Tip of the Week
The Race to the Moon, 1960's...
Back in the "olden days," before A Nation at Risk, before No Child Left Behind, teachers taught children in a free-form, holistic approach. I remember, as an elementary student, creating a mini-world out of moss and soldier lichens in a mason jar in 3rd grade, creating a cloud in a bottle in 5th grade (with the help of my teacher's lit cigarette -- I know, I know -- but this was the 60's...), learning how to play chess in 5th grade, and dissecting a humongous cow eyeball in 6th grade. We created weather maps, backdrops and props for school plays, and photo albums of our class field trips to a local pond.
Kids these days still do some of these things, but a greater portion of these activities has been condensed to less and less of the weekly schedule, to make way for more explicit skills instruction. We know the reasons for this, some political, some educational. And we have definitely seen that some specific groups of children have historically been "left behind:" students with disabilities, students of color, urban children, poor children, and students who are learning a second language. For many of these groups, our hyperfocus on skills has produced great gains, and we've learned to be better diagnosticians and better teachers. But, alas, we are seeing some of the unintended consequences of this skills-focus, as well: kids who passively attend classes, waiting to be "filled" with information; students who do not know how to think, question or wonder, or problem-solve; and children (and teachers!) who question the relevance of the material that is being taught to today.
The Giant Circle
Here we are in 2012. The Common Core State Standards have raised the bar for many educators and their students. The Next Generation Science Education Standards imminent release have schools scrambling to, once again, find time for science instruction in a schedule previously usurped by reading, writing and mathematics, the "testable" subjects. A sluggish American economy has forced districts to more and more with less and less.
There is a movement afoot to return to teaching rich topics, and infuse the literacy and numeracy skills required to learn important scientific and historical ideas: a rising number of "theme" public schools as choices in urban areas; a growing number of charter schools devoted to the arts or sciences; STEM magnet schools emerging across the country. Along with this, there are thousands of teachers trying to go back to the "old" way of teaching, with the "new" way of looking at skills and standards infused within.
I am having a great time working with teachers all over, as they explore favorite topics through the lens of the Common Core State Standards. Here is the first in a series of articles on creating integrated, standards-based curriculum.
Wildflowers and Seeds, an Integrated Study for Fall
I am building an elementary unit for the start of the school year, on wildflowers and seeds. I chose this topic because I have a desire to build a series of studies around short nature walks and hikes that can be conducted anywhere. One of the things the students will readily observe in September is an abundance of late summer wildflowers in flower and bearing seeds.
I know that I want to emphasize several key ideas:
- Nature Study
- Rules, Routines and Procedures for a New School Year
- Describing with Adjectives
Brainstorming, by Content Area
- seed dispersal mechanisms
- observation strategies
- science journals
- nature centers (learning centers)
- weather data (to accompany the skill of observation)
- exploring the 100 grid
- exploring the number line
- navigating the math text book
- exploring number facts (fact families, x tables..)
Everyday Math includes many activities such as these as the entire first unit in many grade levels. I want to include the specific learning task, "Numbers All Around."
- exploring time lines
- exploring maps & globes
The overall focus for social studies will be on building a community of learners.
English Language Arts
- Reading/Literature: Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney (done in "Five in a Row" style)
- Reading/Informative Texts: understanding and using field guides to wildflowers
- Reading/Foundations: using context clues to identify meaning of unknown words in context
- Writing: Perspective of a type of seed (strategy: RAFT paper)
- Language: adjectives and adverbs (strategy: "Dressed Up Sentences")
- Speaking/Listening: asking and answering questions
See links for additional information on the FIAR strategy and RAFT paper details, including purchase information, where applicable.
More About "Five in a Row"
Many homeschoolers develop integrated studies around high-quality children's literature by using a technique called, "Five in a Row" (FIAR). This curriculum building technique, developed by Jane Claire Lambert and Becky Jane Lambert, is an easy, fun way to build a collection of learning tasks that are connected to one another, by using a great book as the connector.
