Tuesday, August 30, 2016

5 Ways to Use Rocks

Rocks make great resources in the classroom. Now when I say rocks, I mean all kinds of rocks and gems. We regularly use medium river rocks, small river rocks (like gravel), and floral gems/marbles. Whatever you use, you can use them in different ways. Here are five ways we've used them.

1. Count them.

Put rocks with other items and counting mats. My kids love to stack different items on the counting mats, including rocks.

Or count them as you play a counting board game.

2. Build with them.

I think that you can use just about anything in the blocks center. We add rocks (and sometimes other nature items) at times. My kids like to incorporate rocks in their buildings.

Or you can build with them with no blocks, too. Here we're building rivers.

3. Spell with them.

Print letters on paper or make letters with tape on the floor. Use rocks to outline the letters. You could even challenge kids to look at the letters and make them on a table or floor beside the printed letter instead of on top of it.

4. Investigate them.

Use rocks in your nature/science center. Include a scale, magnifying glasses, rulers, paper, and pencils. Kids can investigate the rocks. They can look at them, draw or write about them, weigh them. Hands-on science is great!

5. Use them with play dough.

Add small rocks and gems to your play dough center or activity. Kids can choose how to use them. (They may ignore them, too.) Our kids enjoyed exploring and creating by mixing the rocks in with the play dough. We created pizzas and mountains and all kinds of interesting things.

We've used rocks in all kinds of ways. These are just five of our favorites. How do you use rocks and gems to explore and learn?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Wrap Up and Final Reflections on Teach Like a Pirate

I am reading and reflecting on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

Part III - Building a Better Pirate
   The Awkward Question
   Where Do I Start?
   Finding a Crew

In this last section of the book, Dave Burgess offers some encouragement to take the leap and become a pirate teacher. He asks the question: "Do you want to be great?" Then he examines why we teachers want to shy away from that question. He challenges us to embrace wanting to be a great teacher - "mediocrity doesn't motivate" he says. And he's right. We should want to be great teachers and not worry about what others may think or do.

He asks a second question: "Where do I start?" The answer? Here and now. Take a step. Don't just swallow the fear, live it. Try something; take a risk; be ready to fail. He says, "If you haven't failed in the classroom lately, you probably aren't pushing the envelope enough." I agree. I think it's okay to fail. It's not okay to just stay there. Learn from it and try again. If others criticize (and someone will), examine it. If it's legitimate, learn from the critical remarks. If not, ignore it and keep working to be great.

And look to build a support system - a crew. You can't sail on your own. "Don't be limited by your subject, grade level, school, or even profession. Take counsel from a wide variety of people and seek out multiple perspectives." That's why I love Twitter. I follow a lot of educators - most of them are in early childhood or elementary. Some are in middle and high school. Some are administrators or leaders in higher education. But I also follow publishers and graphic designers, photographers and ministers. I try to keep a wide variety of perspectives. You never know where the next inspiration comes from. I think this book proves this very principle. Dave Burgess does not teach early childhood kids. But as I read through his ideas, I saw how his concepts fit into my philosophy - and how those concepts challenged my philosophy, too. If I read only early childhood educators, I would have missed this book and what I've gleaned from it.

Final Thoughts

I loved this book. All the questions and different "hooks" pushed me to think beyond what I normally think. It made me take a step back and think about some critical thoughts I've had about some other teachers' approach. (But I still keep my stand as Team No Glitter!)

As I wrote in the previous post on this book, this book is about being intentional. I need to make deliberate choices in what I do in the classroom. Not just what I do but what I don't do, what I create the space to look and sound like, what I let go and what I don't. My teaching is more than a set of activities or a block of content. It's an experience that can be fun, unexpected, and memorable. (Or none of those things.)

Here are a few additional quotes that motive me to be a more passionate - great! - teacher:
  • "Great teaching gets messy sometimes and we have to constantly be aware of the changing landscape in our rooms and make 'moves' based on what works, not on what is necessarily theoretically ideal or, God forbid, scripted."
  • "When in doubt, take action."
  • "Realize that anytime you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. Learn to say yes to the significant."
  • "Some choices are major and others are minor, but even the minor decisions, when added up, create impact."
  • "Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude."

And this one sums up where I want to be as a teacher--
"Forget about all the things that you can't control and play your drum to the best of your abilities. Play with all the passion, enthusiasm, and heart you can muster. Nothing else really matters."
See you out there on the high seas!
(and in the next book - whatever that is)
Next book: Free to Learn by Peter Gray

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Developing Imagination

from "Why I'm Bringing the Play Kitchen Back to First Grade" (First Grader...At Last!)

