Sunday, July 27, 2014

Stop and Look at the Flowers – Oh and Learn Along the Way

During the summer, most teachers I know spend at least some time planning for the next school year.  My favorite “planning” to do during the summer is field trip planning, because it means I get to tour cool places I’d like to take my students to – often with my own kids in tow.  Here are some of my favorite field trip locations, that can be found in most every community, as well as a list of content connections you can make for your students.  Often as teachers we only include field trips in our science and social studies, but there are lots of reading, writing and math connections that can be made in these locations as well.  I am going to share one type of field trip a week and ideas for making curriculum connections with each field trip.

Make the most out of your next field trip to the botanical gardents with these curriculum connections from Raki's Rad Resources.

Botanical Gardens:  Plants from all different habitats available in one place.  A chance to look at many parts of the life cycles.  Botanical Gardens provide so many different learning possibilities.

Reading:  There are great books out there about plants, including Diary of a Sunflower, the Great Kapok Tree and From Seed to Plant.  Reading the signs and placards at the botanical gardens is a highly overlooked skill – many kids walk right by without gaining that bit of extra information that they can get by looking at the posted signs.

Make the most out of your next field trip to the botanical gardents with these curriculum connections from Raki's Rad Resources.Writing:  Write the life story of one of the plants – from the point of view of the plant.  Look at the scientific names for the plants – see what root words you can find in these names.  Write a letter to the editor about why we should (or shouldn’t) give more money to the Botanical Gardens.

Math:  Create a tally chart to track which types of plants you see – trees, flowers, shrubs, cactus etc.  Measure the height of different plants. 

Science:  Explore the life cycle of a plant.  Note down ways plants are specially adapted to their natural habitat.  Keep track of which plants flower and which plants don’t.  Learn about how plants help out humans.  Choose one plant you see and research further information about it.  Group related plants together and explain how they are similar and how they are different.

Social Studies:  Explore how people have used plants for their benefit – for food, for medicine, for decoration etc.  Explore laws protecting certain types of plants.  Bring world maps and have students label where each type of plant comes from.

To make field trips more educational, I often use graphic organizers and other activities to keep my students focused.  Read more about the specifics in this blog post: Field Trips Aren’t Just For Fun.  Be sure to stop by next week for another Field Trip Curriculum Connection.

What is your best field trip idea?

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Making Recess Fun and Safe

It’s time for recess!!!!  Time for a break!  Time to let the kids be kids!  Time to breath for a minute, maybe even get a word of adult conversation with another teacher.  Until the tattling and accidents start.  We’ve all been there, and it happens in every classroom, but there are some things you can do at the beginning of the year to make recess safer, and more fun – for you and the kids!

 Tips to Making Recess successful, starting from the first day of school - Raki's Rad Resources

1.)  One of the best tips is to start out the year with double the normal recess time.  This additional time will give the kids an adjustment period to get used to being back in school, while giving you more time to teach recess rules.  It’s a win win situation.  Start out by being very clear that for the first two weeks of school (or 3 or 6, or however long you think will be best for your class) there will be additional recess.  Give students a specific date of when this extra privilege will go away, maybe even mark it on the calendar, because otherwise they will be quite upset when the schedule changes.  Don’t expect to get a break during this time, this is the time to set the tone for recess, help students solve their own problems instead of tattling, make it clear what is and isn’t safe etc.  Be on your toes now so that you can have a breather the rest of the year.

Tips to Making Recess successful, starting from the first day of school - Raki's Rad Resource

2.)  Before recess each day, go over the specific expectations of the recess, keeping it as simple and sweet as possible.  Another teacher I worked with used to sum it up with:

Tips to Making Recess successful, starting from the first day of school - Raki's Rad Resource

Have the students recite the expectations every day, so that you know they are internalizing (or at least memorizing) the expectations.  This way, when you have to have a discussion with someone who is not following expectations, you can go back to these expectations that have been clearly stated every day.

 

3.)  As the days go by, you may want to take that moment in the beginning to reflect on what happened yesterday, and how recess could go better today.  ie. “Yesterday, I noticed that some students were kicking rocks and making dust that made it hard for others to play.  Let’s make sure that today we don’t kick rocks and make dust.”  Let kids talk about problems they saw or had – they often see things that we don’t.  And let them help come up with solutions to class problems, as they often they can come up with solutions that are just as good, if not better than ours.

 

4.)  Split recess in half, with structured play in the beginning and free play in the end (or have two recess – one with structured play and one with free play).  This gives kids who have a hard time selecting a game a chance to play in one that has been pre-selected.  Often those students will continue the game into free play, while those who had another idea will switch games as soon as free play is announced.

