Sunday, April 3, 2016

Rick Morris is Coming! Rick Morris is Coming!

As a new(ish) teacher I'd heard Rick Morris' name but until recently didn't know much about him.  I had the opportunity to attend the CTA Good Teaching South conference in Anaheim last month.  While there, I attended the 8am bonus session with Rick Morris.  And I was hooked immediately.  I spent the whole session madly scribbling down notes, snapping pictures of his presentation, and thinking "that is SO true" and "wow, that is amazing".  I attended his second session that weekend as well.  I took it as my personal mission to learn all he could teach me in three short hours.

Since seeing Rick at the CTA conference I have begun incorporating some of his strategies in my classroom.  I'm a firm believer in including my students in classroom decisions because it creates more buy-in and builds a closer classroom community.  We talked about the different hand signals and some other new tricks we were going to start using - and I quickly noticed that my class couldn't wait to tell visitors about our new hand signals!

I tweeted a photo of my students using his magnetic numbers and suddenly found myself in conversation with the classroom management guru himself.  And then...he was scheduled to visit my classroom.  Wait, what?  Rick Morris?  In my classroom?  That sounded totally terrifying, but at the same time, totally awesome!
Fast forward to the day Rick Morris arrived!

Rick Morris walked into my classroom and I immediately thought "Oh my God, he's going to see every move I make.  He's a guru...oh no!"  I was a ball of nerves!  You know those times where you don't want to look like you're putting on a dog and pony show but you also don't want to fumble all over the place?  Yeah, this was one of those times.  Once we got started, I just sat back and prayed my students would remember all the "Rick Morris-y" things we'd learned/talked about!  Oh, and I took a lot of pictures too!
The first thing I noticed was that Rick had the undivided attention of every student in the room as soon as he sat down.  He spoke softly and was very clear with the direction of the conversation and his expectations for student involvement in the conversation.  It was great to watch him call on the students and see the things he spoke about in his CTA conference sessions in action.  At one point, the students were guessing his age.  One of my students gave the answer signal, but as soon as he was called on my student started in with "I think I know how to play the game you're talking about..."  Rick moved on to another student without even missing a beat and without giving the student any credit for his off-topic comment.  This is definitely something I'm trying to work on.  It's just so easy to fall back into what we all do every once in a while and explain to the student that the comment is off-topic - but then we're just giving it the attention we're trying to avoid giving!
Rick also taught us a fabulous PE game, Belt Wars.  Belt Wars blog post coming soon!
Overall, Rick's visit was incredible!  My class LOVED Belt Wars and I loved getting a chance to see some of Rick's methods in action.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why We Still Make Leprechaun Traps

*In an effort to keep all magic going strong for as long as possible this is NOT a post for children's eyes!*

Throughout the year I talk with my class about how third grade is a really special year.  They are technically considered "upper graders" but I like to look at it a little differently.  My third graders are the biggest of the "little kids" and have to be good role models for the students in grades K-2, but they're the smallest of the "big kids" and still have a lot to learn from the students in grades 4-5.  I like to think of third grade as a magical land where the students get the perks of being little kids and big kids throughout the year.  Why act older than you have to?  But at the same time, why be treated like you're younger than you are?  And on the teacher end, if my students are head over heels for Santa, itching to catch a leprechaun, or hanging on every word of a fanciful story, why would I want to miss out on all the magical opportunities?

I'm the only teacher above first grade at my school who does anything with leprechaun traps...which doesn't always earn the most encouraging comments from others.  Whenever I catch myself getting defensive inside I remind myself of one of the most important things I learned in my credential program: as long as you can justify the decisions you are making in your classroom, you are the teacher and you need to do what's best for your students.  That pulls me out of my "soon to be defensive" mode and reminds me to highlight the good in my instructional decision - in this case, leprechaun traps.

I loved St. Patrick's Day while I was growing up...I got to build things, there was glitter, and there was candy involved!  I will never forget walking into Mrs. Lehto's classroom on St. Patrick's Day and seeing the little green leprechaun footprints on our desks (covered in gold glitter).  Obviously, one of the highlights of being a teacher is getting to provide those magical memory for my own students now!  (However, it's a lot more work that it looks like!)

While the magic is fun (and I believe, essential to learning in the long run) the academics can't fall off the wagon.

This year, our persuasive writing unit started right before St. Patrick's Day; just enough time to give students a taste of what opinion writing is - and then have them try their hand at a persuasive piece about their trap.  Students started by brainstorming strengths of their traps.  I loved reading each student's argument about why his/her trap was the best trap to catch a leprechaun.  Some students even chose to write their piece in the form of a letter to a leprechaun.  It's impressive what a kid can come up with when trying to convince a leprechaun to get in a trap (*cough cough* house).