In the wildflowers and seeds unit I am developing, I know that I want to use Miss Rumphius
as my "spine," because the text has an engaging story line, interesting and deep characters, a moral and a clear connection to the science topic (seeds and wildflowers). Because of the quality of the literature, I know that I will be able to consider a great many connections to various content areas, giving me (and my kids) many different ideas for an integrated unit. (Click on the photo for ordering information).
In FIAR, a piece of literature (or a chapter, if it is a novel) is read (or re-read) every day of the week. Each day, learning tasks are developed which correspond to a particular content area. Let's consider Miss Rumphius for a moment:
Monday (Social Studies): All About Maine (geography, topography, history, climate and culture, coastlines... whatever fits my grade-level social studies curriculum)
Tuesday (English Language Arts): A Character Study: Miss Rumphius
Wednesday (Creative Arts): The Dry-brush Watercolor Technique (art response to literature)
Thursday (Applied Mathematics): Our Classroom Weather Calendar (sun index, length of day, high/low air temperature, rainfall... whatever fits my grade-level math measurement standards)
More About RAFT Papers
are a Project CrISS Strategy for helping students organize their writing. The acronym, RAFT, stands for...
For a study of wildflowers to go with Miss Rumphius, how about a study of seed dispersal mechanisms?
- Role = a burdock fruit (burr)
- Audience = a neighborhood cat
- Format = a thank you note
- Topic = helping the burr move to a new home next door
- Role = a poison ivy berry
- Audience = a cedar waxwing (bird)
- Format = a persuasive letter
- Topic = why the two should become friends
- Role = a dandelion tuft
- Audience = the local meteorologist
- Format = a letter to the editor
- Topic = review of the local weather forecasts
- Role = a jewelweed plant
- Audience = little kids
- Format = instructions
- Topic = how to make a seed rocket
More Links on Miss Rumphius
, outdoor education
, lesson plans
, hands on activities
, Simple Science Strategies
, Five in a Row
, integrated curriculum
With the increased focus on the Common Core State Standards
in all content areas, science and social studies teachers are looking for ways to include additional, authentic literacy experiences in their instruction. Journaling and notebooking activities can be used to incorporate more writing task within your science classes.
"An Apple a Day" is the first in a series of science journaling pages that follows the apple tree
throughout the year. This first set focuses on the formation of the apple fruit from the flower.
See Simple Science Strategies
as additional sets are posted, including the next set (prepared for October), which will focus on the development of fruit and foliage color in the fall.
September has been a busy month in the schools I have visited. With Hurricane Irene delaying the start of school in many districts, even up to an entire week, and certainly disrupting home life for hundreds of thousands of people, it seems like everything we need to do in a school has been compressed to an excruciating degree. But the children are happy, and ready to learn!
Here are some tips and tools that will make getting your Professional Learning Communities, Data Teams and Grade-Level Teams up and running smoothly this fall:
September Data Team "To-Do's"
Here is a list of things that most teams will have accomplished by the end of September:
- First Instructional Data Team meeting held; meeting schedule set for the year
- General look at end-of-year data or beginning of year data for incoming students
- Binder for data team minutes, forms set up
- Assessment calendar developed for the year (district and school assessments)
- Assessment portfolio set up or updated (optional; may be part of data team record)
- Universal screens and/or diagnostic assessments administered to new students
- First pre-assessment developed
- First pre-assessment scheduled, including date to analyze data
- First School Data Team held; school-wide goals set for literacy, numeracy and climate.
During September, teams may review with math and literacy staff the names of students identified for Tier 3 support the previous spring. Decision-rules may be determined for identification of students for Tier 2 support, with the help of outside consultants and literacy/numeracy specialists.
Tier 3 intervention groups begin as soon as practical in September.
October Data Team "To-Do's"
As September winds to a close, we begin to look ahead to the tasks for October:
- First pre-assessment administered, collaboratively scored, and analyzed by data team;
- First SMART Goal (literacy or numeracy) established
- Instructional plan for addressing prioritized student needs developed by grade-level teams
- Calendar set up for monitoring first SMART Goal; plans for developing additional SMART Goal (literacy of numeracy) scheduled, as time permits
- School Data Team revises or develops School Improvement Plan, schedule and plan for monitoring Instructional Data Teams
Tier 2 interventions usually begin in October.
Here are some tools that you might find useful as you begin your year with data:
- The Common Core State Standards are newly revised, national standards for literacy and numeracy, as well as literacy and numeracy in the content areas, that have been adopted by most states in the United States as their state standards. If your team has not previously used the CCSS to plan, begin this year by using the CCSS as you develop assessments, new curriculum and instructional plans in your data teams.
- When a task from a pre-assessment is complex or gives unusual results, a task deconstruction organizer is helpful to determine what students must be able to know, understand and do to be successful at the task. The results of this analysis can be used to determine the focus for the SMART Goal.
- When a strategy is selected to address a learning need, it is beneficial to write up an instructional plan, to ensure that all members of the team understand how to incorporate the strategy into an appropriate instructional sequence. Modeling of the strategy in use is helpful during this stage.
- To make sure that the focus remains on changes in adult behaviors, it is helpful to define indicators of success for implementation of the strategy, in terms of observable adult behaviors, student behaviors and evidence in student work.
The Blog Carnival for the The Little Green Corner, September Edition
will be extended for two more weeks, due to the delayed opening for many schools in the Northeast. I know that many of you have been accessing the newsletter and the nature study posts, and we want to give you all a chance to contribute to the carnival as you finish your studies.
Here are blog entries for suggested nature studies for the month:
Here are some additional entries that might give you some ideas for nature study:
Stay tuned for links to the September Nature Study #4: Moonwatching. In the mean time, check out these resources to add to your earth science studies:
Have a wonderful last week of September! Pick some apples! Make some applesauce!
, nature study
, outdoor education
, professional development
, team building
, technology, planning tools, resources
, science, physics, flight
, lesson plans
, data teams
, earth science
The Little Green Corner
- Strategy of the Month: Using Your Senses
- September Nature Study Ideas: Ants, Mushrooms, Moonwatching and Migration
- September Specials and Links
- For Your Library: The One Small Square Series, by Donald Silver
- Skill of the Month: Observation
- Organizer of the Month: The Bubble Map
- Thematic Learning Centers Ideas
newsletter edition, which will be published on this blog on the first
of each month, will contain these features, links to downloadable
resources, and links to online resources for lesson planning. These
newsletters will be followed up by individual posts on the nature study
ideas, for those who would like more details on how to study that topic
and connect it to other content areas.
The newsletter can
be downloaded and printed, or viewed online (when viewed online, you
will be able to follow the many hyperlinks to other documents, web
activities and printables).
Please let me know
how you used the nature study ideas in your homeschool or classroom. Use
the ideas in the newsletter and blog, or find your own topics. Then
make sure that you share the link to your blog or website in Mr. Linky
on my blog page at A Child's Garden, as well as The Little Green Corner Blog Carnival, so others can see.
Coming on September 9, 2011: The Ants Go Marching...
Didn't it seem like summer went on forever when you were a kid? I can recall laying on my back, watching big, fluffy, white clouds roll by, feeling like time was just standing still.
I'm not sure if it's our longer school calendar, or that I'm just getting older, but it was just the last day of school, then I blinked my eyes and we were shopping for school supplies all over again.
I DO love this time of the year, and loved it as a teacher, as well. I was always eager to dive into teaching, refreshed by at least a few moments on the beach, or in a boat, or lounging on the back porch, or digging in the garden. But I also knew that my head (and the kids' heads!) would still be lingering in summer mode for awhile. So I planned the start of my year to account for this.
In Guiding Readers and Writers, Grades 3-6,
Fountas and Pinnell talk about using a writing journal to collect writing "seeds." Aside from the fact that the gardening analogy touches my heart, I like this idea for the start of the year, because it is a way for kids to get back into the habit of putting pencil to paper, without feeling the pressure to develop an entire writing piece. Besides, that's how real authors write!
