Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Importance of Problem-Solving - and Reading (of course!)

This week I think my kids gained a new appreciation for how important reading non-fiction text is. Not just reading, really, but understanding what you're reading. They do love reading fiction already. They engage with characters, make connections with each other through books, and find it important to understand fictional stories, the plot lines, their characters, and so on. However, sometimes with non-fiction text, I find them being....well, lazy. And I think perhaps it's because they either don't see the point (it's just school work) or someone has typically explained things for them so they don't have to figure it out on their own.

This Wednesday our fourth graders will be running a mock city for the entire day. We've elected a mayor and judge, and the kids have all filled out applications and had interviews for their jobs. They have each been "hired" in the job that best suits them. Their salaries are varied, according to the responsibilities and skills required for each job. Each student works in one of the businesses with others from our two fourth grade classes. This past week, the various businesses met together often to develop their advertising plans, to figure out their budgets (including taxes, advertising, utilities, health care costs, etc.), determine their pricing, their inventory needs, and even their daily schedule, which includes their break times.

This is a lot for fourth graders. The curriculum is actually designed for fifth grade and up, including high school.  However, economics is part of our state's fourth grade curriculum content expectations and having done this project with fifth graders, I wanted to give it a whirl. "Doing" economics through this experience is certainly giving them an unforgettable opportunity!

Each lesson comes with an opening introduction about a concept in economics. Advertising, business (and personal) budgeting, supply and demand, scarcity and abundance, and a host of other crucial elements for building a successful community are part of the whole. I'll teach and model first, give examples, and then we'll have a classroom discussion. Then the kids are given a hands-on task that directly relates and affects their businesses. In each step, the kids have to read and follow very specific directions given for their unique business in the city. At the beginning of this project, we had many students asking for help rather than reading the information they'd been given. Through the messiness of this learning experience and realizing the teachers aren't going to jump in and rescue them, however, the kids have learned to work together, to read more purposefully, and to problem solve. There are bumps we're experiencing and not all teams are truly working as a unit, of course, but their "level of concern" for reading and understanding has risen tremendously, and that's such a cool thing to see.

You see, every student has to own his or her job. There's no one else who is or can do it. So every student is finding engagement at a deep personal level. The kids are asking important questions. They're thinking about what they need to know in order to have a successful day in the city they're running. With approximately 60 students, each having their own unique responsibility, it's impossible to give one-on-one help to each one! The importance of reading and understanding non-fiction text really hits home.

Decisions have to be made that will affect how much profit their business will make. They've experienced having to correct mistakes in figuring out payroll and costs. They've become better at cooperating when it comes time to name their company and create their advertising logos and slogans. They are discovering talents and skills in unlikely classmates that will benefit their businesses. They are building character in themselves and each other.

My hope in all of this is that my kids will gain confidence in their own ability to read and understand non-fiction text. I want to see them work through problems without giving up easily, and to gain in their ability to work as a team, even though sometimes it's hard. We want to get rid of some of the learned helplessness that's crept in to their thinking and see they are smart learners, able to help themselves achieve amazing things!

Thank you to Enterprise City for this amazing program and to our building principal, @benjamingilpin, for being a terrific cheerleader!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tech Teacher

I am NOT a tech native. However, I've found that I love how technology can engage students in their learning in ways nothing else can.

Since we are getting (too) close to the end of the school year, I'm thinking about all the ways my students were engaged learners thanks to technology.

  • BLOGGING: I blogged almost daily during my three-month stint in Culebra, teaching on a tiny island at a tiny school. It was such a great experience for me and gave me a global audience. I wanted to introduce my students to it and used Weebly to implement it. Doing it improved my writing and I found it did the same for my students. They put on book talks, poetry, and learned to give constructive comments to each other in a respectful and thoughtful way. 
  • BOOK TALKS: At the beginning of the year we used the Flip camera to record our book talks - advertisements, really - of the book a student had just finished. Kids were super excited to talk about the great book they'd read and see how many other classmates they could get excited about "their" book. That was pretty cool. When we got our iPod, they switched to recording on that. We ended up throwing those babies into Dropbox, shared them with our librarian, and she put them in the school morning announcements!!! From that day on, she knew the fourth grade book talk book would be the next book checked out from the library! That's powerful.
  • PREZI: Really, this could be included in book talks, but it's a different media for kids to share, and they ended up wanting to do a Prezi on other things they learned about, like states and regions! They loved putting some of these creations on their blogs, too, so anyone could see it.
  • iMovie: My students were using this very cool app to make book trailers, and now they're making their own movies and sharing their own stories. And they're doing it during recess! Begging for it! Plus that, kids who weren't even friends at the beginning of the year are working collaboratively to make some pretty cool stuff! 
  • SKYPE: Stephen McCranie and Kate Messner are two totally different authors, both wonderful, and both made an unforgettable connection with my kiddos via Skype. Then one day I had to be gone from school and in the afternoon was able to Skype with my class from a bookstore where I was purchasing books to add to our classroom library. In every Skype session my kids were motivated to move forward with their reading, excited to open the pages of a book and discover new characters, settings, and situations that opened their mind to new possibilities. What an amazing and easy tool to engage students!
  • WIKI: When students started bringing their own devices in to my classroom, I was a bit skeptical. That skepticism turned to delight, however, when during math lessons I posed a question about something - I don't even remember what it was - and asked the kids to work on it collaboratively. Some of them pulled out their devices and looked online with their group to do some digging. It was amazing to see some of these kids become leaders in learning! Honestly, some of those kids had had some pretty "off-task" behaviors until they had the idea to put those smart phones to work! Then they were leading the way in solving a problem! Suddenly, some of those kids realized they really ARE good in math - and even LIKE it!
There are so many more ways technology has impacted my kids this year. My mind is spinning with all of the ways it has engaged my kids and enhanced our learning. We were able to be inspired by people from all over the world. The books purchased for our classroom library came almost completely from someone online who recommended the book, either through a blog such as Nerdy Book Club , from Goodreads or through a connection I've been fortunate enough to make on Twitter

I am SO glad I am a tech immigrant. And because I am an immigrant, I think it deepens my appreciation for it. For the love of learning, for my students and for me, I am grateful to be a part of a global community of learners. Without this technology I would never have the opportunity to meet so many amazing thinkers, readers, and creators, or be able to introduce my kids to the incredible opportunities available simply from the click of a mouse.