End of the Year Wrap Up

Waiting makes me restless. When I’m ready, I’m ready.-Reba McEntire

monster“Mrs. Meeuwse, my brain and my butt feel all jiggly.”…  And can’t we all relate to that? We have 7 days of school remaining and these kids are ready.  In fact, I’m not sure if the dinosaur drawing to the left is really a dinosaur or a portrait of me the last few days.  I may or may not be a little cranky…

To be sure, we are continuing our daily routine as much as possible for as long as possible.  We are busy readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmaticin’ daily.  The problem is these brilliant kindergartners are-Caps Lock- DONE,  ready to move on, needin’ to bounce, DONE.

So, in order to preserve my sanity, I came up with the idea that we needed to work on a project.  An end-of-the-year-what-have-I-learned project.  The idea was well received and they quickly wenthope and ella to work sketching out their plan.  They still like to make their plans on paper.  They have the choice of how to present their project.  Some are choosing Explain Everything, some, iMovie, some Book Creator and some Pic Collage.  I needed to intervene only once…a loud chorus of “None of your business!” rang out from a group of girls working together when a rogue boy intruder came by to see what they were doing.

Waiting makes me restless.  It definitely makes 5 and 6 year olds restless. When they are ready, they are ready. What better way to wrap up the year, than to have students share what they have learned?  Some are still working on their projects and it may go on through the week.  Here is one group that made an iMovie. They planned out their script and did it all themselves.  They are already talking about what they want to add to it. They said this is their “rough draft”.

We will have a sharing time so that all groups can show their work.  Some chose to work by themselves on the project and that’s ok too. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.  What matters, is that even up to the end, we are working together and students have the ability to choose. When teachers find ways to nurture these inner motivational resources, they adopt an autonomy-supportive motivating style.

All of that to say…the count down is on.  The natives are restless and we need to stay busy.  An end of the year project is just what we need to get us through the crazy.

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

Time To Call An Expert

In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn-Phil Collins

Under phylogenetic taxonomy, dinosaurs are usually defined as the group consisting of Triceratops, Neornithes [modern birds], their most recent common ancestor (MRCA), and all descendants.  It has also been suggested that Dinosauria be defined with respect to the MRCA of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon, because these were two of the three genera cited by Richard Owen when he recognized the Dinosauria.

IMG_0484Um…what?  I am no expert on dinosaurs. I know enough to get by, but I am completely unimpressive to Tre.  Tre is my in-class dino-phile.  He knows all, and I do mean all, about dinosaurs.  He has tried hard not to look at me condescendingly this week as we learn about these “terrible lizards”.  Tre has written about, talked about, read about, and drawn about dinosaurs this whole year.  You can imagine his bliss as we all focus on them this week.

IMG_0482While a lot of my students are knowledgeable about dinosaurs, there are a lot of misconceptions.  It is hard for them to comprehend that dinosaurs pre-existed humans. We are learning from our work and we are learning from each other.  As always, we have voice and choice in our learning.  Tre chose to write about dinosaurs (above) on paper.  Another student chose to make a Pic Collage (at right).  Others chose to make an Explain Everything.  (see bottom of page).

Dinosaurs are always a topic of great interest.  Using  surveys at the beginning of the school year is a good way to find out about your students’ areas of interest.  This makes them part of the curriculum planning process and part of the decision-making process in their learning.  In the learning community of this classroom, the students learn from me, I learn from them, and they learn from each other.  We all have expertise in something and by giving Tre the opportunity to shine this week, he is buoyed by the confidence of his classmates.  My students all know who to go to as the “Expert” of various things in our class.  This gives my students responsibility, buy-in, leadership and best of all…it forces them to work on solving their own problems rather than coming to me all the time.

I’ve said before that the Explain Everything app is awesome.  (Created by a fellow Apple Distinguished Educator). It really gives you a sense of what a child is thinking when they have to explain their thinking.  Here is Hope, explaining everything about dinosaurs. She is definitely one of my class experts on this app.

In what area(s) are you an expert?  Do your students know who the experts are in your classroom? Do student interests help drive your curriculum choices?  All of these are good questions to reflect on as many of us are ending the school year.

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

We “Arrr” Taking Charge Of Our Own Learning, Mateys!

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.-Robert Frost

Seriously, could the end of a school year be any busier?  Lists and lists of things to get done in the remaining 15 days.  As badly as I need to do those things, I still have the small matter (ahem) of teaching these kids who just keep showing up.  :)

pirateOne of the small joys of teaching little people is their seemingly endless curiosity.  We have extended our ocean unit into a week on Pirates.  They have tons of questions about them.  Living in a city rich with pirate history allows me to share some of the stories of Blackbeard and his time here in Charleston.

My students have loved looking at pictures of different Jolly Rogers and even creating their own.  One group worked on creating their own treasure map after researching different ones online.  They discussed the “necessary components” including the compass rose, the “X” that marks the spot, the need to put the treasure in a safe place and how to find their treasure by marking the “paces” on the map.  These mini mateys collaboratively researched and created their map.

We have a list of “must-do” activities each day and a list of “may-do” activities.  The children schedule their day with their planning sheets.  Part of their “may-do” was to create the treasure map.  There were no specific guidelines and it was their own decision to work together.

