Fall Fun, Halloween Hilarity

We had our Fall/Halloween party last week on a half day of school.  The class was divided into thirds and each third was responsible for either decorations, games, or food.  The result was an hour of fun!  A cool last minute touch were balloons with glow sticks in them!  Between the glowing balloons and the orange lights framing the white board and door, we were able to keep the lights off and play “Pin the Stem on the Pumpkin”, “Find Differences in These Two Pictures”, and dance! But before we turned out the lights, we filled our plates with sausage and crackers, apple slices, fruit-cheese-brownie kabobs, candy corn, and popcorn!  See?  Fabulous parties happen when there is collaboration!

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And no Halloween season would be complete without JibJabs!  We love watching them, and the students love starring in them.

Monster Mash

Monster Rap

Funky Ghost

I Will Survive

 

Encourage Questions and You’ll Encourage Curiosity

Recently, at a teacher website I frequent, a question was thrown out about encouraging curiosity in students.  The teacher asking the question recognized that the time constraints we are given and the way we are asked to teach can sometimes squash the students’ tendencies to be inquisitive or curious.

The statement that immediately came to my mind is one I have heard many times, but only recently come to fully  appreciate.

The question is more important than the answer.

Add to that the following statement that Michel Rameau uses frequently in his Spellinars.

The question is eternal; the answer is only temporary. 

When these statements become integral to the daily structure of my day, I am then encouraging curiosity in my students. 

The way I see it, putting more importance on asking questions than on giving answers benefits the students (all of us, really) in two respects.   First, the answer is no longer the end-all be-all.  It becomes okay to have partial understanding of something.  Secondly, all minds become focused on making sense and understanding of whatever is being talked about.  The questions come quite naturally, and everyone in the room knows these questions will not be discouraged or rated on some kind of disheartening scale.

Stating that the answer is less important than the question does not imply that the answer is not important.  Usually it is our way of checking what we understand about something.  But thinking of our answers as temporary helps us think of our understanding as part of the bigger picture in time.  If I begin my answers, “As I understand it at this point in time, ….”, I am admitting that the answer is temporary.  I am open to having an even deeper understanding of the question at some later point in time.  I am open to the idea that there is, no doubt, more to learn about the specific topic, and that as I learn more, my answer to that question will alter also.  It also helps us think of an answer, not as an end point, but as a checkpoint.   With an answer that is thought of as temporary, the question remains open, whereas answers that are thought of as final, end our further contemplation of the question.

The best kinds of questions asked in a classroom are those asked by students.  A teacher can learn a lot about where a student’s understanding is by the question the student is asking.  A question can also reveal how engaged the student is in the learning.  I especially love when students ask big questions that can’t necessarily be answered just then.  It tells me they are extending what they understand and trying to apply that understanding to the so-much-out-there that they don’t understand!  Sometimes we just sit for a second and appreciate the largeness of the question and the fact that none of us can even attempt to answer it, yet we can all appreciate it!  Recently a student was presenting a slide show about sink holes.  The students in the audience had a lot of questions, at least six of which neither the presenter nor I could answer.  What a wonderful end to a presentation.  Those questions were all curiosity driven, and I couldn’t have been happier!

I’ve never been one of those teachers who is uncomfortable leaving a question unanswered.  I have known some who are.  Those teachers drive themselves crazy trying to prepare for any question about an activity or topic that might arise.   But the sad part is that they also box themselves in a bit.  They end up needing to keep the activity or discussion within the boundaries of what they know and can answer.  To my way of thinking, that puts boundaries on the students’ curiosities as well.

I definitely want my students to know I have a level of education and am qualified to teach them the subjects that I am assigned, but I also want them to know that I don’t know it all.  I continually take academic classes and read topic specific books, sharing my passion and excitement for learning with my students.  I want them to know that when I send them off on an investigation of prefixes for instance, that I have not personally conducted such an investigation and am looking forward to seeing what they find!  I use the knowledge I have gathered to guide and steer their inquiry, but I don’t allow preconceived ideas to close me off to what we might all notice that we have not noticed before.  The very first year I began teaching orthography, I jumped in without having a complete understanding of many facets of our language.  The students were thrilled!  They loved that I didn’t have all the answers.  We were truly all learning something valuable from each other.

So are students the only ones who get to ask questions?  Of course not.  Here are my favorite questions to ask:  “What are you wondering now?  What questions does that stir in you?  What does this new information cause you to think about?  What evidence do you have to support that?  Can you prove that?”

Questions happen when our curiosity bubbles up and erupts into words.  It is at that point when we begin our quest for information and ideas with which we will construct an understanding.  Temporary answers allow us to check that understanding, while keeping the question alive.  In the meantime our minds are open, and our curiosity aroused.  We don’t know when evidence will come along, or how long our minds will juggle with an idea before we reach that deeper understanding that develops in response to a question once asked.

‘Twas the Day Before Our Holiday Break…

As of right now we are officially on Holiday Break!  We had a lovely day in which we finished a read aloud book (Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick), watched the movie, had a party and went to a sing-a-long!  Whew!  And in honor of it being Christmas, I made some more JibJabs that we managed to find time to watch … twice!  Check out some pictures of our party (planned and run by the students) and then check out the JibJabs.  Enjoy!

Disco Christmas
http://www.jibjab.com/view/QGw-yDmJQmujpYES6kVBTQ

Sled Race
http://www.jibjab.com/view/epWg7-vXSs6_5mT2zuZbmA

Macareindeer
http://www.jibjab.com/view/n3eNZ73ZSi2S9WeDT0BUFQ

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
http://www.jibjab.com/view/fWSGJljyT3qixuSq9Ke2hA

Feliz Navidad
http://www.jibjab.com/view/NA4RbjerRj2x9FqhebCXQA

 

Come Right In, Have a Seat, and Let’s Talk!

I love parent/teacher conferences.  There.  I’ve said it.  Yes, there is a lot of preparation on my part.  Typically I spend 11 hours at school each day leading up to the big night .  Yes, it is one very long work day (14 hours).  But, the fact remains that I still love them.  And I look forward to them.

First off, I get to look into the faces of each child’s parents/guardians and let them know that I see in their child the sweet wonderful brilliance they were hoping I would see.   Years ago, a student of mine wrote out a Marva Collins quote on a sheet of construction paper.  “There is a brilliant child locked inside every student.”  I have kept it up on the wall in the front of the room ever since.  I love the fact that it is on construction paper, and I love the fact that it is in a child’s handwriting.  For many of the children who have sat in chairs before me, that lock has been fairly easy to pick.  But for some, their behaviors have presented quite a smoke screen, obscuring that brilliance!  Every child needs to know I see through to that brilliance.  Parents need to know it too.

Secondly, I get to explain what the students are learning about words!  I know it’s not the only subject I teach, but in my mind it is the one that illuminates all others.  I explain that in the first trimester, my main focus is to show the students that words have structure.  By that I mean that words are made up of bases and affixes.  To further explain, I share my own childhood experience of learning that a root word (commonly misused name – correct name is base) could have a prefix and/or a suffix.   I compare that with my recent discovery (since I began learning about Structured Word Inquiry), that in fact a word can have more than one suffix.  Wham!  The spelling of so many words makes so much more sense to me!

The seemingly complicated word <antidisestablishmentarianism> suddenly becomes a less complicated word with three prefixes, six suffixes and a rather short two letter base.  If I’ve peaked your interest, the base is <st> from the Latin root stare meaning to stand.  The three prefixes <anti->, <dis->, and <e->(a clip of <ex->) help us see the meaning of this word as to stand against, away from or out of the norm.  And once a person is familiar with all of the affixes used, spelling this word will be no problem.  The suffixes <-able>, <-ish>, <-ment>, <-ar>, <-ian>, and <-ism> can individually be found in a lot of familiar words.  The final suffix in the word tells us that this word is a noun.  I love talking about this word because it illustrates beautifully the reason for learning morphemes (the smallest unit in a word that still holds meaning) rather than the endless hours students spend learning syllables (no meaning and a no letter consistency from word to word) to help with spelling.

We also had a hallway of word work to share!  In the last few weeks, I have had the students each choose a word to research.  In doing so, they have become familiar with some great resources.  The first thing they discovered is that dictionaries are not all alike.   Finding a dictionary that you like, trust and can understand is important.  This project also gave the students great practice at reading the entries at Etymonline and understanding that words weren’t all created at the same moment nor in the same language.

Some really enjoyed noticing the journey their word experienced on its way to becoming a Present Day English word.

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Some found fun facts about when their word began acquiring alternative meanings.

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Everyone enjoyed making word sums and creating fascinating looking matrices.

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Once the word sums were typed in, there was this anticipation and glow of pride as the ‘update’ button was pressed and the matrix was revealed.  Absolutely everyone found out that words have stories!

Halloween Happiness!

Something really fun happens when you put fifth graders in charge!  Yesterday we had our Halloween Party.  One third of the students were in charge of the food, one third were in charge of the decorations and one third were in charge of the games.  Having never been given this opportunity before, the students have been all smiles for the last two weeks!

The decoration committee immediately asked if they could make a spider pinata.  The students brought flour, newspaper and the balloon.  They spent their recesses rolling, tearing and dipping newspaper in the flour and water mixture. It was painted, candy was dropped in and it became officially finished the day before the party!  In the meantime, skeletons, spider webbing and lights were hung to create a spooky atmosphere!

The food committee created a spooky menu and brought a variety of delicious foods!  There was so much to choose from!  They set up a bit early so we could eat while we watched Roald Dahl’s The Witches!

The games committee had a “Guess How Much Candy is in the Jar” contest, a “Throw the Stuffed Pumpkins at a Target” game and a costume contest.  The grand finale of the party was smashing the pinata to bits!

What a successful party!  What a delightful group of party planners!  Happy Halloween!

Here are some hilarious Halloween Jib Jabs to watch!

I Will Survive

Funky Ghost

Monster Mash

Monster Rap

 

Summer time ….. and the learning is relaxing.

The regularly scheduled school year is over.  But just a week and a day later I am back in my classroom with a roomful of students.  The difference?  This is summer school.  I can suggest the classes I would like to teach and the students sign up for what they are interested in learning more about.  There are not assessments.  No grades.  Just relaxed learning.  Joyous!

The first class each morning is my Real Script class.  The students are learning to relax their hand and let the pen dance across the page.  In the following two pictures you can see that the students are focusing on proper posture and a proper pen hold.  It is important to keep the index finger relaxed and in control of the pen’s movement.  In the two pictures you can see two different pen holds.  The one in which the pen is between the two fingers is called a plume hold.  Back in the days of dipping bird plumes in ink, many held their pens in just this way.

As you can see the other thing we are currently working on is ligatures.  We are practicing writing digraphs and the ligatures that connect the two letters.

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Another class that I am teaching (back by popular demand) is Ukrainian Egg Decorating.  Years ago I bought a kit so that my children could make Christmas presents for their grandparents and teachers.  My daughter and I enjoyed it so much that we’ve spent many hours creating beautiful eggs.

Students begin with a white egg.  They use a tool called a kitsky to draw lines of beeswax on the egg.  The kitsky is warmed over a candle flame to keep the beeswax flowing.  Once the design on the white egg is completed, the egg is placed in a dye.  I have 12 different colored dyes, the lightest being yellow and the darkest being black.  As each successive dip in a dye is sealed with beeswax, the egg becomes covered with color.

Once the egg is finished, all of the beeswax must be removed.  We do this by holding the egg close to the flame.  As the wax become glassy looking, the wax is wiped off with a paper towel.  After all of the beeswax has been removed, I take the eggs outside to spray them with a clear coat that will seal in the colors.

The next day the eggs must be emptied.  I have some tools for this that make it rather easy to do.  And now the egg is officially finished!

A Fifth Grade Send Off Full of Memories and Laughter

One of my favorite quotes is this: “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”  It was written by Daniel Boorstin, and I think it sums up our year together nicely.

We had new topics in science, so there were cool discoveries and realizations being made all the time!   And of course orthography took us on fascinating twists and turns in regards to words!  It was quite common to hear someone say, “I didn’t know that!” or “That’s so cool.  Why didn’t I know that?”

It is always amazing to me how quickly September becomes June!  We have shared some really great moments together and made memories that will last.  Enjoy this slideshow!

The following film is something I had fun putting together.  I believe it embodies the spirit and lightheartedness we have shared this year.  Who says grammar has to be boring?  Enjoy!