Saturday, September 27, 2014

Spontaneous Adventures

In my district, Michigan History is a third grade content area.  I will admit that I am not a fan of Michigan History.  It's not developmentally appropriate for third graders, it's very challenging to find resources at the appropriate reading/content level, and to be honest, because of all of this, teaching Michigan History can be a bit dry.

Except for the 2:00am brainstorms that spice things up a bit.

Our first unit of study is our Native American unit.  We explore the Three Fires, how cultures of the past influence us today, and a few other things that are just, whatever.

One key thing kids need to understand is that the Native Americans lived off the land.  They didn't have stores or modern things that others may have had.  They built their homes from the natural things nearby.  They had to use every single bit of every single resource near them.  That's part of the reason that different tribes had different home styles and travel styles and such.

Since it was a sunny afternoon in September, I decided to take the Thinkers on an adventure.  I didn't tell them anything before we left, only that they'd need to be very good observers and listeners.  My school has a beautiful nature area right next door, so I grabbed a walkie-talkie and we headed out.  The kids were giggly with excitement, which is always fun to be around!

As we got deeper into the woods, I directed the kids to a platform that overlooks the swamp.  Once everyone was there, we sat in a circle (gotta live it all, right?!) and I explained that for the next half hour, they were going to be like the Native Americans, and they were going to be setting up their home space.  There were two rules - they had to work together, and they could not pick anything off a living tree (no breaking branches and so forth.)

Eyes wide, they peppered me with questions - Can we use rocks?  Can we take bark if it's off the ground?  Can we actually pick up sticks? (we have a no stick rule on the playground.)  Once they were sure they were actually allowed to explore and dig and get dirty, they were off.

Here are some of their words...

"We can use this sharp rock to whittle a bowl out of that branch for water."

"We can use this sturdy stick and tie a vine to it to make a bow and arrow to hunt ducks and stuff."

"We could use bark to carve handles in trees like a ladder so we could climb up and be safe from predators."

"If we took this big stick and tied it between two trees we could use it to tie up a predator."

"There are a lot of long sticks that we could stack up to make walls for the house."

"Vines could be used to make baskets with leaves and things."

"Leaves could cover the floor like carpet."

"If we collect lots of bark we could use it for a fire to keep us warm and to cook."

"This really long stick could be used against a tree to make a teepee that we could cover with bark!"

Needless to say, they were overly enthusiastic, and they made some GREAT connections to life as a Native American.  Best part was that they didn't have to open a text book for the information.  Once we organized everything, we sat down and talked in our Native American "home" space, and maybe it was the natural setting, but something about the experience sure made things stick!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Do the Dojo!

I Dojo, do you?

Dojo?  School?  What?

Sorry, didn't intend to confuse you.

I'm talking about Class Dojo!  And if you don't know what it is, let me give you a brief overview:

Class Dojo is a management system that actually works seamlessly with PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) that most (if not all) Michigan schools are now using.  With Class Dojo, you set up lists of desired behaviors (positives) and wishfully eliminated behaviors (negatives.)  Each child gets an avatar, and when you catch them exhibiting a desired behavior, you give them that point!  If they're caught in an undesirable situation, you take a point.

One of the highlights is that parents get live time peeks into their child's day, should they so choose to sign up and log in!

You may be wondering - what's the point of the points?  What do you do with them?

In my room, I've connected their points to our "Dojo Dollars" in our classroom economy.  On Fridays, the class gets a dollar for each positive point they have earned.  We open our class store quarterly, and they kids also use their money for basic supplies - pencils, pens, erasers, etc.  It's been highly motivating!

That, and the Dojo display lends itself to lovely math connections.

Even better, though, is the way the Dojo "watches" over the Thinkers.  In the hall.  At field trips.  During lunch.  During extra recess.  The Dojo is watching.... (Thanks to their awesome free app that you can download for your iPad, iPhone, and droid device!)