Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Importance of Shared Learning

Let's all give a warm welcome to Rebecca Valera. Thanks for sharing this valuable post Rebecca!

I am thrilled to talk to you today about something that I'm really passionate about, which is shared learning. Our current culture is all about sharing (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogging, etc.). When students share what they have learned it sticks, and completes the learning process for that specific event. It all comes back to Confucius, "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." 

In middle school I still remember Mrs. Marler. She was my 6th grade English teacher and was one of the nicest teachers I knew. English was not my favorite subject, but I specifically remember a project that she had each of us do. She assigned each of us a short lesson (probably a review lesson), told us to look over the instructions in the book, teach the lesson and assign practice for the class. She said to be as creative as we wanted to be with it. I'm not sure how "creative" I was, but I loved planning and teaching the lesson to my peers. I was so excited to be "in charge." I also remember that the lesson that I taught was over how to make contractions. Not only was the creativity, or engagement important, but she sharing as well. 

In high school I had a similar experience with my physics teacher Mr. Wiley. We were to team up with another student in the class and design a bridge that could hold the most weight. We could only use the supplies that he gave us in the classroom and each type of supply cost us a certain dollar amount. We then had to take out a loan from "his bank." The loan would then be part of how he calculated our grade. We drew top, front & side views of our proposed models to scale. He had to approve of the "blue prints" before we could even start constructing. Once we started constructing, we realized that our "blue prints" need to change. We edited what we need and continued on. I the midst of all of this, we were allowed to talk to our partners and our peers to make decision and see what other people had found in their research (although many of them didn't want to share for fear of their idea being stolen). The day of the competition I was a little upset (emotional) because my bridge didn't "win," but I did learn what improvements to make on the bridge after it snapped exactly in half. Not only did I have to learn how to work with someone (I remember it not being so easy at times), but we were constantly sharing with our peers and the teacher. 

As a teacher, some of my favorite classroom experiences are from students given the ability to share their learning. Before I start, I want to give you a little background about myself first. My mom has a degree in special education and my aunt (my mom's sister, Martha) has down syndrome. I love my aunt Martha beyond words! She is still alive and lives with my grandparents (who are in their 90s), but has the temperament and innocence of a sweet child. So, because of my background, I feel very close to any child who is in special education or anyone who works with them. Having such a short planning period, I would often get inspired and grab some of my students from their specials teacher.  We would then present science experiments for the students who were in the special education department. Before I even brought them in to the special education classroom I told them about how these students were different and very child-like. I told them to be sure and teach them respectfully. Not only did the students who were teaching the experiments learn through their sharing, but the students in the special education class did too! 

There have been many other times where I have taken my entire class of students to the kindergarten classroom to share what we were learning about in math, a science or show them a project we had put together. The idea of shared learning is not anything new. Yes, it takes a little of strategic planning and coordinating, but it is well worth it. It's so important, shared learning is one of the "Fundamental Five."

Possible types of shared learning:
-Think Pair Share (purposeful talk)
-Sharing/teaching in front of the class
-Sharing and paring with students from another grade level
-Having groups share/teach their peers or students from another grade level
-Sharing with students who have special needs
-Sharing with a parent or another adult (teacher)
-Sharing with a specialist (geologist, pilot, engineer, etc.)
-Sharing with the community (special event)

Possible outcomes of shared learning:
-Memorable experiences students will take with them
-Lessons that make it into a students long term memory
-Students learning hospitality (manners) and appropriate social skills
-Learning how to work with others
-Solving community-related problems
-More engaged, students behavior
-Meaningful lessons
-Allows students to be proud of and value their work
-Possible mentors with other grade levels
-Creates role models
-Makes students feel special or important
-Fosters future career decisions

Speaking of SHARING... I would love to share one of my FREE RESOURCES with YOU! Here are some great ideas on how to have your students share what they know or have learned about food chains and webs! Click on the photo below to download this great resource!

If you have any additional comments or ideas/experiences that you have had with shared learning, please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading! I hope that this post inspires you incorporate different ways that kids can share their learning. You can find my Science Girl Lessons TpT Store here.

