November 20, 2013

Teaching Kids to Express Appreciation

Two Holiday Freebies for You!

How often do we take time to tell others that we appreciate them? We might let our family members know we care, but do we provide time for students to express appreciation in the classroom?

Team greeting cards are a simple way to encourage students to show appreciation for each other, and it only takes about 15 minutes to implement this strategy. Students in teams of three or four will pass cards around in "roundtable" fashion and will write words of gratitude and appreciation on them before returning them to their owners. This activity worked so beautifully with my students that I created these two freebies to share with you. You can use the Team Thanks gratitude before the Thanksgiving Holidays and Gifts of Appreciation before the Winter Holidays. Click the freebie covers below to download them.

Prewriting Activity: What Do We Appreciate?
Before you begin the activity, lead a class discussion about gratitude and the importance of showing appreciation. Ask students to help you brainstorm different things they appreciate about each other. They might like someone's sense of humor, their willingness to help, or their creative ideas when working together. Create a long list and leave it on the board during the next part of the activity.

Team Thanks
Gifts of Appreciation

Team Card Write-Around Activity
When you explain the activity to your students, tell them that they will be passing cards around the team and writing words of appreciation on the cards. Let them know upfront that you expect everyone to write kind comments and that you will be reading what they write. While they are writing , monitor the activity to be sure that no one writes something that might hurt another child's feelings. You know who to watch! While students are writing, you may want to play soft instrumental or holiday music to set the tone. Here are the step-by-step directions:
  1. Choose the appropriate type of card depending on the season of the year. Give each student one card. Both packets have several variations, but you can give all of them the same card if you like.
  2. Ask each student to write his or her name on the front of the card. 
  3. Set a timer for about 2 minutes. Ask all students to pass their cards to the left and open the card they receive. They should notice whose name is on the front and think about what they appreciate about that teammate. Have them write a few sentences of appreciation on the front inside flat and sign their name to their comments.
    Note: If they are having trouble thinking of something to say, suggest that they start with the words, "Thank you for ..." which makes it a little easier for some students. 
  4. When the timer goes off, ask students to fold the card back before passing it to the next person on the left. This keeps the next person from seeing what they wrote. 
  5. Ask everyone to check the name on the front before they begin writing. Set the timer again and allow about 2 minutes to write words of appreciation. 
  6. Repeat this one more time and then have students pass the cards they are holding back to the person whose name is on the front.
Expressing Appreciation Year Round
My students really enjoyed this activity, and they treasured their cards. I often did this activity right before I switched the students to new teams, and sometimes they didn't want to change teams after they read the comments from their teammates! If you want to do this activity later in the year, you can find a generic card called "Our Team Rocks" on my Teambuilding page on Teaching Resources. I hope your students enjoy it as much as mine did!

November 17, 2013

Cooking Up a Caring Classroom

Raising academic standards is certainly a worthy goal, but sometimes it can have unintended consequences. To find time to teach the rigorous reading and math Common Core standards, many schools are cutting back on physical education, the arts, and life-skill lessons. Yet we need to remember that we aren’t teaching programmable robots – we are teaching children. Our students arrive in our classrooms with unique social, physical, and emotional needs that can’t be ignored. The key to teaching the whole child is fostering a caring classroom environment while upholding high academic standards.

Implementing Class Meetings 
How do we find time in an already packed day to teach social skills and foster caring classrooms? For me, regular class meetings were the answer. They provided the perfect opportunity to work through the social and emotional issues that popped up throughout the year. I started having just two meetings per week, one on Monday and one on Friday, but they were so effective that I soon implemented daily morning meetings. For about 20 minutes each morning we gathered on our carpet to set purposes for learning and work through any classroom issues. Often I read aloud a children’s book that provided a springboard for discussion of deeper issues. It was during those times that we became a family of classmates who listened to each other and cared enough to work things out.

Julia Cook – Inspiring Kids to Become Life-long Problem Solvers
Fast forward to October of this year when I had the pleasure of meeting Julia Cook, a former guidance counselor and the author of dozens of books that deal with social and emotional issues. How I wish I had known about Julia Cook when I was still teaching!
Julia and I connected at the Elementary School Conference, and it didn’t take long to discover her passion for writing books that enable kids to become life-long problem solvers. You might be familiar with some of her more popular books like My Mouth is a Volcano and  A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue, but you might not be aware that she has written over 40 such books and many of them have teacher guides to go with them. I only had to read a few of her books to fall in love with them! Julia truly has a gift for digging into the heart of each issue in ways that appeal to kids of all ages. As I began to explore her complete collection, all I could think about was how perfect they would be for class meetings! I could imagine reading one book per week depending on the needs of my students, and using the book as a point of discussion throughout the week.

Ideal Books for Class Meetings
Julia’s books are ideal for fostering class discussion because each one is short, engaging, and focuses on just one topic. Whether the characters are children or animals, they are appealing and they face issues to which most kids can relate. Not only do they teach kids how to deal with problems, the books include proactive strategies and actions kids can take to avoid having those problems in the future. For example, It’s Hard to Be a Verb gives overactive kids strategies to help them focus. The term “ADHD” is not mentioned in the book, but anyone teaching children with ADHD would find this to be a helpful resource.  Another of my favorites, Teamwork Isn’t My Thing and I Don’t Like to Share, includes specific strategies to help kids work more effectively in teams. As a further bonus, many of Julia’s books have a companion teacher guide that you can purchase with activities and ideas to extend learning.

