Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Teeny Tiny Bloggers

This week I debuted blogging in my classroom with private accounts set up through KidBlog.org. The students LOVED it! I mean seriously, half of them blogged that I was the greatest teacher in the world. The more we use it, the more I am started to love it as well. The best part is that kidblog is set up for classes so I have complete control of everything! I can edit/delete their posts and I have to approve their comments on each other's blog before it's public. Also, all the blogs are private so the only people who can access or read their blogs are the other students in the class.

At first I thought it would be a good thing to do during computer center in Daily 5 (some of my students have already finished all the books in raz-kids) but I soon realized I wanted to use it for more. I quickly introduced it to my students in the computer lab and then gave them 20 minutes to write 3 sentences about themself and post it (since we don't get too much practice with typing I thought 3 sentences would keep them plenty busy). I was planning on having to run from computer to computer to trouble shoot, but the room was actually dead silent. About five minutes into the assignment I decided to walk around and see what the students were writing. To my suprise half of them had already posted and taught themselves how to change color, font, text, and add smiley faces. By the time I circled back around to my computer I noticed I had over 20 comments to approve. I was shocked the kids were able to grasp blogging so quickly. At the end of our time in the lab I had over 60 comments to approve and some students had written 2 or 3 posts. I went home after this 20 minute lesson and logged on to write a post for my students. It was then that I noticed some of my students had found out how to access our log-in page from the school's website (you have to click through 4 different websites/links) and were blogging and commenting from home! :)

Since they caught on so fast I realized I had to utilize their blog for something more substantial. I decided that every week I would post an assignment that they could complete during their computer time (they each get at least 20 minutes twice a week during Daily 5). The students know that they are not allowed to write any other posts or read their friend's blogs until they have completed their assignment. This week their assignment was to write two paragraphs about their favorite book; giving a summary and telling why they like it. The students who have already finished did a phenomenal job! In my opinion, it's better than what I would have gotten if they would have written it on paper.

I introduced some rules before we started blogging, but quickly after I realized that I needed to add some more. Here is what we came up with:
1. NO last names, phone numbers, or addresses
2. You cannot write mean things about other students or name mean characters after other students
3. You cannot leave mean comments (I had to clarify that writing a mean comment and then putting "lol" after it does not make it okay)
4. Our blog is NOT facebook or texting (some of my students were writing posts that just said "what's up")
5. You cannot publish a post that is not AT LEAST 5 healthy sentences (we talked about how we blog to become better writers)

And since I love lists, here are the reasons why I will continue to give my students ample oppurtunity to blog:
1. They LOVE it!
2. Encouragement: They leave each other such motivating comments about things that I wouldn't think to say. You can see how much it makes their day to read their friend's comments on something they wrote.
3. Modeling: I complete every assignment with them so they not only get to read my model of the activity but they get to read peer work that is more advanced or shows a different style of writing.
4. Community: All of my students get along for the most part, but I typically have groups of students who hang out all the time. Since the students have been reading everyone's blog and finding out more about them, I have had less arguments and seen more opposites choosing to work with each other. I have also noticed that one of my less popular students has become almost famous in our classroom due to her hilarious stories. It is good to see students starting to value her for her personality and want to get to know her.
5. Parents: Parents are able to read their child's writing and see how other students their age write. This is extremely helpful since sometimes parents of oldest or only children don't really know how their child fares against other students their age. (I've seen parents not believe teachers when they are told their child is behind or low).
6. I enjoy reading it as much as they enjoy writing it! The students also like to read my posts. They think it's funny that I am doing the assignments with them....maybe I will let them grade me?

Does anyone else use blogging in their classroom? I would love to hear how you make it work and what you use it for. All ideas, comments, and questions are welcome.
(Comments from another post)

Image Map

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Students are on the Ball! ...Literally

Fitness balls in the classroom? Oh Yeah! I actually did not purposefully start this idea that I have grown to love. [Be prepared to follow me down a rabbit hole here.] I have been married for about a year now (Feb. 19 yay!) and I had been officially out of my parent's house for over a year before that. Even though I have been out for about 3 years I still have stuff there. A lot of stuff. Stuff that I obviously don't need but keep anyway. Anywho, on one Sunday visit I decided I was going to take some stuff out of my room and help my mom out a little. Well, I ended up leaving with only my hot pink stability/fitness ball. As you can imagine this was of absolutely no help in getting my room cleared out. But, the ball went in my car and stayed in my car...until I got to school one day that week. I was carrying in some other things and I thought I really am not going to use this at home, I might as well give it to my students.

What you need to know about my school is:
My entire school uses "life skill" tickets as a behavior management program. Whenever an adult in the building sees a student use one of our nine life skills (caring, organization, problem solving, etc.) they receive a life skill ticket. Their name goes on the ticket and it goes into a jar in their teacher's classroom. Every Friday afternoon each teacher chooses a life skill and sends it to the office. The principal has a popcorn show on TV and the school gets to watch all the lucky students go on camera to collect their popcorn. This system actually works really well but, some students have realized that the probability of being called for popcorn once a week is very low considering the enormous amount of life skills in the jar. For this reason I draw life skills for various rewards throughout the week so students recognize that the likelihood of their life skill being pulled for a reward is high.

So, I decided that I would pull a life skill every day and the winner would win the fitness ball for the day. I thought my students would like this but I had no idea how much they would absolutely, positively LOVE the ball! They reminded me every morning to pull a life skill and would take care of the ball so well when it was their turn. I remembered reading an article about fitness balls and brain based learning when I was in college so I knew I could support my reasoning to a parent or colleague if I had to.

