Monday, December 26, 2011

Fotobabble Vs. Video: Two Ways To Feature Projects And Reflections

I love using video cameras in my class. When Cisco announced that they were shutting down production of this classroom-friendly Flip camera, I went out to Best Buy and bought the ones they had left in stock. Just by their very function, they do such a great job promoting cooperative learning that it’s hard for me now to imagine a classroom without them. Children at this age love to be on camera, they love to manage cameras, and they're in awe of the responsibility of doing both on their own. There are very few times when I can’t trust my kids to do exactly what they’re supposed to be doing when I send them to work independently with a Flip camera in hand.

This is the second year that I’ve used the interview format to show off some of the stuff we do and think about during the first couple of months of school. I like the interview format for several reasons. First, it gets the children to learn how to talk about what they believe, what they enjoy, and why they did what they did for some of the projects they made. Because the production of each video takes a long time with reshoots and editing (a definite drawback), I can also give the parents a trailer of the interviews to come:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Connecting Math and Art: Beyond Elementary Numeracy

All too often one of the first subjects students learn to dislike is math. That is because the focus of elementary math is numeracy and operations. It can get kind of dry. And for those students who have trouble with basic operations, math becomes a nemisis. But elementary students can and should be exposed to the larger world of math. One way I do this is our class economy, where the students have their own bank accounts using class money, and regularly deposit, withdraw, and balance their accounts.

Another way is using Vi Hart videos to connect math with art. I haven't met a student that isn't eager to create a Sierpinski's triangle or an Appolonian Gasket after viewing one of her videos and a short mini-lesson. The point is of course to show that math is beautiful and is more than basic operations, place value, and decimals.

The Sad Situation of Sam Smiley: An Introduction To The Scientific Method

HSI (Historical Scene Investigation) is an interesting site that allows students to be investigators of historical events by examining primary and secondary documents and then coming up with their own conclusions. It doesn't seem to have been updated for years though. I first discovered in in 2007 and it has remained the same since then.

Still, there's a lot of good stuff on it. I've modified their investigations for a 5th grade study of the Boston Massacre and the Jamestown "starving time." My favorite investigation is Sam Smiley. It's meant to be an introduction to investigation skills needed to be a good historian, but I find it even more fitting to introduce the scientific method. The process that one undertakes whether or not she is a historian or scientist is essentially the same: Ask a question, do some background research, construct a hypothesis, test it against what is known, analysize the results, revise your hypothesis as new information comes into light, and eventually reach a conclusion.


The Sad Situation of Sam Smiley introduces these components to the students very well. Over the years I've made changes to the original investigation. I've taken away and added new witnesses, altered the storyline to keep it fresh for each grade, added video testimonies, and try to connect it with real places that the students will know.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Using Animoto To Feature Field Trips

Animoto is a wonderful online movie maker that does all the hard work for you. Simply upload pictures, select or upload music, maybe add some words of explanation, and Animoto will do the rest; It'll automatically match the pictures to the music and creates a theme. 

The free account only allows for a maximum 30 second slideshow, but there is an educational account that allows slideshows to be any length of time. The slideshow below shows off our 4th grade field trip to the Association For Craft Producers for our study in economics and business.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Our Morning Routine

This year I have a class that needs to move... a lot. So instead of having a traditional morning meeting where we gather in a circle and talk and share, I've adopted our "morning routine" from Brent Vasicek, and his routine he shared through his Scholastic blog last year. There are a few differences though. The first thing that our class does is respond to a Morning Message, usually through writing. Our dances have a morning dance leader, to help keep everyone focused. I also have included three of our class economy jobs into the routine: Fact Finder gives two facts every day. Class Clown gives two jokes a day. Our Morning Reporter gives a news report on Mondays and Thursdays.

UN Day Performances

This year our UN Day Elementary finale featured a lot of goodness. Below are two performances my students and I captured:

Change The World:

The Elementary Dance Club:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween Writing: Harris Burdick

As some children began to finish their editing of their personal narratives, they shifted to our Halloween writing. I love writing workshop, but it takes a great deal of time and energy to develop a single piece. Our short Halloween writing unit is designed to have the students break away from the genre and the structure of writing workshop and write stories in any genre they can think of. The stories won’t be nearly as polished, but there is a lot of freedom in the unit that encourages both reluctant and eager writers alike to put their imaginations on paper.

