Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Let it Snow! - A flurry of learning...

With the recent emphasis on standards, skills, and test scores in school, there has never been a more important time to be mindful of the need for imagination, creativity, and play in the lives of young students. There have been countless articles written and research projects undertaken to reinforce the need for creativity and play in the lives and education of children. Perhaps one of the most well known is the Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Although the talk was presented in 2006, the problem persists, and perhaps, is even greater today. in many schools, than it was then! 

Even if you are teaching in a standards or skills-based learning environment, most standards and skills-based learning can take place within creative activities. The learning will undoubtedly be more meaningful, connected, and will be more likely to result in mastery, when presented in a playful way. Here is one example I have used with both first and second graders, but can easily be adapted for any elementary grade level!

What child does not like to build a snowman? Regardless of where you live, you can make a
snowman out of paper mache! Set aside one day for the messy part of this project. Cover a long table and the floor beneath with painter's plastic drop clothes. Arrange for parent volunteers and paint shirts for the kids. Send home a note in advance, asking the kids to wear old clothing. Gather balloons, newspaper (our local newspaper office has lots of old papers that they will donate) torn or cut in strips, bags of flour, large bowls or dishpans for the paper mache goop, and small plastic bowls or margarine tubs to hold the completed snowmen while they dry. I always inflated the balloons the night before, taping two together with masking tape, and storing them in large trash bags for easy access. On the day of creation, I asked parent volunteers to be on hand throughout the day until all the children had finished. Working with six to eight kids at a time, they assisted those making snowmen, while I worked with the rest of the class in other learning activities. You will need a place to store the wet snowmen while they dry. A windowsill, shelf, or other location will work. Be sure to cover that area with plastic as well and have plenty of small plastic bowls or containers on which to stand the snowmen. They take several days to
dry completely, so plan ahead. As the tops dry, remove them from the bowls to allow the bottoms to dry as well. Once they are completely dry, a pin will pop the balloons and pushing down gently from the top will form a flat bottom allowing the snowmen to stand on their own.

Decorating the snowmen requires a variety of supplies like construction paper, crepe paper, buttons, pompoms, wiggly eyes, etc. Craft glue works better than school glue to hold things in place. An afternoon of creativity will result in a classroom full of delightful characters sure to bring smiles and enthusiasm!  The learning, however, has just begun! The snowmen are the center of an abundance of learning opportunities. I will share a few I have used, then use your own creative thinking to find connections to the standards in your grade level!

Math Applications:
  • Geometric shapes (cylinder, cone, sphere)
  • measurement (height, weight, circumference)
  • child created story problems acted out with the snowmen. (Have each child write a story problem to be reproduced into a booklet or worksheet of problems for the class to solve.)
Science Applications:
  • Solid, liquid, and gas (balloons, paper mache goop, flour and water, evaporation)
  • weather
Literacy Applications:
  • Read a variety of snowman stories. 
  • Write how-to build a snowman (either with snow or paper mache).
  • Write creative snowman stories emphasizing fiction story elements like characters, setting, problem, events, solution, beginning, middle, and end. (I always used the stories as an opportunity for the kids to make an actual book, complete with cardboard and cloth covers, and illustrations. The books were then on hand for the other children in the class to read during reading time. They were sent home with the snowmen when the project was completed.)
  • Create a class version of the well known Snowmen At Night, by Caralyn Buehner.
    Collaboration, rhythm and rhyme, theme, imagination, and multimedia skills are all required for a successful project. Once the class decides on a theme, small groups are tasked with thinking of a location to photograph the snowmen and the rhyming words to accompany the picture. I used a paraprofessional in my class to take the groups, along with an ipad or other camera, to stage their photograph. The completed story was then reproduced for each child and became a book to read in class and at home. We also created a video of the story to post to our Youtube Channel. Examples of class themes have been Snowmen at School at Night and  Snowmen on the Playground. 


Here is an example of one of our multimedia videos:

The possibilities for learning are endless with a project like this. A few days of messy, busy creativity will allow your young students to learn with their imaginations and playful spirits. Plan your learning targets ahead of time, then watch as engagement and mastery abound! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Season of Hope and Light...

It has been a week of granted wishes and dreams! After partnering with a teacher in Australia for nearly 20 years, our wish to meet in person has come true! She and her delightful family are traveling in the United States for their summer holiday. They left behind hot summer weather to spend a week with us in snowy Colorado! Laughter and joy abound as we compare our ways of life on opposite sides of the planet, and celebrate our much greater commonality as we are all citizens of the world regardless of the country in which we live.

Holidays are a wonderful time to reflect on the many blessings in our world and to celebrate diversity. As the last week of school before a break is upon most of us, it would be my wish that you remind your students that children everywhere celebrate peace and hope. My dear friends, John and Ann Marie Farrell, created a beautiful song and presentation to teach about holidays around the world in this season of hope and light.

May all of you and your students find the joy in life and light in the world and may all of your wishes come true!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Simple Family Gift...

With two weeks remaining before the holiday break, many teachers are planning gifts for their students to make for their families. One of my favorite student created gifts was an old-fashioned board game. I created a simple blank game board, reproduced it on the copy machine on legal sized paper, and the kids did the rest. Although, I don't have a copy of the one I created, a simple search for "blank board game templates" turned up a variety of reproducible boards that you can easily print. One of my favorites was:

(The board above came from that site and can be downloaded as a PDF file. It is very similar to the one I created.)

Whether you use one you download, create your own, or have your students make the board, the fun is just beginning! Brainstorm board game words with your class. I always found that many children play video games, but there are some that rarely or never play good old-fashioned board games! The brainstorm session helps all the kids make a more interesting game. Make a list of game moves like:

  • lose a turn
  • go back to start
  • move two spaces ahead
  • roll again
Next, talk about game themes. Will you make your game a Christmas or Hanukkah theme or, perhaps, your favorite topic! Brainstorm possible themes like:
  • around the world
  • a trip through the forest
  • deep in the sea
Of, course, the age of your students will determine how complex the game becomes. The creative possibilities are endless as each child designs a game they think their family will enjoy.

Writing in the boxes and decorating the board are the next steps. Be sure to remind them not to color over the words. 

When the board is complete, you can laminate it if you are able. I always purchased cardboard gift boxes after Christmas when they were on sale, but if you have not planned ahead, you can look for the least expensive ones to purchase now.  Choose a size in which the game board will fit. The children glue their game boards inside the bottom of the box. Add objects for game pieces. I used plastic milk jug lids, beans, coins, or any small objects that can be colored different colors or marked in some way. Add two dice to each box as well. (You can often find them in bulk at the dollar store, or purchase small foam cubes from a craft store and have the kids create dice. )

Once the games are complete, the kids partner up with classmates to play the games they created. 

Wrapping is quite simple! Simply put the lid on the box, add a bow and a gift tag and send them home! 

The joy of this gift is the opportunity for the child to present a gift that brings the family together for a game. Dice games are a perfect way for children to practice their math facts as well! Creativity, writing, strategy, and math in a simple family gift!