Shortly after beginning to use the balls I noticed that when a student was using the ball they were more active, out of their seat less, and much more focused. As you can imagine this was much easier to notice with certain students than other. Over time one ball turned to two and then back down to zero as both balls ended up getting accidentally popped. I will note however that they lasted for a very long time before being popped by sharp pencils.

Without any balls in my classroom I noticed a BIG difference in behavior and focus and that is when I began to do some research. If you are a consistent reader of my blog you may know that I tend to obsess when I feel like I'm on to something (Have you noticed I like to notebook?). The more articles I read supporting stability balls in the classroom, the more I wanted stability balls in MY classroom, and not just for 1 or 2 students a day but for everyone.

And then, LIGHTBULB! I could sign up for an account at that great website I remember reading about on a fabulous blog (not sure which one), Donors Choose! I will simply start a Donor's Choose project and ask altruistic people and companies to fund my dream of having a class set of stability balls. Well, I clicked right on over, set up my account, and then began searching for the balls in their inventory...no luck.

Again I was left obsessing about how great it would be to have a class set of balls when a generous parent of one of my accidental poppers decided to send me a check for $30! Now, this was obviously waayyyy too much since I got the balls from Five Below for $5. So like the good little teacher I am I emailed my principal to see what protocol was for personal checks made out to teachers. Two weeks later I got the green light to use the full amount for the classroom materials of my choosing (with a thank you note and copy of the receipt of course). As you might of already guessed from this extra long post my choosing was FIT BALLS ( as my students like to call them). I went to my Five Below and got 6 of them for $30. It is no class set but at least each of my students will get to use them once a week.

During our Monday morning meeting we were reviewing the rules and benefits of the balls (see below) when one of my extra precious students raised her hand. "Mrs. Wiggins, since the balls help up with our health and learning so much, can we just ask our parents to buy us our own for school?" LIGHTBULB! Why had I not  considered this as an option? Students could bring in their own if they wish and the other students could still have rotations through my classroom balls. I plan on presenting this to my principal for feedback and I will let you all know what she decides. I am already mentally drafting a parent letter detailing all the benefits to health and learning with an attached research study of some sort. I know that next year I want to offer the option to bring in a stability ball in September.

Benefits of Fit Balls:
1. Increased blood flow, including blood flow to the brain which helps students academically
2. Engaged bodies, engaged brains
3. Keeps students actively moving without walking around or disrupting classroom (I don't know about you but random wandering is a pet peeve of mine)
4. The ball allows students to get the wiggles out, helping them to focus better
5. Better posture (students are excited to hear will help them in sports)
6. Better coordination
7. Better handwriting due to posture and blood flow
8. Strengthens stomach and back muscles

Read About Benefits and Real Life Examples of Fit Balls in the Classroom:
Third Grade Students & Stability Balls
Increased Attention, Decreased Hyperactivity
Well Rounded Experience
Ditch Chairs

1. Bounce with your feet on the ground (some of my students thought it was okay to roll on their stomach or back at first)
2. Bounce quietly & gently (other students bounced so hard and high that not only was it loud, but they were going up and down way too high to read or write)
3. Respect other people's balls
4. Check your body & clothes for sharp objects before bouncing (this rule would have helped my sharp pencil incident earlier in the year)
5. Check floor before bouncing
6. Fit ball stays at your seat
(We made this today and I plan on adding pictures of students using the ball correctly in the blank spaces.)

Overall it is not hard to manage. Students love the balls and happily follow the rules to be able to keep the ball at their seat. Students know that after one warning for ball misuse their ball can be taken away. I have never had to take a ball away.

I would love to hear your thoughts on using fit balls in the classroom. If you use them, are interested, or have any ideas about them please let me know! Image Map

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Science Notebooking: Animal Adaptations

My students and I had a blast with our animal adaptations unit! The students loved being able to look at pictures, watch videos, and learn facts about real animals that they are interested in. Below are some picutres of how the unit played out in our learning journals.

 Title Page & Table of Contents
 Vocab Sheet 1 & Adaptation Intro Booklet
 Inside Adaptation Booklet
 Camouflage Notes & Questions (Super Teacher Worksheets)
Camouflage Pictures
 Mimicry Notes & Mimicking Animal
 Hibernation Notes & Acrostic Poem
 Hibernation Questions
 Migration Notes & Migration P.O.V. Story
 One of the Migration Question Pages
Adaptation Flipbook & Behavioral Adaptation Sort
 Adaptation Definition, Example, and Picture
 Physical & Behavioral
 Bottom Tier of Flipbook
 Vocabulary Book & Vocab Sheet 2
 Inside Vocabulary Book
 We did A LOT with vocabulary in this unit. There were 20+ words the students had to learn!
 Predator/Prey & Producer, Consumer, Decomposer Sort
I gave them sentences on a separate sheet of paper and they had to sort the items into the correct category for each.
 Carnivore, Herbivore, Omnivore Sort
 Food Chain Pictures
1. Food Chain with Arrow  2. Shows each animal inside their predator
 Food Chain Picture & Question Strip
 Population/Community Notes
 Habitat Notes

I learn so much about notebooking from every unit. From this unit I learned that I want to give them less worksheets and pages to glue in (partly because gluesticks have become like gold in my classroom...I don't know how they go so quickly!). Students did well and showed more creativity when I had them take and illustrate their own notes. I still give them direction, but I have learned that they do well with the freedom. Ex. After learning about Terrestrial, "Write yourself a note that will remind you about what terrestrial means, make sure to include the word "land" somewhere in your note."

I would love to hear any thoughts or ideas!
Image Map