Sarah is bringing a play kitchen into her first grade class. She explains how that will be a good thing for her students. 

What old or new thing can you bring into your classroom? How will a new play experience impact learning?

Monday, August 22, 2016

New Perspective

Learning environment is important. Teacher Tom often echoes the Reggio Emilio philosophy and calls it the "third teacher." As I've read Teach Like a Pirate and Teaching with Intention, I've been reminded of shaping the environment and making choices that are purposeful. I've always thought about the surroundings and the materials in it. But I want to continue to make specific choices intentionally. I want to think beyond what but arrange materials in ways that will intrigue and invite exploration.

But there's another aspect to this learning environment--the child. I've often said to think about things and look at things from the child's point of view. But my children are continuing to emphasize that their perspective is key to what I'm doing.

I have a new friend that is always looking at the environment. As I mentioned in a previous post, she saw a piece of paper on the ceiling and it bothered her. I had to stand on a chair and remove it (while kids were out of the room). When she came in after that, she immediately noticed it was gone. That paper had been there for months. I'd seen it and dismissed it. No other child had noticed it (or at least mentioned it). But she did. And it bothered her.

She noticed yesterday that a clothespin was also on the ceiling. She wanted me to move it. I told her I would after everyone was gone. So, I was standing on a chair, stretching to get it, yesterday before I left. (It's gone now.)

Look at the room, everything in the room, from the child's perspective. Sit on the floor or kneel at the eye level of kids in your space. What do you see? I can almost guarantee that you will see things, notice things, that you didn't from your own eye level. Sit or kneel at the door at the kids' level - what do you see first? What looks inviting? What looks confusing? Are you sending the message you want to send?

Sit at a table. Is it easy to reach the materials that are in the middle? Does something need to be shifted for more easy use? For more interaction? Is there space to move your arms and manipulate as you need to do? What are you seeing as you look up from the table?

Think about the space as a child does. Can you move through the space easily? Does lots of room make you want to run? To wrestle? In moving through the space, do you bump into tables? Others? is there too much stuff to look at, too cluttered? Does the space look like you (the child) own it or you (the teacher)?

As you evaluate the space, what are you communicating? Is that what you want to communicate?

Change your perspective, both physically and mentally. Put yourself in the shoes of your kids. What is the third teacher saying to you?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Expressing Thoughts

I was looking through my collection of photographs from my recent learning experiences with preschoolers and kindergartners. I came across this photo.

I obviously saw it when it was created because I took a photo of it. But I didn't ask the artist anything about it. I don't remember seeing it until I looked at the photograph. But it conjures up all kinds of questions.

What does it mean? What was the child thinking about or emulating when she created it? Was she working to understand the past versus the present? Old and new? Does she really know the meaning of "vs" or did she copy that from something else? What does it mean?

I cannot go and ask the artist now because there's no identifier on the art--I don't know who drew it. And even if I did, I doubt she would remember exactly the significance of the words and numerals and lines she drew. Or maybe she would.

As intriguing as I find this particular art piece, it reminds me that every line and letter that kids make on paper is significant. It is an exploration of ideas, an expressing of thoughts. Just as I ponder things here by typing and arranging words and sentences, kids ponder through swipes of a paintbrush or stroke of a crayon. They think; they ponder; they experiment; they express.

It seems that our schools are often hyper-focused on reading and writing and math. They stress academic performance on a narrow band of skills. They ignore (and even eliminate) art and music and creative expression. And yet, these means are may be the best way for kids to ponder and internalize important concepts and learning.

We had fun in our Art Camp this summer. And kids in my church classroom enjoy the opportunities to create from various supplies. But, as I see this picture and the others, I further realize that real thinking and learning happened then, too.

Don't forsake the crayons and paint. (Or the blocks and music and other creative endeavors.) These help kids think and express those thoughts.

And lead to some wonderful insights (even if we don't always know what those are ourselves).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

TLAP: Presentation Hooks, Part 2

I am reading and reflecting on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

Dave Burgess uses Part II of the book to list some different types of presentation hooks, ways to engage students in lessons. The book contains questions to ask about teaching lessons so teachers can think about how to use the different engagement strategies.

Here's the continuation of the types of presentation hooks. I like that Burgess gives lots of questions and lots of different types of hooks to engage students.

