Sunday, February 27, 2011

Using Pictures for Grammar: Easy and Fun

Teaching parts of speech and anything related to grammar has a history engraved in my head. I picture days of diagramming sentences (this is a good still a good skill). Making grammar fun can be a challenge for any teacher. There are lots of great ideas out there, and when you find one that works you should be inclined to share it. This is one way I found to help kids understand nouns and adjectives, and their sinister plot to make the world a better place to read:


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Make Math Fun: 3 Sites You Should Try

Teaching math can often lean towards drill and kill. I know this because our current program, Saxon Math, spirals the teaching of math facts throughout 2nd and 3rd grades. The truth of the matter is that kids need to know their math facts. The annoying part is finding a great substitute for piles of worksheets. So taking action as inspired by TeachPaperless here are some sites that are great alternatives to worksheet overkill:
  • XtraMath: A simple site that allows your students to quickly practice facts. It is timed. It tracks results and emails you their progress. A breakdown of mastered facts is an essential part of the program. Kids can access anywhere, and log in is a breeze.
  • Sumdog: A game based site that allows students to complete challenges and competitions created by their teacher. Kids can play against other classmates, students worldwide, or against the computer. A variety of games and topics gives kids a challenge and keeps their interest.
  • Sokikom: This site is still in "beta" and my class in the middle of being a pilot for the creator. From what I have seen so far, this site is full potential. It takes students on missions to complete solo or cooperatively. As quoted from the site, "Sokikom has designed the games using the principles of guided, discovery-based and situated learning. Our games contain learning objectives derived from the latest National Council of Teachers of Mathematics curriculum focal points with activities aligned to the new Common Core State Standards." More to come on this.....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You Have a Couch? #30goals

I love the latest 30 Goals Challenge: Change Your Environment, mostly because I have an obsession with changing things in my room with the hope to foster better learning. I consider it like Edison and his hundreds of failed attempts at the light bulb. Change, reflect, tweek, and repeat.
Here are some major changes in my classroom that I have done and enjoyed:
  • No Desk Friday. This is a simple tool to get kids out of their seats and moving about the room. They have a spot for the entire day that serves as their learning spot. As you know, I teach 2nd grade, so this is a big deal to them.
  • Get a Couch. Won't kids abuse it? I think you would be surprise how well kids can handle objects with respect and care. You certainly have to set up some guidelines, but kids thrive when they take ownership. The couch serves as a place to read and do group activities. My other "fun places" include: the closet which is a small nook with it's own light, the bean bag corner, and under my desk. Since these are sought after places, I have to draw names when we do silent reading time in the room.
  • Around the School Scavenger Hunts. I stole this idea from Ron Clark. I got the secretary, the janitor, and a few teachers to be key players in our traveling scavenger hunt related to our book, The BFG by Roald Dahl. They held the next sealed part of the riddle, that would in turn take us on another hunt. It was a real blast, and when it was done the kids looked at me and said, "Is it really over?" The cool part was at the same time, our partner class in Louisiana was doing the same hunt, and Mrs. Thompson got the same reaction. We both agreed that we needed to create another riddle hunt in future.
  • Surveying and Interviewing is a fun and exciting activity that gets my students outside of the room and interacting with other students in the school. The kids use our class Ipod loaded with the app, PollDaddy (see my review on IEAR) to browse the hall, ask survey questions and create bar graphs from the data they gather. The kids also started using our Flip Video camera this week to interview students about Abraham Lincoln. We will combine the clips at early next week and make a highlight video of all the short facts and tidbits. We plan to post and send out to the other classes in the school to see our handiwork.
These are just a few of the things going on my class. I would love to hear the cool changes in your classroom. Post a link so I can read and see your learning environment.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Teacher At Work, Parents Keep Out

