Sunday, May 24, 2015

Going Back to School (Gifted and Talented Classes)

Earlier in the school year, I was approached to be on my school's High Ability team. I wasn't too interested at the time, but I'm always looking to add to my resume, so I decided to join. There are 4 of us on the team. In March, I was presented with the opportunity to go back to school and get my license in High Ability education. And it would be completely paid for by my school. Tuition, books, everything. How could I say no to free education?

I was nervous (and still not totally interested) but I said yes, applied to Ball State University, and was accepted into their graduate program. I then found out that my school is restructuring into multi-age classrooms (K-2 and 3-5) and that I would be teaching the High Ability K-2 class. Suddenly, I was so glad I was going to be taking these classes because I was stepping into a whole new territory. 

I'm officially 2 weeks into my classes, and I have to say, Gifted and Talented education is SO interesting! I'm learning that these students are the exact opposite side of the spectrum of Special Education students, in that they need special instruction, and often have social/emotional issues. The bad thing is, that while special education gets a lot of federal and state funding (and they should), gifted students get no federal funding, and very little from the state. Everyone just assumes that these students will be fine, "because they're smart." But that's not always the case. 10% of high school dropout are gifted. 44% of students who had been identified as gifted in 1st grade are no longer gifted by 5th grade. Because we're not doing anything for them. These students have needs that are not being met in their general education classes. If we ignore their needs, they end up underachieving. Think of what we're robbing our world of. These students are the one who become the great doctors, lawyers, business giants, and researchers. If we don't give them what they need in school, we could be denying the world of some great innovators.

Clearly, you can tell I'm becoming passionate about this topic that I didn't give two hoots about a few months ago. Anyway, I'm knee deep in research papers and projects:

But I'm finding this "new normal" of coming home, changing into comfy clothes, and doing school work is sort of fun. I love learning new things, and since this is so relevant to what I'm going to be doing next year, it's really holding my interests. I'm taking two classes this summer and two classes next summer. Then I'll be able to get my license. After that I could see myself wanting to begin work for my Masters. We'll see!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Kinder Caterpillar Update: The Final Chapter

This has been one heck of an experience as far as I'm concerned. Let's recap the last 2 weeks of this fun project.

Once all of the caterpillars had entered the chrysalis, I carefully pinned them all into the butterfly pavilion. They were in there about 7 days before the first two emerged while I was out of town and had a sub.

 I was aware that there might be a little blood, but I was not prepared for just how much. After the weekend, we had about 8 butterflies and a decent amount of blood. My students were concerned, so I explained it to them in terms of a scab. 

Me: What happens when you pick a scab?
Students: We bleed.
Me: But you're okay, right?
Students: Yeah.
Me: Exactly. The chrysalis was like a big scab. When the butterflies came out, it was like picking that big scab off. There was some blood, but they're okay!

I put a sponge soaked in sugar water down at the bottom of the pavilion for them to drink from. A couple days later, I decided to put an orange in there as well. They liked the orange a lot better!

They lived in the pavilion for a week. I kept it on my desk and the students loved coming over to check on them and watch them.  Once I noticed the butterflies beginning to mate, I knew it was time to set them free. So we decided to go outside yesterday afternoon (we had to make sure it was warm enough) and said goodbye.

I wish I could share more pictures and videos. A few of the butterflies landed on the kids and it was so cute! We had talked about how the butterflies may want to stop and say thanks for taking such good care of them before flying off, so the kids did a great job of being calm and not freaking out.

This was by far one of the best experiences of my teaching career so far. If you've never done something like this, I highly suggest it. I plan to do this or something similar again in the future. My students got so much out of this project. Authentic learning experiences like this one are the things that kids remember when they think back on their education. My students will never remember the creative math lessons I taught, but I think they'll always remember raising a caterpillar and watching it turn into a butterfly. I'm so glad I got to share this experience with these amazing sweeties!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Kinder Caterpillar Update #1

I'm happy to announce that ALL of our caterpillars are still alive! (A small miracle in a class of 20 little kids!)

The little guys have been eating constantly and have grown considerably. After the weekend, my students were surprised to see that they'd nearly doubled in size, and that they had pooped all over the place. At first they thought the caterpillars were having babies, but once I educated them as to what those "babies" really were, they were super excited to write about caterpillar poop in their observation journals!

We've been noticing some some big changes in the last 24 hours. Here is what most of our little friends currently look like:

They've been hanging out at the top of their cups, looking for a spot to attach so they can begin to make their chrysalis.

Once they attach, they hang upside down in a "J shape." When I arrived at school this morning, my caterpillar and one of my girls' had assumed the position!

I checked on mine right before recess and it was still hanging out in that "J shape." But 25 minutes later when we came back in...

My caterpillar, Pookie, had made himself a chrysalis! 

I quickly pulled all my students over to my desk and showed them. I wish I could have captured the looks on their faces! Immediately followed by, "Why did he do it when we were gone?" 

Teacher confession: I told them that he chose to do it during recess because it was silent in the room. I said that the quieter they are, the quicker their caterpillars will change, because they need peace and quiet to be able to think. It's nearing the end of the year...I need all the help I can get, ok? 

I'm hopeful that we'll get to catch one in action in the next couple days, because I'd love for them to be able to see it happen. In case it doesn't, I found this great video on YouTube of a young boy narrating the life cycle of his caterpillars, which happen to be from the same company. I'll link the video below. My kids LOVED it yesterday, and even asked to watch it again today. I highly suggest showing it to students. After seeing it, they know exactly what to be on the lookout for!

Stay tuned for the next update!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Caterpillars in Kindergarten

If there's one thing I've learned in the last year or so in my school, it's that if you want something, you have to make it known. The worst your principal can say is "no." In my case, the answer is normally yes.