My name is Rebecca Valera and I have been teaching for about 8 years know and am currently taking a break to raise my three beautiful children. My main specialization (and what I have mainly taught) is math and science for grades 3-8. I have taught in both public and parochial (Catholic) schools in Texas. I play a variety of instruments (guitar, flute, percussion), love my growing family and am very passionate about my Catholic faith. With three kids 3 and under, I enjoy blogging & developing curriculum in my "free time." My family and I currently reside in Garland, TX.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Books that Make Kids WANT to Write

Minds in Bloom is excited to present Heather Earley with her inspiring guest post on making kids WANT to write. She's got lots of great book suggestions. You're bound to find a new favorite!

My addiction to books has been a long and expensive habit!  However, I was never much of a writer in school and dreaded “creative” writing assignments.  I was missing the connection between the tons of reading I was doing and my own ability to use these texts to inspire my own writing.  Not until I started teaching did I realize the power books had to inspire great writing, and I so badly wanted writing to be a pleasant and fun way for my students to develop this connection for themselves.  This is a small selection (in no particular order) of some of the inspirational books I have used with my students- some well known and a few a little more obscure, but each with a special place on my shelf for each year’s new group of writers.

new group of writers.

1      1.     MagpieMagic by April Wilson
Yes, it’s a picture book!  I love using picture books with my fourth and fifth graders because they learn to dig deeper and tell the story themselves.  Analyzing the pictures and making connections between the pages becomes that much more of a challenge and your students will LOVE this one!  A mischievous magpie discovers a set of colored pencils that bring to life anything they draw.  The bird causes a bit of trouble, and the pencils fight back!  The illustrations are as wonderful as the conversations that will emerge!

We used this book later in the school year as an opportunity to practice using all of the figurative language techniques we had discovered in other stories through a retelling.  Using multiple copies of the book, students worked in small groups with sticky notes to tag the illustrations with figurative phrases.  In pairs, students practiced retelling their stories as they worked through a story plan.  And finally, they completed the writing process combining the descriptive language they had brainstormed with their own plans.  The results were fantastic! 

2.      Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving by William Steig
If you take yourself seriously, “Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving” is not for you!  Short phrases from a child’s perspective that describe grown-ups brings back a few memories.  Some are positive (grown-ups like children to be happy) and some not so much (grown-ups are mean), but they have all rung true in your head at some point in childhood.

I find this to be a perfect book for brainstorming all of the things kids wish they could do and wish their parents wouldn’t do.  We also picked specific pages to brainstorm when building our writer’s notebooks idea sections, like “Grown-Ups make you go to the dentist.”  From this small statement, we found dozens of ideas for things we didn’t want to do but have to do, all of which offer potential personal narratives.  A great idea builder!

3  3.     The Book of Bad Ideas by Laura Huliska-Beith

Another great brainstorming book!  There isn’t a story- just a ton of really funny illustrations with short phrases uttering perfectly bad ideas with disastrous effects entertainingly illustrated.  Kids can really dig into their silly with this one!  My favorite…Asking your best friend to give you a quick haircut on class picture day. Ha!

We used this in two ways.  First, kids love to tell about the things they have done that were just bad ideas for personal narratives.  Second, using the bad ideas presented in the book, students had a whole set of potential fictional narrative ideas.   As I displayed the pages and shared the captions, students had to collect a minimum of 5 new ideas that they could write about that they had never experienced.  We kept this book in our writing center all year as a potential reference for ideas when writer’s block occurred.

    4.   Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups by David Wisniewski
     These books are as good as it gets in my opinion.  This is my number one go to book for the beginning of each school year now.  Wisniewski masterfully takes ordinary expectations like “eat your vegetables” and creates wild and exaggerated “truths” he has secured from various locations in clever disguises.  (Vegetables are eaten to keep them under control as they have devolved from giant man-eating creatures.)  Each book contains 8 or so stories which are filled with high-level vocabulary, strong voice, text features (the Newbery award winner by the way), and humor. 
We used both of these stories to introduce plot analysis, one-sentence summaries, and vocabulary in context.  During the first few weeks of school, I also introduce the writing process through a daily think aloud modeling my own truth behind a rule.  By the end of the third week, students have completed each step in the writing process and created their own twisted rule which we publish for parents- a perfect parent night project to share!  The freebie includes the plan, rubric, and suggestions for completing the writing process.

    5.   Fly WithPoetry and Leap Into Poetry by Avis Harley
    These books made poetry fun for me.  I love figurative language but always taught it within the context of traditional text and avoided poetry as much as possible.  These books actually made me (and the kids) LOVE playing with poetry!   Both books contain 26 different types of poems, one for each letter of the alphabet.  My favorites were abecedarian (a poem that contains 26 lines starting with each letter of the alphabet) and list poems.  All of Harley’s poems relate to insects.

