Monday, March 23, 2015

~*Worksheets and Dendrites*~Ch 1 & 2

Allowing students to brainstorm and discuss is something I feel I do all day long! My students have journals for every subject. This provides the perfect place to brainstorm ideas for questions that I pose. I learned early in my career that choosing one student to answer questions was not my style (mainly because it bugged me that the disengaged students constantly got out of doing the thinking). I think it is important to give everyone "thinking time" and my students quickly get in the habit of jotting ideas and responses when I pose questions, especially in reading and math.

This year, I have increased partner and group work to capitalize on my students' love of talking. (Look on the bright side!) Early in the year, I realized that my students loved to talk. The first week of school, I was really unsure of how I was ever going to get them to be quiet and work. I find myself often saying "How can I do this where they get to talk?" My students have multiple opportunities throughout the day to discuss and work in partnerships and small groups; we are often engaged in a group project where they have to work with the same classmates long term. With small group and partner activities, engagement and participation increases to nearly 100%.
With our recent Ecosystems Museum Exhibit (project based learning), I have fallen in love with using art in the classroom. Project-based learning is a perfect reason for incorporating art, and I not only included it in my students' culminating project, but their research pages contained multiple opportunties for them to draw what they had learned. I'm definitely on the look out for more ways to allow my students to sketch, draw, and paint in the classroom and have plans to increase my use of art next year. I had to put this strategy under the "sometimes" category.
During the first week of school, I was going back and forth about whether or not to have my students create Heart Maps. Holy-moly, teacher-friends, am I glad I did!?! I have little artists in my classroom. They worked so hard on these things and took their time. {I should have known then that drawing was the way to their hearts.} And, doesn't art often allow certain students to shine?
I have greatly increased my use of sketching and drawing in math with our fractions unit. Students have drawn and colored pies, pizzas, cookies, chocolate, and cake! I found an amazing set of math resources from Georgia from their Common Core performance standards. I modified their handouts a few times, but if you want something hands-on with a little bit of art incorporated, go to this website immediately. I used the 3rd and 4th grade materials, but they have them for K-6.
In my previous post, I reflected on my use of the 20 strategies discussed in Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites and categorized them as "I already do that-A LOT," "I already do that SOMETIMES," and "I hardly ever do that." I am enjoying the reflection that this book is putting me through. Even if you are not reading the book, I encourage you to look at the strategies and see which new ones you might implement more often. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

~*~Book Study~Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites~*~

Have you heard about this book study? I bought Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites as soon as I saw the announcement from Amanda at One Extra Degree. I thought it would give me some PLC (professional learning community) time that I am missing these days (I'm at a one person-per grade level school, so I am the lone 4th grade teacher). I'm a pretty reflective teacher {have you noticed?}, and I thought this book would push me through some reflection.

I have been reading the book and thinking about my own classroom, but I have yet had time to post. Tonight I was thinking about the title...WORKSHEETS (pencil and paper, sit at your desk for an hour and do this) "don't grow dendrites." When I think of dendrites, I think of synapses and neurons, and one idea connecting to another like our veins running through our body or tributaries leading one river into another, into the ocean. I've had many experiences as a teacher where I could literally feel my dendrites branching off and connecting to other things I knew and experiences I have had--I bet you have too. We constantly have those AhHa! moments when we are teaching--oh, that connects to that thing we are doing in another content area--oh, that's a new way to teach that--oh, I'm out in the world doing my thing, and that reminds me of ____ that I teach.

I believe that finding ways to get kids OFF of the worksheets WILL grow more dendrites than constant pencil-paper-pencil-paper-sit-at-desk.

When I skimmed through the book and saw the strategies mentioned, I thought, "Man, this is all stuff we all already know," and "I already do that."
And then...
      ...I remembered that "I already do that" is my PET PEEVE of professional development. We always have something to learn and I believe that even if we think we "already know this" and "already do that," we {I} always have tons of room for improvement in utilizing strategies routinely, consistently, strategically, and with FINESSE. The 20 strategies suggested in Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites include:
When I look at the list of strategies, I have to admit "I don't already do" all of that :) I'm sure we all lean on certain techniques more than others. Maybe we find what works for us and our kids and maybe we are in a rut sometimes and forget to include things we've already learned. So much to do, so much to think about, so much, so much! I also think that I put a lot of pressure on myself when thinking about how I'm doing and making improvements--I don't feel like I'm using these strategies if I only use them in one subject area or as a once a year kind of thing. In my mind, "doing" these strategies means that they are embedded in my classroom throughout the year. Being an elementary teacher with 5 subject areas is tough!

