Sunday, August 21, 2016

Interesting Informational Texts

Below are a few interesting informational texts that would be great for sparking curiosity and conversations with students. Although they may not relate to your specific content areas, we all know how captivating a great book can be!

Orangutan Orphanage by Suzi Eszterhas

A unique characteristic of this book is that the author tells about what orangutan mothers do in the wild and then describes how the foster mothers (human) adapt in order to take care of the orphaned orangutans. A great read aloud!

Splat! The Most Exciting Artists of All Time by Mary Richards

I love this book! A quick 2-3 page spread about different authors, highlighting their major works while also giving pertinent information. 

13 Skyscrapers Child Should Know by Brad Finger

The '13 series' actually looks very interesting. The latest installment is an amazing book which highlights 13 skyscrapers from around the world. The photographs are excellent, the facts and entertaining and the entire book is easily understood.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What I Learned Through Gardening pt. 2

I spent my summer gardening. Or rather, I spent my summer out in my yard touching the dirt and plants. I don't know how one defines themselves as a gardener. I imagine one of the requirements is that you have expertise in the craft of gardening. I have none. Therefore, I am not yet ready to call myself a gardener.

But, I did the best I could. I put forth a great deal of effort. I was out in my garden almost every morning from 7:30-10:30 a.m. From the moment I started, I began making plans about what I would do differently next year. Each step (or misstep) I made was an opportunity for me to reflect on what I should do differently next time.

For example, when my tomatoes began rotting on the vine, I began my research on 'blossom rot'. After watching all my hard work literally rot on the vine, I pulled out half the plants, fed the tomatoes Tums and egg shells and decided next year, we were planting less. Blossom rot is due to a lack of calcium and I think we over planted the boxes. But, without experimenting and trying, I wouldn't know how to make it better.

Another misstep in my gardening adventure was where we planted our zucchini. I had NO IDEA how big zucchini plants would get. Thank goodness we had planted them close to the front of a raised box - they completely spilled out into the yard. Next year, they are going in their own space all the way in the back of the yard!

Next year, I'll also be building some wooden trellises for my tomato plants. My plants overtook those flimsy metal 'cages' and ran them down like the B-rated movie, The Blob.

Everyday when we teach, it's an opportunity for us to reflect on what we should do differently next time. Maybe our lessons aren't necessarily 'rotting' or being crushed into oblivion, but we can always do better. We can push ourselves to think, "How can my teaching impact more learners?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I Learned About Teaching Through Gardening pt. 1

For reasons I still can't completely understand, my husband and I decided to go full-on gardening this summer. I should preface this with the fact that we have NO IDEA how to garden. I believe we were inspired by a family who grows 75% of their food at their home. Our idea was, "Well, if they can do that, certainly we can grow some stuff."

So, we built some raised beds, got lots of dirt, and planted some stuff. That was the extent of our 'research'. The only tip I knew was to plant marigolds on the perimeter of all the beds. That would keep the bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, etc. away.

Every morning, I watered those plants.
Every morning, I checked their progress.
Every morning, I weeded those beds.
And every morning, I saw new things.

I love my garden. There are so many things that we did wrong and so many things that we will change for next year, but this garden has been a thinking space for me every morning. Sometimes, I  get only a few minutes out there to water, but most days, it's several hours as I weed and try to figure out what is going on with the plants. So, bear with me as I try to frame some of my educational thinking into soil, sprouts, and sunlight.

When we planted our 'crops' we didn't really do anything special. We dug a hole, put in a seedling, and gave it some water. As each of these plants started to develop, I notice how the different plants represent the different types of students that are in our classrooms.

Zucchini - The zucchini plants started off fine and they keep going along fine. I don't have to do anything to these plants except pull off the ripe zucchini. These are the middle-of-the-road kids. They will learn despite us. They have learned how to play school and they will get along fine in school. But, we have to be careful not to let these students slip through the cracks. They are so easy to overlook because they don't cause a ruckus or demand attention.

Cucumber - The cucumber plants started off strong. They were producing 3-5 cucumbers a week. Then, none. Then, weak, small cucumbers. I eventually pulled out one of the plants because it stopped producing anything. I think of these plants as the kids who come in confident in a specific content area. They are the students who excel in sports or art, but lose their shine when it is time to talk about social studies. They have strong skills in one area, but are unable to apply that confidence to other challenges. We must help them see that they can help themselves along as they acquire new areas of learning.

Sweet 100's - These particular tomato plants overtook the garden. It is impossible to even tell that there were cages planted around each of these. These plants flourished right away and grew, grew, grew. Unfortunately, they overshadowed every other plant that was in the bed and killed them off. The peppers died, the onions died, and the carrots died. These plants were doing so well, I didn't realize there were others underneath that were having a harder time. We all have students like this in our room. They understand the concepts, they flourish with instruction and we sometimes assume that if they get it, everyone else should too.

We have other plants growing but these are the ones that really struck me as the start of a conversation about how students learn and how we are matching our instruction for them. While each plant does need sunshine, soil, and water, each also has its own unique growing patterns. While all students need love, respect, and a curriculum, each needs their own levels to grow.