Tag Archives: art

Talking Turkey, Differentiation Style

There’s something about the November air that brings out the best in me when it comes to differentiating math. I love when inspiration strikes and my little gobblers all get to work on things that look the same but, upon close inspection, are very different.

It’s a rare bird of a day when I’m able to work with my entire class in math, reason being that 40 percent of them are 2nd graders and 60 percent are in 3rd. It’s even rarer when the lesson comes out of the oven perfectly cooked, but that’s what happened yesterday.

The basic premise was to have a bit of a review day. Sandy, election day, and a race to report cards’ due date have made this week confusing, discombobulating, and inconsistent to say the least. So, I really wanted to do something fun and educationally valuable to get kids back into some sort of flow. A colleague had placed a good idea on a silver platter for me: make some kind of turkey template and have the kids make turkeys.

Ah, but in our current situation, such frivolous activities are frowned upon. So I figured I’d make it into a math lesson. Kids would make the turkeys, oh yes. I decided each grade would use the turkeys to demonstrate their knowledge of what they’ve recently learned (or go ahead and get extra practice). The premise: write the concept on the bird, write examples on the feathers. FUN!

Second graders worked on showing numbers different ways. To differentiate, my most advanced second graders had to show more than two ways to write each number. They also had several examples with zeroes, which are often confusing.

This student, the most advanced, was required to write numbers in three different ways. I also love how some of his designs on his turkey involve math!

The more average performing second graders were able to choose one or two ways to represent numbers and they had fewer numbers with zeroes. They also found value in using base 10 blocks to continue to support their understanding.

This student wrote numbers only one way.

Over on the third grade side, students worked on regrouping. At the most basic level, one student added two-digit numbers. Even this presented her a challenge – she is expected to add three-digit numbers – but it also provided me the chance to reteach the concept to her. I’m proud to say after a few examples she was able to move on to three-digit addition and that’s why on the following turkey, you see two-digit and three-digit problems.

Note the two-digit plus two-digit problems on the right, and the more complex problems on other feathers.

This student’s enrichment required him to add numbers that totaled over 1,000, which is something I have not taught. I wish I had given him more examples like the one on the rightmost feather!

Gobble, gobble!

This was fun. It also gave me a great excuse to drag out all those amazing things kids never get to use anymore: buttons, feathers, sequins, and pipe cleaners! The kids couldn’t wait to get their birds up on the board. Here’s a fuzzy picture of the finished products…I’ll try to snap a better one and post it.


What Happens When You Let Kids Shine?

The tests are in our rearview mirror, and with less than one month left in the school year, it’s time for kids to show what they really can do.

This week, my students completed their mural of New York City landmarks. Almost universally, my colleagues loved it and wanted to know who drew it! I gave physical parameters and did some very basic sketching. The kids did the rest.

They were invested from the beginning to the end and the product shows the fruits of their motivation. Who knew “these kids” could do it? Well, I did. HA.

When the test scores come in, they won’t be much. When the report cards are written, they won’t be much. A glance at the reading levels show that everyone is below grade level.

Blah, blah, blah.

The point? Give kids an opportunity to shine and, you know what?

They will.

Look what happens when we let kids shine.


Finding Meaning Through Projects and Themes

One of the unexpected pleasures of emerging from testing season with two months of time left is the fact that I’ve been encouraged to keep kids motivated through project-based learning.

What a breath of intoxicatingly fresh air. We know that creativity has less and less of a place in our elementary schools. The kids wear this knowledge on their sad little faces as they flop test prep packets onto the desk and fall asleep over highlighted pages of nothingness.

Our current literacy unit involves research. There are four groups in my class and each is responsible for a New York City landmark of their choice. I have three goals for the unit: 1) have students direct their own learning about the landmarks; 2) give them transferable skills; 3) keep them engaged and having fun.

So, while kids are doing research, they are also creating a mural. First, everyone in the class sketched their landmark, paying close attention to details. On a tri-fold board, I sketched general parameters for each image. Then, they each drew their picture on the board, creating a bit of a mosaic of New York City. Students used rulers and measurements to maintain neatness. They are also picking up some art skills as they mix the paints to create desired colors, learn effective ways to use a brush and paint small areas, and visualize how items must overlap in order to look the right way. Maybe most importantly, the mural involves a good amount of group work and cooperation that, for the moment, is more effective in art than in research.

Once the mural is finished, I will use it to extend our math unit, which is focused on multiplication and division. As an example, students will be asked to compute the number of windows in the Empire State Building on our mural (the windows are arrays, which is a current focus). They’ll be able to measure different elements on the mural and compute areas and perimeters. I’ll figure out a way to have them review fractions through the mural, too.

Until the mural is complete and ready for us to use it for math, we are working on multiplication and division in context, tying them to, what else, New York City? Word problems don’t say “Sally shared 21 cookies with 7 friends. How many did each friend get?” but they do say, “21 tourists got into 7 taxis. How many tourists got into each taxi?” They are motivated by the New York-centric theme and, if I do say so myself, I am seeing a nice output on their parts.