Tips to Making Recess successful, starting from the first day of school - Raki's Rad Resource

During structured play time, introduce kids to playground games that everyone can participate in, like Duck Duck Goose, Four Square, different variations of Tag, Hot Potato etc.  Often kids have never learned these games and so when it’s time to play, they struggle to come up with a game.  If you introduce new games and their rules to the kids in the beginning of the year, you will often see these games come back later in the year during free play.  Take time to pair up unlikely pairs during this time, so that kids get used to playing with everyone in the class.

 

During free play time, allow it to be FREE play.  Students can play anything, with anyone, as long as they are being safe and kind.  We all need a little time each day to just be us.  This is a true brain break that can allow students’ minds to work better when returning to the classroom.

 

5.)  Don’t be afraid to play yourself!  I have gotten my best work outs by playing tag or jump rope with my students.  It lets them see you in a different light, builds morale, models the importance of physical exercise and is great cardio-vascular work! 

 

6.)  Pair up with another class.  If possible, have recess at a time when another class also goes.  Do both structured and free play together, giving students a chance to work, play and socialize with a new set of kids.  This also helps to reduce the “sibling squabbles” that happen later on in the school year, as kids get to know each other as well as they do their own siblings.

Tips to Making Recess successful, starting from the first day of school - Raki's Rad Resource

7.)  Have a unique line up signal.  I had a cowbell.  You could hear that thing for miles, and the kids always knew when it was time to line up.  One friend of mine had a duck call and another a train whistle.  Anything that helps extract your students from the sea of students on the playground without having to call their names or waste your voice.

 

8.)  If possible, schedule recess BEFORE lunch.  I learned this when my school did a book study on The First Six Weeks of School.  What an amazing difference – they get all their energy out before lunch, making for quieter, calmer lunch periods – and happier lunch ladies.  Then, they return to your classroom full, calm, happy and ready for work.  After lunch, plan something quiet and productive like Writing Journals or Silent reading with Reading Response Journals, and watch the amazing work that can be done in the afternoon!

 

What is your best recess management tip?

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

   

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Authors to Have in Your Classroom

Recently, I asked a group of teacher friends (okay I asked Facebook, lol) if you could have one book for your classroom, what would it be.  Of course, no one could choose just one and many simply said anything by “this author”.  So, I decided to make a list of authors that should be in EVERY classroom, and when I got to thinking of it, I remembered how powerful author studies were to my students in the past. 

To do an author study with your class, take the time to read at least 2 books aloud or in novel studies with your Read Aloud Journal - Help students understand what they read through this daily read aloud journal.students.  Compare and contrast the books.  Then, look at the biography and bibliography of the author.  Finally, challenge students to read more books by this author, keeping track and continuing to compare and contrast the various books as they read.  Authors studies are great times to talk about a writer’s style and voice, as well as genre. 

Here are the authors my teacher friends thought were worth reading.  All of these authors have great books for read alouds.  Choosing one author and using their books to start out your Read Aloud Journal at the beginning of the school year is a great way to get kids focused on reading from Day 1.

10 authors that should be in every elementary classroom: Dr. Seuss, shel silverstein, chris van alsburg, eric carsle, chris van alsburg, mary pope osborne, david weisner, judy blume, patricia polacco, judy blume, roald dahl

dr. seuss

1.)  Dr. Seuss (Yertle the Turtle, Oh the Places You’ll Go!, If I Ran the Zoo, And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street)

 

shel silverstein2.)  Shel Silverstein (The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic, Runny Babbit, Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Giraffe and a Half)

 

Chris van alsburg3.)  Chris Van Alsburg  (Polar Express, The Stranger, Two Bad Ants, Jumanji, Queen of the Falls)

Eric Carle4.)  Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, A House for Hermit Crab, Pancakes, Pancakes, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse)

Mary Pope Osborne5.)  Mary Pope Osborne (The Magic Tree House Series, American Tall Tales, One World, Many Religions)

David Weisner6.)  David Weisner (Flotsam, Tuesday, Mr. Wuffles, Free Fall)

Julia Donaldson7.)   Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, The Snail and the Whale, A Squash and a Squeeze, A Gold Star for Zog)

Patricia Polacco8.)   Patricia Polacco (Thank You Mr. Falker, Thunder Cake, The Keeping Quilt, Babushka’s Doll, Chicken Sunday)

Judy Blume9.)   Judy Blume (Freckle Juice, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Iggie’s House)

Roald Dahl10.)  Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar)

What authors would you add to the list?

