Monday, January 18, 2016

Standing for Change in the most Challenging Moments

Happy MLKjr day, everyone! A day that we remember the amazing contributions and changes that were brought about by the help of a man who refused to stand aside and allow injustice to happen before his very eyes.  Today, I'm stopping by because I'm joining in a blog link-up in hopes of bringing attention and hopefully relief to some deplorable conditions that the teachers and children of Detroit Schools work and learn in.  Each blogger is choosing a favorite MLKjr quote and interpreting it in a way that address the current crisis in schools in the city.

I have a lot of favorite MLKjr quotes but this one really spoke to me in relation to this situation:

I think this quote spoke to me because, as teachers, we deal with much controversy and challenge.  Whether it has to do with CC Standards, standardized testing, the fact that we are trained professionals, pay- whether fair or unfair... and this is no exception.  The children and teachers of Detroit need us to help their voice be heard, to help them shine light on the deplorable conditions they are surrounded by in their schools everyday.  Those who do not work in Detroit, those without the uncomfort or inconvenience of working in these schools, cannot knowingly stand to the side and say "Well, it's not my school so I don't have to worry about it."  We as teachers must stand together and feel the pain these kids and teachers feel going to work in this incredibly unsafe building and we must unite for change.

Borrowed from  Rainbow City Learning: Please let the teachers of Detroit know that you stand with them and will continue to stand with them. Look for and use the hashtags: #supportDPSteachers and #dpsteachersfight back. Search for photos, articles, and videos of Detroit Public Schools online. I promise you'll be shocked at what you learn. Sign the petition .
Write letters, send letters to the editor of your local paper, or whatever you can to add your voice. The sea is so wide and their boat is so small. (paraphrased from Marion Wright Edelman, of The Children's Defense Fund) It's your boat too.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Creating Magic: House Sorting Ceremony

"Ms. G. I was sleeping and then, I just...woke up and remembered- we are sorting into our houses today!

Those were the words from one of my students as he walked in this morning.  I had created excitement around this day ALL week.  I was even awarding pre-points that they were going to add to their score once they got sorted.  If you build something up, whether it's a flop or not, I tell ya- the kids will eat it up.

So what are the houses?

Back in October, I was lucky enough to attend the 2 day teacher training at The Ron Clark Academy.  It was amazing.  I really wish I could go back but unfortunately, I had to pay for all of the travel/hotel rooms and that got expensive (I got a PD grant through Donor's Choose to cover the cost of the training).  Maybe one day I'll be able to go back for their tacky prom night.

I took away SO many things from the academy- one of them being their houses.  It may sound familiar if you know anything about Harry Potter!  At The Ron Clark Academy- when the kids come in as 5th graders, they get to spin the big wheel to get sorted into a house, are rushed up the stairs, thrown down the electric blue slide, and welcomed into the house that they'll spend the next few years being a part of.  The houses are competing for 2 very simple things.  1. The winning house gets to have the end of year banquet decorated in their color and everyone wears that house color. 2. Bragging rights for the next year.

I was already sold, but the fact that I'd only have to buy some colored decorations was a bonus!

At The Ron Clark Academy, they have 4 houses.  Justin is good at all that graphic design stuff and he made signs for 3 of the same 4 houses they use at RCA, so I stuck with those 3.

Here are our 3 houses:

Side note: Go Blue! 

This year, my kids are majorly into Harry Potter, so they were stoked about the whole idea.  They even asked if we had a magic sorting hat.  While we didn't have a magic hat, we did have "magic" balloons!  

This afternoon, we talked about each of the houses, what they stand for, and how the whole thing worked.  They, we turned off the lights, turned on the disco ball (Yes we have a totally awesome disco ball), blared some music, and popped some balloons!  This is the playlist I created for our ceremony:


After they figured out what house they were going to be a part of, everyone cheered them on, we snapped a picture, and celebrated! Kids were chanting their house name as classmates popped their balloons. Is.i.bin.di - is.i.bin.di.... REVEUR, REVEUR!! - C'mon Amistad!  They were loving it!

After everyone was sorted, we had a little 5 minute dance party. Did I ever mention how much this group likes to boogie? Yeah- the whip and nae nae? They never get sick of it.

