Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Value of Web Quests and Search Activities

      In order for our students to be real world learners of the 21st century, teaching them technology skills is vital to their overall achievement.  Much of today’s research takes place online, where as just 30 years ago, it involved a trip to the library to wade through books and articles.  My goal in creating web quests and “search” activities is to allow students to become skilled at finding information quickly and efficiently.  There are other benefits also.   Web quest activities require students to search for information, read, comprehend, and decide whether or not the information is relevant.  Students also need to determine if the information is factual, or someone’s opinion. 
Some of the benefits of web quests or internet scavenger hunts are:

-Students are learning a real world skill that is vital to their future educational growth.
-They create a heightened awareness about a topic which encourages inquiry and further investigation.
-Comprehension skills are enhanced as students  draw conclusions from the text they read.
-Higher level thinking skills are required and enhanced.
-Students choose their own path in finding relevant information.
-Skills practiced and mastered match Common Core components and often involve informational text.
-They raise the students’ confidence level in the use of technology to solve problems.

For further investigation of this topic, see these articles:

Technology and Teaching Children to Read  http://bit.ly/gwtErU

Wepner, S., Valmont, W.J., & Thurlow, R. (Eds.). (2000). Linking Literacy and Technology: A Guide for K–8 Classrooms. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Technology in the classroom should be used to enhance literacy, including spelling, reading, writing, and vocabulary.

"Communication and comprehension are two of the most important aspects of using technology."
In order for technology to be an effective enhancement for literacy instruction, students must first master the basics of using computers "so that students can concentrate more on literacy tasks than on technology."
Students need to learn efficient ways of searching the Internet. "Because of the nature of the Web, navigation problems may arise.“

Helping Children Find What They Need on the Internet  (New York Times – 2009)


My blog followers may download a free web quest about penguins by clicking on the link below: http://bit.ly/NNl9He

Hike on! 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Let Engagement Tweak Your Schedule

     Schools run on schedules. If you're like me, your day is influenced by a series of bells, door knocks, announcements, and phone messages. Some are part of our school's daily events, others aren't. On some days, the unscheduled interruptions reach a point which makes me wonder if teaching and learning are the real purpose of school.  However, like many of you, I forge ahead with enthusiasm, and try not to show my frustration.
     I realize schedules are needed to keep the flow of any school orderly. We are required to adhere to the "hard breaks" in our daily routine.  The hard breaks are non-negotiable.  They're lunch times, special class times, recess times, dismissal time, etc.  But how many of us realize that we control many or all of the "soft breaks."  The soft breaks are the ones that we have created. For example, perhaps you teach language arts every day from 8:15-9:30 (soft break). After a brief bathroom break, you begin math instruction at 9:35. This lesson ends at 10:25 because your students need to be in music class by 10:30 (hard break). We sometimes become so accustomed to the routine that we rarely change it - even though we have the power to do so
     Over the past few years, I have become a much better monitor of my lessons, and more times than not, the students determine when one lesson ends and another begins (even though they don't realize it). One example happened when my students were involved in a word work lesson.  They were working in groups creating similes.  I had planned for them to work for about 20 minutes in small groups, and then reconvene as a whole class to share their original similes.  Well, the kids were highly engaged, helping each other, working out word choice issues, and raising their hands to summon me to their group so I could hear their creative similes.  It was obvious that they were learning and having fun. These moments are why we teach aren't they? We dream of lessons where students are excited about learning, while demonstrating proper social skills by being cooperative and encouraging each other.  Imagine what my students' reaction would have been if I had stuck to my original plans and cut their group time as intended. They ended up working an extra 15 minutes before we began our whole class session. Because of this extension, my science lesson was cut to 20 minutes, but it was all worth it.
     The bottom line is that no one in your school knows your students better than you do. Excellent teachers(like you) have their feelers out often. They have their finger on the pulse of their classroom.  How are my students doing?  Do they understand the concept? Do they need to regroup?  Are they learning?  Do I need to reteach this in a different way? They make adjustments throughout the lesson. Every successful basketball coach knows the importance of good clock management.  Effective teachers do too.
     I encourage you to let your kiddos go at times (if you haven't already). Let them work through the barriers of soft breaks when things are flowing. Ask yourself if the soft breaks have become hard though the constant repetition of a routine. You have the power to change them.  It's one freedom that most elementary teachers still possess.  I know teachers in high school and middle school who envy us for this reason.  But then, they get a real planning period right?  :)
Hike on!

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Science Animal Adaptations Bingo - My Newest Freebie on TPT

I just added my newest free product on TeachersPayTeachers.  You can read about it below.

This printable animal adaptations bingo game includes 16 vocabulary words that match most state's science standards. Students write the vocabulary words in random order on their bingo form. Clue cards with definitions are included along with complete intstructions. Great for review before assessment.Click here to see it.  Hike on!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Classroom Management - How Do I Teach With That Kid In My Class?

