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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Starting With STEM

We have a BYOD policy in fourth grade this year: Feel free to bring your own device (tablet, Kindle, iPad, iPod, etc.) to class with some very simple conditions. The conditions are that you may use your device to read or listen to books during independent reading time, and may listen to music during independent notebooking time. Any game-playing, texting, or sharing of photos and the device stays at home.  Our kids have done an amazing job of respecting the conditions so far!
I started to integrate some STEM lessons with our little scientists in the fall, and got a bonus surprise due to the fact that many of them have devices with them in class. We were trying some different geometric shapes in the building of a dome after I had introduced the Engineering Design Process, and groups of four were scattered all around the classroom, hard at work on their plans and on their structures.  I passed by a group who had chosen the emergency window area in which to work, and noticed a tablet device propped up against the window. (Please forgive us this once, fire marshall!)
I paused to observe a little more closely when one of the students whispered to me, "We're making a video of our process so we can review it later when we make improvements." (Seriously, fourth grader speaking, not grownup scientist!)
Mere seconds passed before devices were appearing all over the room to capture the process!
Use of devices during all subjects has become commonplace this year. In our classroom, we capture what we think we will want to use later, just as naturally as adults use their devices in real life.
Gotta love technology, and oh, yeah, gotta love those amazing little engineers!

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 STEM Journal
                                                               STEM Journal



 I have way too many books. Really. My classroom library has lots of shelves and all of the cute colorful baskets that you can imagine. Many of the baskets even have adorable genre labels on them. Some have labels like “Class Favorites” and “Mature Readers Only” (books at higher reading levels with more mature themes like Tuck Everlasting and When You Reach Me
My books even have cute little color coded dots with the level letter carefully printed on.

 But actually, how we use our classroom library has nothing to do with labels or dots. My brain remains blissfully free of the Dewey Decimal System. Here’s how it works in Rainbow City: My kids have book baskets from the Dollar Store: bright, colorful plastic with handles. They use them like the “pile of books” that lots of us have waiting to be read, whether on our iBook shelves, Kindle, Nook, or bedside table. When they need a new book for their basket, they ask me during a conference (or whenever they feel like it, if you want to know the truth), or they simply browse. They don’t always (actually ever) put the books back in the correct basket. Who cares, as long as they are reading! 

 Not to brag, but every one of my little book browsers is at grade level or way above right now, and they sure did not all start the year that way. Good readers are simply people who read a lot. You grow when you read, like riding a bicycle, playing the piano, or swimming. Practice makes you stronger. Organized classroom libraries don’t make you a stronger reader. Practice does. I value and respect those who are able to keep their classroom libraries in perfect order, and in fact have saved many pictures of these amazing classroom spots on my Pinterest boards. The fact is, though, super-cute organization is just not my style.  

 Why am I telling you this? Two reasons: It’s snowing like crazy here again, and sifting through the books to find the perfect next book basket choice with my little browsers often unearths a treasure.  Hope you’ll stay with me here and follow the breadcrumbs.

 I have a writing prompt that I’ve been using for years that I call the “Ice Castle” prompt. Kids love it and they are so willing to write, rewrite, conference, revise (you know the whole journey) when there is a super fun art project waiting at the end. This project is followed up with an amazing craftivity that involves the use of glitter! (Hope I haven’t lost you yet - it IS a little messy!) I guess you could leave the glitter out, but that is part of the selling point for the writing piece!

 Last week, we had just finished our Ice Castle writing pieces in between snow days somehow, and the glittery folders (some weighing ten pounds, it seemed, from all the glitter!) were drying on our desks. Everyone was busy with their reading and writing activities that they do while the teacher is conferencing, and one of my sweet avid readers asked me to help him choose a new book. He was interested in fantasy on that day. 

 We began to sift through some of the baskets that might be associated with fantasy when I spied a book on the shelf. It wasn’t in a basket, just standing with several others on the shelf where the baskets go. I remembered then that a former favorite student (They’re all my favorite!) had stopped by and given me a gift of several books from our school’s book fair in November. I had hugged and thanked her and set them on the shelf. 

 The book that caught my eye was Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, and as we read the back cover together, we realized at the same exciting time that the story was much like the ones we had all just written! (Also very reminiscent of the classic fairy tale “The Snow Queen”!) My lucky reader got to take my fresh new book while I quickly downloaded it to my iPad, and his classmates were clamoring to read it. The library, iBooks, Amazon, Kindle, and even the local Barnes & Noble were very busy that night as at least half my class went out in search of Breadcrumbs  with their parents.

 What does it take to ignite that fire in a kid that turns him or her into a voracious reader? Sometimes just following the breadcrumbs…

 If you’d like to try the writing and craftivity with your own sweet readers and writers, it’s free! Click on the link below! I’d love to hear how you enjoyed it! And, really, the room looks great with a sprinkle of glitter here and there for days afterward. We’re still finding some…like breadcrumbs… 

                                                                                     Ice Castle Writing Prompt

If They Had Better Kids, They'd Send 'Em

“If they had better kids, they’d send ‘em!” A long-ago speaker on diversity and differentiation in the classroom started his presentation in this way. I wish I could remember his name. I can’t recall it, although I’ve tried many times to search for the source of this phrase. I would like him to know that his words had an impact, and that I’ve let their impact inform my teaching in all the years since those words were spoken.

Those sweet children who enter our classrooms each day are the best they can be with what they’ve got so far.  It’s our job to keep adding; keep offering them just a little more. We need to be super aware of where our students are academically, socially, and spiritually (not spiritual in a religious sense, but in their character development). We keep spreadsheets and graphs on all the classroom assessments and standardized testing, but how often do we keep an account of who they are at their core? How often do we give them instruction in and opportunities to show growth in who they are as human beings?

Offering opportunities for interaction and collaboration with others as frequently as possible is one way to build a better kid. Kids who collaborate a lot learn to do it a little better each time they practice. They learn good collaboration techniques by watching and listening to others. The proficient collaborators are the most comfortable in these situations and they look comfortable. It is so helpful to all students, general ed and special ed alike to be able to take part in this process often.

Building a strong teacher-student relationship beginning the first day is another sure-fire way to build a better kid. The Beatles got a lot right, in my opinion, but especially these words from “Hey Jude”: (paraphrased here) “Remember to let them into your heart, then you can start to make it better.”  If those kids aren’t inside your heart, and you aren’t inside theirs, even in some small way at first that you keep building on, you can teach your heart out every day, and won’t nobody be learnin’ nothin’. We’re human beings. That’s how we were made to function.

When each of those best-they-can-be-so-far students walks through your door at the beginning of the year, or tomorrow, or next week, try to zero in on something that makes that child unique, special, and important. Use that as the connector that will bring the two of you together at the heart level. Let each one know whenever you can how talented, special, and important he or she is.

I am so aware that there are no questions on the high-stakes tests concerning the character development of the test-taker, and that those test scores will be used to evaluate our teaching abilities and may eventually determine our pay rate or even our job itself. We also need to be aware that a confident and resilient kid will perform much better on a test than a kid who feels stressed, sad, and powerless. A kid who knows that his/her teacher is impressed with him/her, and has confidence in him/her, and really cares about him/her will own that test! More importantly, yet immeasurably (at least right away), he/she will own a great life!

The next time you’re lesson-planning, want to try a character building activity or lesson, yet can’t find a standard for it to post in your room, I hope you’ll say. “I do have time for this! I’m building better kids - kids who will master all the rest of the standards because  they feel great about school, about their teacher, and about learning."

If they had better kids, they’d send ‘em. Let’s send the best possible kids we can send back home each day!

 You might like to print out a set of these compliment cards to get started on building a better student! They're free!   Just follow the link!

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