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Friday, May 24, 2013

Engaging Activities for the Home Stretch

For many, Memorial Day weekend signifies the home stretch.  Testing is over.  Field trips, concerts, art shows, field days, book inventories, etc.  all signal the gradual shut down of the schools and with it the minds of our students.  Add to that the heat that can come in June (along with schools that are not air conditioned) and you can run up against some cantankerous kids. 
Back in the day, we collected their books and kids did puzzles on paper.  They thought that was a treat, until they got their 7th one of the day.   When the VCR made it into the schools, we might even had showed a movie!  But alas, our students are more sophisticated than that now (and they have seen all the movies!).

How do you keep them going?

Thanks to my twitter PLN, I have come across a few great resources to help you get to the end of the year with your sanity intact:

1.   8 Digital Ways to Wrap up your School Year – includes some simple tools that can help you digitize your end of the year activities.
As the end of the year gets closer, sometimes technology becomes less available either because of high demand or disrepair, bringing low tech resources and activities to the forefront.
2.  “How to Rejuvenate Yourself and Your Students after Testiing” by Elena Aguilar has some great ideas on incorporating creativity with engaging activities.  I have to tell you that I personally am a big fan of crayons, markers and scissors.  I think you will find your students are too!

Kids bouncing off the walls?  Why not use some of that physical energy by incorporating movement into your lessons

3.   “Just Drop It,” has students examining the correlation between the height a ball is dropped from and the height that it bounces back to, the link gives you the complete procedure and all the science information you will need to make a great learning activity. 

Do you have your box ‘o fun from this blog “10 Simple Activities for Hands and Minds”? 

4.  Have students build a Rube Goldberg contraption.  Watch this video by Honda (it’s real, no trick photography) to give you a little inspiration! Start by telling your students to build a three step contraption that will get a marble in a cup.

Came across these great activities for ELL kids, but why should they have all the fun?  Check out some of these activities for building vocabulary.

5.  Wacky Story- a great game to help students reinforce the vocabulary that they have learned throughout the year.
6.  Word Links- Assign your students each a word and have them find a partner whose word is related).  They can search for opposites; one does something to the other, etc. Have them report out what their words are and how they are related.

There are lots of other great blogs and sites that have even more ideas.  Whenever you are looking for resources in education you can always turn to Cybraryman.   Check out Jerry Blumengarten’s (Cybraryman) resource page for more links.  Or you could even check out this previously posted  “Keep on Teaching:  Great End of the Year Activities.”

Experienced and connected teachers have all sorts of resources and activities up their sleeves for just these times.  Why not share yours?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Can Cursive Writing Make you a Better Thinker?

The Great Handwriting Debate popped up again recently in the paper and I wondered what kids thought about it.  Then, I thought, what a great way to get kids thinking and writing.  Let them develop their own arguments for or against cursive writing.   How do they feel about writing?  Would they rather hold a pencil or tap a keyboard.  Do they need to learn cursive?  Do they use it? While the physical act of writing may or may not make you a better thinker, debating about it can.

A small survey sample
I had the opportunity to discuss this with a couple of students and found their perspectives to be very interesting and age dependent.  The two 7th graders that I talked to said that they NEVER (and yes they were shouting) use cursive.  In the beginning of their writing careers they were asked to hand in final copies in cursive, but now it is done on the computer.  Since they never use cursive, they never practice it and they don’t like their own handwriting.  On the other hand, I talked with a precocious 2nd grader who is right now being taught to write a different letter in cursive every day…..she was thrilled and uses cursive for everything!  I guess once you make it through the “write of passage” of learning script if no one values it, it becomes a useless skill.  (I so wanted my son to have better handwriting, after all it was bringing down his 2nd grade GPA, but alas, I am glad he did not waste his time! J)  Actually, I can remember when I started my handwriting was not great, but my friend Cynthia developed beautiful words with circles over her I’s and it was so cool I practiced so I could do the same.  Sure enough, I developed  nice handwriting…but fast forward to old age….I still have good handwriting…but I don’t have the stamina to write a full page and don’t often use it!  But I digress.

The writing is on the wall
So, do we need to take the time to teach kids how to write in cursive or could that time be better spent on other things?  Now that the common core does not address it…do we need to?  Will students be able to complete high stakes tests without cursive?   Is reading and writing in cursive an important skill that develops better literacy in students?  Do we need cursive to be able to read historical documents to understand our past?  Do second graders need the visible milestone?

Why not ask the kids? (to answer in writing)
Once again, Room for Debate, a NYT’s editorial page has asked four experts whether they think schools should require children to learn cursive.  Have your students visit the site for some interesting perspectives.
Hanover Research has also published a report “ The Importance of Teaching Handwriting in the 21st Century”  which give some research based facts.  (Note:  Published by Zane-Bloser – a company that publishes handwriting materials-do your students think that could influence the research?  Could this be a lesson in media literacy?)
 You can have your student’s read these resources to:

1. Determine what is opinion and what is fact

2.  Examine and appreciate the issues that are nvolved from different perspectives

3. Research and develop their own arguments for or against being taught cursive writing

Integrate some technology
Want them to develop their arguments in an online discussion that has them write arguments for one of four perspectives?  Check out the SCAN lesson “Should students still be taught cursive?”

Current and timely topic, relevant, and great exercise for critical thinking!  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Teaching: A Different Kind of Rich

Well, Teacher Appreciation Day has rolled around again.  I feel like sometimes it can be a bit of a disappointment…sort of like the hype for New Year’s Eve.   But we understand that teaching often feels like a thankless job.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to do it. Loving your job is a great perk. 

I am not Pollyanna though; there have been many times when I have felt used and abused.  It is very frustrating to put so much into your work and have people make you feel that it isn't enough.

Parents want more.  “Why didn't you tell me he failed a quiz?/was rude to others?/missed a homework assignment?”  Sometimes you have to first develop a relationship with the child.  I can remember being the president of the PTA in my child’s school; the other members were extremely disappointed that the teachers were not more active.  Why couldn't they give more…more time, more donations, just more?  I had to remind them that many of us did not work in the districts that we lived in and we did give more time, more donations and just more to the PTA…sometimes we just have to be the P.

Kids want more.  Can we have more action, more entertainment, more free time?  Lesson planning takes a lot of work.  Not every lesson is going to hit it out of the park for every child…but we keep trying, striving to orchestrate- to wave our baton and let the magic happen.  It is not every day that we hear “can we do that again?” but we know that kids look forward to learning and enjoy school…they just don’t always admit it!

Admins want more.  They need more of our time, higher scores, less ripples.  Without tooting your own horn, many teachers don’t get more than an “effective” checked in a box for feedback.   Administrators often have the as many staff members as we have students to care for, too often the squeaky wheel gets most of the oil.

We don't do this to get rich
Although true, it just feels so corny to write "we don’t do this to get rich."  We do it for the riches.  There is no job that requires more people skills than teaching.  You literally come in contact, more than contact, with hundreds of people a day.  And you know their names!  And it is your JOB to talk to them, make them comfortable, teach them something, support them, etc.  That is what makes your life rich- being a rock star to a kid in the dairy aisle of Shop Rite, the opportunity to know so many diverse human beings, to share your enthusiasm for learning with kids and colleagues.

A different kind of rich
Perhaps the most rewarding thing about teaching is being part of a community of people who by nature, care for each other.  A community that you can see and hear and feel in the flesh!  Life doesn't get any better (or richer) than that ….no need to thank me, for that I am thankful.