We started with a review of the basics of measurement (gotta make sure we're using the correct side of the ruler!).  Students first estimated the height of their traps in inches and centimeters - then found the exact measurements.  Once the measuring was completed, students compared their measurements with a classmate and had to calculate how much taller (or shorter) the classmate's trap was.  We wrapped it up with a short geometry review - identifying different shapes on the trap (and uses for them if they were part of the "trapping mechanism").

Growth Mindset
While this isn't necessarily standards based, our school has been focused on Growth Mindset and the power of "yet" this year - so I think it's important to incorporate it into our academics as much as possible.  Our class talked about the traps they made in first grade and how they could learn from their mistakes, use what they know now that they're third graders, and improve their traps this time.  "We haven't caught a leprechaun...YET!"

We've already got the mathematics part covered - but what's more perfect for creating a leprechaun trap than engineering?  These kids had to make something out of nothing that could actually do something.  Some of my students' traps were so good that I actually had to put thought into how the sneaky leprechauns were going to escape!  Traps came in with pulley systems and all sorts of hidden tricks!

In the end, while my students were building traps and building memories, I was sneaking learning in all around them!  Once all the fun was done we talked about how some people didn't understand why we were doing a "kindergarten project" and one student went "uh, and because it's FUN!"  Yes, my dear child.  Yes.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome - in the classroom

For the past 100 school days my class and I have been reading Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome.  In it, he provides 100 ideas to help make the world more awesome.  His ideas range anywhere from fun things like "mail your friend a corndog" to more serious topics like "love changes everything, so fill the world with it".  Every morning in Room 14b has begun with one of KP's incredible (and often hilarious) ideas.  We started this awesome journey with Kid President (and his brother-in-law Brad) on the first day of school and have recently come to the end of the book (not the journey!) on the 100th day of school.  While our Kid President journey is continuing, we aren't quite sure what to do with ourselves now that the book is done!

To find out more about the book that's going to inspire you, energize you, and make you see the world with new eyes - Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome.

While many of the ideas KP presents in his book were right up Room 14b's alley, there were some that were definitely way above our third grade perceptions of the world.  The thing that was so incredible throughout this journey though, was that even when they weren't sure what KP meant, they came up with something.  Together they made meaning of things they didn't understand (and they were usually pretty close of what KP meant!).  After the idea for each day was read, I got into the habit of just saying "what does that mean?" and stepping back to let the class have the discussion.  The things you will hear and learn when you let your kids have the floor are just amazing.  The conversations we had and the ideas they came up with were far above what I could have ever imagined.

Thanks to Kid President's willingness to get out there and make sure his ideas are heard, I have 25 students who are ready to take on the world with an entire collection of things they can do to make sure the world they live in is more awesome.

For any teachers looking for some KP activity inspiration -
Some KP ideas were better for discussions, but others were great for quick activities!  Here is some of the fun we had!  Most were simple and could be prepared VERY quickly, many didn't need any prep at all!  We also tweeted about our journey (almost daily) which led to conversations with Brad and KP as well as major retweets!  The things these kids did because they were inspired by Kid President were noticed, and that makes the world more awesome all on it's own.