Julia Cook Book Titles and Topics Checklist
After I realized that Julia’s books would be ideal for class meetings, I asked her if she had a chart with all of her book titles and the corresponding issues addressed by each book. She didn’t, but she agreed that it was a terrific idea. One of her publishers, the National Center for Youth Issues, offered to create this chart as a helpful guide for teachers. You can click on the image on the right to download the Julia Cook Titles and Topics Checklist for use in your classroom. Use this chart to help you locate the books you need for specific topics. You’ll even find the ISBN number for each book to help you locate it! After you read each book to your class, check it off  in the right hand column to keep track of which ones you’ve read to your class.

Create Your Own Class Meeting Collection
Your library may not have all of the books you need to use them in class meetings throughout the year. When Julia learned about my blog post, she wanted to offer a special deal to my followers so they could create their own customized class meeting collections. If you order at least 20 books from her website (any combination of children’s books or teachers guides), she will give you free shipping and 10% off your total order! Since shipping alone is normally $2 per book, this is a huge discount. To take advantage of this offer, order at least 20 books from Julia Cook Online. When you check out, enter the words “Cooking Up a Caring Classroom” in the field where it asks how you would like the books to be autographed. Julia personally processes all orders, and when she sees this code, she will give you the 10% discount and free shipping. You can also email her in advance to tell her that you’ll be placing a Class Meeting Collection order.
Recipe for Success
Some might argue that implementing the Common Core means there's no time to teach social skills or help kids become life-long problem solvers. However, I would argue that it's more important than ever that we find the time to teach life skills. The new standards require students to become actively engaged in their learning, often working with others to accomplish a task. If we don’t take time to teach kids to work together effectively, those lessons will be wasted and academic progress will suffer. We must teach the whole child and not focus on academics alone.

Thankfully, each of Julia’s books offers a recipe for success to enable kids to deal with important issues.  To learn more about some of Julia's books, please check out the blog hop below. Clicking each title will take you to a post with a description of the book and some teaching tips.

How can you find the time to teach social skills? Look over your daily schedule and talk with your administrator about how you might be able to work a few class meetings a week into your plans. If you absolutely can’t find the time, how about reading one book each week as a part of your literacy instruction? Reading just one book per week will help you cook up a caring classroom of students who are destined for success!

November 10, 2013

Investigating Gummy Bears

Guest blog post by Amy Alvis

I was looking on Pinterest for a lab to use with my students to teach them the scientific method. The students will have science fair project to do at the end of the year and I wanted to take them step by step through the process so that they will know exactly what to do for their projects. 

I found a gummy bear science lab by Sue at Science for Kids: Adventures of an Elementary School Science Teacher. It is an awesome lab, but I wanted my students to have a more complex scientific method model to work with. Click the image below to download the lab worksheets I created for this activity.

I gave my students the question we were going to test: What solution will make the gummy bear increase its mass and length the most? Next, they came up with their hypothesis. Since we had not gotten to our physical science unit yet, I explained was a solution was. We then brainstormed ideas about what solutions they wanted to test. They decided to test sugar water, salt water, vinegar and water, lemon juice and water, food coloring and water, rubbing alcohol and water, and soda and water. 

We then discussed what materials we would need to conduct the lab (we added things as we did the lab and saw that additional things were needed). Next we discussed the control (plain water) and the variables. They listed the dependent variable (mass and length of gummy bear), the independent variable (the solute - what was added to the cup of water) and the constants (amount of water, amount of solute, and time the gummy bear will be in the solution)

We filled in the procedure as we did the lab. The students worked in group of 3 or 4. The first thing we did was find the mass and length of the gummy bears.

The students measured out 50 ml of water to put in each cup.

They then added the liquid/solid to create their solutions. We put in 1 T of each of the liquids and we added sugar and salt to the water until it was saturated. Make sure that the salt solution has reached its saturation point. The groups that didn't add enough salt didn't see the same results as the groups that did.

The students then added the gummy bears to the solutions and we let them sit overnight.

The next day, the students found the mass and length of the gummy bears after their overnight soak in the solutions.

They then recorded the information on their lab sheets.

 This was the first time I had done this lab and it surprised me that the gummy bears grew so much.

Once the data was collected on the lab sheets, we transferred the data to a chart that the students added to their science journals. Most groups found that the vinegar, lemons, and food coloring made the gummy bears gain the most mass.

They finished the lab by writing down their conclusions on the lab sheet. If you didn't download the lab sheets for this lesson, you can click this link to download them now. Thank you to Laura Candler for allowing me to do a guest post on her blog! 

Amy Alvis lives in Indianapolis, Indiana and teaches 5th and 6th grade math, science, and social studies. She is the creator of the blog Math, Science, and Social Studies .. Oh, My! You can find more free activities for these subject areas by visiting her blog.