I decided to put the 20 strategies on a chart (One of my favorite strategies--always, sometimes, rarely :) )
If you haven't started following along with the book study, here's the schedule. Each of the bloggers listed are hosting a linky party, so if you have a blog, you can link up your reflections too. Click on a blog and catch up!
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) 

{And stay tuned for my "catch-up" posts of my reflections from each chapter}

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mobile Museum Ecosystems Exhibits~PBL~

Project-based learning has been in full swing for my 4th graders for the past month or so. I'm so excited to share the process and the results with you. My principal {requires} at least one project based unit each year. In our first "project" earlier this year, students negotiated and presented a $20,000 budget to the principal {for our government/economics unit}. If you are not familiar with project-based learning, the Buck Institute is a great place to start poking around. We were also strongly encouraged to figure out ways to incorporate the arts into our project because we are working to be recognized as a STEAM school. I decided to focus my PBL unit on Ecosystems/Organisms through an Ecosystems Mobile Museum Project--Project based learning? Check! Art...Oh yeah baby! {If you didn't catch my last post about my Ecosystems Research unit, you may want to go back and read that first.}

I dare say this project was more fun and meaningful AND allowed me to incorporate lots of Language Arts and technology goals into a science-based unit. I'm going to share what we did {and if you are a PROJECT BASED whiz, please forgive me for coming late to the game AND I  will admit that I do feel this is more INTEGRATED, INTERDISCIPLINARY than PBL, but it's a great start for this year}.

One note to keep in mind as you read, I collaborated with the 5th grade teacher for this unit, so anything I did focused on Organisms and Ecosystems of NC, she applied to world biomes to meet the 5th grade standards.

To launch our project, we planned a field trip to a local Natural Sciences museum. Before our visit to the museum, students received a "letter" from the museum challenging them to create a mobile museum to help the museum educate more children about ecosystems and organisms of North Carolina. The letter started with "You have been hired by the Museum of Natural Sciences to help create a mobile museum exhibit. A mobile museum exhibit is one that can be moved around from place to place. We believe that mobile museums are important for helping us educate more students beyond the walls of the museum."

Driving Question:
Project-based learning is supposed to start with a driving question. Our driving question was "How can we create a museum that educates children and adults of all ages about our state ecosystems and wildlife?"
In 4th grade, Students chose an organism local to NC’s coastal plain or the mountain region (also included temperate deciduous forest animals). 5th grade students focused on organisms from specific biomes. All students used the research pages provided to learn about their organism in-depth. The journal pages provided a focus for students’ research and the 5th grade teacher and I each chose the sheets that matched our standards.
After researching their organism, students wrote research papers AND turned those papers into Google slide shows (or other presentations) to be shown as interactive learning stations during the mobile museum. I also had plans for us to pull sentences and paragraphs from students’ articles to create informational posters for our mobile museum displays, but we didn't get the time to include this in our exhibit. {Can you say "SNOW DAYS"?}

After students completed their slideshows, I had them pair up with another student who studied a similar organism and they completed the venn diagram from my Ecosystems research booklet materials. I thought this was a great way for students to experience one another's projects, but then I also realized it was a great way for them to get feedback and a motivator for revision. So, after doing the comparison activity, I copied the niche, behavioral adaptations, and physical adaptations sheets and paired students again. This time, students had to try to fill in the niche and adaptations sheets using only the information their partner provided in the slideshow. (I call this "backwards mapping" as students were kind of trying to work backwards from the slideshow to the research template.) This activity created a lot of motivation to revise their projects and to include missing information. (Constructive feedback for 21 kids given by other classmates? PERFECTO!)
Simultaneously with our in-class research, students created a 3-D model of their organism with either clay or by felting in art class.
After getting a good grip on our research and slide shows, I divided students into groups based on their specific ecosystem (Mountains/Forest in Mountains, by the Riverside, in a Forest by the coast, etc) and they worked together to design ecosystem murals to serve as backdrops for our Mobile Museum Exhibits. {Mural design and painting happened mostly in my classroom! I was so scared to take on "real" art happening in my classroom, but now I'm so glad I did it!} I cut butcher paper fit to the size of tri-fold boards. Groups figured out how one backdrop would flow into the next so that we had a “mountains to sea” display.
When the mobile museum was ready, we opened in the cafeteria and invited parents and all classes to attend. In case you can't tell by the pictures below, it was AH~mazing!
As grade levels came to visit, my students grabbed one student and led them around the museum. (I made a little checklist/scavenger hunt of all the organisms in our museum so that they would have a little something to engage them at the museum.) I spent the morning watching my students share their slideshows and what they had learned with students in other grades. It was so cool to see a culmination of all their hard work!