I used to use a set of activities called "On the Chalkboard," by r-w-t: the Magazine for Reading-Writing-Thinking
(which is no longer in print), as fun sparks for some creative writing. I used one prompt a day (things like, "List words for the suffix '-ize." "The future belongs to those who..." "I walked slowly to the batter's box..." "Going to bed too late is the cause. List the effects."). Students would respond in their spiral writing notebook, dating each entry. We did this for at least a month. By the end of the month, most students had come upon an idea that they wanted to develop further as a writing piece, be it a poem, a personal narrative, or something else entirely.
I have created a calendar for September
, with some September-themed ideas for writing. I have elected to make them nature-themed, to encourage kids to go outside each day. Consider including a 10-minute stroll around the perimeter of the school yard as a spark for student writing, also -- add it as a break during a stretch of instruction, to help kids settle in for the afternoon, for example.
I created two summer calendars, as well, which I will re-post here (July
). Handbook of Nature Study
has a "Last Days of Summer"
Challenge, with 30 days worth of outdoor activities to do before the official end of summer ("Eat corn on the cob or watermelon." "Make a shadow."). Wouldn't these be great ideas for a writing journal for young children? This would make a great addition to your welcome letter -- students could begin it now, and continue in through the first month of school.
If you love nature study and want to know more about how to create integrated units of study based on 10-15 minute daily outdoor observation, head toward my blog, "A Child's Garden."
I bid you all peace --
Summer Writing Ideas...
I can recall those spring days as a classroom teacher, when kids (and I!) just seemed to be hitting our stride, and then the end of the year loomed large and so very final.
We so want the best for our own kids, and don't want them to lose this critical momentum, as they head into the lazy days of summer. As teachers, we craft summer packets, journals, and activity calendars, in the hopes of keeping those new skills honed until the students return in the fall. I can remember even offering incentives (that's a fancy word for a "bribe," isn't it?) for students who completed the summer work (relax... I gave them a coupon for a free book from the September book club order).
But what, exactly, SHOULD we expect from our own children over the summer? What are fun, engaging, and high-impact activities that help keep our own kids' brains busy and wrinkly in July and August?
Here are some different types of journals that your children can keep over the summer, that will help them chronicle their summer adventures, build their literacy skills, and keep learning front and center, without taking away from the relaxed summer schedule.
1. An ABC Book (pre-K-1)
This was always a treat with my eldest son, when he was a preschooler. I purchased one of those photo albums with the "cling" pages, and labeled each page with one letter of the alphabet (upper and lower case). As part of our read-aloud time, we would read magazines, finding pictures of things that began with each letter, then we'd cut them out and slip them under the plastic part of the page. I made sure to include familiar and favorite things (we had photos of family members and pets, things that would remind us of vacation spots, and, of course, "pisketti," but we made sure to file the last one under "s" for "spaghetti").
As kids get older, you can add words they can read to the pictures, or letters written in different fonts.
The nice thing about this "journal" is it can grow and change with the child.
2. A Daily Illustration Journal (K-2)
My eldest son recently moved into a new townhouse apartment. Storage space is at a premium, so he and his brother (who is also moving) came by with boxes of stuff they wanted, but couldn't store presently. Evan excitedly opened one box, and took out a yellowed butcher-paper "journal," that I immediately recognized as his pre-kindergarten "Vacation Journal." Each page had a detailed drawing of something interesting that happened during each day of our 10-day vacation in Maine, with labels and narration transcription added by Yours Truly. We sat on the bumper of his car and read every page -- I got a little melancholy!
Special vacations are an excellent opportunity to practice a sense of storytelling with little ones. Let them choose the important event -- you might think it was the ferry ride to Puffin Rock, but your child might think his uncle's "vacation hair" was far more worthy of documentation (that was actually one of the "chapters" in Evan's journal!). Write down every detail and word your child says about the illustration -- they love to see how much they know about something, unhindered by writing it themselves.
3. Story Map Booklets (K-1)
When I taught 1st graders, I used to have them make simple story maps by folding a piece of blank paper in thirds, then opening the paper up to make a trifold "map." The student would illustrate something important from the beginning, the middle and the end of a story (usually our read-aloud), then add whatever words they'd like to add.
Make a goal with your kids to make a map for 10 books over the summer. Make sure that you write the title and author of the book on each page. Let your child decide how much or how little to write, but emphasize adding lots of details to their illustrations.
