Elmo and Mr. Noodle on the Titanic, and Leonard and Sheldon as Minecraft characters.

Every Friday I wear a fun shirt of sorts, that is connected to something we'll be discussing that day.  This discussion far surpassed my expectations of fourth graders, and the most enlightening for me!  I wonder what next Friday will bring!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spontaneous Comics

Ever been reading a book aloud to your class and after discussing, want to do just a little more?

Recently, I read a book to my class about manners, which led into a great conversation about that good ole' golden rule.  And while we did a few turn-n-talks during the read aloud, I wanted to have the kids do more, since it was such a (small but) powerful book.

One of the upsides to my brain and it's ADHD is the spontaneous flow of ideas that are constantly floating around, trying to escape.  And this idea was a pretty good escapee, if I do say so myself!

Anyway, after reading, the kids got into groups of three or four and had to come up with the most important lessons connected to the book.  Once they had ideas, each member of the group (formed by who they were sitting near during read aloud,) went back to their own seat and drew ONE idea on a sticky note, comic style, complete with word balloons or captions.

As they finished their comic square, they put it on our comic strip.  When we were done?  It made a pretty neat read that the kids went up to look at throughout the day!  What I liked the best is it was a quick, simple way to assess the individual understandings of the story.  When I read each student's response, I could tell who was able to apply the theme of the book to the task, who is still in the literal phase, taking direct examples from the book, who followed the directions, and even quick spelling and handwriting observations.  All from a simple sticky note activity that took less than 10 minutes!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Parental Involvement

A few days ago, the New York Times published an opinion piece that struck quite close to my heart.  The topic?  Parental Involvement.  I happen to believe that parental involvement in education is crucial.  After all, parents are generally a child's first and most powerful role model.

Parental Involvement Is Overrated by Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris has over 550 comments thus far, which shows that I'm not the only one that had their eye caught by the article.

One of the first things the article addresses is the research done on racial/cultural groups.   In my district, there are active parent groups representing many of the "gap" groups, the groups of students who are impacted by an achievement gap.  Interestingly research showed that there was little difference in involvement based on race alone.

There was a difference among those groups: value of education. Turns out that all of the groups are equally involved. But not all of the groups value education in general.  I know many, if not all, of my colleagues would agree that it is quite helpful when parents impress upon their children the value of education, the value of learning, the value of trying new things.  

When I ask parents to get involved in their child's educational experiences, I ask them for two things.  First, model the value of learning.  This is so, so, so crucial!  If parents don't value learning, the kids know it.  And they show it.  The second thing I ask parents to do is talk to their children about school.  Yeah, we all know the good ole' "How was school today?" question, along with it's best friend, "What did you do at school today?"  We also know the answers.  "Fine," and "Nothing" respectively.

To help parents on this end, my grade level team compiled a list of questions parents can ask that will provide more insight to the school day, and hopefully more conversation.  This list goes home at curriculum night (and is sent home after for those parents who didn't attend.)  For example:
  • What's one new thing you tried today?
  • What is one thing that made you smile?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What do you want to learn more about?
These generally encourage more elaborate responses, and they lend themselves to all ages, making for great family dinner conversation!

From the article's perspective?  Here's the key ingredients:
  1. VALUE schooling!
  2. Make college an expectation, not an option
  3. Talk about the school day! (Questions above help!)
  4. Seek out the best teacher for your child
While many schools do not allow for specific teacher requests, the rest of the list is a MUST in my mind.  The article is an eye-opening, quick read, I encourage anyone interested in education to take a peek and form your own thoughts on the parental involvement exploration.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Making Thinking Visible

This info graphic came across my feed this morning and it was too good not to pass on.  While my school is an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school, Visible Thinking Routines are a part of our every day teaching.

I love the simplicity of the routines, most of which require little set up (which is always nice!)  Though they may be simple, these routines are quite powerful in helping reveal to students what they're really, truly thinking, and helps them deepen their understandings in general.

We tend to use "What Makes You Say That" a lot.  It's a fun routine to combine with our Twitter board, as students have to  justify their response.  Another one I love is "See, Think, Wonder" because that routine can be applied on the fly, for anything.

This info graphic doesn't cover all the routines, but it does give a wonderful overview in a fairly friendly format.  The source of the graphic is listed below, and takes you to the Langwitches blog, where you may get lost for a while.  Well…… at least I got lost for a while!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What's In A Name?

It's a pretty common question, I suppose.  Why names matter.  How they "fit."  All that good stuff.  This morning I had a little soap-box moment while walking my dog, aptly named Sparky Anderson.