#8 Focus on the awesome - KP talks about making awesome tinted we did!
#10 As human beings, we are capable of lost of bad stuff, but also cupcakes - you guessed it...cupcakes!
#13 Every time you see a slide, go down it - class "field trip" to the playground for a slide extravaganza!
#14 Sing out loud.  You don't have to have a reason to. - Loud singalong!
#18 Mail your friend a corndog - PostIt note activity: What could you mail a friend that would make their day?
#20 Every room you enter?  FREE HUGS! - you guessed it...hugs!
#21 If you see spinach (or anything else) in somebody's teeth, tell them, but only after you've told them something embarrassing about yourself - a few minutes of embarrassing stories (but no one was embarrassed because we were all embarrassed! [get it?])
#22 We need to live in a world with fewer selfies and more otherpeoplies - PostIt note activity: draw an otherpeoplie
#23 Practice the art of the unexpected burrito - PostIt note activity: What could you surprise someone with?  (AND!  An unexpected burrito arrived shortly after the lesson!  Coolest thing ever!)
#31 Ask Questions - KP asked us these 3 questions: What are you not ok with?  What do you have?  What can we do about it?  And inspired us to participate in Socktober!  (See Socktober post.)
#32 Stand in someone else's shoes (metaphorically) - I gave each kid a shoe cut out with a different life/school situation on it (some super great, some not so great) and the class read their shoes, thought about how that would feel if it was their story, and had a class discussion.
#37 If you want to be a world changer for people everywhere, be a day maker for the people right next to you - PostIt note activity: What are you going to try to do TODAY that will help you be a day maker here at school?  We then kept our PostIt notes in our pockets all day to remind us to be day makers.
#38 Send a card.  Every day.  For 365 Days. - Made a card for anyone they wanted to and sent it off!
#44 Invent a new handshake - Split into partners, invented new handshakes, and taught the class!
#45 Solve a conflict using ice cream! - We didn't have any conflicts to solve, but we decided to practice using ice cream so we'd be pros when we did need to solve conflict ;) - ice cream day!
#52 Think of something you want to say, and the sing it instead - We discovered one of KP's pep talks had been songified!  We now sing the song every morning!
#53 Write and record a song for someone - I typed up the fill in the blank song template KP provided and we wrote songs!
#54 Help someone who is younger than you - I typed up a little ticket that said "I helped _____ by ______" and required an adult's signature.  My Imagineers were helping little kids on the playground, taking kids to the nurse, and helping their parents with younger siblings!
#56 Love changes everything, so fill the world with it - PostIt note activity: How can you fill the world with love?  What do you love to do?
#57 Don't be in a party.  Be a party. - PostIt note activity: How can you be a party for the people around you?  What do you do that makes you the happiest?
#60 Throw a pop-up art show - Each student got to take 6 photos on a disposable camera.  They could take pictures of anything that gave them joy or they were thankful for at school.  We will be developing them (warning: EXPENSIVE!) and having a pop-up art show at Open House.
#63 Put tape on your nose.  It's a great conversation starter. - Yup, we put tape on our noses and took selfies.  We laughed.  A LOT.
#64 Come up with names for things that already have names - we did just that!
#65 Meow the words to your favorite songs.  We call this cat caroling. - We cat caroled to I Am Able by EmiSunshine
#68 Be kind.  It's not always easy, but it's always important. - PostIt note activity: How can I be kind even when it isn't easy?  What can I do to be kind even when I don't want to?
#69 Write a poem for somebody who doesn't normally get poems written about them - Students picked important people in their lives and wrote acrostic poems about them.
#70 Gather your friends, dress up like superheroes, and do someone's yard work - We wore superhero capes and cleaned up the playground!  It was a blast!
#82 Give out handmade awards - We created the 14Bee (since our room number is 14b) and have handed it out to some incredible day makers in and around our classroom!
#83 Lick the walls of the White House - While we would have loved to take a real field trip...we settled for a virtual field trip to the White House!  KP videos with President Obama and a Google Maps tour of the White House to find the walls KP licked!
#84 Take a moment to reflect - PostIt note activity: I wish my teacher knew...
#85 Kiss BeyoncĂ© - No kissing BeyoncĂ© here!  Just KP videos!
#86 Let your heroes know they are your heroes - Padlet activity: My hero is _______ because ______.  We also recorded each student reading their sentence to be put together for an Open House video.
#87 Teachers keep teaching.  Students keep studenting. - This one just led to great discussion about how we're all teachers and we're all students.
#88 It's ok to get discouraged... - Class led discussion about what we can do when we get discouraged so that we don't stop just because of that.  PostIt note activity: What helps you to not stop when you get discouraged?
#89 Ask: "Who do I want to be?" - Class led discussion about the difference between WHO you want to be and WHAT you want to be when you grow up.  PostIt note activity: WHO do you want to be?
#92 Remember: Things don't have to be the way they are - This landed at the perfect time because we were just wrapping up a mini unit on Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr.  This slid right in to our discussions and activities.
#93 Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others - Class led discussion about the importance of staying healthy and taking care of yourself because you can't help others if you don't take care of yourself.
#96 Look backwards and forwards - Landed perfectly at the beginning of Black History Month!  Lesson on Nelson Mandela and the importance of learning from past mistakes.
#98 Write down your dreams - We wrote our dreams on little clouds to be displayed in the classroom.  We also talked about how writing your dreams down isn't enough to make them happen, you also have to DO something about it.
#99 Remember that the world is bigger than your backyard - VIRTUAL FIELD TRIP.  Thanks to Google Maps we were able to travel thousands of miles without ever leaving the comfort of our classroom.  Led by student requests we visited Rome (went inside the Colosseum), Paris (top of the Eiffel Tower), the Philippines, Hawaii, Chicago, Michigan, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, the North Pole, Iraq, the top of One World Trade Center, pyramids in Egypt, South Africa, Mexico City, Spain, and more!  We even swam the Great Barrier Reef!  This was definitely one of my favorite days.
#100 Start writing on a page and then lose track of... - Hearing the class finish this sentence was GREAT!  At this point, they are pros at thinking like Kid President and are pretty much ready to take on the world.  Each student filled out the final page in KP's book which asked: "What are you not ok with?"  "What do you have that can change that?"  "Who can you bring along to help you?"  "The world would be more awesome if ______."  We used these questions to help us start Room 14b's Guide to Being Awesome.  We have a wall in the back of the room where students are adding their "#101".

To wrap it all up, I gave my students a Kid President RAFT*/menu that included things like:

  • Make a poster of your favorite Kid President idea
  • Write a speech: If you could be Kid President for a day, what would you tell the world?
  • Write a letter OR record a video: If you could tell Kid President anything, what would it be?
  • Online menu: provided videos for students to watch and then prompted them to come up with their own ideas
  • and more!
*RAFT: Students get to choose their Role, Audience, Format, and Topic.