Thursday, June 25, 2015

If You Plant a Seed...Your Students Will Read

How do you get kids to read during the summer?

    This summer I am teaching a 4/5 combo, summer reading class. Since we have a limited amount of time together, and there is an expectation of progress in reading, I am emphasizing "time on text" with my students. I have them for only three hours a day. I have not only managed to keep them engaged with text for the full three hours, but at the end of our day, when I say that it's time to clean up I hear a collective "Awwww!" from my students. What?!?! 
    When I come home from school and I am going about my daily business, I hear "Ding! Ding!" I get a G mail alert that a student has posted a new blog post(the first of several that day) about a book they are home! Wait a second...I don't give homework assignments, especially not in the summer. These kids are reading, at home, and I didn't tell them they had to? Mind officially blown! I need to figure out what the cause of this phenomenon is so I can repeat it.
    The only answer I can come up with is that students love to blog. They like the voice that blogging gives them and they like interacting with each other. Blogging is different from those marble composition books that they write in. The ones that may or may not be read by a teacher every day. Blogging allows students to instantly share their writing and thinking with the entire class, and get responses from not only the teacher, but their peers as well. They equally enjoy reading other students' posts, and giving feedback as well. I enjoy not having to haul thirty notebooks home to read. With blogging, I get instant notifications that a student has written a post or commented on a post, and I can respond right then. If you would like to see this class blog, you can view it here. We are reading "The One and Only Ivan" and I use the blog to give them thinking prompts from the text, as well as links to videos and other resources that supplement the text.

    Kids are very visual and I think having pictures and embedded links to additional information helps to make this a very interesting tool. We were reading "The Lightning Thief" in English, and learning about Ancient Greece in History when my middle school class was blogging. They enjoyed links to interactive maps, authors' websites, mythology pages, and quizzes to find out which Greek god was their parent. Again, I think that the teacher curating high interest and informative content within their blog posts affect how interested the students will be in the blogging. I also think it is important for the teacher to comment regularly, modeling scholarly talk and questioning. If you look at my class blog, the post titled "Blogging for Beginners: Growing the conversation with follow-up questions" and "Welcome to Kidblog" talk about blogging etiquette, but most of that teaching happens in class through mini lessons before writing, or through comments made by me on their posts, when I see a "teachable moment". I don't think kids would be that interested in reading a post about rules for blogging, unless maybe I could find a cool infographic, or an animated video on the topic. I'm still looking. Edutopia has a nice list of digital citizenship resources.
    In addition to responding to my prompts, they have taken to writing their own posts about books that they read, which I am loving. Blogging does NOT just have to be about writing though. I look at blogging as sharing content and ideas. Content can be shared through imagesword cloudsvideos, infographics (one of my favorites), thinglinks, and so much more, don't limit your students to just writing. Keep it simple if you're introducing students to blogging for the first time. Yesterday I showed a few students how to link text in their blog to a video and they were so excited. Once you're feeling comfortable with it, which won't take long because it's really easy, introduce your students to different content that they can create to communicate their message. Since my current students are brand new to blogging and only 9-10 years old, I am keeping it fairly simple for now. I will introduce them to more when they become my students in the fall. For now, it is 
7 P.M. on a Friday of a 3 day weekend and I have gotten eight G mail notifications while writing this post because my students are at home talking to each other about books. Thank you, technology!

Links to more cool blogging resources:

Buttered Popcorn or Rotten Eggs? An Inferential Brain Break

Whether you call it a "Brain Break" or a "Sponge" Activity, "Bean Boozled" can be a great way to have a little fun with inferences: 

How do you play this game?

