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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Around the Poetry Campfire


The Bright Idea I’d like to share with all of you today is my poetry campfire.  I have used this activity with second through fifth graders, and this is a great time of year to get it started!
I bought an electric campfire from our local fireplace shop, looking exactly like the one in this picture.  It has held up so well over the years with only an occasional replacement every two or three years of the red light bulb (available inexpensively at any hardware store). 
A very inexpensive and super cute version of this campfire is a paper plate piled with some toilet paper rolls (sans tp of course!) and torn and slightly crumpled pieces of red, yellow, and orange tissue paper. This would also be a very “green” way to do this activity – no electricity involved! Paint, color, or cover the rolls so they are brown and wooden-looking.  Here’s a picture of how it might look. 

One more idea is to use a cute basket with crumpled orange, red, and yellow cellophane and shiny red icicles (gift bag filler). Here's a photo of one I made with my favorite four year old when his outdoor fire pit was "closed" because of weather:

On to the poetry part of this activity! While decorating the paper rolls for the campfire, have each of your students decorate a paper roll of their own.  Do this even if you are using an electric campfire like mine!  This paper roll becomes the holder for each child’s poem to share at campfire time.  Make sure each student labels his/her “log” with their name.
start the first session by wowing them with my amazing and dramatic recital of the poem “Honey I Love” by Eloise Greenfield.  I recite it rather than read it, and it takes a couple of weeks of refreshing my memory in practice before I do it each year. (Easy and fun for me, though, because, honey, let me tell you that I LOVE Eloise Greenfield’s poetry!)  Pick a poem that YOU love so that the memorization and recitation will be fun for you.  This is your chance to show how much you personally love poetry so your students will catch that fire!

While you have your students’ rapt attention following your rendition of your favorite poem, talk with them about sharing their own poetry by the campfire each week (or at whatever intervals you choose).  Explain that they can write their own poem or bring a copy of a poem that they would like to share.  They can memorize and recite, or just read the poem with expression (we hope). The poem is stored inside the paper “log” and as each poem is shared, the log is added to the campfire.  At the end of the session, each child gets their log back to save the poem they’ll be sharing next.  Not every student has to share every week, but try to keep track in some way so you can draw those still reluctant sweeties in at some point.
I hope you’ll enjoy sharing your love of poetry in this cozy way sometime this year. I’d love to hear what happens around your poetry campfire!         

If you enjoyed this bright idea, I hope you'll visit Rainbow City Learning for more great ideas! 

For more bright ideas from other bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting! 





For many years, I had a special place in my classroom. It was a rectangular table, placed under a bulletin board. The bulletin board's title was "Inventor's Center".  There were boxes of junk, spare parts, and recyclables under the table. There were art supplies on top of the table. It was always there during the years when I taught science, and during the years when I was not the science teacher.  That inventor's center always filled a basic need that I could see that my students had: the need to CREATE!

As humans, we are born ready to tinker. We love to explore, hold things in our hands, and try out different ways of doing things. My little Inventor's Center stood at the ready for kids who needed to make a model they could hold to explain a concept, work on a project when the regular curriculum just didn't fit all their needs, or just wanted to add an artistic touch to a presentation in any subject area.

Two years ago, I started to plan my retirement, and also began to notice that Maker Faires and Maker Spaces were starting to appear in the news. Further investigation told me that the basic concept was very much like the Inventor's Center that my students had been tinkering around in for so long.  But the Maker Spaces that I was reading about were really more like my little Inventor's Center ON STEROIDS!

Yes, Retta, they have 3D printers, and YOU have retired too soon! Nice job!
But seriously, teachers, 3D printers and all the latest tools and robotic building supplies, while flashy and tempting, are not necessary to have a great Maker Space right in your classroom that will fill your students' needs to tinker, create, and prepare for the future. I hope to tell you how to get it started in the post that follows!

You might want to get over this 3Doodler Pen  before you continue reading though! I might seriously just need to have one of these. It's pretty cheap. Please ask for my address if you'd like to send me one. Please!

STEAM is a popular movement that was founded by Georgette Yakman in 2007 to promote and integrate design and art in STEM fields. She defined the movement as "Science and Technology, interpreted through Engineering and the Arts, all based in elements of Mathematics." 2007! Who knew? I didn't! Not officially, anyway!