Over the years, my classes have published five or six different editions of poetry books, but my favorite was two years ago.  I introduced one letter a week with its poem, and the students decided to focus on topics specific to our classroom like field trips, recess, funny moments, etc. We did it as a “Fun Friday” activity- it was a nice break from the monotony, and it was a great opportunity to challenge the kids in a comfortable way.  I usually struggled through writing my own example as well.  For each letter, I selected two student poems and made sure to include everyone at last once in the book.  They typed their poems, if applicable, and illustrated during a special author’s lunch each week.  I made copies, bound the books, and celebrated at our fifth grade graduation by giving each student a copy.  They signed each other’s books, shared with their parents, and just loved them.  This was really one of those “golden moments” for me!

If you like these books, find five more books that will inspire your kids to write with suggestions at  Happy reading and writing! 

Heather Earley

Sunday, October 19, 2014

STEM-i-fying the Classroom: Finding Room on Your Plate for Engineering

Minds in Bloom is happy to present Wendy Goldfein and Cheryl Nelson of Get Caught Engineering, an integrated hands-on engineering program with their post on finding room in your classroom for Engineering. Enjoy!

When we first decided to develop an engineering program for our school, our administrator was very supportive. However, he only had one request: “Please don’t tick off the staff!” We knew that our greatest challenge would be proving to the faculty that this could be a great addition to what they were already teaching, not an “add-on” to their already overloaded program. As we began our slow roll out of STEM lessons that could be integrated into the curriculum, our search for and creation of integrated engineering lessons began.

Over the years we have found ways to integrate engineering lessons into history, math, health, art, and of course science.  Perhaps surprising, literature has been our biggest STEM integration success due to the fact that literature is such an integral part of the elementary school curriculum and usually teachers have a large block of time for language arts.  Literature has the potential to present situations that can challenge students’ imaginations. Stories can serve to encourage student to begin to problem solve, generate design proposals, and make connections to engineering.

So how do we start? We begin with a “what if…?”

·         What if you could help out the characters? Discuss the plot and characters of the story. Can we improve the situation in the story?
The Three Little Pigs  - Can we help the pigs keep their house upright? Using a Popsicle sticks, straws or toothpicks for materials and a hair drier to represent the Big Bad Wolf, have the students design a house that won’t blow down. The same lesson could be adapted for the
Wizard of Oz and tornadoes.

·         What if the story continued? Brainstorm what would be some of the natural consequences from the story. What could have happened?
The Three Bears – What happened when Goldilocks told her mother about her encounter with the bears? She definitely wasn’t happy!
Time for the students to develop a new chair for baby bear out of rolls of newspaper.
Beauty and the Beast – Wouldn’t the village want to celebrate after the beast changes back to a prince? Engineering a confetti launcher will provide an appropriate festive touch to the story. Empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls become launchers and leftover tissue paper can be confetti.

·         What if the characters had better materials or tools? Is there an item mentioned in the story that we can redesign or improve?
Charlotte’s Web – Charlotte had amazing webs. Can we do that? Using string and a wire hanger, students can engineer a web and test its strength.
Rapunzel- Wouldn’t we all get tired of people using our hair for a ladder? What else can we create that would help her out? Can we use our knowledge of pulleys to engineer an improved system to get in the tower?

·         What if the characters had different tools to solve their problem? What problems do the characters encounter? Can we develop a product, tool, or system to help them?
The Gingerbread Man- What if the Gingerbread Man had encountered a sailboat or even a boat with a propeller to help him get away? This is a problem that could be solved by students of varying ages as they solve the Gingerbread man’s problems by engineering boats. Need a river in the classroom? No problem. Get an 8-foot plastic rain gutter from the hardware store, cap the ends, add water, and…” voila”… you have a river for testing!
Jack and the Beanstalk- Jack’s stress level would have been lowered considerably if he had had a few tools to help him. What if he had a tool to grab the golden egg?  Students can be challenged to engineer a mechanical extension in order to grab something from a distance.

·         What if the story ended differently? Think about what happened after the story ends?
Cinderella – Cinderella doesn’t want to live with her in–laws! Using recycled cardboard; create a new castle for Cinderella. Start adding criteria such as size, turrets, a drawbridge and you have a review lesson for math and simple machines.
Alice in Wonderland – If Alice wanted to return to have tea with the Mad Hatter, can the students create a ramp and slide that will allow her to drop a specified distance in a certain amount of time?