   If you're reading this, you probably have an idea of who "that kid" is.  We've all had them.   They are known by everyone in the school (especially the office personnel). You probably were made aware of them before they entered your classroom for the first time.  If you're like me, when you spotted their name on your class list, your stomach churned a bit (even though you're a positive, innovative + enthusiastic teacher). "That kid" has a reputation. And for some reason, they are never absent.
   I've taught many "that kids" throughout my teaching career. I've gotten into a routine of praying for my upcoming class at times during the summer months.  I always ask God to give me a class that I can teach effectively.  I ask for students that are like clay - pliable, malleable.  It's usually the "that kids" that later cause me to mutter a prayer something like, "God, I know you know what you're doing, but I asked for clay that was workable! This clay is rock hard."
   What I've learned (not so easily at times), is that like clay, "that kid" needs to be warmed up before he or she becomes pliable.  The "that kid" in your classroom probably thinks (initially) that you don't like them.  I know.  I've asked them.  So the clay arrives hard, cold, and sometimes unwilling to be molded.  My job is to try to warm up the clay.
   You might be thinking - "Hey wait a minute!  What about the responsibility of the student?  Teachers deliver the opportunity for success, but students need to step up and do their part."  I agree 100%.  But if you can get "that kid" to warm up, not only will they benefit, but your entire class will benefit also.  Your days will be much more productive and enjoyable. The overall learning environment is enriched.
   So how do we warm up "that kid" (or any kid)?  Each student has his or her own characteristics which require an individualized approach in many instances.  I've listed some of my strategies below.  Some I've read, others I've developed as needed. It isn't a complete list, and many of the techniques which I use with my students may not apply to your situation. You probably may already be using many of them.

- Greet all your students at the door with a smile and warm comments every day. Always touch base with your "that kid".  It helps them relax and you can assess their demeanor before you begin teaching.

- Teach in close proximity to "that kid" when needed.  Sit next to them a few times a day.

- Monitor "that kid" as closely as you can - especially in non-classroom settings.  If they know that you'll frequently show up in the lunchroom, on the playground, in the bathroom (if appropriate), etc., they are less likely to misbehave.

- Communicate to "that kid's" parents that you know their child is going to have a successful school year.  Use a daily communication form so parents know how he/she is doing each day.  Try to be as positive as possible on these reports.  Usually these parents have heard many negative comments so they've become somewhat numb to them. Realize that they might be feeling guilty about their child's behavior issues.  Try to put them at ease.

- Use all of the resources at your disposal to build a team approach with the student.  Social workers, administrators, counselors, classroom aides, etc. can all help support your efforts, and often have fresh ideas that can be implemented.

- Talk to "that kid" about something other than school.  Find out what interests them.  Surprise them by taking out library books about topics they like.

-Try to use "that kid's" name in a positive way frequently.  When he or she needs redirection, ask them if they're ok and/or whether or not they understand what they're supposed to be doing.  I've found that this approach often results in them getting back on task more quickly than the "Why aren't you working?" comment.

- Look for any spark in "that kid" and then pour gasoline all over it.  If they do something well, try to make them feel like an expert in that area.  Ask them to help other kids who may need a partner.  Catch them making right choices.

- Determine what subject or skill frustrates them, and turn a negative into a positive. Help them to overcome feelings of failure by giving extra assistance.  It's time well spent.  I recently had a student who hated quiet reading time, and would just look at the pictures in books.  He would ask to use the bathroom, get a drink, etc. I got in the habit of reading next to him, and after a few weeks, he started really reading and finishing books.  Later on, his only problem during silent reading time was his desire to discuss whatever book he was reading.  Not a bad problem to have huh?

- Give "that kid" a job to do so they can experience success and a feeling of accomplishment.

- Talk to them about behavior issues on "their time" not "your time."  Kids don't mind discussing behavior issues during lesson times right? It's amazing how well these kids listen during lunchtime, recess, before school, or after school (their time).  I've discovered that giving up part of my "planning time" to address an issue pays huge dividends later.

- Surprise "that kid's" mom or dad with a positive phone call or comment at a school event.  I remember recently telling a mom, "I noticed that _____ really has a lot of athletic ability." The mother's entire expression changed, and she talked with me for ten minutes about her son's accomplishments in baseball and basketball.  It created a positive springboard for future communication.

- Show "that kid" that you trust them.  This one can be difficult, but I promise you that it often causes the cold clay to heat up.  At times, I'll  purposefully leave something in the trunk of my car and give my keys to "that kid" and say, "Here's my car keys.  Will you go out and get such and such out of my trunk and bring it to me right away?  And don't even think about taking off in my car."  Everyone laughs and "that kid" is empowered. "That kid" is the only one who gets my keys. (My classroom is next to the parking lot, so I'm watching the whole time.)  I've found that most kids usually love to help.

- Let other teachers who have "that kid" in their class (art, PE, music, etc.) know how he/she is doing. Have the student bring a behavior plan so everyone is on the same page regarding the student's goals.  If you can get other staff members to buy into your plan, you will see improvement. 

- Have a sense of humor.  Be light, not heavy. Laugh at yourself and let "that kid" laugh at you too sometimes. You're showing them that you're secure in who you are.  You're sending the message that you enjoy your job and they are part of that enjoyment.

    I find it interesting that so many "that kids" often return to visit me when they're in middle school, high school, or after they have graduated. Warming up the clay can be challenging, but it's exciting to see an enriched individual emerge from it!  May we all continue to be enthusiastic clay warmers.  Hike on!

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