My role as facilitator has enabled me to watch them make their own pirate pic collagedecisions and problem solve both individually and together.  One student created a Pic Collage to demonstrate some pirate vocabulary words.  He drew the illustrations in Doodle Buddy and imported them into Pic Collage and then added his sentences.  During the time students are working on their individual plans for the day,  my assistant and I are able to work with small groups, have student conferences and assess if needed.

Watching my students planning their day, working together with others, solving problems and making decisions about their own learning, I know they are ready to sail to first grade.

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

Reaching Different Learning Styles With The iPad

We learn to do something by doing it.-John Holt

I’ve been teaching myself Spanish.  I’ve used a variety of methods, including Rosetta Stone.  All have taught me some good basic Spanish; however, nothing has helped me more than having actual conversation in Spanish.  Well, conversation may be a bit overstated…I’m ok as long as the other person speaks very slowly and we only use the present tense.  It’s definitely a process.

How do you learn best?  For me, it depends on what I am learning.  Sometimes I need to take notes, other times I need to think out loud.  Some things are easier to learn with another person while with other things, I need to be alone.  My guess is most of us have different styles for learning depending on what it is we are working on.

Our students are no different.  They all learn different things in different ways and at different rates.  Kids today learn from a variety of sources.  They learn from television, peers, computers, video games, and social media.  Technology in our classrooms allow our students to explore different approaches to learning.

We have spent some time learning about the rainforest.  I recently blogged about how my students use planning sheets to map out their day and their learning experiences.  To share some of their knowledge gained about the rainforest, my kids chose which creation app to use and then demonstrated their knowledge through the iPad. Below are ways 2 different children chose to share with me what they have learned.

rainforest pic collage

popplet rainforest

One child chose to use Doodle Buddy and Pic Collage and the other chose to make a Popplet and import it into a Pages document. Other students in my class chose different ways.  A few chose Explain Everything, a few chose Book Creator and some chose to use drawing paper, crayons and pencils.  When students have choices they see themselves as participants and contributors to their own education.

My students, even in kindergarten, like the ability and the responsibility of making these choices about their school day.  Some of the choices given to them are “must-do’s” and some are “may-do’s”.  One child wrote about planning her day in Writer’s Workshop.

PL writingMotivating students to achieve can be difficult in this hyper-paced world.  Giving students choices to work and learn in the manner that best suits them makes them stake holders in their own education.  One of the best ways to learn something is by doing it.  Let’s go for it!

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

What is Your Super Power?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.-Aristotle

When wsuperheroas the last time you were an action figure Super Hero? I ask, because I am apparently one today. It is Teacher Appreciation Week and my room mom decorated my classroom door with pictures of my assistant and me dressed as The Incredibles. It was particularly exciting to my kids to see us on the door like that…and I must admit, I’m kind of digging the whole super- ripped, super hero body going on there.

I’m not a Super Hero in real life, nor do I play one on tv, but there are times when we must don our Super Hero apparel and create magic in a classroom full of young children. Engaging students today is no easy feat. There are many things that compete for their attention. Even with iPads, there are times when I look around my classroom and wonder what planet I just landed on because those children are NOT my students!

I find when I am using our creation apps (Explain Everything, Educreations, Pic Collage, Book Creator, iDiary, etc…) my students are far more engaged and tend to become mini-super heroes themselves. Their work is better, the content is deeper, their conversations are richer. These are not mindless apps that keep children occupied like a video game. They start with a blank canvas and end with a brand-new creation that wouldn’t have been possible without the technology. This blank slate-to-masterpiece approach, has transformed our classroom and how we learn. We are working on the habit of excellence.

Thomas2My kids love to learn and they love to create. Yes, Thomas is under the table working on his masterpiece. He likes it there because he can work undisturbed. Look at his face.  Is there any doubt he loves what he is doing?

Happy, engaged children make this Super Hero pretty happy. Creating the habit of excellence starts on day one in your classroom. Examine your classroom and see if you have created a habit of excellence.

What are your super powers?

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

A Matter of Choice

Whatever you choose, you might as well enjoy it. It is your choice.-Shad Helmstetter

When I go to a restaurant with an extensive menu, I sometimes have trouble deciding what to order.  It all looks good to me.  Buffets are nice because then you can sample a little of everything.  When we travel, my husband packs way more clothes than he needs for the length of the trip because he likes to have “choices” when we are there.  Choices are a good thing.

choice checklistMy students like choices also.  One of my awesome first grade colleagues introduced me to her choice schedule she uses on Fridays.  Her schedule has time blocks. I altered it slightly to omit the times and just put numbers in.  I listed several activities on the board and they chose which ones they would complete today. I showed them my own “planning page” which is my lesson plan.  I explained this is what I use to schedule my day. They filled in their planning page and got it approved by me or my assistant.

My kids loved the idea that they would plan their own day.  The class was engaged all day.  I was able to assess, work with individual students and pull small groups.  As the kids worked on each activity block, they checked them off when finished.  These time blocks were about 30 minutes each and I rang a bell.  A few of them finished early and they had choices about what to do until the next time block.

At this point in the school year, my students had the scaffolding necessary to handle this planning sheet.  Those needing individual help, were able to ask experts in the class or get teacher help.  Wells Because their activities were varied, they were moving around the room to complete their various tasks.

Ella and AinsleyThey enjoyed the sense of accomplishment as they checked items off their planning sheet.  I can relate to that as I like crossing things off of my own to-do lists.

Many children grow up unable to make decisions because they have had little experience in doing so. Teaching decision- making greatly benefits them in life.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!