Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rachel K. Space Colony (Part 1)

SPACE COLONY - The Tiny Frontier

I started a Storypath curriculum entitled SPACE COLONY (always said in all caps because it is always yelled) today. I am so excited for this and have been waiting MONTHS to get going on it.

Students came up with a list of ideas for the types of jobs we will need on our international space station. I refer to the students as colonists, and the class was buzzing with excitement (and talking over each other with excitement as well). We came up with some pretty good jobs, and even some of the more space cadet students seemed to be interested in something or another. I'm looking forward to day 2 when the students will start making job applications and character dolls.

The students finished their job applications and started working on their character dolls. It was a hot mess. I have four boys who want to be the ship captain, so I'm going to decide on whose character has the most impressive job application to award that gem of a job - MWAHAHAHAH JOB APPLICATIONS MATTER. We had a fantastic 90 minutes of fabric cutting, wallpaper sample tracing, book research, Internet research, and lots and lots and LOTS of discussion. All in all, excellent progress so far; my students are inherently good at running around with scissors and making a mess. We'll see what happens when they find out they have to do work, too. Tomorrow will be the completion of the dolls and we will start writing Travel Logs and Introductions to practice their public speaking skills.

The kids got together in groups and made planet posters today. It was hectic, but I threw together a cooperative learning lesson. Each group of 3 students had a job (either manager, creative director, or researcher), and I prepped a lot of research for each planet because we only had 45 minutes to do 90 minutes worth of curriculum. The posters look fine, but if I could do it again, I would have given them black paper and just had them paste colored paper on it instead of starting wtih white paper. I think they would've turned out more interestingly. The class across the way saw how my class' posters turned out and did exactly that. While I am still in the puerile stage of seething that "the other teacher's class' posters look nicer than my students' and that makes me angry," I will get past that and simply revamp my plans for next time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Week 5 (February 13 – 16)
Students worked on their artistic responses for the Themed Literature Unit this week. Students selected to create inspirational posters, thoughtful poems, or realistic interviews. Once a student chose a project and an approved partner, they had a checklist and a rubric to guide their artistic endeavors. The end of this was a great success – students laid out their artwork and comment cards and the entire 5th grade walked around to admire different students’ artwork. Students were encouraged to leave kind or constructive comments on the other students’ comment cards. This was a lot of fun, and made for good practice for our EMP field trip coming up when we return from break.

Students were kind and interested in one another’s artistic representations.

Some students had less time to work on their artistic response projects due to bilingual testing. However, many of these students made tremendous effort to complete their projects, so it was a joyful experience overall.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Week 4
(February 6 – February 10, 2012)
We continued the Themed Literature Unit in the 5th grade this week with a focus on African Americans who stood up for their beliefs and for others. We read books aloud about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and discussed segregation and civil rights. Students were asked to write “generalizations,” or  to synthesize their big ideas about what it means to speak up for yourself and others. Students were given scaffolded pre-­‐write handouts to help them construct sentences, and slowly put them all together. The generalizations were used the following week to culminate in artistic response projects, which I will discuss in “Week 5.”

The scaffolding of the handouts was appropriate to a 5th grade ability level and encouraged students to follow directions on their own.

Again, making students write was a slow and grueling process. I often spent my time outside of instruction going over errors in writing conventions or missed directions with the 5th graders. While I believe that any one-­‐on-­‐one time with the students is a helpful event, I did feel disappointed at how much guidance each student required in spite of the clear directions. I believe that once students spend more time with me and become acclimated to my instructional habits, this will fall into place.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rachel K. Reflections

Week 4 (January 30 – February 3, 2012)
This week I began the Themed Literature Unit, which I co-­‐wrote with Cleo Peterson. The learning objectives for this unit are based on respect, empathy, and the courage to do what you feel is right. I wanted to bring this unit to the 5th grade because I understand that students from diverse backgrounds must learn to self-­‐advocate if they are to help themselves to reach their personal dreams and to support themselves through times of happiness and strife.

During this week, the students were required to respond to songs about “writing one’s own future,” and drafted letters to a bully in which they were required to use “peaceful language” to encourage the bully to stop being cruel to a character from the story The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.
The students responded well to this, and with a lot of coaching and revising they were able to score well in terms of writing conventions. I believe that the 5th graders need extra time to practice and improve upon their writing conventions. I implemented a vocabulary chart and two concept charts to aid visual learners and ELL students in their construction and understanding of what it means to speak up for yourself and others. The vocabulary chart was popular – students had to listen for the new words in our interactive read aloud each day and would use a hand signal if they heard any of the vocabulary. We would then construct our own definitions from context clues and prior knowledge, which was engaging for students and helpful for students of lower literacy abilities.

Strengths: The unit was both engaging to students and something that the 5th grade team felt was important to talk about with them.

Challenges: Writing conventions were quite difficult to get students to “buy into.” Perhaps it is because the majority of the students are weak writers (either in organization or understanding of basic sentence construction) and writing for them is neither joyful nor easy. I believe that more opportunities to practice basic writing conventions will at least improve student writing stamina if not disposition.