Last- they got to write their name and stick it on their house poster.  I love the one girl who wrote "Roar like a lion!" to represent her new house, Isibindi.  

Right before we left, they added their points that they've earned all week and Isibindi is already in the lead!  

I can't wait to see where the rest of this house adventure takes us.  My hope is that by the 2017-2018 school year, I can get my whole school on board, but I'd love to start it even earlier! Send me your positive vibes! :)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I hate the term "fast finishers"

Hate is a strong word.

I don't hate many things.

But when people use the term "Fast Finishers," I want to CRINGE and do this...



So let me tell you why I cannot stand when I hear people say, "Oh, you can use this for your fast finishers!" *eye roll*

1. When I hear it, I think of kids being forced to do EXTRA work - the regular classwork that is far too easy for them, plus another task, worksheet, or whatever it is, that practices the same exact thing.  Maybe the numbers are bigger or there's a challenge to it. But it's still EXTRA work.  Why do they get punished for understanding the content quicker than other students?

2. It implies that I do not know how to differentiate for my students.  If I am a good teacher, I know my students and I can give them all tasks, appropriate to their level, that practice the same content.  Some tasks will be easier for those kids who take to things a little slower while other tasks will provide that challenge for my high kids.  No extra work- just challenging work for everyone.

3. I do not have "fast finishers" in my classroom.  If you are wondering why, See #1 and #2.

I don't want you to misunderstand this post.  I do, sometimes, have students who may finish a task more quickly than other students.  However, I do not give them extra work to do.  Instead, they do things like- practice their fast facts, choose a math practice station, or help a friend (because what better to know they really understand than watching them really teach and help someone else how to do it!)  If I'm challenging them appropriately, they should not need to have extra challenge work, because they already had it.

And, actually, if I'm really being honest, I really don't have a lot of times when I have students that are done before everyone else.  In fact, we rarely finish anything (mostly in math) because the tasks and problems that we do have so much extension to them that goes beyond what the kids really need to know, that by the time my lower kids finish with practicing the curriculum part of the task, my higher kids still aren't finished with the extension part of the task.  Maybe that's creating bad habits, but then the kids have some really meaningful work to do at home and they love it!

Now, this works for me and I understand it doesn't work for everyone - and that's TOTALLY OK.  That does not make me or you any better or worse of a teacher.  You may have required curriculum or other reasons why you have students that might finish quickly, but I just know that all the wonderful teachers out there aren't giving their high kids extra work in an effort to challenge them - because I'm so envious of so many of you and I know how awesome you are! & Thank you for that!

Maybe it's just the term that makes me cringe like nails on a chalkboard...

Just say no to "Fast Finishers"

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Project that was never meant to be...

Have you ever had one of these...

A project, that you never even thought of... that you didn't even have the time for... that was never planned and fit into your schedule, and it just...




Then you feel like this...

Yeah, I love those.

Recently, I was reading The One and Only Ivan with my 3rd graders.  I really like LOVE this book!  The discussions we have are just amazing.

Well, anyway- they were SUPER into this book, as suspected and then the Literacy Coach at my school sent me a link to a petition about a 55 year old elephant living in captivity and performing for those that visit the park.  The petition was to free MoMo so that she could live the rest of her life happily without having to put on a show for people.


Yup- and that's when our Elephant project was born. Exactly 1 week before we started it.

The question for this project was, "Should elephants be held in captivity and trained to entertain visitors?"

My kids worked in groups to research, and read books, and watch videos, and research...  There was SO much content in this unit.  Reading non-fiction, finding the main idea, comparing and contrasting information, forming an opinion, writing a persuasive article, and we even incorporated some other cool technology by making a Public Service Announcement.  That's not even including things like: collaborating, working as a team, etc. Every single group came to the conclusion that elephants should not be trained to perform and entertain us.  I tried to play devils advocate but they weren't buying it.  That's OK.

They were SO engaged in this entire project.  Every single day, y'all, no joke- they walked into the room asking, "Ms. G, are we going to work on our elephant project today?!"

Uh.. YES!!

