Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tropicana Speech Contest

Each year, my students participate in a speech contest that is sponsored by Tropicana and Florida 4-H.  This is actually a state-wide contest for students in grades 4-6.  I love this program because I get to teach my students how to write and deliver a speech.  I, myself, enjoy public speaking and believe it is a valuable skill to teach children. 
Students come up with a topic that interests them, research information, and then write a 2-3 minute speech.  I encourage my students to talk over topics with their parents, but all the research and writing is done in class.  This isn't always the case in other schools, but at CCS, we like to see what our students are capable of on their own. 
Topics must be approved by the teacher and I have even asked students to change their topics before.  I usually won't allow them to write about siblings, pets, or vacations (those seem like 4th grade topics).  I want them to choose topics that require a little research.  Students may not use the same topic twice.  Here are a few topics from my students this year:
  • The History of Basketball
  • The Benefits of Laughter
  • A Day in the Life of a Poison Dart Frog
  • Big Ben
  • Ballet IS a Sport
  • Taylor Swift
  • The Impact of Commercials
  • Harry Houdini
  • Music--The Magic Medicine
  • Oscar Pistorius
I always learn something new when we work on the speeches.  For example, I didn't have a clue who Oscar Pistorius was until a student told me he wanted to write a speech about him!
Once the speeches are written, we hold a classroom contest.  The teachers do not get to judge and sometimes I'm surprised by the results.  Three students are chosen from each class to move on to the school-wide contest.  This year, my top three speeches were The History of Basketball, The Impact of Commercials, and Music--The Magic Medicine.  For the past three years, one of my students has won the school contest and advanced to the county level. 
This year, the student who wrote his speech on The Impact of Commercials won the school-wide contest!  Yesterday, I went to cheer him on at the county level and he actually won Most Humorous Speech!  I am one proud teacher!  Even though I've had several students advance to the county level, none of them have ever placed at this level.  We were so excited!
To learn more about this program and check out resources for teaching public speaking, CLICK HERE. 
Does your elementary/middle school teach public speaking?  Do you have any helpful resources that you could share?  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Exit Ticket Strategy

The Exit Ticket Strategy allows students an opportunity to write down what they learned from the day's lesson(s) and may be used in a variety of ways.
Until this week, I had been doing verbal exit tickets to monitor my students' learning.  As my class would line up to go home, I'd turn to each one and have them tell me one thing they learned throughout the day.  No one could repeat a statement.  If a child said something like, "I learned how to add fractions with common denominators," I would give them a problem to solve or have them give me an example.  This took way too long, so I decided to use Post-It Notes as my Exit Tickets.
I transformed the inside of my classroom door so my students have a place to put their tickets before they leave:
Each of my students have a number assigned to them.  At the end of the day, the students are given 2-5 minutes to complete their Exit Ticket and then they stick it over their number.  This way, I can quickly see who has finished and who hasn't. 
I don't grade the Exit Tickets; they simply help me check for understanding and allow me to see which lesson the students found most memorable.
For more ideas on how to use Exit Tickets, click HERE.  For more information, plus printable Exit Tickets, click HERE.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Our First Mystery Skype

On Tuesday, my class participated in our first Mystery Skype.  If you don’t already know, Mystery Skype is an activity in which two classes Skype and try to figure out where the other is located.  We guessed each other's state, city, and school.  This is done by having the students come up with clues about their location and asking yes/no questions.  Students must think about the clues they are given and then study maps in order to rule out certain places and make educated guesses.  This activity is student centered and the teacher acts as a facilitator.  
 Benefits of Mystery Skype:
  • Geography comes to life for the students.  It’s interactive; they learn about other states or countries in the world by having a conversation with the people who actually live there.  This is much more interesting and engaging than reading from a textbook!
  • With this activity, students are able to put to use their geography skills and see the value in knowing their cardinal/intermediate directions, how to read a map, etc.  I remember asking the students, “Do you see why it’s important to know where you are in the world?”
  • Students practice critical thinking skills.  They must brainstorm and create good questions for the other class.  They must use clues and deductive reasoning to figure out possible places where the other students are located.
  • Students practice communication skills.  The children must communicate effectively with those in their classroom and those on the computer in order to progress through the activity.
  • Encourages collaboration
  • Integrates technology and helps make global connections

Drawbacks of Mystery Skype:
  • It is easy for students not to participate and let someone else do all the work. 
  • It is difficult to hold each child accountable.