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Exploring Nature Field Trip

During the summer, most teachers I know spend at least some time planning for the next school year.  My favorite “planning” to do during the summer is field trip planning, because it means I get to tour cool places I’d like to take my students to – often with my own kids in tow.  Here are some of my favorite field trip locations, that can be found in most every community, as well as a list of content connections you can make for your students.  Often as teachers we only include field trips in our science and social studies, but there are lots of reading, writing and math connections that can be made in these locations as well.  I am going to share one type of field trip a week and ideas for making curriculum connections with each field trip.

field trips - make the most of them with these curriculum connections from Raki's Rad Resources

 Nature Preserve:  Seeing natural animals in their natural habitat – outside of cages – can be highly beneficial for students.  Knowing how animals are helped to stay in their natural habitat can also be completely beneficial.  Plus, there are so many benefits from simple nature hikes.  Find a blog post I wrote about nature hikes here.    

Reading:  Any number of books about animals can be read before and after going to a nature preserve.  Non fiction books about the types of animals you will see.  Fiction stories about animals, like Winnie the Pooh, the Berenstain Bears or Make Way for Ducklings – Talk about the difference between fictional animals and real animals. Read news articles and opinion pieces about nature preserves vs. zoos.

field trips - make the most of them with these curriculum connections from Raki's Rad Resources - trip to a nature preserveWriting:  Write informational essays about the natural habitat of one of the plants or animals that can be found in the nature preserve.  Persuasive writing – which is better nature preserves or zoos?  Write a fiction story from the point of view of one of the animals.

Math:  Measure how wide the trees are; learn about tree rings and calculate the age of a tree stump.  Create a graph of the animals living at the preserve, or of a statistic (like survival rate or release rate).

Science:   Learn about animal habitats, animal life cycles and animal adaptations.  Learn about plant habitats, plant life cycles and plant adaptations.  Discover how to protect the earth.  Explore the interconnectivity of plants, animals and humans.  Look at leaves and try to identify the different types of trees.  Look for “proof” of animal activity – footprints, feathers, droppings.

Social Studies:  Learn about how native people used nature to live.  Research people like Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, who worked to set aside national parks to preserve nature, and complete a biography projects with the information.  Explore the laws and current trends that affect ecology.  Discuss what happens when gold or oil is found in a place that is protected by law.

 

To make field trips more educational, I often use graphic organizers and other activities to keep my students focused.  Read more about the specifics in this blog post: Field Trips Aren’t Just For Fun.  Be sure to stop by next week for another Field Trip Curriculum Connection.

What is your best field trip idea?

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Can Students Use YouTube to Do Research?

 Look at these pictures of my students – they are all on YouTube, but they are…researching?  Can that be right? 

Educational videos from YouTube can provide quality research tools in the classroom - find out details from Raki's Rad Resources.

 Yep, that’s right – these students were researching famous Astronomers for our Historical Scientists Project.Educational videos from YouTube can provide quality research tools in the classroom - find out details from Raki's Rad Resources And these students were researching for their virtual desert field trip project during our Desert Science Unit.

Educational videos from YouTube can provide quality research tools in the classroom - find out details from Raki's Rad Resources

In my mixed age class of 2nd – 5th graders (Year 3 – Year 6), my students often used YouTube as a research tool.  I always required a “mixture of sources” including some you have to read and some you can watch, but I found that there were some distinct advantages to my students to being able to use video as a research tool.

1.  My younger students, and lower readers, were able to find much more information, making them much more successful in Science and Social Studies.

2.  My students developed very good note taking skills while they were using videos to research.  When they were reading, they tended to copy down the exact words on the screen or in the book, but with videos they had no other choice than to put the information in their own words.

3.  Students were exposed to lots of ads and distractions.  While this may not seem like a good thing, they quickly learned how to get rid of the ads and distraction and focus on the task at hand, so that by our second project, they worked like those distractions weren’t even there – this my friends is a life skill in our current digital era.

4.  YouTube is like Google – it is a search engine, and search engines can be quite difficult for kids, who often think of them as question answering devices.  While I generally start my students out with suggested videos, they were also allowed to use search and became very good at picking out great key words and finding synonyms for less common words, as well as looking at a video critically to see if it was entertainment or informational.