I'm not really sure what the official rules are for this game. I think they come with the kit, but we have that kind of classroom where we make up our own rules. What we came up with is: I start by choosing two students randomly. I use the random feature on Class Dojo, but there are many methods for choosing students. Someone spins the spinner. Today I played a round with a student and it landed on buttered popcorn/rotten eggs. We each took the appropriate colored jellybean and popped them in our mouths. The idea is to trick the class, which is watching us very carefully for facial expressions, or any other clues to decide if we got a rotten egg or a buttered popcorn bean. I had rotten egg and failed miserably at keeping a straight face or offering a subtle clue that I had something tasty in my mouth to fool everyone. Two bites in and I'm shaking my head and saying nope as I make a beeline for the garbage can to spit it out. Yuck! The kids are much better at this game than I am.

There is another version similar to this, but with a "face-off" element to it, that another group of students came up with. Two students "face off" against each other and the student who is right gets to go again, choosing the next volunteer. If there is a tie, they keep going until there is a winner. This rarely happens, because it takes a fair amount of composure to act like something is strawberry deliciousness when it really tastes like centipedes-not that I would know what an actual centipede tastes like, but the Jelly Belly version is very gross.

Sometimes a student will opt out, and I really don't blame them. It is equally fun to observe with this game and eating gross stuff isn't for everyone.

Students also have fun coming up with new ideas and recipes for gross Jelly Bellies and sending them to the factory. They can mail them to: 
Headquarters and Visitor's Center: Fairfield, California
  • Jelly Belly Candy Company
  • One Jelly Belly Lane
  • Fairfield, CA 94533

Where can you get this game?

I bought mine at the actual Jelly Belly factory, but I have seen them in grocery stores, candy shoppes, and it is available on for about $7.00. Once I had the spinner from this package, I just add to my bean jar with the Bean Boozled jelly beans, because it is cheaper than buying the whole kit.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Class Dojo

Giving Class Dojo Points for Teams:

There are two ways you can go about setting up teams for points in Class Dojo. You can add a team to your class as a student, or you can create another class and just have teams only in that class. I am choosing the latter because the members of the teams in my room change so frequently. This way it is separate from my class and when teams change I can just reset the points and begin again. 

We do a lot of project-based learning and move seats based on team work. Kids never get upset with their position on the seating chart because it really is just a "home base". I use the term "seats" pretty loosely, because my students are often standing, leaning over someone and sharing a desk, or a Chromebook, etc. I like having my students interacting with each other. I think it's important for them to learn to move around, be flexible, and be able to collaborate with different groups of people for different purposes. In the beginning it can be a little crazy, but once movement, talking, and independent decision making become the norm, the initial chaos gives way to collaborative creativity and scholarly discussion. I should add that if the project that teams are working on isn't interesting and doesn't involve student choice there is a likelihood of unproductive chaos. I think adding a Dojo class for teamwork will also help to manage and measure productivity. I'm going to begin with a class discussion of what teamwork looks like and I will add their descriptors as the positive and negative behaviors in Class Dojo.

This team based point system is a new idea, so I am not entirely sure what it is going to look like. I am trying it out with my summer school class. I chose the avatar for each team to match the color of the team name. My team names are colors because everything in my classroom is color coded, so it just seemed logical.

While I was doing my end of the year clean up of my classroom, I came across this little cage. A student had given me a chocolate Easter bunny inside of it and the cage was so cute, I didn't want to throw it away. I had recently purchased a bag of small stuffed monsters to give out to students when reaching point goals in Class Dojo and I thought It would be cute to keep them in a cage as a "class pet". Then I decided that it might be nice to give out points for table groups and let the table that is getting the most points care for these "pets". I wondered if it might be too babyish for 6th graders, so I posted this picture on my class Instagram and asked them. Their response was: "I wish we would've had those!"

Mini Monsters
The links to the monsters and the rabbits are below the photos.

I read somewhere that another teacher changes the student avatars to minions when they get to a certain point goal.  I emphasize scholarly behavior in my class and I was thinking of combining the minion idea with this monster idea.  I am now on the lookout for some "Monsters University" characters that would be the right fit for the "class pet" cage. Teams that reach a point goal can care for the "pets", but individuals could also get a monster upgrade for their avatar.