Saturday, January 29, 2011

Word Wall

This year I've tried to improve my vocabulary instruction, especially in the content areas.  I was fortunate to be able to attend a Marzano conference on vocabulary instruction last year, and I've been excited to implement some of the strategies I've learned this year.  One of the ideas was to select approximately 30 vocabulary words from each subject area.  Then, after you select the words explicitly teach 3-5 vocabulary words each week through direct instruction.  The speakers emphasize that students do not benefit at all from copying definitions.  We all could copy definitions and still have no idea what the word means.  We learned that after we explained what word means, students should be able to put the definition into their own words, as well as give a visual representation.  The speakers highly encouraged teachers to utilize a vocabulary notebook in their classrooms.  I also thought it was interesting that they encouraged teachers to have their students regularly look at the prior entries in their vocabulary folders and revise their responses.  I worked all summer on developing word lists for social studies and science and then created word wall cards to display around my room to give my students a visual reminder of the vocabulary words.  I also created an academic vocabulary journal for each students.  All year long, I have used the strategies, and I can say that I have seen an improvement in my students' vocabulary.

Here is the government section of my word wall.  The cards are a little larger than typical word wall cards, but I wanted there to be a focus on the meaning of the word.  I also thought that a visual representation would be very useful for students.  I can definitely say that my students refer to these cards all of the time.

Please excuse the HORRIBLE color of my walls.  It is not by choice that they are faded mauve.
 As you can see the wall is a work in progress.  I add the words as I teach them.
Here is a picture of the form I use for my vocabulary notebook.
Vocabulary Notebook Form

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Measure Man

Measurement has to be one of my favorite topics to teach in math.  This week we've been working on measuring to the nearest 1/4 inch, which can be challenging for students.  We've already had a scavenger hunt and have practiced with standard and non standard measurements, so students got to show what they know with their Measurement Men.

To prepare for this task I precut a large variety of rectangles in different sizes and colors.  (I've learned to make all rectangles of a particular color the same size-this makes grading so much easier!) I like to use about 8 or 9 different colors and try to have a good variety of sizes of rectangles.  Since it is important for my students to be able to measure to the nearest 1/4 inch, I cut several rectangles with 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 in their lengths, but to modify this activity all of the rectangles could be a whole number in length. 

In this task I have students create a person (sometimes animal) using various rectangles.  Students must design their person and then find the measurement of each rectangle they used for their Measurement Man.  Another modification to the task is to have students measure the length in two different units of measure to see the comparison.

My students had so much fun with this lesson, and I wanted to share some of their creations.

Measurement Cheerleader

What a pretty face!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Creative Thinking

I had the opportunity to work towards my gifted endorsement during the 2010-2011 school year.  I'm currently only halfway finished with the program, but I can already say that it has been a wonderful learning experience.  At first I was hesitant to begin the program, because I knew that there would be a considerable amount of work involved in the endorsement program, and I'm not the official "gifted teacher" at my school.  However, I have always believed that any teacher who teaches gifted students is a gifted teacher, and I wanted to learn new strategies to motivate and engage my gifted and talented students.   It has been so interesting to learn about the characteristics and needs of gifted children. 

One of the topics that has really intrigued me was developing creativity in our students.  I've never thought of creativity as something that could be taught, but I've been able to learn that there are strategies to develop creativity in all students, not just the gifted.  The most important strategy was to get students used to thinking about things in a new context and to learn to question their own thinking.  I used the creative thinking techniques to create monthly creative thinking booklets for my students.  I had a feeling that my students would enjoy working in their books each day, but after beginning the books I was shocked just how my students loved working in their books.  I would have my students write in their books for about 10 minutes a day, and then I would allow students to share what the wrote.  This quickly become our favorite part of the day.  I was able to finish my February booklet and wanted to share some of the creative thinking activities.

There are 15 pages in the book, and each month's book contains holidays and themes that correlate with the month.  For example, in the February book there are questions with a theme of Valentine's Day, President's Day, Groundhog's Day, and more.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Government Project

Before Christmas break we completed our government unit in social studies. This has always been one of those units that I have a love/hate feeling towards. American Government has always been a very interesting topic to me, but I have found that it is a very difficult concept for students to grasp. I think that it is so abstract that students have a difficult time making connections to all of the concepts, and the vocabulary is very difficult for young student-there are some really big words for third graders in this unit!  It has taken me several years of experimenting with new activities and graphic organizers to finally feel like I can teach about government in a way that excites students, and I'm always looking for new fun ideas. One of my favorite culminating activities is the 3 Branches of Government Project. In this project I have my students a handout with step-by-step directions and the rubric I use to assess the projects, and then they complete a model of the project at home. My students really enjoyed the project this year, and I was so proud of everyone's completed projects.

Here is a link to my 3 Branches of Government Project.  It is sure to be a big hit!

3 Branches of Government Project

You can use this link to see all of my government lessons and activities.  There are several games, activities, and worksheets in the product.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Technology: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

My students and I LOVED using our new Smart Board last week.  I can't say that it will greatly change the way I teach, because I've never been a fan of lecturing or worksheets.  However, I was very impressed at how engaged my students were whenever we used the Smart Board.  I am interested to discover if this engagement continues after the novelty wears off.

However, I am quickly learning how many ways 22 8-year olds and 1 uncoordinated teacher can unplug or become tangled in the cords running from the projector, laptop, and Smart Board.  Wow!  I now see the huge need for a ceiling mounted projector.

Now that I've spent hours adapting my mini lessons for the Smart Board for the next couple of weeks, somehow my laptop case has cracked.  This means that I have to give up my laptop (and all of my new lessons I'm so excited to use) for a couple of weeks to get it fixed.  Oh well, such is technology.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Something New!!

Even though it is not the start of a new school year, 2011 will still bring a major change to my classroom.  I have finally entered the age of technology by having a Smart Board installed in my classroom.  I am ready to see how this incredible tool changes my instruction.  I've been working on creating many different Smart Board lessons, so I can start using it right away.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let The Journey Begin

Education is certainly a journey.  Eight years ago today, I began my own journey as an educator.  In those years, I have seen and experienced more changes in education than I ever imagined.   Each year I feel like a brand-new teacher-full of enthusiasm and new ideas, yet apprehensive about what new trends and students might be heading my way.  I am thankful to teach in a school that encourages authentic learning engaging and meaningful instruction.  I am excited to share some of my experiences of my own journey as a 3rd grade teacher.