The setup for our Halloween writing unit is this:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Teaching Human Rights: A UN Day Lesson

Tomorrow is UN Day, so today I shared with my class one of the UN's most accessible documents: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

UDHR - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
It's tough for 9 and 10 year olds to internalize these rights and prioritize them. Enter STHGIR, an alien that communicates through the internet. I open a web browser to show the children a cartoon, but instead there is only this:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Roleplaying our Class RIghts

One of the jobs I offer in my class economy is called "Hollywood." The job of Hollywood is to of course make movies. It took me some time to flesh out the job description because, "Go out and make movies!" isn't nearly enough direction for a fourth grader. Around October of last year I had it figured out though. Intrinsic values and rights are a big part of our fourth grade life, so Hollywood's job is to turn our class rights- the rights we decided as a class at the beginning of the year that will support our learning- into short one minute promos. Last month, my two Hollywood employees (I also learned that having two is much more productive than having only one person in charge of making movies) wrote, filmed, and directed their first class right movie: "We have the right to be comfortable." They get a small stipend to pay any actors that want to be in their promo (since much of the filming has to be done durning a break time). Below is the result:

Teaching Small-Moment Personal Narratives

I love teaching personal narratives. I've been using Lucy Calkin's Writiing Workshop for five years, and each year I'm amazed at the way that my students develop as writers. I use a lot of exemplar texts, but one of my favorites is "Trapped In The Drive-Thru" by Alfred Matthews, aka Weird Al Yankovich. His song is not only a fantastic example of a small-moment story (a story that takes place in 15 minutes or less), but it's also a great example of using dialogue to tell the story. I first hand out the transcript of "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" to each student, and read it as a small moment story, pointing out the things the author does well in this narrative. As I read, I try to break up the rhythm so the kids actually don't know it rhymes. After I read it, I reveal that it is indeed a song, and we watch the video.

By the end of the lesson, the kids have a better understanding of what a small moment story is, but they also have a better understanding of how to use dialogue to enliven a story.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Introduction To Writing Workshop: Sculpting!

How do you introduce writing at the beginning of the year? How about making stuff out of clay? This is a lesson I adopted from my graduate work. Not only is it a lot of fun, but after the lesson, you can always go back to the lesson to answer the most common question in writing workshop, "I'm done. Now what do I do?"

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Die Hard Math

Wednesdays is a special day at Lincoln school; we get out one period earlier. In fourth grade we also do a bunch of things we don't get to do on the regular days. One of these things is learning interesting math. 

To cap off our math Wednesdays, I start with a fantastic math problem from Die Hard 3. The scenario: Figure out the math problem by the end of the math class or the bomb will explode! Students work in pairs and have two different sized cups (to represent a 5 gallon jug and a 3 gallon jug), a water bottle (representing the fountain), and a bucket to dump unused water in.

Celebrating Students With Tech Part I

Companies use interactive tools to celebrate their customers in different ways. McDonalds and Avatar teamed up for the Avatarize Yourself campaign, and the tech company that was responsible for that, oddcast, is responsible for a host of other ways that companies try to promote their product by putting the consumer in their product somehow.  But the award for taking a viewer and celebrating that viewer in fresh and original ways has to go to the Swedish company, tackfilm, which has been working with the Swedish Telecommunications service for the past few years, celebrating those who pay their Telecommunications bill (I think). Their Internet video celebrations are like no other. And their latest idea is putting you in a music video. The title of this video is "I'm A Star!" It's a great video for each child in the classroom. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Punished By Rewards

I was first introduced to Lawrence Kohlberg's 6 Levels of Moral Development through Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair Is On Fire, and was immediately drawn to it. I've used it every year I've taught since, and each year it's taken a more central role in my social/emotional teaching. The stickler is Level 2: I do something good, because I get a reward. Many classrooms are based on stars or bucks or stickers or whatever. But it's a facade, because there are 4 levels of moral development that are being shut out by introducing rewards like these, and what's more, if the desired outcome isn't crystal clear, the reward system will flatly just not work.
One of the best TED talks I've seen lays this out very succinctly:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Food Marketing and Classroom Differentiation

Human variability: Whether it's differentiated instruction, or food marketing, "embracing the diversity of human beings, we'll find the way to true happiness." As you watch this TED Talk, think about what Malcolm Gladwell says about the epiphany in food marketing and how this is a true epiphany for not only human behavior in general, but how it matches our ideas of best practices in education. Giving students meaningful choices that we, as teachers, construct, is different than students constructing their own choices without guidance. Choices with guidance in a differentiated classroom is an essential piece of student ownership and human development.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Year-Long Poetry Unit

April is poetry month. But I can't fathom teaching poetry in a single arbitrary month. Instead, my class tackles poetry once a week all year long. Here is a Prezi of my poetry unit for fourth grade.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Questions of Value: Integrating Social Studies and Reading

Here is another one of my Prezi presentations to my parents this upcoming year. This is a cross-curricula unit on values:

A Fourth Grade Class Economy

One of my goals this year is to improve communication with my parent community. To this end, I've designed a few of my bigger units as Prezi presentations to share. Here is the presentation for our 4th grade class economy:

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