Educational videos from YouTube can provide quality research tools in the classroom - find out details from Raki's Rad Resources

As with any type of research, you need to start out teaching students HOW to use video as a research tool, but pausing, taking notes, finding just the right video etc.  Here are some great YouTube Channels that you might want to consider using with your students:

 

 

 

Educational videos from YouTube can provide quality research tools in the classroom - find out details from Raki's Rad Resources - Crash Course

 

Crash Course – 10 to 15 minute videos on tons of Science and Social Studies topics

 

 

 

Educational videos from YouTube can provide quality research tools in the classroom - find out details from Raki's Rad Resources - Make Me Genius

 

 

Make Me Genius – 3 to 8 minute videos designed for kids on tons of Science topics

 

 

 

 

 

Educational videos from YouTube can provide quality research tools in the classroom - find out details from Raki's Rad Resources - TED Ed TED Education – 5 – 20 minute videos designed for kids on tons of Science and Social Studies topics

 

I know that many schools ban YouTube, if your school is one of those, check out these Alternatives to YouTube with educational videos.  Either way, I ask you to consider video as a research methodology for your students this year.

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

Friday, July 18, 2014

Charades in the Classroom

There are so many classic party games and recess games that kids in our digital age have never heard of.  These games are mentioned in books all the time, and not knowing the games means that kids have a hard time connecting to and understanding these books.  Teaching them in the classroom not only increases a child’s background knowledge and gives them a creative new way to play, but also can include curriculum connections.

Using charades can help increase student engagement and encourage curriculum connections.

Charades is a great example of a game that can be used to create curriculum connections while keeping kids engaged and giving them a new set of background knowledge.  Remind students that in charades you can use movements and gestures, but no sounds or words.  Here are some simple ways to use charades in your classroom:

1.)  Act out vocabulary words – Anything from vocabulary words in your content unit to vocabulary words from a novel study to ESL vocabulary words can be acted out. 

Write each word on a piece of paper – throw them in a hat (or cup or baggie or whatever you have on hand). Have students pull a paper and act it out while the rest of the class tries to guess what the word is.

Using charades can help increase student engagement and encourage curriculum connections. 2.)  Act out the plot of a book you have read as a whole class – This works best at the end of the school year, when you have read a variety of books together.  For older students, this could be a way to review classic books like Dr. Seuss or other books they “should have” read when they were younger.  It can also be way to review a group of short stories or poems that you have read.

Write the title of each story on pieces of paper - throw them in a hat (or cup or baggie or whatever you have on hand). Have students pull a paper and act out the plot while the rest of the class tries to guess which book it is.

3.)  Pretend to be a favorite person, or a favorite time period – Great for your Social Studies review, but would also work with famous scientists, famous authors or people in the news. 

Write the names of a bunch of people on pieces of paper (You could substitute historical events here as well) - throw them in a hat (or cup or baggie or whatever you have on hand). Have students pull a paper and act out the person – or people from that time period - while the rest of the class tries to guess who or when it is.

4.)  Pretend to be a certain animal – For younger students guessing the animal itself would be enough, but to make it more challenging for older students, they might call out an animal that would be predator – or prey – to this animal, where the animal might live (habitat or continent) or an evolutionary cousin of the animal (ie. horse and donkey)

Write the names of a bunch of animals on pieces of paper - throw them in a hat (or cup or baggie or whatever you have on hand). Have students pull a paper and act out the animal’s actions while the rest of the class tries to call out the correct answer.

5.) Act out a shape or an angle – Even Math can get in on the charades game.  Have students “be the shape” – 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional, or create the correct angle, while their friends call out the names of these geometrical principles.

Write the names of a bunch of shapes or concepts on pieces of paper - throw them in a hat (or cup or baggie or whatever you have on hand). Have students pull a paper and use their body to represent that shape or concept while the rest of the class tries to call out the correct answer.

 

boardgamesfortheclassroom How else could you use charades in your classroom?  For more suggestions on how to use games in the classroom, come back regularly for my Friday Game Night posts.

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

Thursday, July 17, 2014

All Kids Should Experience Camping

As a child, I went camping regularly, with my parents, with my grandparents, with Girl Scouts.  I knew all about how to identify poison ivy, how to cook over a camp fire (even if it was just marshmallows and hot dogs), how to search for kindling, how to wash dishes in a bucket. Since I spent so much time in the outdoors, I just assumed everyone else did too.  It wasn’t until I started teaching that I realized that there are people who don’t like to hike and who have never slept in a tent!  While I now understand that not everyone is a comfortable in nature as I am, I still feel like camping is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives – especially children.  There are so many things that kids can learn from the experience of camping, like:

1.)  There are living things everywhere.  When you camp, you experience living things – deer, rabbits, ants, bees, flies, mosquitoes etc.  Some of these things are annoying, but generally they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.  When you are camping, you are visitors in the homes of these creatures and you see them a bit differently than when they invade your house. 

