Sunday, May 31, 2015

Who Was Series.....Making it work in 6th grade!

I love the "Who Was" biography series.  Many years ago Amazon was offering them in a 4 for 3 sale, so I decided to grab a few.  I have continued to add to my collection as more books have become available (although I certainly don't have them all!)  Generally written at a 3rd to 4th grade reading level, these books are not only fun to read, but are also informative.  And the kids loved the cover illustrations!   For the past three years, I had my students read a biography and complete a ""Who is Behind the Secret Door?" project.  It used this really cool foldable that I found here.  The kids enjoyed doing this because the "secret door" made it cool.  (You can find the directions and a rubric here for this project.)

However, this year I wanted to do something a bit different.  Common Core Standard RI 6.5 asks students to "analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas."  RI 6.8 wants students to "trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not."  We worked on these concepts together through a read-aloud I did with them called George Crum and the Saratoga Chip.  Then they worked on them collaboratively with the KidsDiscover Ancient Greece magazine--we identified a claim made by the author and found evidence to support the claim.  Then it was time for them to try it independently--but I didn't want them to struggle with the text and the "Who Was" series is perfect for that.

Most of the books in the "Who Was" series make a claim in the first chapter of the book or within the last few pages.  Students had to identify a claim made by the author (I did verify each one with them before they started proving it--I didn't want them to choose a sentence that was incorrect or too difficult to prove.  Only two of the books posed any real difficulty in finding a claim.)  Then they had to prove the claim by citing evidence from the text.  The best part for them was drawing the subject--using the cover as a guide.  They made them about the size of the books --and they really worked hard to make them look good.  After they cut out the person, they traced the outline onto lined paper--I gave them colored lined paper that I found at Walmart because 6th graders love bright colors!   Then they flipped the colored paper over and wrote their response on it (that way the writing was visible when you turned the picture around.)  We taped the picture to the writing at the top and taped a bamboo skewer (also from Walmart) on the back.   Then we stuck them in a foam board I had.  They were so proud of their finished projects.  And they made a great display for our Open House.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Country Fair!

April has been a busy month for me this year.  

Besides the normal day to day operation of navigating a classroom full of hormonal preteen kids---picture screaming girls and too cool for school boys--we have been getting ready for testing.  With the changes in our administration the past few years and the new computer based assessments, things have not rolled out as smoothly as in the past.  However, after many hours of reading and re-reading the test administration manuals, I finally felt I had a handle on it.  The instructions reminded me of slogging through IRS tax code---what should be simple and straight-forward is written in a complicated, vaguely threatening manner.  We have two weeks down, and two weeks left to go.  I think my favorite moment must have been running back to class after our recess break to make sure that we got logged back in before reaching the dreaded 20 minute time limit of no return.  Most of them made it---but there were a few kids who didn't type their log-in information correctly and they didn't beat the 20 minute countdown.  One was laughing hysterically because he forgot the "n" in his name which is why the computer wouldn't recognize him---I did have a thought that perhaps hysterical laughter is not the best testing environment, but since I was just a few breaths of self-control away from it myself, I rolled with it.  All in all, I will say that it was a learning experience for next year.

The other major event that was consuming my life was our annual school carnival, the Country Fair.  The very first year of this event (which was like 23 years ago) it was a small shin-dig with a "country" theme--there were hay bales and themed activities.  The name stuck, but the event has evolved over the years.  Now, it is a school fundraiser (each grade level earns about $300 to use for field trips and what-nots) with about 30 homemade booths.  The teachers and students from our high school Key Club operate the booths.  Our PTA helps to subsidize it by buying the prizes which enables us to keep the ticket prices low ($0.25 per ticket and most games are one ticket to play.)  We sell hot dogs, nachos, soda, and chips.  It really has become an event that is embraced by our community--present and former students love the Country Fair.  It is a lot of work to organize it all, but well worth it in the long run.  I can remember how much I loved my elementary school carnival when I was a child, and how sad I was when it was no more.  My 6th graders are a great help too...the day after the fair, they had the trash removed from the playground, all of the leftover prizes sorted, and all of the games & equipment boxed up for next year in just TWO hours.  (And they worked cheaply too---they got to pick TWO leftover prizes each---the thrill of it all!)

I have a list of all the booths we operate, complete with instructions.  If you would like a copy, please feel free to email me.  I would be happy to send it to you.  Most of the booths are simply made with basic materials.  (Trust me when I tell you that if I can make it, anyone can.)   Some popular booths include the Dinosaur Dig in which we bury many plastic dinosaurs in the sand of our volleyball area--those who find the rare black-footed dinosaurs (courtesy of a Sharpie pen) win an additional prize; the Cake Walk (donations from the families of our first graders); a game called Bug Your Teacher in which little plastic bugs are tossed into cups with the teachers' pictures on them, and the Chicken Coop in which they pick a plastic egg and get whatever prize is hidden inside.  I try to add a new game every year--"Cover the Circle" was in "beta testing" this year (I think I will have to make it stronger in the future--as I only used a piece of foam board from the Dollar Tree when putting it together.)  I purchased  a set of vinyl stars and put a circle in the middle of the foam board.  Each player received three stars to toss to try to completely cover the circle....sounds simple, but it was harder than one would imagine.

Here are a few more pictures from the beginning of this year's Country Fair: