Art Integration, STEAM, Uncategorized

Art Integration in Upper Elementary

My favorite subject in school was always art. This recent Mind Shift article got me thinking about how I am using (or not using) art in my classroom.

During my Sharing the Planet unit, I teach Native American regions, early European Explorers, and plant and animal classification. This interdisciplinary unit focuses on the central idea: Native communities are altered when new elements are introduced.

For the Native American regions, we do a small craft for each region: paper canoes for Eastern Woodlands, Teepees for Great Plains, sand art for Southwestern, and totem poles for Pacific Northwest. I even have a 7-foot totem pole that we can complete as a class. This year, I also started a weaving project with wampum belts and the kids have loved it! I tied it into math as well, working on patterns; transformations, reflections, and rotations.

During our study of habitats and biomes, I started a torn art project. The students had to pick one habitat/biome we have studied in class. They were to create a scene from the habitat using torn pieces of construction paper, magazine pages, and tissue paper without using scissors! They had to include at least two examples of plant life and one example of animal life that is native to the habitat. I found examples on Pinterest and posted them to Google Classroom in a Doc. Finally, the students use their knowledge of animal classification to design their own zoo.


Finally, their summative assessment involves creating a cartoon similar to the Mark Trail Sunday comic strip by James Allen. Students had to pick an invasive species (or put a species in a new habitat) and explain how the original habitat would be affected. The specifics can be found here. As always, I like to include choice in my projects, so they could either draw them, or create them on a Google Slide.

For my second unit, How the World Works, I teach early European settlement in North America with the water cycle and weather. This interdisciplinary unit focuses on the central idea: Natural cycles are interconnected and impact the world.

For weather, I have a few ideas (thanks, Pinterest.) In the past, I’ve done the tornado in a jar, but would like to add more art to this unit. I was thinking of doing crayon and water color clouds, textured tin foil art, sensory snow, rain and wind process art, or even salt and water color art. The summative assessment for this unit is a written DBQ (Document Based Question).

For social studies, I have the students create a colonist. They research names, jobs from the 1400’s, and dress their colonist accordingly. I saw this post on having the kids trace themselves on butcher paper and could make the colonist project really come to life! We also work on Colonial Quilts, a Scholastic activity, and combine our individual squares to make a large class “quilt”. This year, I would like to make hand-dipped candles and/or weave tapestries to show how hard and labor-intensive life was back then. Do I dare try needlepoint? Corn husk dolls are popular and I found some guides here and here. There is even a yarn version…which might be easier.

IMG_4713

Check back for a future post on integrating art into other units. And leave a comment with how you’re using art in your classroom. I’d love to get new ideas!

Digital Teaching Resources, Social Media

How Technology Changed the Teaching Profession (and it’s not what you think)

The internet at your fingertips.

Virtual Field Trips.

Google Earth.

Google Classroom. Google anything, really….Drive….Slides….Docs…Calendar. What did we do before Google?

Those are all great, but not what I was thinking.

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During graduate school, we had to write two-three page lesson plans, which were a total waste. Three pages per lesson, at five subjects a day, 180 days… that’s like 2,700 written pages a year. Who has time for that?! But in 2007, I used the Internet to look up lesson plans. A few were online and were a great place to start. Here is my take on how technology shaped how educators beg, borrow, and steal.

Next came Pinterest. Educators quickly saw the value of Pinterest and I started following EVERYONE. Not only were teachers posting lesson plans, there were pictures…oodles and oodles of pictures. You could see classroom decor, see lessons in action, copy organizational tips, teacher hacks, and find sales for supplies. This totally beat the large stack of overly-copied and mimeographed worksheets I was handed (and completely grateful for) during my first year by a veteran teacher. (Full disclosure, some of those were really great and I still use them.)

Then came Teachers Pay Teachers. I jumped on the TPT bandwagon. Now there were more worksheets than I could ever imagine! I could  search for things before creating them myself because $2 was a small price to pay for not having to recreate the wheel. Heck, I even threw some of my Smartboard Notebook lessons on there and some worksheets my mom (graphic designer genius) created for me my first year, and made a few bucks on the side. Some sellers are now millionaires. While I still search for the occasional printable, even TpT has branched out to more digital and editable resources. (See my previous post about top TpT digital resources.) They’ve also gotten a little more expensive. Gone are the $2 days, as things are $10, $15, even $50 for full units these days.