·         What science or math can we connect to the story?
Peter Pan- If we have run out of fairy dust to help us fly, why not create a prototype for a zip wire? Force, motion, acceleration, and gravity will all be explored as it is engineered and tested.

Literature is great place to start, but by looking at the curriculum for a grade level, with an engineering lens, connections become apparent. Ancient history leads to building and testing pyramids, columns and arches. Art lessons can lead to paper engineering projects or snap circuit spin art. Include veggie car races to help students remember good nutrition choices in health. Simple machines and physical science becomes very intriguing if one has to apply the concepts to a Rube Goldberg contraption. Each can be developed into lessons that take students through the engineering design process of: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Test, and Improve.
We bet once you start looking for the STEM links, you and your students will “Get Caught Engineering” regularly.

The guest bloggers:
Wendy Goldfein and Cheryl Nelson have developed Get Caught Engineering, an integrated hands-on engineering program. They share their ideas about STEM and children’s engineering at workshops, conferences, conventions, and museums throughout the United States. They invite you to explore their web, blog, Facebook page, Pinterest boards and Teacher Pay Teacher’s store that all focus on STEM.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Integrating Art Across the Curriculum

Minds in Bloom presents Renée Goularte a former art-instructor, a working artist, and a writer with her post on integrating art into your curriculum. 

If you are a teacher, chances are you’ve said it: “We have no time for art.” Chances are equally good that you believe that art is important. And it is…and it’s worth making time for!
Because you know what? Art education is important in and of itself, but besides that, art includes problem-solving and choice-making, develops fine-motor skills and visual literacy, fosters a sense of aesthetics, taps into students’ individual creativity, and helps visual learners make sense of the world.

Making time for art in the classroom is easier than you might think! Art instruction, integrated with other subject matter, can be added to the curriculum without taking away from anything else. Here are just a few of my favorite ideas:

A Science teacher friend of mine often reminds people that “Science is Art and Art is Science.” Science and Art both inherently require a significant degree of observation activity. When students are learning to observe closely, that’s a great time to teach a lesson on drawing a still life that includes plants or other natural elements such as rocks, twigs, or bones. On a more discrete level, students can do leaf observation drawings and add a creative art twist with watercolor, oil pastel, or even crayon rubbings!

Science units are sometimes culminated with some kind of “art project” that often includes a “craftivity” where students cut and assemble something, a Penguin or a Polar Bear, for example. Teachers can easily take it further with a direct draw lesson that breaks the animal down to its essential shapes. If studying habitats, what about drawing or painting them as an assessment tool? Drawing is a great way for students to show what they know, as it encourages them to include details they might otherwise overlook.

Studying the human body? What a perfect opportunity for incorporating a lesson on drawing people,  or doing self-portraits. Include a math component here by focusing on the proportions of a human body. A human head is approximately 1/8 of the total body height. Fractions, anyone?

What if students are asked to construct 3D models, with or without plans or a template, out of a variety of materials (cardboard, construction paper, aluminum foil)? What a great introduction to sculpture as an art form!

There is so much Math in Art! From the precision of perspective drawings to the looseness of the abstract impressionist’s shapes and lines, to the geometric use of shapes in paintings from artists like Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, math and art often intersect. Math instruction can be supplemented with art lessons that include concepts from geometry, measurement, or fractions.

Geometry is especially prevalent in art, and vice-versa. As part of a geometry unit, students can create geometric shape collages or geometric people or animal collages. A "looking at art" lesson focusing on what students see in a Wassily Kandinsky painting includes tons of geometry vocabulary, and can be enhanced by an abstract drawing in which students draw different types of lines, shapes, or angles, as dictated by the teacher -- a lesson with the added benefit of developing and assessing listening skills. Add a problem-solving component by having students color half the shapes or half the total area. Then have students discuss each other’s compositions, using art and geometry vocabulary, and write about them too!
Simple abstract art lessons that incorporate Math include simple shape tracing activities that may use repetition, overlapping, and lots of patterning. Students can reinforce their understanding of patterns with many different kinds of art lessons and techniques such as printmaking, drawing, and stamping. An art activity as simple as tracing shapes and filling each one with a different pattern can be made very simple for younger students and more challenging for older students.