All the World's a Stage - Change or control the environment of the lesson.
  • The Interior Designer Hook - Transforming the room/space in some way
  • The Board Message Hook - Adding a message/image to the board or screen to intrigue students
  • The Costume Hook - Wearing something or adopting a new persona 
  • The Props Hook - Bringing objects to hold or using images 
  • The Involved Audience Hook - Incorporating students in active ways
  • The Mystery Bag Hook - Hiding or concealing something

Stand and Deliver - Develop engaging speaking skills.
  • The Storytelling Hook - Using captivating stories or various voices, intonations, facial expressions, and dramatic pauses
  • The Swimming with the Sharks Hook - Moving through the audience or in other parts of the room
  • The Taboo Hook - Positioning the topic as secret or forbidden knowledge
  • The Mime Hook - Using silence, gestures, and written messages (no speaking)
  • The Teaser Hook - Creating expectancy through promos, teasers, and trailers
  • The Backward Hook - Presenting material out of sequence or telling the end and letting them figure out the beginning

Advanced Tactics - Take your presentations a step further.
  • The Mission Impossible Hook - Incorporating mystery, clues, and challenges
  • The Reality TV Hook - Using challenges from popular reality TV
  • The Techno Whiz Hook - Utilizing technology in different ways as tools for engagement

Around the Edges - Put the finishing touches on the learning experience.
  • The Contest Hook - Incorporating games or contests part of learning or review
  • The Magic and The Amazing Hook - Adding in amazing information, skills, or magical effects
  • The Chef Hook - Using food and drink in meaningful and strategic ways
  • The Mnemonic Hook - Creating ways for students to connect and remember
  • The Extra Credit Challenge Hook - Developing projects or challenges that could lead students to experience more beyond the classroom and the lesson

So What?
I've taken two posts to list all the different types of ways that Dave Burgess suggests could be used to engage students in learning. I like all the questions that he uses to help us think through the different hooks. In this way, the book is a great reference for creating effective teaching presentations. Think through, make strategic choices, just add content - and you can be better at engaging and connecting with students.

But more than that, these lists of ideas and questions - this book - is about being intentional. (Makes me think of that other book I read!) Making choices and setting the stage deliberately. Thinking about the total learning experience...especially from the students' point of view. I don't teach history to teenagers like Dave Burgess did. But I do have little learners who are coming to my classroom. They will be coming to the space with expectations and agendas and interests and ideas. I must think about them, about content, about myself - and make all those things come together in the best way possible. The kids deserve for me to think about what I'm doing - about every aspect of what they will experience. 

Recently our new group of kindergartners came to my church classroom. They are a diverse group with different needs and abilities. One of my girls noticed a green wedge of paper on the ceiling. It's been there for months. I saw it but just ignored it. She was distracted by it. She kept pointing at it and wanted me to get it down. I didn't have an easy way to do that at the moment so I told her I would take care of it before she came back this week. So I was standing on a chair, stretching to remove a wedge of paper...creating an environment that all my learners could concentrate and work within. I should have kept that paper as a reminder to think about all the elements in my classroom. (I didn't; it's gone now.)

But she noticed. And that's the important thing. 

An environment ready for everyone to learn in.

Monday, August 15, 2016

You Make the Choice

from Teach Like a Pirate

Is there music playing? Can kids use the hot glue gun? Are the blinds open or closed? Do the kids sit and listen or move and do?

If you don't make a choice about it, you have chosen to abdicate and accept the default settings.

If something does work for you, choose to change it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

TLAP: Presentation Hooks, Part 1

I am reading and reflecting on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

Dave Burgess uses Part II of the book to list some different types of presentation hooks, ways to engage students in lessons. The book contains questions to ask about teaching lessons so teachers can think about how to use the different engagement strategies.

Burgess writes: "Much of your success as an educator has to do with your attitude towards teaching and towards kids. The rest of your success is based on your willingness to relentlessly search for what engages students in the classroom and then having the guts to do it."

Here's a list of the different types of hooks and a brief description of each one. (Well, part 1 of the list.)