Sparky is a rescue.  I got him when he was four and a half.  His name at the time was Porky.  This morning, while we were out for a stroll on this oh-so-lovely spring day, I was watching him.  He's a bit of an odd pup, preferring to wrestle me for a dead leaf than eat any food scraps he might come across.  But in my eyes, he is SUCH a Sparky!  He bounces around, hurling his nine pound body as fast as he can to chase bits of invisible fluff in the air.  And when we reach a certain point in our walk, when the house is in sight, we play our little game.  All I have to say is "one……" and he's no longer the respectful walker at the end of the leash, instead, he becomes a racehorse, pressing against the starting gate.  "…..two……" he looks back at me and bounces in circles.  "….three!" I drop the leash and he races off to the door where he patiently waits for me to catch up.

What's this got to do with education?  I'm getting there.  Actually, I'm there.

My dog is SUCH a Sparky!  He lives up to that name with every fiber of his being.  Even when he's sleeping on my feet (as he is now) his wild mess of fur is quite Sparky.

My class is called the Thinkers.  I decided on that name when, after four years of teaching third grade with "no" class name, I got tired of hearing my students ask what "we" could be.  They wanted things like "Ms. Diem's Dinosaurs" or "Ms. Diem's Devils" none of which were very fitting.  "D" just isn't one of those last names that goes well with a "thing" like that.  (Trust me, it's a problem I've been battling since childhood, when all my friends were making little trinket boxes called "Stacey's Stuff" and the like.)

That's when I decided if I was going to succumb to peer pressure, it was going to be a powerful name.  Something my students could live and become, not just an animal (though quite cute in younger grades!) The Thinkers were then born.  It was quite perfect, actually, Ms. Diem's Third Grade Thinkers.  Being a Thinker is a learner profile trait that we emphasis school-wide, and here my class was, calling themselves Thinkers right off the bat!

Though I now teach fourth grade, I kept the name Thinkers because it is just too good to change.  It's so true, too.  Watching my Thinkers pose problems for each other, inquire, research, act, learn, grow, THINK is so rewarding!  I feel like now, more than ever, the name fits, as we're doing so many new (to me) things that are carrying the Thinkers into the future, where they'll be the ones shaping it into some not-yet-thought-of masterpiece of thoughtfulness!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

What do YOU Care About?

This image came across my Facebook feed earlier today and I had to share it.  I mean, it is SO true, at least in my mind!  I may have said this before, but my motto is "I teach kids, not subjects."  And I care about those kids, not about their test scores.

What if they fail a test? you might be wondering.  That's a definite possibility.  But I don't worry about that, either.  See, if a student in my class fails a test, I don't care about that score.  I care about what that score tells me, which is that this student did not fully understand the material taught.  What that score shows me is that because I care about my student, I want to go back and reteach, find a different way to help this child understand the necessary material.  Do I care what the end score is?  Not at all.  All that score tells me is if I was able to make the material understandable in a way that made sense to this student.  If I didn't succeed, then I need to try again.

Anyway, off my soap-box for the moment.  In reading the fine print on this quote, it led me to an amazing website by Krissy Venosdale called Venspired: Living a Life of Learning.  I got lost on the site as there is an absolute abundance of amazing (and inspiring!) learning tools!  She makes thought-provoking motivating posters and the whole site is full of wisdom-y tidbits that I can't wait to dive into!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Club Projects

I always loved to read. I still do.

Back in school, we had to do book reports every month, probably from 2nd grade through 6th grade.

I always loved to read.

I always found the book reports tedious and pointless. They were always the same. Complete a written report, add an illustration, and hand it in.  In grade school, we created little folders with construction paper, glued the illustration on the front, stapled our writing inside.  In middle school it was fancier, with the clear plastic cover.

But no matter how you sliced it, it was always the same.
And for someone who loved reading, loved writing, and loved drawing........ even I didn't enjoy them. 

Which is why, while I'm an absolute advocate of reading, writing, and drawing, and I think "book reports" are a useful way to share good books with others...... the delivery method has been desperate for an overhaul.

Thanks to lots and lots of amazing teachers who share their ideas online and offline, I've continued to play with a variety of "report" methods. The three clips you see here are the "reports" for three different groups during our Economic Book Clubs.  I gave the class the freedom to choose any method to showcase their learnings from the book and sell it to another reader.  Three groups chose to do book trailers.  Two groups did plays (not shown for privacy reasons) and one group did a poster.  It was clear that the groups understood the stories, made the requested economic connections, practiced their discussion and presentation skills...... and more than that, enjoyed the end project nearly as much as the book!