Next came Facebook. Let’s admit it, I’ve been on Facebook since the beginning when it was only for college kids (circa 2003). I was already on it, so I started followed a few other teachers, schools, and educational resources. This was also a great place to see some teacher humor (helllllo Ryan Gosling memes and Gerry Brooks videos), but also to get access to other blogs and articles pertinent to education. Here are a few pages that are worth the follow:
Mind Shift
Making the PYP Happen
We Are Teachers
Edutopia

Finally, there is Instagram and Twitter. Following other teachers on Instagram (and following who they’re following) has been instrumental. I can go down an educational Instagram rabbit hole and not surface for hours. My iPhone camera roll used to be filled with pictures of my kids. Now, it’s all screenshots of classroom things I want to save and view later. Literally.


People also swear by Twitter. Following top-ranked educators, inspirational speakers, and even colleagues can be a great place for inspiration. Not only can it be a great place to get ideas, it’s also a great place to help our students. I haven’t been able to get into Twitter as much (I waste enough time on FB and Instagram, plus I do have that other full-time job, mommy-hood, that constantly interrupts my educational stalking/researching) but if you have any tips or suggestions of people to follow on Twitter, please leave a comment and I will check it out.

Back-To-School, First Day, Flexible Seating, Inquiry-Based, Student Choice, Uncategorized

Reflections from Day 1, Year 8

I was very excited to start school this year. I have a new teaching partner, a new class theme, and 28 newly minted fourth graders. I wanted my first day of school to look different than previous years. I wanted to build excitement and focus on fostering individual relationships with the kids. While I have always greeted my students at the door every morning, I made an effort last year to have the biggest smile and greet each kid by name, and a positive comment. Even on my most exhausting mornings, by the time the ninth or tenth kid came in my room, I really was happier and that rubbed off on the kids (and me!). Fake it until you make it. 

While I have flexible seating, I chose to put name tags on the seats today. I have several students who are new to the school and I didn’t want them to feel isolated or left out. The first day in a new classroom is overwhelming as it is, so I wanted there to be as little distractions as possible.  It really does pain me for the first, maybe month, of school as students run down the hall to pick the “best” seat first or grab a table with only their besties. They just aren’t ready to handle that much freedom and choice after four years of assigned seating habits. I clinch my teeth, let them sort it out, intervene when necessary, and wait for it to pass. Around mid-September they start to realize they will get to sit in all their favorite places, and the novelty wears off.

I had a packet on each desk with some coloring pages, crossword puzzles, etc so there was something there to do when they finally settled on a seat. There were directions (dry erase markers on plastic picture frames…genius!) at each table and colored pencils available as well. The packet had one blue page with some personal questions about how they learn best and what they hope to get out of fourth grade. This was on colored paper and I collected it at the end of the day. (It also did double-duty as I modeled how I collect all my papers for the year…calling them in reverse alphabetical order).

I went over my expectations for flexible seating next. I described how I want the students to select a seat for the hour/day/subject and I have a student model how each seat would look when used appropriately  (and what it would look like when used inappropriately). Finally the students signed their “Flexible Seating Contract” and went to foreign language class. I like to follow my schedule as closely as possible even the first week of school. During my math period, we set up our math notebooks, during science, the same. It is my belief that students thrive with structure and routine. When they know what is expected of them (every morning after the bell rings, we do math…therefore they anticipate and have math notebooks ready) the easier it is for them and me.


In between setting up notebooks for each subject area, (this takes a while…gluing in an index page, writing our table of contents, numbering every page), I put some posters on each table. Each had a question or sentence starter. I got many of the ideas from the blog Making Good Humans which was posted on the Making the PYP Happen Facebook page. Even if you don’t teach at an IB school, this page is worth the “follow”. My questions were as follows, and students responded with markers:

What stops you from learning?
What helps you learn best?
What does it mean to be an inquirer?
What was the most fun day you had all summer?
Last year I….
This year I’m going to…
The answer is “Mrs. Biggs”. What could the question be?

The students rotated from table to table, adding their response until they had visited all six tables. This also was important because it showed the students we move around a lot in my class and it gave each student a chance to try each seat, even if just for a minute. Some of the responses were silly (Last year I… was in 3rd grade) but we discussed those and modeled new ones, which were much better (Last year I struggled in math; Last year I loved science because we did hands-on experiments), etc.