I do have some wishes for what I wish we had time to add to these projects:
* I wanted a key of the organisms (instead of using the labels you see) where students create a simple illustration of the environment and use numbers and a key to identify each organism. (This is how it's done at our local museum's exhibits)
* I wanted foreground environmental stuff (you see those bare tables? I would have loved for students to have had time to add sticks, leaves, grass, moss, etc. to the displays)
* the DECOMPOSERS in the ecosystem are missing! (Whoops!!! Something else that needed to be added to the foreground)
* Using information from students' slideshows and research to add displays and info boxes to the exhibit (like at a real museum--you have info to read as you move through the exhibits)
* And lastly, I truly had the goal of having students create one hands-on learning tool in partners. This would have helped us better meet our "Driving Question" and would have required more critical thinking as students become teachers. The 5th graders were able to pull this off. Here's two examples from their projects:
You might ask how much time this took. We began our projects in January and wrapped up at the beginning of March. We also had nearly two weeks of snow days in there. I would estimate that we spent 2 weeks on research, 2 weeks on typing drafts, one week on slideshow creation and mural creation (same week), and that the art teacher used 5 or so art classes to help students get their 3D organisms completed. Keep in mind all of the standards I included with this one project--research and reading informational texts, writing informational texts, creating slideshows/utilizing technology, art, communicating and collaborating (to design a cohesive mural together), all of my ecosystems science goals, and a better understanding of the regions of North Carolina (social studies). I call this a WIN WIN! and my students are excited to do it again in 5th grade for their biomes unit!

I'll be reflecting on my {first} project-based learning unit  using this Project Design Rubric and a PBL Essential Elements Checklist, but for now, I'm going to bask in the glowing light of joy from having my students complete 3D organism models that look amazing, a collaborative mural backdrop that flows from one environment to the next, a final research booklet, research paper, and a google slide show. I can hardly measure the time put into this project, but I dare say it was less than or equal to what it would have taken to teach research, nonfiction writing, slideshow design, and ecosystems separately. And this project surely created memories of 4th grade!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ecosystems & Animal Research Booklets

Animal Research in the UPPERGRADES? I have to admit, I have always underestimated the power of "Animal Research" in my 4th and 5th grade classrooms~I always thought it would be too basic for my students. Is it possible to take this typically lower-grades project to a higher level? I think so! Today I'm popping in to share my latest science research booklet, but WAIT...this booklet is MORE than just a booklet! It's also a project~based learning unit! I have been envisioning, processing, tweaking and adding to this booklet since November and finally uploaded it on Friday.

I had to create this set of research/notebook pages for myself because nothing I found when searching for “animal research projects” really fit my needs for upper elementary students and our curriculum. Utilizing NC standards from 4th grade and 5th grade, I focused on habitats, ecosystems, biomes, adaptations, and on supporting students as they develop an in-depth understanding of a specific organism {all were consumers}.

I designed my research booklet with lots of opportunities for students to sketch in response to their research and learning. I also defined key vocabulary on each page. This gave me the option to use some of the pages for lessons and science notebooking while others were specifically for my students' "Consumer Research" projects. The pages included provide students with ecosystems basics (physical and behavioral adaptations, abiotic factors (sunlight, soil, temperature, landforms), biotic factors (producer, consumer, decomposer), niche, food chains, etc) while also offering opportunities to extend the curriculum (symbiosis, human impact, environmental changes, etc).

What did I do with the research booklet?

I wanted my students to learn about the two main biomes in North Carolina—temperate deciduous forests and the coastal plain (including wetlands/estuaries). I printed the following pages on 1/2 sheets for students to research the temperate deciduous forest (for 2 days) and the coastal plain (another 2 days):

I printed these sheets twice (one set for Temperate Deciduous Forests and one for the Coastal Plain). If your curriculum focuses on world biomes, I have included similar sheets titled "Ecosystems" and "Biomes" so that you have choices. If I were teaching 5th grade this year, I would have students complete the biome sheets for multiple biomes. {Maybe strategically picking two that I would want them to compare after researching both}.I have also included “World Biomes” cover pages and a world map.

After students built background knowledge for our two main ecosystems (and some key vocabulary) we began our organism Research Projects. I created a list of key organisms in NC that students could choose from for their research project. Each student was required to choose a different organism to allow variety. Students received a “Consumer Research Booklet” that included:

• Cover page (you have many versions to choose from)
• Map (I have included a world map and NC Map)
• Habitat, Sweet Habitat
• Physical Adaptations
• Behavioral Adaptations
• Diet (Food Chain)
• Interactions with Other Organisms (Food Web)
• That’s Just “Niche”
• Interactions with Humans
• Relationships Between Organisms
• Ch-Ch-Changes (organism version)

For about two weeks of science/writing time, students used a list of websites that I provided to learn more about their organism. The booklet provided them with a guide for information they should seek out and a way to collect and organize that information, it made the connection to the science standards for our curriculum, and also included some extension topics for their research.
You have many options with the sheets included in this research booklet. I used some of the sheets during science lessons as they are perfect for capturing information in science notebooks; you can complete these sheets together, have students use websites to fill in, or have students work in partners. (You can't go wrong, if I do say so myself ;)

What happened next? Students used their booklets to create a research paper...and later, a google slideshow...and a WHOLE LOT MORE!!!

In this product, I have included “starter” materials for a possible project-based learning unit where students create a mobile museum based on their research booklets. I'm going to share all of our PROJECT BASED fun with you in my next post. Look for it on Thursday or download this baby now and get yo-self started on this engaging unit!


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