Mystery Skype is a wonderful activity.  However, I had some challenges during my first Mystery Skype and I’m going to share my honest reflections here.  I’ll also share my plan for improvement, as I’ll definitely be trying Mystery Skype again.
Everything I had read online about Mystery Skype beforehand gave me information on jobs/roles for the students so I mainly focused on that.  I made sure every child had a job and knew what his/her role was.  I’ll tell you the jobs I used, but know that I will probably change these for the next Skype session.  Here goes:
Greeter—Greeted the other class and shared a few clues about our location without giving it away
Orators—Asked/answered the questions and were the voice of the classroom (I didn’t want everyone shouting out answers, so I assigned two people to speak)
Inquirers—Came up with the questions to ask the other class.  They worked closely with the orators.
Typists—Two students were stationed at the computer to transcribe questions and answers.  They were taking the “minutes.”  
Google Mappers—Used maps on the iPads to try to piece together clues
Think Tank—Group of students who discussed the clues and tried to think through possible locations.  They were given maps to write/draw on.
Clue Keepers—Worked closely with the Google Mappers and Think Tank to keep up with clues.  They also sent information to the inquirers and orators.
Messenger—This student went from group to group, relaying information.
Photographer—Took pictures throughout the activity
Closer—Responsible for ending the call politely
Mathematician—Recorded the start/stop time of the call; when the activity was finished, this student used MapQuest to find the distance between our locations and the length of time it would take to drive from our school to their school.

I learned a great deal from this activity.  I, unfortunately, had made a lot of assumptions before our Skype call which caused me to be disappointed with my class’s participation in the activity.  First of all, I assumed they knew all the states and their locations.  They supposedly learned this last year.  However, they ended up having difficulty identifying locations on the map they were given.  I learned that I need to show maps every day and continue to talk about places in the world.  I can’t just say, “Oh, well they should have learned that last year” and not continue to reinforce the concepts.

I assumed my students knew how to search for information online.  I learned a few days ago, however, that their Internet search skills are limited.  I was also shocked to find out that they are not allowed to go on the Internet when they visit the computer lab for special area.  Instead, they focus on keyboarding.  I don’t have a set of computers in my classroom so I’ve never really had the chance to see many of my students try to navigate the Internet.  We will definitely be working on that!
I assumed that if each child had a job, they would take the task seriously and try to do their job well.  Negative.  I learned that when given a little bit of freedom, some of my students will take the opportunity to be silly.  At one point, I had a student holding a large map over his head and making random noises.  He wasn’t trying to help his classmates and wasn’t really listening to the other class.  He wanted attention and was trying to distract others.  I learned that I need to consider each child’s strengths and weaknesses and choose my students’ jobs carefully instead of randomly assigning them.  

My first Mystery Skype was definitely a learning experience and didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped!  I had high expectations because my class is bright, polite, and usually very well-behaved.  They were nervous and excited though and neither of us knew what to expect.  The activity turned chaotic and confusing at times, which was frustrating.  

If I do this again:
  • I will practice before connecting with another class!  I will think of a country (or state) somewhere in the world and offer clues about the location to my students.  I will have them create questions to ask, examine maps, etc. and we will do a simulated “Mystery Skype” activity with just us.   
  • I will have my students come up with some behavioral rules/guidelines beforehand and make my behavioral expectations crystal clear. 
  • I will make sure my students know facts about their state/city inside-out!  They had a tough time coming up with clues for the other class to guess.
  • I will give more children the opportunity to come up to the computer, introduce themselves, and speak into the microphone.  During our first Skype, I had assigned only two students to speak.  Even though all my students could be seen in the background, I realize now that every child needed the opportunity to talk to the other class and next time, I’ll let them.     
I definitely have a better idea of how Mystery Skype should go.  I look forward to trying it out again!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Reading Fluency and Music

I have finally finished a project that I've been working on over the Christmas break.  I was inspired by THIS article (titled "Using Music to Improve Reading Fluency") to create a "songbook" of sorts in order to help my students improve their reading.
I decided to follow what the article suggested and select a variety of songs that were appropriate and engaging for my students to sing/read along with.  Do you know how hard it was to find a selection of wholesome songs for 5th graders?!  I wanted fun, catchy tunes from different genres and years with no innuendos or mention of love or boyfriend/girlfriend relationships.  I wanted a variety of tempos and songs with good vocabulary.  The songs also needed to be ones that the students were not so familiar with that they have already memorized the lyrics. 