Social Studies:
Think geography, regions, and land forms. A logical connection here is to have students draw or paint landscapes. If you are lucky enough to be at a school that has mountains or other interesting landforms nearby, this art lesson can be taken outside for “plein aire” drawing, requiring students to observe the environment. Take clipboards and some colored pencils. Or draw with crayons, then bring the drawings in and paint over them with watercolors for a lesson in wax-resist, color mixing, and color theory.

A common activity during patriotic holidays looks at symbols and/or has students color in American flag pictures. But there are a number of famous artists (Alexander Calder and Jasper Johns come to mind) who have used the American flag as inspiration for paintings, collages, and sculptures. Students can look at some of these examples and create beautiful, imaginative, abstract patriotic color collages out of cut or torn paper... something just a little different, highly decorative, and even thought-provoking if students are asked to keep the red/blue/white relationships intact. Imagine a set of these symbolic abstracts on a bulletin board that includes a Pledge of Allegiance poster!

When learning about communities, students can create drawings of cityscapes, perhaps on black paper with white chalk drawings for a lesson in using negative space. For a more artistic adventure, take an extra half hour for students to do a quick watercolor wash in warm or cool colors, then cut out their cityscapes and glue them onto the watercolor wash for a "sky" background. A lesson like this can also include patterning and symmetry, bringing in another math component!

Language Arts:
What elementary classroom teacher hasn’t asked students to draw an illustration for a story and then been disappointed with drawings that are small, incomplete, and messy? Given just a little more time and some basic instruction and tips, students can turn out quality illustrations to enhance any kind of student work.

A friend once asked me to do a lesson on making book covers with his 3rd grade students because he was disappointed in the covers they were making. I had the students do some close looking at several picture book covers, did a quick overview of people drawing strategies, and made some composition suggestions, like using bold colors and large drawings. And I gave them white paper. It took less than three hours, and my teacher friend was thrilled with what they had produced, compared to their original attempts.

Poetry writing lessons are a perfect opportunity for integrating art. Poetry requires the stripping away of extra language and focuses on the creation of imagery. So, why stop with the writing, especially for short poems like Haiku or Cinquain? It takes little time for students to recopy their short poems onto white paper, mount them, and create a colorful drawing or collage border that depicts the content of the poem and makes a connection between the written and the visual.

Looking at and talking about art, starting with picture book illustrations and moving on to great art works, can help teach, reinforce, and review language arts concepts such as making comparisons (Picasso vs. Klee), identifying main ideas (What's going on in this painting?), finding details (What do you see?), and distinguishing fact from opinion (what you see vs what you think). Discussions about art works can build vocabulary, encourage students to talk about their observations, teach about other cultures, and give students ideas for their own illustrations and other art work.

Some food for thought:
Integrating authentic art instruction across the curriculum is a win-win: it lets students express themselves, teaches them responsibility and problem-solving, gives them an alternate way to interpret and enhance what they learn, and more. And perhaps most importantly, it engages and includes those visual learners who need to pictures to help them interpret and understand the world around them.

Authentic art instruction requires student creativity to drive the finished product. It includes looking at famous art works as historical, cultural, and meaningful. It facilitates students to think about line, color, texture, value, and space. It increases vocabulary, generates discussion, facilitates problem-solving, and can teach respect for the ideas of others.

Moving beyond simple cut-and-paste craftivities (which also develop important skills, to be sure) and carelessly-drawn stick people (a lazy habit) and into authentic art lessons that foster creativity and self-expression does not require vast amounts of extra time, and the benefits are tremendous.

Asking students to think and work like artists presents opportunities that foster self-expression and problem-solving, and can help them find new and creative ways to demonstrate their learning. Download my free resource for teachers,Making Time For Art for more ideas and suggestions for creating an art-friendly classroom, and check out my blog, Creating Art With Kids, for narratives on art lessons.

And go ahead… make some time for Art! 

About the Author: Renée Goularte is a retired elementary teacher, a former art-instructor, a working artist, and a writer. She has taught all elementary grades from K-5 and with special groups including GATE, ELL, and at-risk students, and is dedicated to helping non-art teachers bring more authentic art instruction into their classrooms. Read more about her art lessons on her blog, Creating Art With Kids, and get more ideas for integrating art across the curriculum with Making Time For Art, a free resource from her TeachersPayTeachers store.
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