Thursday, November 13, 2014

Veterans Day

As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, I hold a special place in my heart for veterans of all generations. When I was 17, I traveled to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I stood in awe of two things; how massive the black granite wall stood, and how very small the names were. My dad still has a strong bond and current relationship with the band of brothers he served with during that time. Recently, I decided to create a project centered around this day.
My dad comes every year to share our family military history. The top right picture is kids who stayed in at recess to ask him more questions. The bottom right picture is my dad sharing the black powder horn that my great, great, grandfather used in the civil war.

The academic part of the project included students researching the history behind this day. Did you know the rest of the world calls Veterans Day, Remembrance Day? Did you know that it was first called Armistice Day to recognize the end of WWI? Did you know that for a while it was celebrated during the 4th Monday in October? How about that Veterans Day has no apostrophe, what?? (yeah that was new to me) These were all things my third graders found out during their research.
How we start the project
This research was compiled into an Explain Everything. This is an iPad app that creates power point type presentations. The neat thing is you can add your voice to the slides. So they become narrated slide shows.

Next, we researched our family military history. This included interviewing living relatives or researching stories about deceased relatives. Students learned about the people in their lives that gave up so much to build this country. If possible we invite guest speakers in to share with the class about their experience. This year we had 5 guest speakers!

One parent shared with me that she didn't realize that they didn't talk about what their relatives had done. Her child was so proud to find out that she had four veterans in her family. Students bring in pictures, uniforms, medals, and other artifacts. These along with their interview forms allow students to create "stand in" interviews. Students are interviewed "standing in" for their relative. They share the the details they learned about their lives. These interviews are video taped using an iPad.

Finally, students turn investigative reporters and interview living veterans who attend our school veterans appreciation breakfast. Most veterans are more than willing to share their experience. In fact, I think they feel honored that we are even interested. This year we interviewed approximately 30 veterans.

All of this culminates into an iMovie that includes their Explain Everything, their stand in interviews if applicable, and their live interviews.

Putting the pieces together in their iMovie. They need quiet space to record or listen so we end up all over the building. It's a little like herding cats!

My goals for this project are always for my students to be able to research information, summarize the important facts by taking notes, and share their information in a way that conveys their message. However, with this project there is a much deeper goal in mind...for students to better understand what it means to put on the uniform of this country. The sacrifice that the solider and the family they leave behind make. Ultimately to gain a better appreciation for those who have served and those who are serving.

Our poppy art infusion. We used these to decorate for the Veterans Day breakfast.

What kind of special things do you do to honor our Veterans? I'd love to hear about them, comment below.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Great Teacher is...

Have you ever asked yourself in the depths of a bad day, "Why do I do this?" "Why did I decide to teach?" I am sure we've all done it. Here we are in the midst of summer, with the long days of lesson planning, grading, and organizing fading; and the fresh start of the back to school season ahead of us. Fresh ideas and faces and a whole year ahead to make memories and of course learn a few things.

I recently read an article in the Summer 2014 School & Community magazine (this is my local state teacher association publication) titled: A Great Teacher is... In this article students K-12 were asked, what makes a great teacher.

Here were a few of their answers, of course there were answers that make you laugh like:

  • You can visit them eney time in thier class because you can have a snack on fun Friday and your teacher will dress nice. --Shaylee 1st grader West County Elementary, Central R3
  • A great teacher loves ALL of her children. And she lets you have caterpillars in your classroom. --Emma 1st grader Masterson Elementary, Kennett 39
  • Good teachers should not let snakes out of their cages Maddisyn 2nd Grader Rolla 31
Then there were those that touched your heart
  • A great teacher is someone who pushes you, but not too hard. They have to understand you and get to know you. Rylie 4th grader Boswell Elementary, Lebanon R3
  • Teachers are great because of what they love some love math some love reading some love science but most of all they love us. Brianna 4th grader, Highland Elementary, Lewis CO. C-1
Here were my absolute favorites
  • All I know is I have a great one. I don't know what makes her so great, but she is. Lydia 4th grader Lebanon R3
  • What makes a great teacher is someone who teaches you more than just that subject. They teach you how to be a better person, how to act everyday, and live your life to the fullest. Teachers teach, but great teachers help us learn and live. Brooklyn, 12th grader, Fairfax R-3
Wow! How would you like to be that student's teacher. This article got me thinking...what do I think makes a great teacher? Again here it is the midst of summer, I've finally had some time to relax. Our two weeks of state testing is far behind us and so are the months of work that went into those two weeks, but soon the results will be released and we will be in "data mode". I am a lover of all things data related and am anxiously awaiting the charts, graphs, numbers and comparisons to my predictions. It is a sickness that is highly contagious. Our, patient zero, so to speak has been my principal who has really taught me how to use data not as a judgement tool, but to guide my identify my strengths and weaknesses and to help our building as a whole improve.  I say this because I never want the numbers, good or bad, to overshadow the achievements my students and I made together. So this blog post is to remind us 