Using the arts to explain science concepts, though. Of course! Haven't we all asked kids to use diagrams and illustrations to explain their understanding of concepts? STEAM just brings it all together so beautifully in a way we can make posters about and kids can really get!

We once had a fashion show in my class featuring what the well-dressed planets might be wearing, based on their known characteristics. Explain electricity using interpretive dance? Not so farfetched! This could be exactly what a little dancer needs to bolster that science confidence as well.

So without further rambling on my part, here are some fundamentals to help you get started STEAMING away in your own little corner of the world soon!

Start Small. Start Somewhere. Just Start!
S stands for Science, but also for Small and Start and Somewhere.The most important thing is to get going! Gather some boxes. Start collecting recyclables and some basic art supplies. Put the boxes where your students can get to them easily. Get together with a few other teachers or your whole school to set aside a space, or just designate a corner of your own classroom.

You will be truly amazed at how your Maker Space will develop wings of its own once your kids get in there and start tinkering. The ideas and creativity will flow. The excitement will be a force all its own. Give them project ideas or just invite them to enhance other projects. Just get it started! 

Find the Time!

T stands for Technology, and also for Time! With the demands on your time throughout the day, how will you ever have the time to let kids work in the Maker Space?  There are so many little bits of time here and there in every student's day. I always had a poster hanging in my classroom that said, "We Are Never Done!". It's true.  Students do not all finish work at the same time. Having an ongoing project to return to when other work is done will keep a kid from thinking of creative ways to disturb classmates. Project work really keeps the learning happening all day long. 

One strategy that really worked for me was to have a designated block of time (40 minutes) at the end of the day called "Notebooking Time". It was a chance for students to get caught up on their left page thinking in their Interactive Notebooks, but they could have them completed by using other other class time more efficiently or could choose to finish them for homework. Forty minutes of Maker Space time could magically appear in this way at the close of any ordinary day. That forty minutes was also a valuable time for me to get in a few more individual conferences or small groups. 

I also often opened my room during lunch/recess when kids could come in and work on projects. This is a personal choice of course, and we know how little time teachers have without students during the school day. I didn't do it every day, but I enjoyed their company when we did make time for it!

Encourage Kids to Make Connections!

E stands for Engineering, and also for Encourage. With just a little coaxing, kids will begin to see how STEAM is really about real life and real world problems. Why not grab some materials from the boxes to work out a concrete representation of a math problem? Why not test some science concepts while studying for THE TEST (which was how we referred to those wonderful standardized computer tests we always seemed to be prepping for)? What about a gifted kid challenging himself/herself to create an invention to make life easier for a character in the novel they're studying? The connections that can be made are endless. (ENDLESS starts with E too!!!) Just get them started, and you'll see!

Activate Knowledge and Ask Others to Take Part!

A stands for Art of course, and also for Activate and Ask. STEAMing is fun. When others see the fun you and your kids are having, they will want to start their own Maker Spaces, or send their kids to yours! (It happens. Been there.) It's ok though! Encourage them to start their own, and offer to help kick it off! Take action to get a school wide or district wide Maker Faire going. Enlist the help of parents to organize it, or form a staff team. 

Ask (Also an A word. Ha!) everyone on staff, not just teachers. Our custodian did so much work with students during her lunch time on agriculture and reuse of recycled materials. She planted a garden with our kids and built a huge greenhouse from recycled water bottles. Agriculture should be an important part of your STEAMing. Our food supply is crucial to the future of our survival on this planet! You never know what amazing (A word!) ideas are STEAMing in the brains of the people you work with every day. ASK them to join you!

Materials Are All Around You!

M stands for Math, and also for Materials. How will you fill those boxes? You have little enough money coming from your school to fund simple things like pencils, and anything else comes out of your own pocket. I know! I've been there way too many times too! 

Just download my free resource on how to get your Maker Space started, and you'll find lists of very ordinary things already in your classroom and in the homes of your students to get you started. Letters to parents and the community can keep the supply line open as materials are used.

I hope that some of this very long post will encourage you to try a Maker Space in your classroom soon. Your kids will love you for it, and learning will soar! The skills your students will develop in your Maker Space will serve them so well as they prepare to be workers and leaders in a  future that we can't even begin to imagine yet!