To help them stay on the right track for their articles, I ended up modifying another graphic organizer I found that another teacher made, in order to fit with our elephant theme... so I don't want to share those graphic organizers, but as soon as I can remember where the heck I found the other teacher-authors - I will link it here.  Here are a few pictures to give you an idea...

At the end of our unit, we invited parents, other teachers, our principal, assistant principal, and a few other people to come listen to us present about the reasons exactly why we should not support things like the circus.  The students each shared their articles and shared their video.

It was such an amazing project- all for something that was never even thought of in the first place.  It was timely, relevant, integrated the real world, and they felt like they were REALLY making a difference!

Now I call that a win.

I thought you might like to read their articles and watch their videos, so please enjoy them below! Each article is 2 pages long.  If you feel like you want to leave us some comments on our work, you can use the Padlet at the bottom too!

Hope you enjoy! And please, "Help Save the Elephants!"

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Back to school, Back to school

Anyone else sing the song the day before you go back? Yes? No? Please tell me I'm not the only one.

Well the day has come... the last day of winter break.  I am very fortunate that I had THREE weeks off (one of the perks of year round school!).  I've done a whole lot of sleeping, tv watching, yoga pants wearing, and puppy cuddling.  It's been glorious!  

One of the things that I love about going back to school after a break is all the memes that start popping up.  They seriously crack me up!  To anyone to thinks they are negative- please chillax - they are just fun and make going back to being an adult a little easier (cause let's face it- staying in comfy pants all day and not having a dang thing you have to do is ah-mazing).  Here are some of the ones I've seen pop up today:

The last one of the cat cuddled up in bed...yeah that's me. 

Even though I get a serious kick out of these, I decided to go ahead and take a different spin on the same picture-- in an attempt to give me a little extra motivation to get out of bed, put on my big girl pants, brush my hair, and be ready & excited for a classroom of 20, 3rd graders.  Most of them I've thought about through the eyes of our students :).

Cause you know there's at least a handful who are driving their parents crazy asking when they can come back....

And your students look forward to coming to school because of all the awesome learning experiences you plan for them and they can't wait to see what you have in store for them next...

And most times, it's just more enjoyable to talk to 8 year olds...

And you know there's at least that one kid that keeps asking, "How many days left?"

Wishing you all a fantastic first day back! 

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Teaching History: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Happy New Year, Y'all!! I can't believe it's 2016 already. I thought I'd start off the new year with a little confession - something that I'm sure a lot of people can related to.  Growing up... I hated loathed history.  I don't know why.  It was just so boring to me.  The funny thing is, I had great history teachers in late high school, but I think by that time, I hated it so much nothing was going to salvage my feelings toward history! Anyone else?

Well, then I grew up.  And let me tell you- I stinkin' LOVE history now.  It's so cool to think about the things that have happened in the past. to be standing in the same spot where historic leaders stood, where events happened, to think about how far we have come in this crazy world.  Because of my negative feelings toward history growing up and my positive feelings now- I made a promise that I would expose my students to tons of neat history and allow them to see how cool history really is.

That's why I'm so excited for a unit we have coming up.  My entire team is going to be doing an interdisciplinary "Cause & Effect" unit and I get to teach all of the 3rd graders about local history. Yay!  My task is to teach them about historic leaders, events, and ideas that have made a difference in the community. Since I'll have each class for 4 days, we're going to focus on 1 each day for 3 days, then have a seminar about which one they felt was most influential.  One day we will be studying the Greensboro Sit-ins.

 I plan to start by showing the kids parts of this video I found on YouTube.  Just a disclaimer - around 1:45, there is some foul language that's important to the story of the Greensboro Four and the civil rights movement, but not necessarily appropriate for all students to hear so please preview this video before showing it to your class and prepare to skip that part if you need to!

We'll talk a lot about what the protesters had to go through, the original four, and their thoughts that they share in this video.

I did also put together a reading passage with some questions that I plan to read with each group though our learning for this week will take place within many discussions.

I actually went ahead and uploaded this to Google Drive so you can use it if you like! You can click this link.

I'm super excited to teach them about something that was such an influential movement that took place just 45 minutes away from their little home town.

Hope you have a great first week back to school after the break!