Once I decided on my songs, I downloaded the MP3's.  I looked up song lyrics from a variety of websites and simply copied them into a Word document.  Most of them contained errors, so I had to do some editing.  I ended up with 30 songs.  Here's my list:

1.  “Good Morning” by Mandisa (feat. Toby Mac)  (2011)
2.  "Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland (1939)
3.  If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/Nerve Lyrics (Wizard of Oz--1939)
4.  "Be Prepared" (Disney's The Lion King--1994)
5.  "Friend Like Me" (Disney's Alladin--1992)
6.  "Under the Sea" (Disney's The Little Mermaid--1989)
7.  "A Spoonful of Sugar" (Disney's Mary Poppin--1964)
8.  "Be Our Guest" (Disney's Beauty and the Beast--1991)
9.  "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley (1954) 
10.  "Yakety Yak" by The Coasters (1958)
11.  "My Favorite Things" by Julie Andrews (from the musical The Sound of Music--1965)
12.  "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin (1988)
13.  "Lean on Me" by Club Nouveau--1987 (original by Bill Withers in 1972)
14.  "Feeling Good" by Michael Buble--2005 (original by Cy Grant in 1965)
15.  "Hard to Believe" by VOTA (2008)
16.  "Forgiven and Loved" by Jimmy Needham (2008)
17.  "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger (1978)
18.  "Psalm 145" by Shane and Shane (2001)
19.  "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" by The Four Lads (1953)
20.  "I Can See Clearly Now" by Jimmy Cliff--1993 (original by Johnny Nash in 1972)
21.  "D.A.N.C.E." by Justice (2007)
22.  "Here Comes the Sun" by The Beatles (1969)
23.  "Pure" by Superchick (2005)
24.  "Who I Am" by Jessica Andrews (2000)
25.  "Carol of the Bells/Sing We Now of Christmas" by Barlow Girl (2008)
26.  "The World's Greatest" by R. Kelly (2002)
27.  "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry (1958)
28.  "Surfin' USA" by The Beach Boys (1963)
29.  "Fun, Fun, Fun" by The Beach Boys (1964)
30.  "Seminole Wind" by John Anderson (1992)

You can see that I have a mix of music--some Christian, some secular, some old, some more recent.  I focused on songs from Disney movies for a while.  They actually have great vocabulary in them!  I concluded with a country song that I'm sure none of my students have heard, but it's about Florida and we are actually in Seminole country, so it's fitting.  I plan on talking about musical genres and discussing the meanings behind the lyrics.  We will also discuss vocabulary and I can even pull in some geography with "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Surfin' USA."        

Finally, I was so intrigued by the Scholastic article that I did some research and learned about Shirley Handy, a veteran teacher who has led a workshop called "The Singing-Reading Connection" since 1989.  Wow!  I also found an old article by Gayla R. Kolb titled, "Read with a Beat: Developing Literacy through Music and Song."  The workshop and article are geared toward teachers of younger students, but I still have some struggling readers in 5th grade so I found them helpful.  I look forward to integrating music with our fluency practice and seeing how my students respond.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pinterest New Year's Activities

I won't greet my students until January 8th, but some teachers will go back to school as early as this Thursday.  Therefore, I wanted to go ahead and share some New Year's activities that I've collected on Pinterest.  I have about 13 activities pinned, most of which are geared to 4th-5th graders.  Feel free to check these out by clicking HERE to access my New Year's board on Pinterest.  The best thing about these activities--they are all FREE!  Enjoy! 

New Year's Resolutions: Teacher Edition

Happy New Year!  It's 2013, but I don't really think of it as a "New Year."  After all, my year starts in August! 

At this point, I am halfway through the 2012-2013 school year, but I thought I would create some goals, or resolutions, that I can focus on for the remainder of the year.  This has been the best year for me, professionally.  I have learned SO much through my Twitter PLN, had the opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy (a dream of mine since college!), received recognition for my work (on a local level, I was named "Teacher of the Month" in October), and have had no discipline issues in my classroom (Hallelujah!).  Even though it's been a great year so far, I know I still have much more learning and growing to do. 

For the remainder of the school year:
1.  I resolve to listen more intently to my students.
     -My students looove to tell me stories and one child in particular has a story to tell me every single day, first thing in the morning.  I get so annoyed with this, but try to never let it show.  I usually continue getting ready for the day while she speaks, listening half-heartedly, and occassionally interjecting an enthusiastic, "Mmh-hmm!"  I should be flattered that this child wants to share things with me!  From now on, I'm going to listen more carefully and show her (and my other storytellers) that I care about what they have to say.

2. I resolve to teach my heart out.
     -I want to finish this year strong.  Teaching is my dream job and I want to step into my classroom every day with passion, energy, and excitement and get my students fired up about learning!  I want to do whatever I can to help my students become successful and enjoy their last year in elementary school.   

3. At the same time, I resolve to avoid burnout.
      -I spend most of my time thinking about school.  I constantly read and research and plan and grade. I think about what I can do I can make my lessons more I can do a lot with technology even though I have access to little...the list goes on.  This is exhausting!  I need to take some time for myself.  It hit me that I'm becoming a little obsessed with school as I was standing in front of the copy machine in our main office on Christmas Eve, prepping materials for when I return from break.  I am not "Superteacher".  I need to stop trying to be!

Today, I am linking up with two other teacher bloggers:

 Diane from Teaching With Moxie:

and Amanda from Teaching Maddeness:
Happy 2013!