4. Nature Journals (all ages, including adults)
I have a friend whose family had a "summer" house that all the family members shared. They had a wonderful custom of keeping a notebook of looseleaf paper by the bay window. Each page was carefully labeled with the day of the year, from January 1 all the way through December 31, but not with the year. Anyone visiting the house would chronicle their visit on the appropriate day of the year, by entering the YEAR, then their note. They added taped in bird feathers, photos, sketches, pressed flowers or whatever else they wished. It was neat to see one day described, from one year to the next.
In our family's summer home, we keep a similar notebook, but it contains a monthly birding list (to which we sometimes add butterflies, moose sightings and other wildlife). And, of course, the journal, itself contains the "lunker" record, of the largest catch of any particular stay at the house (Family Rule: it has to make it into the boat to count).
Your kids can add to these, or create their own. You can use blank pages, or download notebooking pages from a site such as The Notebooking Treasury
. I use the strategy called, "Fill in With Words
," where a photo, pressed flower or taped in memento is surrounded on the page with as much as the child can say about it, trying to fill in all the white space. Here, the goal is quantity.
4. Digital Scrapbook (middle school and up)
Nowadays, kids have a leg up on our generation when it comes to technology. There are a ton of sites available where you can upload your digital photos, and create virtual scrapbooks by adding scrapbooking elements, borders and other interesting decor. All, free, and drag-and-drop!
Here are some that you might explore -- make it a family activity for evenings at the Cape, or for when you come back from vacation!
FREE! FREE! FREE! [Who doesn't like free?]
Do you have high schoolers that you are homeschooling, or that you want to keep brain busy over the summer? Check out Barbara McCoy's article on Notebooking for Highschoolers
Are you a teacher or a homeschooler with a library busting at the seams? Take a look at how one teacher created a leveled classroom library
using Scholastic's Book Wizard
. [I am currently leveling my own homeschool library, using the Book Wizard]. Also check out LiveBinders
, which is an amazing virtual "notebook" for organizing just about any electronic resource you'd want to organize: video clips, websites, documents, photos... I'm using it to organize virtual learning centers...
|(Reprinted from A Child's Garden: Dandelions: A Bilingual Lesson on Plant Anatomy and Life Cycles)
When I was a resource room teacher, I learned a game that I have used
for spelling, vocabulary and literacy learning centers, ever since. It
is called Firecracker, and all you need to make your own game is an empty Pringles containerand some small notecards or plastic plant tags.
1. Prepare a container for your game. An old Pringles can works
great, is free, and looks like a firecracker. Wipe out the inside of the
container with a paper towel to remove crumbs and any residual grease.
Cover the outside of the container with a sheet of construction paper
and label your game (NOTE: A sheet of 8-1/2 x 11 paper wraps
neatly around the container without too much trimming). I label the game
"Firecracker," then add whatever the focus is, for easy identification
2. Select the material for your word study cards
For vocabulary cards, I use pre-scored business cards (the kind that
you run through your printer) -- they're pretty, and just the right
size. Of course, you can cut your own -- not a bad option if you have a
paper cutter. Cards work best if they are on card stock, and not paper.
You could get fancy and laminate them, but I never did -- it was an
unnecessary step, I thought. Use marker and bold color to write on the
If you are making a spelling game, I would suggest using plastic
garden plant labels. You will want to put a lot of words with the same
spelling focus in the can, and plastic tags work perfectly. Plus, they
are sturdy, and appeal to the tactile learner. Use a Sharpie to write on
3.Choose your words
, and create the cards/tags for your focus.
Write in marker, so it's easy to see quickly. If you'd like to highlight
the spelling rule or word study focus, write that part of the word in a
contrasting color (e.g., for long vowel patterns with the "a" sound,
write the part of the word that makes the "a" sound in a bright color
(not red -- we'll need that for the next step!), and the rest of the
word in black). You can even have the kids create the game cards as part
of their copywork. In the photo above (an animal taxonomy game), you
can see that I also included picture cards that came in my son's National Geographic for Kids
magazine -- include some pictures when working with younger children or
more challenging activities. Try to have at least 30 word cards, to
make the game the most fun.