Why do we do this...
What makes a great teacher...

A great teacher LOVES children, ALL children. They can see the talents in any child and use those to their advantage. So you may not be the best reader, but you are a whiz at math. Using these hooks we can get any student to try. Trying is all it takes to move forward and forward is where we want all students to go. They may not all end up crossing the same finish line, but a great teachers marches their students forward.

A great teacher pushes their students. This means pushing them outside of their comfort zone, it means making them feel uncomfortable, on purpose. It means NOT always giving them the answers. I always tell my students if it is hard then you are learning. If things are easy that means you already knew how to do it. Students need to understand that hard is a good thing and that most often, improvement comes after some sort of failure.

Great teachers strive to build relationships with each student. They are loyal, trustworthy and are great listeners. They "know" their students and in turn they "know" how to help them succeed. I feel my students would move mountains for me if I asked, simply because they know I love them.

Great teachers analyze, reflect, and plan for the future. They take ownership of their own learning. They share their strengths with others colleagues and they seek out strong teachers to balance out their weaknesses. 

So in this back to school season, with the release of new testing data, don't forget about what makes you great! It may not be reflected in the numbers on the page, but it is reflected in hearts of your students.

Now in the words of Kid President... Go out and be awesome!!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Wonder"ings About Classroom Climate & a Book Review

If you haven't read Wonder by R.J. Palacio then you are missing out on probably the most transformative book I've ever read. The impact of reading this book myself and reading it to my students has challenged my thinking about the way I create a classroom community. It has provoked me to imagine a world where all people are appreciated as individuals. A world where students think about the effects of their actions ahead of time and grow up to be adults that do the same. A world where people behave "Kinder Than is Necessary". Mighty utopian you might say. Too much Hunger Games, and Divergent reading for you.... However, after reading this book to my third graders I am inspired to believe that we can begin a ripple of change that has the ability to catalyze into a real movement. I believe this, because the alternative is to stay the course which isn't bad, I have a positive classroom climate with students who are compliant and even kind most of the time. However, this isn't the revolutionary change that this book has inspired in me.

So what is the life-changing book about you might say? This is a poignant story of a 5th grade boy named August who attends public school for the first time in his life. August was born with a multitude of facial abnormalities.  His multiple surgeries, high maintenance health care needs, and a weakened immune system made it challenging for August to attend school. However, his parents feel that it is important for him to face the world outside of his home. Although August is scared his deepest desire is to be treated normally.  Cleverly the author never gives us a clear picture of what August looks like. At one point in August's narration he explains that he won't bother to describe what he looks like, because whatever you are thinking it is probably worse. Palacio drops bread crumbs along the way to help you create your own image of what August looks like. The story continues and follows August's journey through school. The stares, the gasps, the teasing, the unlikely friendships, and the betrayal.

What sets this book apart is that it is told from multiple main characters points of view. The story begins with August's narration, then as each character begins their narration the book resets itself and retells the same key events from an alternative point of view. Beautifully and honestly told, my third graders hung on every word. They championed August and were ready to go to war for him when he was slighted. I can sincerely say I've never had a classroom reaction to a read aloud as I did to Wonder. 

At one point in the story, after August has suffered a particularly painful experience, he asks his mother if he will always have to worry about these same jerks. I paused the story for one of those "teachable moments" and asked my class would he? They promptly responded with a exuberant "Yes!" I pushed forward and asked, should he? They chimed in with "No." That led me to think what could we do to keep the Augusts (and everyone else in the world) from experiencing the "jerks". I asked them. They mentioned; stand up for him, be his friend and many similar answers. I wanted more. I wanted them to see that standing up for him was after the fact! So I asked: Could we make sure that we aren't the "jerks" that August or others have to face. The light bulbs went on and I choked back a few tears as I saw them make connections to the way they had been treated or the way they had treated others.