I've learned that if you want something, you have to do these three things:

1. Do your research beforehand. Know what you want and have a plan for how you will use it.
2. If you're given what you asked for, USE it! My school has a very limited budget. If I were to get what I asked for and then not use it, I'd never get anything again. When administrators come into your room, they should be able to see the what you received in action. No one will want to purchase you something that you aren't actually going to utilize. That money would be better used toward something else.
3. Write thank you letters. Thank your principal for allowing the purchase of your materials. Include pictures of your kiddos using them and a snippet about what you and your kids learned.

Because I've followed those 3 steps in the past, my principal gladly said yes when I approached her about getting caterpillars for our classroom. We're getting ready to start a butterfly unit, and while reading books and watching videos are great, I really wanted to give my students a more authentic approach. The population that I teach don't typically get authentic experiences, so I really want to lean more in that direction from now on. I was able to persuade my school to purchase butterfly kits for all the K-1 classes, so we can all do this project together.

Today I introduced the caterpillars to my students. Each kid has their own caterpillar.

The little guys are living on our tables. My students can get some better observations throughout the day and take a little more ownership of the project if the caterpillars become part of our classroom, rather than just sitting on a shelf and me pulling them out once a day.

The stuff on the bottom of the cup is food. They'll eat the food and get bigger. Then they'll climb up to the lid, attach to the tissue paper, and spin their cocoon. Once they've been in the cocoons for a couple days, I'll transfer them into a netted pavilion, where they'll stay until they hatch. The butterflies can fly around in the pavilion for a couple days, and then we'll release them outside.

My students were so excited while we were getting the caterpillars into the cups this morning. We haven't officially started our unit yet, so the only thing they know about caterpillars is that they make cocoons and turn into butterflies. There was all kinds of great inquiry this morning, and the kids were asking some really great questions that we'll research next week.

The timeline for this project is about 3 or 4 weeks. It will overlap with some of our other units, but that's totally okay with me. I'm so thankful that we've been given this opportunity, and I'd love to get the chance to do this again in the future.

I'll keep you updated as the buggies grow and change!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Flexibility and Improvising

As teachers, we all know that things rarely go according to plan. In my personal life, I used to HATE to be flexible. However, my job forces me to. So in the last few years, I've learned to "go with the flow" both in my personal and professional life. I always have to think on my feet, change what I had planned, and come up with something on the fly.

Today was one of those days.

Since it's Earth Day, I had planned to get my kiddos outside and moving! We were going to do a Nature Walk outside, make observations about what we could see, hear, smell, and feel, and then pick up trash around the school. My students were super excited, and got their papers and clipboards ready. We put on jackets and headed out to the back door of the school...only to find out that it was sleeting! (We have no windows in our classroom, so I had no idea.) I took one look at their disappointed faces, and knew I had to improvise.

So I had all the kids sit down on the floor right by the door. We completed the "I See" part of the observation. Then we got ready for the "I Feel" part. I asked if they were ready...and then I opened the door. They got blasted in the face with cold wind and sleet! (Good thing we had jackets, huh?) We did the same thing for "I Hear" and "I Smell."

It certainly wasn't the picture-perfect Earth Day activity I had pictured.

But it ended up being a teachable moment (which are awesome, by the way!) When we got back to the classroom we sat down and talked about how sometimes things don't work out the way we planned, and "ya gotta do what ya gotta do" to make it work. We talked about other times plans have changed in our lives. It was good for me to be able to model flexibility for them, and for them to deal with their disappointment in appropriate ways.

**I DID promise that we'd do this activity again when the weather isn't nasty!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rain Experiment

I mentioned that the week before Spring Break was Weather Week in kindergarten. I wanted to stop by and share a really cool demonstration I did to show my kiddos how rain works.

I found this demonstration idea on Pinterest. (What did we ever do without it?!)

You will need: A clear plastic cup filled 3/4 with water, shaving cream, and blue food coloring

I had all my students gather around my table for this demonstration. We'd already spent a few days learning about clouds, so we were ready to learn! I made a "cloud" on top of my water with shaving cream.

My kiddos knew that clouds were made of dust and water, but we talked about how even MORE water collects into clouds. I then started putting drops of blue food coloring in the cloud. We talked about how a cloud needs a LOT of water inside before it will rain. So we used a LOT of food coloring. After the food coloring became too heavy, the shaving cream broke open and the "rain" came down from the "cloud."

The looks on their faces when the rain came down was priceless! It was so much fun that we did the whole thing one more time. This time I had the kids explain what was happening during each step. And you can bet your bottom dollar that when we were finished, every single one of my students was able to tell you that rain occurs when water collects in a cloud until it gets too heavy. Then the cloud breaks open and rain comes out. For kindergarten, that's a pretty darn good understanding! 

Super simple, cheap, low-prep, but FULL of excitement and learning. When we were cleaning up, one of my students said, "Well...that was a fun activity!"

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cloud Study

I wanted to stop by quick to talk about a quick, cheap, and fun activity we did last week to learn about the different types of clouds! We learned about cirrus (thin, feathery clouds), stratus (a layer of clouds), and cumulus (white, puffy clouds). We read an article about the cloud types, looked at pictures, and watched a video. But I wanted to do something that would really help us remember them.

So I mixed together some shaving cream and glue to make Puffy Cloud Paint!
We did one cloud type at a time and were careful to make them just like they were supposed to look based on the type of cloud we were making.

 And here's how they turned out! Since I'd mixed glue with the shaving cream, it dried nice and puffy. They're really neat! At the end of this project, all 20 of my kiddos could tell you the 3 different types of clouds and what they look like.

The best part was when we went outside for recess and I had a bunch of students shouting, "Look at the sky! Cirrus clouds! They're thin and see-through. That means it's going to be nice weather!"

Hands-on learning is the best!