I Like to Move It, Move It - Use movement to engage students.
  • The Kinesthetic Hook - Incorporating gestures, tossing and catching, motions, walking around, movement in different ways.
  • The People Prop Hook - Using students as props or concepts, creating a graph or chart with students.
  • The Safari Hook - Getting out of the classroom for part of the lesson (on the school campus or off of it)

Long Live the Arts - Use music, dance, drama, and art to engage students.
  • The Picasso Hook - Drawing, making, creating non-word representations
  • The Mozart Hook - Adding music, writing lyrics, creating songs
  • The Dance and Drama Hook - Performing skits or dance, writing scripts, "interviewing" key people from the past
  • The Craft Store Hook - Incorporating crafts or craft supplies

What's In It For Me? - Make personal connections to engage students.
  • The Student Hobby Hook - Using outside interests of students in lessons
  • The Real World Application Hook - Interacting with the world in meaningful way
  • The Life Changing Lesson Hook - Incorporating life lessons in what you're teaching
  • The Student Directed Hook - Providing student choice and giving them control
  • The Opportunistic Hook - Using current events, trends, TV shows, or movies

These are three groups of hooks in the book. The next post will have the rest of the hooks.

While a lot of his specific examples apply to kids older than I regularly teach, the concepts still remain the same. As a teacher, I must be intentional in what I do. Using movement, art, and personal connections are all ways we can teach in early childhood as well as older kids. 

Making intentional choices - looking for ways to engage students - doing things in a purposeful way. 

It comes back to that great quote in the last post
"Everything you do or don't do [in teaching a lesson] is a choice."

(More presentation hooks in the next TLAP post. Part 2)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Drawing Variations

Kids love to draw. They love using all kinds of different materials to make marks on paper. Sometimes, because it is such a familiar activity, we may not see how valuable this type of activity can be. And, sometimes changing things up a little can interject some additional creativity into these materials. 
In our Art Camp this summer, we had a drawing day. These are a few "variations" that we added to using crayons, markers, and pencils.

Pastels at the Easel
Sometimes using a little different medium can grab the attention of children. We used some pastels from Discount School Supply; these pastels were like brighter and smoother crayons. We used them at the easel with our regular manila paper. I had placed a full length mirror beside the easel and suggested children draw self-portraits.

These pastels were a hit. While they didn't seem radically different from crayons to me, the children did seem to think they were "better." 

They enjoyed them so much we left them at the easel for the next day of camp. One girl spent a long time creating drawings and went back several times to make other drawings, too. A little different medium creates some drawing variation.

Complete the Picture
We printed pictures of animals from online. Well, half a picture. We placed the half pictures on a table with some charcoal pencils (another different medium). Several kids looked at this activity and felt challenged by it. So challenged that they passed it up.

The brave few worked to complete the animal pictures. I wouldn't call this an unqualified success. But I would like to try this idea with some different types of pictures and with some different groups of children. This activity was definitely a variation for our kids.

Eyes Picture
This activity is kind of related to the complete the picture activity. I placed a pair of eyes on each piece of paper. The eyes were randomly placed. (We used eye stickers from Discount School Supply; you could use wiggle eyes from the craft store, too.) 

Children were challenged to incorporate the eyes into a drawing. Some ignored the eyes and just drew what they wanted; or they would draw what they wanted and add something to make the eyes make sense.

Others drew a face or figure with the eyes. This face/figure would be small at the eyes' location. Then they drew other things - things that may or may not relate to the face.

But one boy looked at the paper and embraced the challenge. He drew a person that incorporated the eyes completely. 

This activity is definitely one I'll do again. I'd like to try adding other types of things to the page for children to incorporate - paper or sticker shapes or random squiggles already on the paper. I think these variations help kids think beyond what they may normally do.

Drawing is a fun way to express yourself. And drawing is a form of writing. Drawing - putting marks on a page - does communicate ideas from one person to another. 

And the ideas I've been seeing are worth sharing!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Some Inspiration from Blogosphere As School Year Starts

It's that time of year. School has started here where I live. Other teachers and students are headed back in the coming weeks.

Here are some things I've read recently that have interested me and have me thinking as school gears up again.

  • Opening Up My Technology Can of Worms (Living Avivaloca)
    Aviva muses on technology and self-regulation. She makes some interesting points and made me think.
  • My Take on Curriculum (The Road Traveled)
    Faige writes that curriculum cannot be one size fits all - and room for genius hour, maker spaces, and the like is important.
  • Your Classroom Does Not Need to Be Pinterest Worthy to Be Effective (Pernille Ripp)
    Pernille is preaching my sermon. "I advocate for giving the room back to the students" she writes.
  • 15 Years of What Not to Do (EdWords)
    William reviews some lessons he's learned in his 15 years of teaching. Some good considerations for all teachers as the year begins.
  • Ideas for Using Environmental Print (Pre-K Pages)
    I love to reuse materials, especially those that would be tossed anyway. I helped Vanessa compile this list of different ways to use familiar words and logos for the classroom.
  • 5 Quick Classroom Tricks (Really Good Teachers)
    I wrote this article of a few quick tricks and tips that helped me in the classroom. Nothing revolutionary - but sometimes those small things can really cause difficulty.