In the final chapters of the book, Palacio beautifully captures the theme of the book...Be kinder than is necessary for the situation. Really let that soak into your bones,

 Kinder than is Necessary.

I know I am a kind person, but do most of us practice being kinder than is necessary for the situation. One character in the book chooses to eat lunch with August on the first day of his new school. She wasn't asked to do it ahead of time, she just saw the situation and acted out of kindness. This one event changed August entire journey. This made me think, could we teach kids to evaluate and reflect on situations using this meter stick?

So from the reflections of this book a new classroom climate is born. Next year at the start of the year I plan to create a classroom motto based on the theme of "Kinder than is Necessary". It is my hope that every decision we make inside and outside of the classroom can be judged against this benchmark. Obviously this will be helpful with dealing with classroom conflict and disruptions, but I hope that it inspires us to think about ways to actively be kind. Again I know this all sounds utopian, but if we can train students to self evaluate their words, thoughts, and actions there will be a lot fewer "jerks" out there to worry about.

For more resources on this amazing book. #choosekind - Wonder the Movement

I would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to comment below. #choosekind

Monday, June 9, 2014

Professional Development in 2014

As most teachers, I sit here on June 9th looking back through my blog and realizing I haven't posted since November. How does that happen? How do we walk into our classrooms in August and wake up in May? I know you can relate but I had grand aspirations to really develop my blog, but "doing school" just kept getting in the way.

Well friends, school is out (at least for most of us, even though I am still plugging away at summer school) and it is with renewed vigor that I am posting to this blog again. The topic at hand today is Professional Development and what it means in 2014. I know many of you dread the early release and whole day PD sessions throughout the year, the book studies, the videos to watch and reflections to type. However, we all know that this kind of learning is important and it drives us to become better teachers. I am personally lucky to have an amazing principal who is a master at instructional leadership and PD. You won't be grading papers or cutting out lamination at our PD if you know what I'm saying. I know this is not the case for many of us.

What do you do if you are hungry for professional development but your district does not provide quality PD or is not willing to send you to the expensive off site PD sessions? The answer is simple... bring the world to your door.

Even though I am blessed to have great PD on demand, I have reached outside my district to search out those great minds that are "doing school" well. I have brought the world of teaching into my classroom by way of social media. I have  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and FaceBook accounts that I use to track great teachers. I am sure most of you have one or many of these accounts for personal business, but have you thought of the power of these accounts professionally?

If you are a blog stalker like me, most of these bloggers also have social networking accounts. Try searching them out on other platforms. Believe it or not I have had great luck with following teachers on Instagram. They post previews to their blogs, pictures of their classrooms or current projects, and books their reading aloud. It has been a wonderful addition to my PD profile. Some of these bloggers even have special offers (for their TpT accounts) for only their FB or Instagram followers.

I will admit that I am a new Twitter user, I have worked to develop my PLN (professional learning network) and follow many great teachers. However, I was just a troller and didn't feel like I was a real contributor. A colleague of mine Brian McDavitt (click to check out his blog) is an avid Twitter fan and turned me on to #edchats. If you are a Missouri teacher, I suggest you check out #MOedchat on Thursday's from 9-10 (CST). Administrators of this chat select a theme and post about one question every 10 minutes for the hour. You post your answer and interact with others through discussion. It is a great opportunity to meet other teachers, expand your PLN, and bring powerful PD right to your living room. At one point while my husband was watching the NBA finals, he looked up and said "really you need two devices"..."umm yeah I do", was my response. As you can see below we were even trending!
If you you aren't on twitter you need to be! Follow me @jyoung711 I am sure each state has their own #edchat. If you don't have access to great PD then here is a place to start. A plus side is your post can only be 140 characters so no chance to get bored! But more importantly on any of these platforms you can ask questions and get answers quickly from someone who has already figured it out. If they can't answer your question then they can point you in the right direction in the form of people, articles, blogs, or websites.

The world is waiting for you...take a step toward bringing it inside your classroom. 

I'd love to hear how you connect to great teachers. Feel free to comment below.