4. Make 2-3 "firecrackers" to put in the can. Make these the same way you make the word cards, except write "FIRECRACKER!" in red marker.
5. Play the Game! This game works best for 2-4 players. Players
take turns drawing one card or tag from the can (no peeking!). After
viewing the word, the player must cover the word and spell it out loud
(or, in the case of our vocabulary, read the English word, then produce
the Spanish word, which is written on the back, or vice versa). If the
player is correct, he gets to keep the card. Play continues
counterclockwise. The player with the most correct when all the cards
are read, wins.
Here's the fun part: if a player draws one of the "firecrackers,"
everyone shouts "Firecracker!" and the player who drew the "firecracker"
must return all his cards to the can (kind of like having to go back to
start in Candyland...).
Start saving your Pringles cans -- make a new game for each word study you have!
I know that we are doing some math review this summer -- perhaps you
are, too. For ideas on how to use real-life opportunities, such as
grocery shopping, gardening, or Bible study, to reinforce important math
skills and concepts, see my revised article, Living Math: Beyond Math Facts
Have a terrific week! Play outside!
I just don't know what we did without the Internet years ago. There is so much information available to us all now, right at our fingertips (literally!) that we need a guidebook in order to sift through it all.
If you're like me, you take in information best when it's timely, connected to what you're looking at right now. That is the goal of our blog -- to bring you information from our experience and from the field that it "right now" information, the stuff that you can apply tomorrow.
If you subscribe to our feed, you will get an email update when we have posted a new tip or idea. Or bookmark us, and come back weekly, as we will be updating regularly with highlights from our workshops, research articles on current topics in education, and teacher tips.
Today's blog will be longer, as it is also introducing you to the various parts of our online "PD." Check back frequently, as we will be posting new information regularly.
Tip of the Week: Action Planning for 2011-12
As Northside Consulting staff members are working with schools this week, we are finding many are wrapping up this school year and beginning to set their sights on next year. Part of healthy team function is time built in for "process checks" and celebrations. If your team is finishing up data for the year and wondering how to best use your team time as the years winds to a close, consider this protocol for team reflection and action planning. For more information on professional development to help your team plan strategically, see our team training opportunities.
Here are some other links you might find useful:
1. Getting the Most Out of Field Trips
The end of the year often spells "road trip" for classroom teachers. How do we get the most instructional impact from these excursions? Check out our Beardsley Zoo article
, to see how one field trip can be connected to high-quality instruction in all content areas.
2. Bringing the Classroom Outdoors
Maybe your school isn't air-conditioned. Maybe your students are gazing longingly at the greenery, and ignoring your lively SmartBoard presentation. Maybe you, yourself, are distracted by the birds and having a hard time getting into your read-aloud. Take the class outside! Just 5 minutes of nature study can yield hours of follow-up learning, and build the inquiry skills that we want to cultivate in our learners.
3. Where Math, Art and Nature Collide: Fractals
I remember the routine: you get the email from the administrator with the checklist for preparing your classroom for the summer, including taking down things from the walls. Chances are, you are already quietly putting away the things that the humidity is causing to "pop' off the bulletin board. What to do with those bare walls and the last weeks of school to keep kids engaged?
Consider a unit on fractals, those repeating patterns that are seen in nature. Fill the bulletin boards with photographs from magazines, or (better yet) take the digital camera outside and photograph beautiful, natural objects, and lead the students through some of the explorations of "Fractals in Nature: Geometry Meets Nature Study
4. Nature Study and "Notebooking"
Take your writing class outside for a living "story starter." A five-minute nature study can spark even the most reluctant writers, and can help students practice elaboration by keeping their focus small and detail-oriented. Follow our nature blog, "A Child's Garden," for tips on things you might be able to study outside right now. Also check out "Handbook of Nature Study" for more discussion on "notebooking" as a writing form, and for many, many activities and downloadable journal pages that will spark your students' artistic, scientific and journalistic skills!
, field trips
, nature study
, nature trails
, outdoor education
, professional development
, teacher training
, team building