What have you been reading that has inspired you or caused you to think? Let me know below! I'm always looking for more to think about.

Follow me on Twitter for other links that inspire me.

Friday, August 5, 2016

TLAP: The Often Missing Piece

I am reading and reflecting on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

The Third Circle

This chapter of Teach Like a Pirate begins Part II. Dave Burgess calls this section of the book the "toolbox" for a pirate teacher.

Effective teaching, he writes, happens in the overlapping circles of content, instructional strategies, and presentation. Most (if not all) teachers are experts in their content. Most have been effectively trained in using a variety of strategies. But often the missing piece is the third circle, presentation. Training programs and professional development seminars tend to overlook presentation methods and ways to engage students.

The book then uses what I think is a most effective metaphor. Focusing on content, giving it to students without purposefully thinking about how we present it, is the same as serving a raw steak to a dinner guest. Sure, you could choke down the raw steak but it will not be very enjoyable. We teachers often expect students just to choke down the content. We need to season and marinade the content. We need to apply some heat to it with energy and enthusiasm. We need to pay attention to the entire experience, not just force feeding facts or information.

Burgess stresses that we should create learning experiences that lead students to see education as exciting, amazing, fun...life changing. He writes: "[N]o content standard in any class at any level is more important than the nurturing and building a love of learning." Presentation, relationship, how we do things is as important (and maybe more) than what we're teaching.

I chose how the paper is oriented.

Then he hit me with a memorable thought. It sums up what I've been thinking for these past months. What he said that has been resonating with me since is in these three quotes:
  • "Everything you do or don't do [in teaching a lesson] is a choice."
  • "Some choices are major and others are minor, but even the minor decisions, when added up, create impact."
  • If you gave no thought to the matter, what's really going on is that you have abdicated responsibility for that decision."
Wow. If I can nothing else from this book, I want to hold on to this: What happens in the teaching experience is my choice. No music playing? I chose that (either purposely or by default). Dead space between transitions? My choice. Sitting too long? My choice. Too bright in the room? My choice. Either I didn't even consider it (which means I chose to go with whatever was there) or I chose it. Burgess says that we dampen the potential impact of a lesson by not consciously controlling all presentation factors. And all these factors (chosen or abdicated) woven together create the learning experience for the kids in my classroom.

Last year I read the book Teaching with Intention and tried to think about how to do things in an intentional way. This year I'm using PURPOSE as my word for the year, trying to make choices based on my personal purpose and mission. And now I think I see the summary of these ideas: Everything is a choice. 

I'm going to look at my classroom with more intention and purpose than ever. I'm choosing that lighting or background noise. I'm choosing that table arrangement or use of wall space. I'm choosing. So let's think about what are the best choices for the long lasting outcome.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Creeping Creativity

It happens before you even expect it. It happened to us at our Art Camp with summer.

We carefully planned a variety of activities based on different "themes" for the day. On the last day, we had collage and sculpture activities.

I placed materials together for kids to use. We had staple and paper sculptures.

We had sticker collages.

Items that were placed at either end of a longer table. Chairs grouped near the materials. Space as an invisible line between the two, marking the two areas for work.

And then it happened. Creativity creeped into the classroom and slowly began to merge the materials.

Well, I say slowly. It wasn't. One minute things were at both ends of the table. The next, creative possibilities exploded across the table. Stickers mixed with staplers.

Lots of sharing of ideas. Lots of mixing of materials. Lots of inventiveness and thinking.

Lots of concentration and focused work.

One girl worked for at least 30 minutes, carefully placing small gem stickers in three rows completely around her paper loop bracelet.

Even on the mostly paper sculptures, a few stickers appeared.

Alas, the creep of creativity and mix of materials infiltrated almost all that occurred on the table.

I couldn't have planned it better. And that's the best part. I couldn't have planned it to be such a great activity. I just had to be open to their ideas. I had to say yes.

The children's creativity had to cause the materials to creep together.