Given the license to go with projects, you better believe I’m going to drive with it. Students are getting their kicks and their concepts, and it’s phenomenal.

A Case for Plays

A post-play cast photo from our fourth grade production of Aladdin. I am barely visible in glasses and a black shirt on the right edge!

When I interviewed at my school way back when, I was very intrigued by the fact that all classes (in a school of 2,000 students) were expected to perform a play. The principal showed me masks from a recent production of The Lion King and my interest was definitely piqued.

When I was in elementary school, all classes in grades three through five were required to perform a play. I remember the excitement of getting a script, auditioning, practicing, creating scenery, getting into costume, learning songs, and preparing programs. I played the lead in third grade and had the second biggest role in fourth. Unfortunately, by fifth grade, our teachers had complained enough to the point that plays were no longer required or, sadly, expected.

So when I learned that my school indeed did require each class to perform a play, I was super excited. School days nowadays are not as flexible as they were when I was a kid, and it is often difficult to balance the need for practicing for a play with the need to focus on other enrichment, not to mention academics and tests. It is often stressful because everything needs to be done – preferably well! – and it never seems as if there’s enough time in the day.

This week, my class and their second grade friends presented their play. I felt tremendous pride watching them. Right from the outset, I had tears in my eyes when my shyest student – who is often paralyzed by her angst – strode to the middle to confidently and clearly introduce the play. Certainly it was one of the more special moments of my career.

The kids sang, danced, and looked fantastic in their costumes in front of the scenery they painted. Colleagues and administrators had such nice things to say about the performance. Everyone had a great time.

All the complaining I did about how there wasn’t enough time for the play ceased to matter. All that mattered was how proud everyone was at what they accomplished and how much fun it was.

The scenery from this year's play, much of which was painted by students.

Collaborations Lead to Celebrations

I am excited and energized by several projects I am collaborating on with colleagues and hoping we see them through to successful, inspirational completion. I head to school this morning with an extra spring in my step, knowing that all three are moving forward and all three have the potential to make a great impact.

It’s important to find and devise projects that extend past the realm of just the students we have in front of us. At this point, though, it’s too early to talk about the projects I’m involved with that meet those criteria.

It’s timely, though, to celebrate the culmination of all the hard work another colleague and I – and of course, our students! – have put in for our play! For the last week or so, my play partner and I have been bringing students up during lunch to help us paint the scenery (what a great outlet for the artists who don’t get a chance to explore their talents or hobbies). For months, we’ve collaborated as two classes to practice songs, dances, spoken lines, and microphone transitions. The scenery looks great, the songs sound almost 100 % distinguishable, and the dances have the potential to induce goosebumps!

It would certainly seem this week will start off in grand fashion!

A Class Acts

When I interviewed at my school, I was totally impressed to learn that in a school of 2,000 kids, each and every class was expected to produce a stage performance. Logistics notwithstanding, I loved this because I have such positive memories of being in class plays when I was in elementary school.

Figuring out the logistics of working a play in with all the other requirements of the year can be quite daunting, sure. But I’m excited to say that our preparation is underway and yesterday’s initial foray into learning one of our songs wasn’t half bad.

I am still in the process of writing the script and the rest of the music,  but yesterday I began teaching my students one of the songs. In a class that is 75 % girls, setting a song to the tune of Justin Bieber’s “Baby” is bound to create excitement. Seeing the teacher dance like the Biebs while making the heart symbol with his hands ought to encourage them to do the same. Some of the more reserved kids couldn’t wait to bust a move and harmonize with their peers.

Some kids were totally into it, belting out runs on the music, offering twirls to the dance steps, and attempting to glide across the tiles. But some of the boys were a little less cooperative. One went ahead and said, “I hate Justin Bieber. I’m not going to be in this play!”

I think he will come around when he realizes the play isn’t about the Biebs, but about our class working together. So while it is stressful to produce a play in the midst of this, that, and several other things, the community and cooperation it yields is well worth it.

Assessment with Investment

Today, I presented my students with a challenge. In their mind, they were just making pictures using base 10 blocks. In essence, yes, that’s what they were doing. In my mind, however, they were taking their first math test of the school year.

We have worked on place value (ones and tens) since the beginning of the school year. Kids are improving in their grasp of the concepts, which perhaps I have not always done the best job of helping them understand. On day one, we looked at a 100s grid (our school is pushing them big time this year), and practiced counting by 2s and then 10s. When I tried to transition from 0-10-20-30-40…100 to more difficult tasks like 3-13-23-33… it was difficult. I guess I had to get back into teaching mode, so I scrapped this for base 10 blocks (which are obviously more concrete). This unlocked something in most.

Inspiration struck one day when, before the lesson, I told kids to take 5 minutes to play with the blocks (just to get it out of their system). I noticed they began to build sculptures with them. I capitalized on this the next day and asked them to make sculptures again. This time, we counted the blocks by 10s and 1s to see the total value.

