Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Unexpected Christmas Surprise

So the last week before a holiday break can be a pretty crazy time for teachers. I don't know about you, but I fall into bed at night only to drag myself out each morning. The last 2 days are the hardest. This year I decided to do my celebration on Thursday. I think I like this idea. The kids and I had been reading Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus by Chris Plehal. We did several close reading activities and really had some powerful discussions on generosity and believing in things that we can't see. It was really inspiring.
Available on Amazon
On Thursday, we wore our pjs to school, had hot chocolate, and watched the 25 min. movie. To be sure we were still learning until the end, we did a venn diagram comparing the book to the movie. The movie certainly expresses more of the story and gives the viewer a better understanding of why the mean girl in the story is mean. It defies the norm. In this case, the movie was created first, and then the book was written. So the movie actually tells more of the story. An excellent holiday must see!

Available on Amazon and iTunes
As I am platooning this year, I had to do hot chocolate, the movie, and the comparing activity twice. There are some major benefits to this style of teaching, but in this case not so much. Of course the kids were wild. Sometimes you feel like you are herding cats. It was an exhausting, but fun day.

So that takes me to the very last day. With the threat of a walk-through and the pressure of teaching to the end I kinda cracked. Since there were 4 kids absent from one class and 3 kids absent from the other and we were tired, and the kids were so done, we spent the day doing some free choice. 

Some might say free choice on the iPad is just kids playing games. I disagree. Sometimes it is in this time that we learn the most about our students. Yes, I had some showing me that they learn best through games, but I also had a group of 4 girls write, direct, create the set, and perform a play based on the snowmen they made with my teaching partner. It was adorable. It was creative, it was writing, it was story development, and it was collaborative. How can we say that isn't learning? I was pleasantly surprised to see that if we step back a bit, give them the tools, they will naturally learn by playing. It really was an amazing discovery. Now I understand, just a little bit more, about how they learn and express themselves. And thankfully, there was not a last minute walk-through!

I hope your last week at school was one filled with memories, and that now you are getting some much deserved rest. Happy Holidays to you!


P.S. Just in case you want to try this unit out next year...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Science

The holidays can be such a stressful time in teaching and in life (if I am totally honest). So I try to incorporate learning and the holidays as much as I can, especially with the whole bell-to-bell instruction, threat of a walk-through looming over your head. The days of enjoying the time with kids and doing a fun Christmas craft are sadly over. Although, I feel we are negatively impacting our children's fine motor skills due to lack of cutting and clueing, but that is a whole other topic.

So last year I thought, how can I cover Science during this crazy time of year? That's when I thought about matter! There are many liquids we see during the holidays (some kids can't see), lots of solids (things I wish I didn't see and eat!), and even several gasses. So Holidays Matter was born. All the essential questions were asked; vocabulary was taught, and the packet contained  fun experiments that taught children about matter while having a festive holiday atmosphere. Take a look at some of the fun we had...

First, we made some predictions about objects inside of Christmas stockings. They had to then determine if they were a solid, a liquid or a gas. 

We also did some floating activities with various holiday solids in some milk for Santa.
In the end the kids could answer the following essential questions:
This unit ended up being a really fun way of learning about matter while having fun during the holidays. The first experiment is free at my TpT store! If you want more, the full pack is available as well. 

Happy Holidays! I hope your holiday is filled with learning and fun!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Formative and Summative Assessment

Formative and Summative Assessments! You know you hear these words over and over again. I have to admit that I didn't totally understand them until I went back to school to get my Master's Degree. Then I had no choice but to understand them! So here is an easy definition. Formative assessment is like taking a quick look at how well a child understands a skill, standard, and or objective. Formative assessments allow you to change course during the time of instruction. Formative assessments guide your current instruction.

Summative assessments are a gauge of how well a student has mastered skills, standards, and/or objectives. Summative assessments are used to see how much a child has grown, to determine if instruction and or programs worked, and are given after instruction has taken place. It is more like a final exam. It may drive future instruction. Summative assessments are end-of-the chapter tests, unit tests, and standardized tests, to name a few.

There are many ways to do a quick check. It may be a graphic organizer or a check-in with the teacher after a few problems are answered/solved. Quick checks or formative assessments let you know what is going on with the student. Another great way to see if kids get it is an exit slip. Exit slips can be used as a final review and before the students leave your room. They can also be done as an entrance slip, checking for understanding before the lesson even begins. Exit slips are a great way to look at your students as a class as well. Exit slips can be as easy as saying here is a pile for kids who got it, and here is a pile of kids who need extra help. You can also use an exit slip board. This way your kids can pin their slip on the board, and you can see how your class looks as a whole. Exit slips have become like an addiction for me! I created this board in my classroom. I hot glued small clothes pins to the number area, and my students just clip their exit slip in place.
Now I can't stop! Everything has become an exit slip. I have created exit slips for all of the reading standards in second grade. They are quick and focused. The kids work so much harder on the exit slip, because the paper is shorter and more focused.  If students need more space, they can flip the slip over or add a Sticky note to the slip. I can do a quick sweep to determine if the class understands the concept, adjust my instruction, form a small group, or provide a summative assessment and move on. HINT: They are also great for walk-throughs and observations!

The best part of an exit slip is it is easier to grade. It has saved me hours of time and given me real feedback on how well my students understand the concept, skill, and or standard. 
How do you assess your students? I know we all have PLENTY of summative assessments, but how do you take a quick peek to see how your kids are coming along? I would love to hear from you!