Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Who's the Greatest Hero of All Time? From Debate to Opinion Writing

heroes, hero, opinion writing
I wish I had taped it, this powerful discussion.  Impassioned students debating whether their person was more heroic than someone else's.  Which led to conversations about what heroism is.  Was Albert Einstein more heroic than Harriet Tubman?  Todd Beamer?  Carson Wentz?

Elementary students' worlds are just starting to expand, and if you ask them about their heroes, they most often talk about their parents, a few athletes, Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's important to expand their horizons!  And so we did, first with 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should MeetTales of Famous Heroes, and then this website:  It wasn't meant to be a huge research project, just a way to get students to think beyond their parents.

Students completed this graphic organizer (you can download it by clicking here).  There's a blank page (and this one with directions.)

Students held on to them as they read about a couple of people they weren't as familiar with.  We used  which is rapidly becoming my go-to site for great articles!

But the kids wanted to talk about the people they'd researched!  They wanted to compare and learn more about each other's heroes.  So we decided to discuss in a Socratic Seminar "Who's the Greatest Hero?" of all the heroes researched.

Oh Boy!

It was an amazing display of thought and discussion about the qualities that make a hero.  Students were the most impassioned I've seen in a while.  I hated to end the discussion, and then it occurred to me that they should have an opportunity to argue on behalf of their hero.  What a great activating strategy for Opinion writing!

Whether you try this Hero's Challenge or another idea, having students discuss and debate in Socratic Seminar is a great way to get ideas flowing!

P.S.  Special thanks to Kate Hadfield Designs and Joyful Hands Products for their clipart on the Hero's Graphic Organizer.

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!