I would love to hear from you as you STEAM along on your journey!

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Oh Snap! It's Almost November!

Almost November already? Are you kidding? I can't even figure out what happened today. Planned to write this post today, and I lost the whole day! It started out pretty well, getting materials ready for a conference this week, and polishing up a new resource. Did some laundry, talked on the phone a few times, texted a few more times, knitted a little, read a little, checked in with Facebook, took the "Which Disney Mom are You" quiz (I'm Wendy. You probably are too. Don't even bother.) and the next thing you know.... Here I am burning the midnight oil.

I do want to make sure that you don't even think of starting November in your classroom without a few great products from Rainbow City Learning!

First up is my already incredibly priced bundle of Thanksgiving activities, classroom tested and kid approved for grades 3-5! I promise you will love every one of these seven great resources:
Indian Puddding in a Cup: A Pilgrim's Breakfast
Thankful Quilt
Thanksgiving Math: Cranny Measurement
Gratitude Slapdown Card Game
Turkey Notes: A Thanksgiving Tradition
Thanksgiving Writing Papers
Gratitude Journal

These great resources are also all available as single purchases in my Rainbow City Learning shop.

Next, November is the perfect time to try a Bullyproof Rainbow unit. The one on Gratitude is right on target for November ELA and Social Skills for the big kids (grades 4-8)!

While you're at it , check out some of these other great products from some of my blogging friends:


Bullies: The Scariest Guys Don't Wear Costumes

October is best known around here for Halloween, parties, fun, dressing up, and sometimes for scary costumes and activities. Teachers, let's talk about something even scarier than the Halloween ghouls, the make believe flesh-eaters, walking dead, and all the other scary things that people choose as costumes for a merry, scary Halloween!  October 7th is National Bullying Prevention Day, and teachers across our country will be including bully prevention lessons wherever they can within their curriculum. The lessons about standing up to bullies, walking away from bullies, and not being a bully yourself are important ones. They may be life changing, and may in some cases be life-saving.

Our community has been hit hard in the past several years by suicides of young people. In some cases those suicides were triggered by bullying. I know we're not alone in these statistics.

I have blogged about finding I Am Bullyproof Music before. I saw such life-changing moments in my own kids in my classroom when I started to just work this into our day that I started writing to Lessia, the composer and lyricist of these songs. To this day, I believe that it was fated from the beginning for us to meet and collaborate on units of teaching that will be game-changers in your classroom and life-changers for your students. It can be used as insiduously as the latest rap song or Taylor Swift composition creeps into the brains of your students, or it can be part of a very intentional unit plan.
Music has that effect on all of us. Kids are much better able to remember the lesson if a catchy tune was part of it!

It seems so simplistic, but it is so very true: Kids who are confident and strong inside can stand up to or easily dismiss bullies. Weak and insecure kids can easily become bullies themselves as they attempt to grab some measure of self-esteem, and can oh so easily fall prey to bullies all around us. Believe me, the scariest guys do not always bother with a costume or disguise. They look for weakness or insecurity and go after it.

October is the perfect month to sample just one unit from Bullyproof Rainbow.   Positivity Rocks is specially priced just for the month of October. I really hope you'll give it a try!  When you visit Bullyproof Rainbow, you'll also find videos to use for free starring kids from my classroom and our afterschool club (led by my friend Cindy and me, two retired teachers on a mission to build stronger kids!).

If you're planning to attend NCAEE in Charlotte, NC on October 18, please attend the session led by Lessia and me on how bullyproofing can easily be done right within the curriculum you've got to follow. We'd love to meet you!

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I hope this post will help you as you put it all together for October, and that you will check out some of the additional posts by this awesome group of teacher-bloggers, who will be linking up right here until October 11!


Teacher Talk

I'm so excited to introduce the update to our "Sharing is Caring" blogging group! The Linky will now be known as "Teacher Talk", joining our ideas to make your planning each month easier, more efficient, and more fun! We'll have lots of ideas for monthly themes, classroom management, and timely lessons - putting it all together for you!

Hope you'll join us to read our posts each month. If you'd like to join this amazing group of teacher entrepreneurs and bloggers (and our blog linky!), sign up here and please mention Rainbow City Learning as the place you heard about it!
The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Cooperative

Can't wait to share our October posts with you this week!