Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Critters on the Loose: Our Animal Wax Museum!

As many of you know, I teach dual grade levels.  I have a group of 29 third graders, and a group of 30 fourth graders.  I LOVE teaching both age groups, and I even LOVE the challenge it presents.  Seriously though, it IS a challenge sometimes when you are trying to pull of two different projects at the same time, and that can induce lots of nail biting.  (It's a good thing my nails are growing so quickly thanks to those prenatal vitamins!  Ha!)  Anywho-- I always try to set the same time-table for both groups, and I try to unite the project by some common thread.  In this case, the third graders just wrapped up their Wild Ones Wax Museum, and the fourth graders just finished their Wax Museum Biographies.  I'll be back in a day or two to update everyone on how my American heroes did with their projects, but for now, let's take a look at the critters, shall we?

This is an echidna.  I love the use of zip ties for her quills.  So creative!
This is a coyote and a bottle-nose dolphin.
A lion and a wombat!
A tiger and a giraffe!
An alligator and an octopus!
A cobra and a white-tailed deer!
An owl and an elephant!
A red panda and a monkey!
A possum and a koala!
A jaguar and a giant panda!
A toucan and a zebra!
A polar bear and a shark!
A finch and an action shot of our scorpion!
 I really enjoy watching my kiddos give their speeches for visiting classes.  I love seeing them stand, sit, or crouch as still as statues and take on the characteristics of their animals.  I used to have my students memorize their speeches, and many of them still speak from memory, but truthfully, I let them have their papers, as you can see.  I want them to practice speaking and listening skills through this, and I want them to gain confidence when they speak to other students and adults.  If the paper gives them more confidence to speak loudly and with more authority, I really don't mind.  They are 8 and 9 year old kiddos after all. You can tell they definitely had a lot of heart! 

Strike a pose!
A crouching lion!
More action shots!

Each year, I require that my students conduct research, record their references, and write a research paper that is read aloud as a speech.  Each year, they continue to amaze me with the EXTRA touches they come prepared with.  This year, in addition to their research papers and props, kids came with tri-fold boards, habitat displays for little kids to interact with, plastic snakes to give away, photos of their animals to pass out, fact sheets to distribute, coloring sheets to send away with the little ones, and stickers with information about how to adopt dolphins to adhere to each visitor. 

So, there's that!  I am SO happy I was able to fit our Wild Ones Wax Museum in a little bit earlier this year.  It's always a HUGE hit!  Once again, just like years past, I was blown away by my students' creativity!  We spend a lot of time talking about catering to the audience we are speaking to, and I can attest to the fact that there were a TON of very happy visitors that day!  As I wind down the year before my maternity leave starts, I can definitely say we have had some major successes, and this is just one!  I am one proud teacher.  They make my heart full.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites (Chapter Six)

Hey, everyone!  I am so excited to be a part of this book study!  For me, it's an oldie, but a goodie because this was the book I read for my very first book study as a baby teacher several years ago! I feel like I am coming full circle studying it once again, and I have found that studying it a second time has allowed me to take a look at the chapters with a different (more seasoned) perspective.  Plus, it's super fun to be able to share ideas with my close blog friends and all of you too!  BONUS!

Here's the really hilarious part though.  Ironically, I was given chapter six.  It's all about humor.  People, let me be clear about one thing.  I am really not the funniest person in the world.  My students think I am funny.  My husband sometimes thinks I am funny (or laughs out of pure sympathy), and sometimes I can make my friends laugh.  But honestly, I am more of that dorky, awkward kind-of funny.  The kind of funny where you say, "Oh, bless her heart.  She really tries." In a way, I am kind of glad I am doing this chapter though, because if I can implement this in my classroom, then anyone can.  Truly. Let's dig in, shall we?

Why humor?  Well, people like to laugh. Plus as Marcia L.Tate points out, researchers (Jensen, 1995, Sousa, 2011, Sylwester, 1997) have determined that jokes, celebrations, and positivity may not only create a positive learning environment but may also help facilitate the earning itself.  Simply starting a lesson with a joke or infusing a lesson with a funny story is a fool proof way to get your students' attention.  When students truly enjoy what they are doing, they are more attentive, more engaged, less threatened, and more likely to retain information for memory retrieval later on.  That's a beautiful thing.  Researchers have found that laughter (not surprisingly) lowers stress and anxiety levels.  It also causes biochemical changes in the body that result in an increase of neurotransmitters necessary for alertness and memory.  It can have a positive impact on self-esteem, and it can also help students bond, resulting in a more conducive learning environment.  Of course, laughter also helps release endorphins that give us an overall feeling of euphoria and wellness.  Laughter is good for the soul.

A word of caution here though.  Humor does not necessarily equate with sarcasm.  Sarcasm literally means "a tearing of the flesh", and it's easy to understand why.  Students, and people in general, cannot always discern the "joke".  Jensen actually found that "sarcastic remarks that demean, tease, or deride can, at minimum, hinder or incapacitate higher level thinking".  That's a terrible thing to disarm in our students.  So, tread lightly.  Humor should be uplifting.

I like to use humor with my students in different ways.  I am kind of known for my stories though.  When teaching writer's workshop lessons and modeling examples of what I am looking for, I typically pull stories from my childhood or funny stories about my dogs.  I like to help my students see me as a person, build relationship, and teach a concept through analogies and funny anecdotes.  To me, this is the most organic way to build community.  I run a tight ship, and I have high expectations, but that doesn't mean I can't crack a joke once in a while to keep things light and hold their attention.  I think it's so important to remember not to take ourselves SO seriously that we forget to laugh with our kiddos.

Beyond that, here are a few examples of things I have done in the past that incorporate humor in some way, shape, or form.  To me, wordplay is one of the simplest ways to let students be creative and funny without derailing.  The examples below show homophone illustrations and literal interpretations of idioms.  My students made digital idiom books that showed the literal and figurative meanings of phrases, and they were practically rolling as they created the artwork.  :)

The Big Cheese

I encourage my students to be creative and witty when they create assignments, and I always enjoy seeing what they come up with.  These point of view posters are the purrrrrrrfect balance of content and humor.  (See what I did there?)  Puns are another simple, if not cheesy, way to infuse a little dose of hilarity into your classroom. 

Never underestimate the power of novelty either.  A fun prop or a clever app can go a long way.

Students love wearing these over-sized glasses for visualizing and close reading lessons.

We morphed into 100 year old centenarians with the AgingBooth app!
Last year, we created a class mascot: the Word Nerd.  It was silly, but it added to a sense of community!

When I create resources, I try to create things that are witty and promote critical thinking skills (including a little dash of humor).  We, as teachers, don't always have to be the ones infusing humor into lessons.  The kids are just as capable, and it yields the same positive effects!

An example of a silly invention based on the prompts above.

A close-up of the police station on a community map during a map unit.
This student wrote a funny script to turn part of a chapter book into a play.

Of course, like I said, I am more of a subtle, cheesy jokester, so my humor infiltrates my resources in small General Ization... or teaching overused words as "Retired Words"... senior citizens who need to retire because they are so overworked.  Humor doesn't always have to be over-the-top or in their face.  I also love using critical thinking activities like these brain puzzlers to get a little chuckle out of my kiddos once they figure them out.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention GoNoodle and Flocabulary too.  They are both fabulous for brain breaks that promote movement, singing, and humor.

KooKoo Kangaroo is always a favorite.  Right now, they are digging Montana James' review game!
This is a screenshot of Flocabulary's Connotation/Denotation Song.  It's a class favorite, and it's hilarious!
Have you ever tried hink pinks or hinky pinkies!  I love using them for creative thinking and a little bit of humor too.  They are great for morning meetings or those times when you have an extra minute or two, rare as those moments are. Help yourself to a hink pink freebie from my Expanding Vocabulary pack if you think you could use it with your kiddos! Click the image below to download!

Here are my notes and reflections on my teaching, and my BIG A-ha moment. :)

Do you want to join in the fun?!  Here's a template to use on your own blog!

So, how do YOU incorporate humor in your classroom?! What were your take-aways from Chapter 6?  Feel free to link up below and share your own ideas!  I can't wait to check them out!

Don't forget to prepare for chapter 7 discussion over at Mrs. Jump’s Class on March 28th.
Here is the rest of the schedule and you can join in at anytime!
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)
The Inspired Apple 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)
If you are not a blogger (which is totally fine!!!) we still want to hear from you! Leave a comment below to let us know how you are incorporating this book in your classroom!  How do you make your students laugh, smile, and LOVE coming to school to learn?!