Some of my other first day go-to activities involve index cards. On one, I have the students write 3-5 questions down that they may have. It could be a question about my personal life, our classroom, or the year as a whole. Throughout the day, I read a few and answer them during transitions or if we have a few minutes to spare. This is a safe way to let students anonymously ask me anything. I obviously only read and answer the appropriate ones. On the second index cards, we play “Two Truths and a Lie”. I ask the students to write down two true things about themselves and one lie. I always read mine first and see if the kids can spot the lie. I also pull a few index cards throughout the day and have the class guess. By the end of the day, they are begging to me read a few more. I know this game gets old in the upper grades, but fourth graders have always loved it.
This has been a longer-than-expected post, but I had such a wonderful first day. I’m really looking forward to this year. What are some of your favorite first-day activities?

Flexible Seating, Personalized Learning, Student Choice

Back-to-School & Student Choice

I am five days away from heading back to school. Five days. I’m not sure where summer went, but this one flew by. Maybe it was the constant playdates and pool time with my toddlers, or my brother’s wedding, or the IB training in Austin, Texas, but either way, I’ve been doing some reflection and trying to figure out how to give my students more choice this year. Here are three ways I will include choice in my class this year:

Flexible Seating:
My class has had flexible seating for two years now. I did a small blurb on my seating choices in a previous blog post “Top 5 Reasons I Use Technology in my Classroom” (see #2). Previously, it looked like this: My students may sit/stand wherever they like as long as they are on task. I have seats with stationary bikes, standing tables with spooner boardsHokki stools, and bean bag chairs. I noticed that once a student picked a seat for the day, they sat there and wouldn’t move. I wanted there to be more movement between subjects and throughout the day. This year, I am removing two large desks (each desk seats two students) and I am making crate seats. Four will be placed in a semi-circle in the front of the room, and four along the back wall for a “couch/bench” like seating area. Below you can see how large the tables are and I’m looking forward to the extra space this will open up. I found lap desks at Hobby Lobby and students can bring them to the crate seats or to the floor. I would like to offer some incentive for picking more than one seat in a day.

 

Morning Work:
I stumbled upon this blog about “Rethinking Morning Work.”  I love the idea of morning work choice! My daughter’s preschool teacher offers this for four-year-olds, why wouldn’t it work for fourth graders? Every day when she walks in, her teacher has set up a few tables with arts/crafts, small toys, Play-Doh, etc. She can choose which to engage with after she hangs up her book bag. I’m interested in this Suspend Game and Legos for a collaboration station. Since we are 1:1 ipads, we could have a technology station, a game station (hello task cards and sudoko!), and an artistic expression station focusing on an artist or genre each week or month. I am hoping to have this fleshed out soon but would not start it on the first two days of school. (Our district starts school on Thursday, we have class Friday, then three days off for the weekend and the solar eclipse.)

Choice Boards & Novel Selection:
I have used choice boards for many topics, but especially math. I give students a “Must Do/May Do” list where they have certain things that are mandatory to complete and others are optional. I would like to be more creative with academic choice this year, for example, offering my students more than one summative assessment for each IB unit. I do many station-rotation models in my classroom, but I would like to offer maybe six stations, where only four or five need be visited.  I usually select two or three novels for each IB unit based on the topics covered. I always group the students by ability, but would like to offer the students a choice in which novel to read (as long as I have sort-of evenly numbered groups). I’m thinking I will read the jacket covers of the books out loud and have students record on a note card their first choice. I want the decision to be independent of their friend’s choices. It is always hard at the beginning of the year, since these students don’t know my routines and procedures. They also don’t have experience being given so much choice in a classroom. Hopefully, I’ll have them whipped into shape in no time!

A very special thanks to the blogs who I’ve borrowed/stolen from today. And my dad, who I begged to help me make these crate seats!

 

Inside the Trenches
The Apple Tree Room
The Science Penguin

Classroom Theme, Uncategorized

Thinking Ahead…Way Ahead

Most of my blog posts are heavy and full of content. Here’s a little lighter note as we end the school year (and think about the next!)

I’ve had quite a few classroom themes: under the sea, jungle animals, polka dots, chevron, etc. I’ve decided to change it up next year and go for a fruity theme. I fell in love with all the cute watermelon and pineapple treats at Target in the Dollar Spot. Even my Google Classroom themes are going fruity (see pictures above).
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I grabbed this watermelon pinata and thought my students could take it outside to smash on the last day of school. My fruit obsession started with these cute bulletin board ideas I saw on Pinterest. I was thinking my board would be red with each kid’s name written on a seed and the title, “Our class is one in a MELON!”

