Friday, March 22, 2013

South Philly meets ancient Ghana

   I don't often burst out laughing when I'm reading student essays.  You know what I'm talking about, right.  I'm pretty good about making sure everything else is taken care of before I read through them.  You know, my coffee cup has been washed out, emails have been answered, new ideas have been thought through, copies made, etc.  And then I'm ready to read.

    And I'm curious.  Does having a dirty coffee cup get in the way of good grading?  I don't know, and I certainly don't think of myself as rigid, but boy, oh boy, it takes a while for me to get my pitoot in the chair, ready to rock and roll.  With purple pen in hand.

     In Reading, we'd been learning about a bartering practice in ancient Ghana that was conducted silently, in order to protect the secrecy of nearby gold mines.  Merchants would lay out their goods, beat a special drum, and leave.  The miners would come out of the gold mines, look over the goods, and lay gold dust down in exchange.  They'd beat the drum, leave, and the merchants would reappear.  This process might go on a few times, but eventually everyone left happily.  And no one had said a word.

     My students were mystified that these people were honest.  And silent.  And that "dumb bartering" didn't mean that barterers were stupid, but that they were silent. We even talked about the evolution of language for a while, and they came up with good examples.  Something that's sick isn't always ill, and something that's rich isn't always wealthy.  And we discussed what it must have been like to live back then.

     And then came the test a few days later.  One of the open-ended questions was really getting at Main Idea and Detail, and a number of students chose to respond by writing about dumb bartering.  My favorite?  "The merchants laid out their goods by a stream or near bushes, and then they beat on a special drum called a deba.  That was their way of saying, "Yo, I want to trade!'"

     I would have made some joke about the movie, Rocky (Yo, Adrian!) but they wouldn't have gotten it.  Am I showing my age?!

     Speaking of grading, these Dodecahedron Book Projects were a great hit with my students.  They're not my creation; they're one of the top selling products on TpT, created by Mr. Hughes.  And I can see why!  Here's a picture of our hallway early one morning before students arrived, with about half of the projects hanging.

   Yo!  It's Friday evening.  So go and have a great weekend!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Five for Friday! And the Big Summarizing Push!

    It's Friday, and for some reason, this one feels well earned!  Even though we had Wednesday off as a snow day (for snow that never arrived) I just felt like the kids and I needed a little extra pushing this week.  So, to end the week I decided to link up with Doodle Bugs Teaching and take a look back at the week.

    In my usual style, I don't have many pictures.  It just doesn't occur to me to whip out my iPad in the middle of a lesson!  But anyway, here are some pictures from our "Curl Up with a Book and Read" Day last Friday.  The kids got to come to school in their pajamas, and believe it or not, sixth graders are still pretty excited about that.  Even after they get the lecture about "school appropriate" clothing!
    You'll notice that some of the students aren't reading but working on a packet.  That's because they're working on their Dodecahedron Book Projects, thanks to Mr. Hughes on TpT.  This is the first time I've used it, and they seem to be enjoying it quite a bit.  Projects are due next week!  About 15 students have already turned them in, and that's a good thing because they take up a lot of space on my desk, waiting to be graded!  But they look good hanging up in the hallway (of course I forgot to take a picture!)

These are the tubs of pillows that students can choose from.  Over the years a couple of students have donated stuffed animals too.  There's nothing that warms my heart more than watching some kid - who's usually trying to be cool or tough - curl up with a book, a pillow, and a stuffed duck.  Or some other animal.  It's a good reminder for me that sixth graders are still little kids!

Then on Friday, I had the big "showdown" with my one class.  I pushed hard, they pushed back.  Guess who won?  Yeah, me, of course!  The issue was getting them to summarize an answer on a test.  Are your students like this?  They start writing and keep going until they run out of space.  Sometimes they cram in one last sentence where they can, but usually, they just stop.  No more space?  No more thoughts.  And I just decided that for this response, that wasn't going to happen.  So I created a Cause and Effect chart (that's the skill we were working on)

And I pushed and pushed.  A finally the kids started to understand what they needed to do.  Although it was eye-opening.  One student raised his hand for me to check his work.  I high-fived him for his good effort and said, "Now, all you need to do is take this information and put it into a good paragraph."  He looked at me in amazement and said, "How do I do that?"  That stopped me in my tracks.  So I gave a little mini-lecture lesson on how good, solid pre-writing leads to much easier writing.  That once the hard work is done, the writing flows smoothly.  It was like he'd never heard that before.  Which I KNOW isn't true.  But it was one of those moments where you saw the lightbulb go off in his head, and it was glorious to see!  He turned in some solid work that day.

    I've been wanting to create a review for my students who are working through Levers and Pulleys in Science.  The unit is divided into levers first and then pulleys.  By the time students get to the final test, they've forgotten some things about levers, especially which classes are which, and how to diagram them.  So I created a packet and put it on TpT and Teachers Notebook.

If you're interested, talk to me nicely and I might send it to you for free!

   And now for some sad news.  One of my student's mother died this past week.  I'm heading out to the funeral in a little while.  What a reminder about the fragility of life.  And how we need to love these kids (even when we're pushing hard, hard, hard to get them to reach their potential.)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend,


Monday, March 4, 2013

You think I know what?

    Did you ever think you knew what your kids could do and they surprised you?  That happens to all of us at times, and like me, you're probably pleasantly surprised when they do better than you think.  That's one of the best feelings!

    Not so good when it's the other way around.  At the end of last week, I pretested my kids on Cause and Effect.  Sixth graders, this should be simple, right?  I was surprised that about a quarter of my students struggled to pull the cause or the effect out of a one-page essay.  So, time to teach it, and time to create something they could work on and share in class, with me making sure they truly got it.
    It was fun to watch them at work today.  They were laughing as they tried to outdo each other with more ridiculous responses, but they knew they had to make sense.  They were a little tentative when they started sharing, but had fun laughing about some of their answers, and shaking their heads when they knew a response was just another part of the cause, or another part of the effect.

    Tomorrow they get to show me if they can pull some of this out of the context of a story.  Hopefully this little lesson (with me prancing around the room saying "BeCause ______, what happened?" stuck in their heads!

    Click here if you'd like a free copy to use with your students.

Have a great week!

P.S.  Just had to share a techie moment.  I finally figured out how to link to my blog in my comments.  I've been trying to figure that out for a while.  You should have seen the SMILE on my face when I finally figured it out.  Especially because I knew it couldn't be that hard!  Yay!  173-year old woman (that's how old I tell my students I am) masters the 21st century!