Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Project-based learning with Peeps!

Peeps challenge, project based learning, STEM
I love project-based learning!  It's fun to see kids get jazzed up about a topic and collaborate well (or not) with other students.  Mostly it's just fun to watch them create!  They have such great ideas and are so much more willing to push boundaries in their thinking.

Last year, coming up on Easter break, I came up with the idea to create a Peeps catapult challenge.  I had seen something similar on Pinterest and it looked like it would be engaging for kids who were starting to check out on the day before break.  I talked to the other two teachers on my team, and like the great troopers they are ("OMG, Marion, have you come up with yet another crazy idea?") they decided to plan something for Peeps around their content areas, too.
Project-based learning, STEM, Peeps
Project based learning, STEM, Peeps
Different designs and different approaches to catapulting led to some surprises!
Project based learning, STEM, PeepsProject based learning, STEM, Peeps
Building houses required geometry skills.  Would the homes be large enough for the Peeps chick to fit inside?

In Science, students researched the physical and behavioral adaptations that animals make, to survive in the wild.  Then, they were assigned a biome, and had to present how their Peeps would adapt to that environment.

A great day of learning!

If you're intrigued, take a look at how I incorporated these ideas, along with some other ones (better materials, more math and some writing) in this product which you can find on my 
Peeps challenge, project based learning, STEM

Have a great day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Grab some products during TpT's Valentine's Day Sale!

You know what to do!  Shop TpT and put in the promo code when you get ready to check out.  You'll get 25% off of any products in my store!  
Special thanks to PepaMaria Cabello for the great graphic!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Lack of comprehension? Or lack of background knowledge?

comprehension, background knowledge, mentoring in the middle
Like many of you, I work with small groups of students in Reading, helping to get them to comprehend materials at grade level.  One of the groups that is grabbing my attention is made up of five students who have struggled with comprehension on any form of assessment they've been given.

As I've gotten to know them better as readers, I'm starting to think that the issue isn't actually that they don't comprehend what they're reading.  It's more that they bring such limited background knowledge to the table that it makes understanding what they read a daunting task.

I came across this article recently, in the New York Times called "How to Get Your Mind to Read."  In this opinion column by Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, Willingham discusses how not having background knowledge makes it harder to read, and ultimately to think critically.  He refers to an experiment done with third graders.  Some were identified as good readers and some as poor.  They were asked to read a passage about soccer.  The poor readers who knew about soccer were THREE times more likely to score better on the test than the good readers who didn't know much about the sport.

So, what does that tell us?  Background knowledge makes a difference!  And that's why we need to continue to challenge students to read good-fit books.  Every new book they enter into reveals a little something new to them, which makes the next book or passage that much easier to comprehend.
There are many factors that affect the extent to which students will learn new concepts: their interest level, our skills as a teacher, and how challenging the reading is.  But there's no question that what students already know is a huge plus in helping them understand what they don't know.
The more reading students do, the more background knowledge they build.  To ensure that they get reading time, we need to carve out precious minutes during the day for them to read. 
The challenge with these students is that they're often pulled into small groups during the time when everyone else is reading their own good-fit books.  How do we create time for both?  Sometimes it's a book, other times it can be a short passage.
There are wonderful resources out there, in addition to books, that allow kids to build background.  Newsela, Scholastic's Scope and Action magazines, Time for Kids, and Tween Tribune, and my new favorite Commonlit are just a few that provide high-interest articles at the reading level students need.

Let's keep reflecting and finding ways to help all our students become critical thinkers!


Thursday, February 1, 2018

$100 TpT Giveaway

I'm collaborating with Ms. K to celebrate her 1000+ followers on TeachersPayTeachers!  Join us in this Rafflecopter giveaway to win a $100 gift card to spend wherever you'd like on TpT!

Prize: $100 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card

Use the Rafflecopter link below to enter.  Giveaway will begin February 1st and end February 8th.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

1 Minute Book Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz

1 minute book review, book review, one minute book review, Refugee, Alan Gratz
Have you read Refugee?  This is one of my all-time favorite books and it captured my students in a way that great books do.  Watch this video for a one-minute review of the book!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Capture the WOW with Genius Hour

Genius Hour, Passion Project, 20% Time
Photo by Luca Zanon on Unsplash
  • How does your personality determine your sleep position?
  • Why is there more gun violence in Chicago than other cities?
  • How do you do a 360 on a scooter?
  • How has lacrosse changed over the years?
  • What impact does the paint color in a room have on you?
  • How do optical illusions work?
These are the deep questions that my sixth graders wanted to explore. Where did this passion come from?  I was stunned by the depth of their questions!

Genius Hour is a practice, first developed at Google (sometimes called 20% Time or Passion Projects), that allows people to explore things they are interested in as long as it benefits the company.  Some amazing innovations have come out of this time, including Gmail and Google Glass.

You can set this up in your classroom so that students can research whatever they're interested in. Anything.  School appropriate-anything.  (I didn't have any issues with this, but I teach sixth graders!)  You can put some parameters around it although I would encourage you to hold back.  It does mean giving up some control (I know, it's hard!) but it's worth it to leave choices, successes and failures in the hands of your students.

First, spend some time talking with your students about those things they wonder about, or even things that bug them.   I encouraged my students to talk with their families to see if those conversations would generate more ideas.  They used this graphic organizer to record their thoughts.  You can download it by clicking on the picture.
Spend time here!  The more students play around with ideas - and hear each others' thinking - the more likely they are to think through their own ideas and the less likely they are to change plans midstream.

Let students work at their own pace, within your time frame.  That pushes some kids, but allows others to move on and dig more deeply into their research.

Want to learn more?  I will blog more about Genius Hour in a later post.  You can also purchase this product from my Teachers Pay Teachers store, if you want to get started sooner!

Enjoy the journey!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Two Books You Should Read to Your Students in 2018

Boys in the Boat, Refugee, Read Aloud, Books, Fiction, Nonfiction

This is a great time for teachers in the world of literature and narrative nonfiction.  There are so many good books to choose from! 

I have been spending some time recently exploring good nonfiction books, partly because I've always enjoyed biographies, and partly because I like the way they help students get into the world of that particular time period.  And they're being written in ways that make them very accessible, even to more reluctant readers.
Image result for the boys in the boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is one such book.  It is a powerful story of a journey that started with hundreds of boys wishing to be part of a crew team.  Within days, weeks, and months, those boys were whittled down to a small group that demonstrated the perseverance necessary to be successful rowers for the University of  Washington. 

At the center of the story is Joe Rantz, whose hard childhood will take your breath away.  His mother died when he was four, his father remarried and his stepmother rejected him in every possible way, eventually sending him to live elsewhere as more children were added to the family.  From a very early age, Joe learned not to count on anyone. 

But, in order to be a successful rower, he had to give that up and depend completely and utterly on his teammates. 
And that was scary.

Image result for refugee by alan gratz
I can't say enough about this book.  My students collected money for refugees after we finished it.  
And every other book Alan Gratz has written has not been on my shelves since!

Refugee is the story of three refugees from three different time periods:  Joseph, fleeing from the Nazis in 1939, Isabel, fleeing from Fidel Castro's Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud, fleeing Syrian rebel fighters in Aleppo, Syria in 2015.  Each chapter ends in a cliffhanger; the chapters take you from child to child and time period to time period.

Despite harrowing circumstances and in the face of regular rejection, you cheer each of these protagonists on to the very end, where they stories intertwine in an unexpected and beautiful way.  

Both books are thought-provoking and will lead to wonderful discussions with your students!

I have created chapter questions for The Boys in the Boat, which is available on Teacher Pay Teachers.

Enjoy reading!