2.)  It’s okay to get dirty.  Dirt is a part of nature, and as long as you don’t eat it in large quantities, it won’t hurt you.  Digging in the dirt, picking up rocks and sticks, climbing trees, this is all part of camping and you’re going to get dirty.  It’s important for kids to know that it’s okay to do this, and gives them a chance to realize why it’s so important to wash our hands before we eat!

10 reasons all kids should experience camping - it builds real life skills that transfer over into the classroom.  Raki's Rad Resources3.)  Fire can be fun – as long as you’re safe.  For kids, building a campfire can seem like this amazing thing.  You collect kindling (small sticks, pinecones, anything that will catch fire easily).  You pile it up and light it on fire.  You blow on it and hope it stays lit.  You learn that dry wood burns and wet wood doesn’t. (That’s a good science lesson all on it’s own!)  You learn to always have a full bucket of water nearby.  Then, you get to use the fire to roast marshmallows, cook hotdogs or make hobo pies.  This is a great time to talk about fire safety, and to let kids do something that is “dangerous” in a controlled environment. 

4.)  Self – sufficiency:  how to cook food over a fire and wash dishes without a sink.  There are so many life skills that can be taught while camping.  Wait, you can wash dishes without a dishwasher?  You can cook food without a stove?  Water doesn’t  come in infinite supply when you turn a tap and there are places without flush toilets!  These are skills our ancestors took for granted, and camping is a great time to remind kids how long people lived and prospered without electricity, or even indoor plumbing!

5.)  Nature deserves our respect.  When you experience nature – the joys of a starlit night, the sound of the owl at night and the bluebird in the morning, the scent of a pine tree – you are more understanding of why nature needs to be protected.  Even the youngest kid can understand that candy wrappers and other trash don’t belong on the forest floor and that we don’t want to pour chemicals into a pretty stream.  By making these connections early on, kids will be able to connect them to bigger picture topics, like landfills and toxic waste later on, hopefully remembering the respect they built for nature.

6.)  Stars are more beautiful than the T.V.  When I teach about mythology, I always teach kids that these stories were mostly invented while people sat around the campfire at night looking at the stars, because there was no t.v. or computers.  Most of my students can’t understand the joy of laying under the stars and observing their beauty.  Camping gives them that experience, that connection to their ancestors, and that appreciation for the amazing universe we inhabit.

7.)  When it rains – you play cards!  In our current, climate controlled world, we forget that sometimes the weather has a different plan than we do.  Sometimes it’s hot when we’d rather it be cold, or rainy when we wish there was sun.  Camping reminds you that there are other ways to deal with weather, than just running into an air conditioned house.  We can swim and find a shady tree when it’s hot.  We can throw on a sweatshirt when it’s cool.  If it’s raining outside – sit in the tent with a deck of cards and enjoy what life throws at you.

8.)  There is a difference between wild animals and domestic animals.  Kids who never learn the difference between a pet and a wild animal put themselves in danger for animal bites or other incidences later in life.  Camping teaches you never to feed a wild animal, because it domesticates them and makes them dig into your cooler for more.  It teaches you to respect the homes of the animals living near your campsite, because YOU are the guest, not them.  It teaches you that all animals were once wild, before humans decided some would be better as pets.

9.)  “Tree” is a very simple word when you consider how many different kinds of plants are classified this way.  There are so many different kinds of trees out there, each with different leaves, different seed pods, and different types of bark.  The same can be said for flowers, bushes, ferns etc.  Being in nature and exploring these concepts can help children develop their scientific observation and classification skills, as well as developing a true appreciation for the variety of life that exists on earth.

10.)  Be alert and prepared!  When I asked my 10 year old about the most important things he’s learned from camping, he said:  Cover the tent with the rain tarp.  Don’t leave food on the picnic table.  Always bring a sweatshirt.  Be aware of where you are.  To me, all of these things can be covered under, be alert and prepared.  Be prepared for different types of circumstances and weather, and thinking ahead and observing your circumstances help you to make predictions about what might happen. 

 

Family camping, scout camping or school sponsored “day camping field trips” are all great ways to get kids banner1understanding these concepts and skills that provide real life learning, background knowledge and connections to science and social studies topics too.  My family is currently living in an RV, and while this may not provide exactly the same experience as a tent, I am thrilled with the life lessons my sons are learning.  Check out our adventure at RVing with the Raki’s.

 Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources