Saturday, February 21, 2015

Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: A Book Study!

Friends, have you heard about our book study yet?!  I am so excited about this one because it's a book that I read many moons ago when I was just a baby teacher.  It was my second year of teaching, and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by teachers who were passionate about best practices.  I was also fortunate to work in a school district that was propelled by brain research and being responsive to how students learn best.  This book, "Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites", is one of the foundations of my approach to teaching, and I am excited to take it off of my bookshelf and dig in to it once again.  I am CERTAIN that I will take something NEW away from this book study because I will be looking at it through a more seasoned lens this time.  I'm game.  The question is, are you?!  :)


Get ready to do some on-line professional learning with some of your favorite bloggers! After visiting the Ron Clark Academy, so many of us are so inspired to find ways to reach our learners in fun and exciting ways! Starting February 28th, we are going to be hosting a linky party each Tuesday and Saturday with chapters from this book: 


Linky parties will take place on these different blogs each time. Here is the order so you can plan accordingly :)

Kickin it in Kindergarten- Chapters 1 and 2 (February 28th)
Mrs. Wills Kindergarten- Chapter 3 (March 7th)
Queen of the First Grade Jungle Chapter 4 (March 10th)
Fabulous in First Chapter 5 (March 14th)
One Extra Degree Chapter 6 (March 17th)
Mrs. Jump's Class Chapter 7 (March 28th)
The First Grade Parade Chapter 8 (March 31st)

In April, you will be visiting these girls for the remainder of the study:

Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten Chapter 9 &10 (April 4th)
What The Teacher Wants Chapter 11 (April 7th)
First Grader At Last Chapter 12 (April 11th)
Erica's Ed Ventures Chapter 13 (April 14th)
KinderGals Chapter 14 &15 (April 18th)
A Rocky Top Teacher Chapter 16 (April 21st)
Mrs. Wills Kindergarten Chapter 17 (April 25th)
Little Warriors Chapter 18 (April 28th)
Falling Into First Chapter 19 (May 2nd)
Kickin' it in Kindergarten Chapter 20 (May 5th)

You can join in for whatever part you like! If you are not a blogger, that is OK! We will want you to join in on the fun. You can participate in the conversation in the comments. We want this to be a positive collaboration between teachers! The whole point is to encourage each other with inspiring ideas while still using research based best practice.  We hope you will join! Here is a YouTube video where you can hear a little more about what the book is about.  Let's set the stage to engage our students!  Let's unite!  Let's grow dendrites my friends!


Friday, February 20, 2015

Valentine's Day Book Reports 2015

Yesterday, I posted about the Cardboard Challenge Valentine's Day Boxes my fourth graders made, but I would be remiss if I didn't also post about the creative boxes that came pouring in with my third graders!  I have been doing this project with my kiddos for the last three years, and I am always amazed by their boxes each and every year.  It's so fun to see how they will interpret their books, and it's a great way to review story elements while adding a little educational flair to our Valentine's Day celebrations.  The beauty in this project, in my opinion, is that the boxes would be created no matter what.  So, I am really not adding a lot more to their plates for this project, I am just giving the boxes a different slant.  Instead of decorating their boxes with whatever strikes their fancies, I ask them to read a book and create a box that reflects that text.  Easy peasy.  The reports are presented to the class on the day of our party, and then they are assessed for a small writing grade.  It's as simple as that!

Check out a few of their Valentine's Day Book Report Boxes!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Nikki Maxwell

Pippi Longstocking

Kylie Jean Hoop Queen

Love Splat

The Lemonade Crime

Captain Underpants

Cupcake Diaries

Kingdom Keepers

A Close-Up of Kingdom Keepers

And Another

The cutest unicorn I have ever seen!

Just look at that mane!

Judy Moody Saves the World

The Puppy Place: Goldie

Where the Wild Things Are

News Express

Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist

A Super Cute Penguin!
This is one example of how the reports are set up:

As you can see, this isn't a really elaborate project, but it does serve its purpose.  I know by looking at this report that this student can comprehend and expand on ideas presented on books.  I know she can summarize the main points in each segment of the chapter book.  I know she can articulate her thoughts using vivid vocabulary.  I also know she had a WHOLE LOT of fun working on this project and her box... and that is the icing on the cake.  I am already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cardboard Challenge 2015

Last year was the first time that I implemented the Cardboard Challenge Valentine's Day Box Project, and my fourth graders were all about it.  They came with AMAZING projects, and my third grade group salivated all over them.  Although I have been doing Valentine's Day Book Reports with my third graders for a few years (and continued to do that this year as well), they always look at what the fourth graders are doing as "the next step".  My third graders are always talking about how they can't wait for next year to do a certain project... and it kind of cracks me up to hear that a few of them have already started to plan for the Cardboard Challenge even though it is a year away.  What I noticed this year is that my fourth grade students were watching last year's fourth graders very closely, and they came with HUGE and ELABORATE boxes.  (Since I have 59 students, I was slightly concerned about fitting 30-31 people in the room with all of the boxes!  Ha! )  Let me be clear about something though.  Big and elaborate boxes are not necessarily the expectation, but you know a project is engaging for kids when they go ALL IN with the designs.

So, what is the expectation?  I simply share examples of past boxes as a launching pad, we watch literally a few videos about simple machines together and discuss them (because I teach ELA and social studies in an hour and thirty minutes, and therefore can't give up TOO much class time teaching science), and then I tell them I want them to create an "out of the box" Valentine's Day box using recyclables and other household items.  It HAS to include a simple machine as part of the design, it has to have a place to hold valentines, and it HAS to have an accompanying procedural text to explain how someone else could duplicate the box.  Other than that, my students just run with it.  They create the boxes at home, and they come ready to share their reports on the day of our party.  I give them the assignment about a month before it is due because we have plenty of other responsibilities in the mean time, and I always want to make sure that they have plenty of time to work through the engineering design process (which we also discuss at the beginning of the project through the organizational packet).  My students have the opportunity to check in with me as often as necessary as they write their reports and work on their designs, but no matter how many times a kid checks in with me, I am always in AWE of their final products.  They always seem to exceed my expectations again and again.  I should note that the boxes are not formally graded because they are completed at home, and I don't encourage or discourage parent involvement.  I just look at it as a modified Valentine's Day box that they would always create at home, BUT the procedural report DOES get assessed.  That's the part that is standard's based, and it's the part I care the most about no matter how BIG or GLITZY the final "box" is.  Let's check out some of the designs from this year, shall we?

One of my kiddos created an enormous dump truck that functioned like a real dump truck.  I enjoyed seeing the way he incorporated multiple boxes, string, and a paper towel roll into the design to create a model of the real thing.  So cute and creative!

This clever little girl created a hotel with a functioning elevator (using a pulley system), an inclined plane leading up to the elevator, and a garage (because hotels need adequate parking of course)!

Another sweet girl created an Olaf "box" out of several jugs, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, cups, chopsticks, construction paper, and a few googly eyes.  I love that you can pull a lever in the back to make Olaf give a "warm hug", and I love that she designed the valentine slot to be in his neck because his head is always rolling off in the movie.  Just precious!

This little one made a windmill (with a wheel/axle and wedges), and it was almost as big as she is!

This little one created a jewelry box that opens and closes and has a mirror on the top near her valentine slot.  This design totally fits her personality, and that makes me love it so much more.

One of my kiddos is a HUGE advocate for animals, so it was no surprise when she came in with a pet playground.  Okay, so I was a little surprised, but it was mostly because the playground was significantly larger than a desk, and I was impressed they were able to fit it in a car to transport it.  However, the concept itself did not surprise me because she has such a big heart for animals.  I love that she made animals out of cardboard boxes and put them onto a teeter-totter that you press to open the valentine compartment.  She also incorporated a slide for an inclined plane.

This little guy created a precious robot with glowing eyes and levers for arms.  So cute!

This little girl created a Plinko game that was one giant inclined plane.  She used the game to determine what kind of treat each kid would receive at the party.  Fun!

I love this little Minecraft dude too!  How cute is he?!  His arms are levers.  :) 

This minion also has levers for arms, and he is also too cute for words!

The next design utilized a lever to open and close a cardboard mailbox!  It was so sophisticated!

Seriously, I wanted to keep the next box for our little guy (when he finally arrives and is big enough to play with something like this).  I really enjoyed the design of this UPS truck!  I loved how he used brown packing tape and incorporated little details like the hitch and wooden wheels.

Isn't this the most whimsical giraffe you have ever seen in your life?  I like the texture of the crinkly brown paper for its spots, the giant tongue,  the curled ribbon tail, and the fact that it's on wheels.  Straight from a kid's imagination and fabulous!

Because minions are so hot right now, it's no surprise that another student incorporated minions into their design.  This is the U.S.S. Minion, and it had a working pulley system to raise and lower the mast.  I loved all of the extra details and thought put into the design by this student.

This wedding cake has candles with toothpick levers to raise or lower them!  Such a fun concept!

This is another really whimsical design straight from a kid's imagination.  It totally takes me back to my childhood and my love of My Little Ponies!  It's a unicorn and its "rainbow habitat".

In keeping with cute creatures, here's a precious alligator.  (The student who created it is OBSESSED with alligators and crocodiles at the moment, so it was fun to see her incorporate her current interests and passions into the project!)

This little guy created a baseball-loving robot with a pulley system on the back (tied to a baseball) to open the top of the Valentine's Day box.  :)

This little guy is obsessed with sloths.  (He researched and dressed up like a sloth last year for our Wax Museum, so naturally I was smitten with his sloth design this year.) Plus, a sloth on wheels is just another precious kid-inspired design, right?! I also thought it was neat how he used cloth and other materials to cover his box.  It certainly doesn't look like a Valentine's Day box, does it?  That's why it's brilliant!  (You move the tongue to drop in the valentines, by the way!  Ha!)

Lastly, this is the Valentine Express, another cute vehicle.  I liked how he created his wheel and axles!

I feel like I always say this, but I really wish I could share all thirty projects.  That said, I hope you enjoyed looking at some of my students' creations.  I am so, so, so proud of them!  I LOVE projects that inspire them to CREATE and be INSPIRED!   I did not include any writing samples this year, but if you would like to see a few examples, you can check some out from last year HERE!  Have a wonderful day!  Stay warm wherever you are!