Transparency is found only when we learn to open our door and let parents in. Letting parents in does not just mean having them come into our classrooms. It means giving parents a voice on matters that we may think are sacred cows, reserved only for us.
The truth of the matter is that kids and parents offer a new perspective that teachers can often overlook or dismiss. A beautiful thing happened this year when one of my students had the idea to run an after school book club with kids in the class. The parents contact me and said, "We want to see if the girls will do this club. Can you help us?" This is the stuff that should get us excited as teachers: kid's ideas paired with parent support. So I picked the book, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. The project was to create a wardrobe and create one hundred dresses to go inside. Certain dresses would feature different elements of the story. The girls and their parents jumped on the idea, and the girls meet faithfully on Thursdays at each others houses to work on it. Here is their finished project:

Parents have valuable opinions on homework, schedules, and learning styles. The truth is, a good parent knows their child much better than we ever will. They are the number one influence in the lives of their kids. We need to give them credit and a voice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

5 for 1 Project: Days 2 and 3 with TA

Investing into a child is sometimes like buying a lottery ticket for the year 2030. Only time will prove whether all that was spent was worth it. (And in the end, the time you spend helping a kid is never wasted.)

So the past two days I have been working hard to instill some love and care into my buddy I call TA. Yesterday we had a the all too common missing homework. Do you check your child's homework for completeness and double check that it makes it back into his back pack? THANK YOU! For kids like TA, that extra help towards responsibility is amiss. So here we were, sitting inside at afternoon recess making up the missing work. I could tell it was killing him. It was Friday, the weather here in PA had finally broken, and little legs were desiring a run. After I watched him work hard at the missing work for a few minutes, I called over to him. "Go outside and play," I told him. As he jumped up and started to race out, I stopped him quick. "You know I really like having you in my class, right?" His face lit up, he smiled, and said, "Thanks Mr. Snyder." Then out the door he went.

I have been doing as many of the 30 Goals Challenge (#30goals) as I have time for. What a great project Shelly Terrell has going over there. I really seemed to connect with the latest goal, #10, Plant A Seed of Belief. We must believe as teachers that all kids can be reached. Randy Pausch talks about this in his amazing book, The Last Lecture. He describes how we must find things that kids think they cannot do, let them work at it until they discover they in fact can, and then repeat the process. For kids like TA, and many kids we cross paths with, they have never had anyone believe in them. We must be the catalyst, and build belief in kids through simple tasks that exalt their abilities. As Shelly talked about in her podcast, we simply sow seeds in faith that mountains can still be moved.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

5 for 1 Project: Day 1 with TA

I have been really frustrated with my schedule lately. Last week we had a bunch of snow days and an in-service day. This week I had the lucky chance to be picked for jury duty and sat through two days of a trial. The whole time I kept thinking about how much I would rather be teaching. All this to say, I decided to start my 5 for 1 project today and carry it into next week.

The first day of this project with my little guy, who I will call TA, didn't start so well. I came back to hear that TA was extremely wild and crazy for the substitute teacher. So to start the day, I had to address behavior issues and assign punishment. Behavior with substitutes is one of my biggies and the kids know that. I couldn't let it just slide. He seemed fine with the punishment, and we moved on. Later on I tried to reach out to him by letting him select $5 worth of books from Scholastic, since I found his order form crumpled up in the hall. It was still highlighted with the choices he was hoping his mom would let him pick from. It obviously never made it to her hands. At first when I told him to pick something that would add up to $5, he said, "Where am I going to get $5?" I smiled at him and let him know if was from me. He checked my countenance to see if I was joking. He then re-marked a few items and I tried to help him select the items he would like the most. When the end of the day came around he still couldn't decide yet. I was wondering if maybe he was prolonging the adventure of choosing.

My reflections of his character are such that he creates a distance between himself and others by doing a variety of things. He will avoid eye contact and act uninterested. He will talk out, joke, or doing a mocking voice to always keep the mood light. He will never answer a question or assignment that shows his feelings or reveals a flaw in his character.

He is one tough cookie, but you can't have him.