Here are some other cute things I’m collecting this summer to add to my decor:

  • Watermelon Garland (FREE) printable from Miss Bunting.
  • Fruit Garland (Etsy) from GlitterPaperScissor
  • Tropical Binder Covers (TPT) from Samantha Henry (which I use for all sorts of things since they are completely editable.)
  • Tropical Bin Labels (TPT) from Fairways and Chalkboards

How cute are these rugs? Watermelon and Citrus ?!

Last, but not least, I have a “tap jar” in my classroom. It’s a plastic container that I fill with random things throughout the year (erasers, candy, pencils, etc). Whenever we are walking somewhere in the hallway, if I tap a student on the shoulder, they get to take one thing from the tap jar when we get back to class. I tap students for good behavior…facing forward, hands at their sides, not talking, etc.  I think I’ll fill it up with runts at the start of the new year 🙂

wonka_-_runts

Digital Teaching Resources, IB

IB Exhibition: Part III

The research is done (Part I). The community visit or interview is done (Part II). Now what?

Quick re-cap: The students picked a man-made system that interested them, researched the system and current problems with that system, then interviewed or went on a community visit to talk to someone in the field. 

As part of the IB Inquiry Cycle, I now asked my students how they were going to “Take Action” in some way. I wanted the groups to develop a creative and positive way to make a difference (in regards to the problem they’ve been researching).

– What can your group do now that you have learned all of this information?
– How can your group make a difference?

I used these two documents to help the students understand what taking action looks like and some questions to guide their thinking.

  • Think of small changes first.  Build from there.
  • Be reasonable.  Consider time-constraints, manpower, monetary investment, etc. when developing your idea.

Here’s how it looked for a few of my groups:

  1. Transportation system (specifically the local CARTA buses): Students created fliers to pass out in the car-pool line at school to encourage parents to have students walk/ride bikes/use public transportation more often.
  2. Farming system (specifically “farm to table” movement): Students went to a farmers market, bought local ingredients, created a recipe from scratch, and shared it with the class.
  3. Education system (specifically physical education and health/nutrition): Students created a five minute presentation to show to the kindergarten classes at our school to promote healthy eating and exercise over summer vacation. The also created a website to share.

Since Exhibition is the culminating project in the Primary Years Programme, the students add their projects to the end of their portfolios. These portfolios (large binders) have been with the students since kindergarten. I save everything from the year, and we have “portfolio days” where the students select the items they are proud of, worked hard on, or just want to keep. They are constantly reflecting too, on their use of IB attributes and attitudes. All of this is kept in their portfolios.

I invite the parents in for a student-led conference. Before the conference, students use this criteria to flag articles that they are especially proud of. On conference day, their parents can write notes back to them and also describe how they have seen their child grow. After their student-led conference, the students get to take their portfolios home. They will get a new one next year as they start the Middle Years Programme.

Digital Citizenship, Digital Teaching Resources, Google Sites, IB, Uncategorized

End-of-Year Lifesavers

If you are like me, those last few days of school are a struggle. The students have finished their end-of-year exams, they know grades are finished, but you’re not quite ready to pop in the movie just yet. I found a  few lifesavers that helped me keep my sanity this week.

  1. Rock on to 5th Grade – Interactive Google Slides
    This is a take on the old paper booklets where students write about their year. I made an electronic version, posted it to Google Classroom (with the option that each student got their own copy) and set a due date. Students had to write about everything from how my future class could succeed in my room, to their summer plans. I even included alphabet pages, where students wrote one thing we learned this year for each letter.
  2. End-of-Year Brain Maps
    I saw this article on Eduptopia and copied the directions in a Google Doc to post on Google Classroom. I gave each table (four students) a large piece of butcher paper, some markers, and they were off to the races. I saw many students using my class Google Site to think back about what we’ve learned this year. A short presentation followed.
  3. IB Exhibition (Part I, II, and III). 
    While “Exhibition” is unique to IB schools, any inquiry based, research project could be completed at the end of the year. Students started by researching man-made systems. They interviewed someone in the field or went on a community visit, then researched a real-world problem that exists within that system. Finally the students had to “take action” in some way to help with the real-world problem. Some students made lesson plans for lower grades, others passed out fliers in their community, and some even started their own farmers market.

 

Summer is almost here! Enjoy!