I spun this into today when I provided the class with nine paper 10s and nine paper ones, which they had to color and cut out. Their challenge was to use all or some of those paper base 10 blocks to create a scene on paper. I modeled with a baseball field and encouraged them to create their own scene, rather than copy mine.

They were thrilled to do so. It was silent in the room (in a great way, because they were so invested in their work). And, to be sure, they came up with some amazing products.

Tomorrow, I will ask them to complete a sheet (this becomes the real assessment) in which they indicate how many tens and ones are in their scene. They then, simply, have to write how they figured out their answer (math writing is another big push this year, and I am amazed how much my kids enjoy it so far).

This isn’t a quiz or a test in the traditional sense, but it is an authentic assessment to see how independent students are with the topic. I am much happier to give this assignment to them than the other options. This keeps school fun, active, and creative, and that is so very important for kids with disabilities.

We Dream

On the first day of school, my students created pennants that expressed their dreams. I find it exciting that students wrote their dreams for the school year as well as dreams for their lives as well as what are essentially daydreams. They took different interpretations of what a dream is, and that’s fine.

Funny story. We were writing a book together all about our class. I pointed out it is important to write a sentence saying what our class is (by which I meant the official name used in school). So I asked, “What class is this?” Almost unanimously the students answered, “Field of Dreams!” They are definitely buying in.

Here are their pennants. They are hanging in our room as a reminder of what it means to dream. (Student names have been erased).

Sadako and the 356 Paper Cranes

It’s been an interesting week. For all the pom-poms, marching, and lunacy that led us up to the ELA test on Tuesday and Wednesday, it already seems like a distant memory. From what I could tell as I circulated, the students were dutifully following the strategies I taught them – maybe too much. Some of them worked up until about five minutes left in the allotted time. Everyone finished, though, and now, yes, we are finished. Of course, math is coming up on Wednesday, so the major crunch is on.

But this is not a story about tests. In fact, I only bring them up (why give them the press?) only to contrast what the first half of the week was compared to the second.

Our next reading unit is social issues. By the time we got to it last year, I was tapped out and doing my own thing. My initial reaction for this year’s incarnation of social issues was the same – that, since the ELA was over, I could put the car on cruise control and let it coast. Then, however, I got to thinking about all the wonderful ways to approach the unit, and all the outstanding books to immerse the children in.

I immediately flashed back to two of my favorite books from when I was in school. One of them was Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya. I had read this to my extended day students and knew this unit would be an ideal chance to bring it up for the whole class. It’s a true story about the decision, during World War II, to euthanize the animals at a Tokyo zoo for fear that destroyed cages would enable the animals to run wild through the city.

I figured that, for social issues, Elephants would be beautifully supplemented by another book about the horrors of the war in Japan: Sadako and the 1,000 Paper Cranes. Another true story, this poignant book tells the tale of a Japanese girl living ten years after the atomic bomb who develops and dies from leukemia, caused by the bomb’s radiation. She spends her final days folding paper cranes, inspired by the Japanese legend that 1,000 folded cranes will bring health to the sick. Sadako died after completing 644 cranes, but, following her death, her classmates completed her goal of 1,000, and today, her memory is one of the focal points of peace efforts in Hiroshima.

I finished the book with my class in only two days. It’s a short book, but it is amazingly deep. As usual, I struggled to finish reading it. When I did, the students sat in somber silence, pondering the intensity of the story and the poetic way Eleanor Coerr described Sadako’s story.

Now, prior to starting the book with the class, I pulled aside two of the girls – Mighty Mouse and Evelyn – and one of the boys – Anu – to enlist their paper folding skills for what I was planning for today. They eagerly agreed to assist the class in learning how to fold cranes, not realizing just exactly what I had planned.

It was a heavy end of the week in terms of books, so I wanted to end on an inspirational note. We had just finished evaluating a month-long baseball data collection effort for averages. Investment was high and could be easily sustained as I transitioned the class into our day’s final period.

Remarkably, several of the students remembered exactly how many cranes Sadako folded before her death (644). I had the class figure out how many more she would needed to reach her goal (356). Then, we figured out how many each person in the room (and me) would need to make to get the total between Sadako and us to 1,000. We would each have to make slightly less than 13.

Little did the class know that I brought in square paper for everyone. They delighted in me passing out the paper, and I brought Mighty Mouse to the front to lead us. Evelyn and Anu circulated while Mighty Mouse and I walked the class through the crane folding process.

Minor frustrations crept up for some, but everyone was resolutely dedicated to learning the proper way to fold a paper crane. (I’ve often marveled at the lack of overt sensitivity displayed by this class, but they were really into this).

It took us about 40 minutes to get through one crane, and with about 10 minutes left in the day, I spontaneously introduced the next step of the activity. I distributed looseleaf paper, and, thinking about the Jewish tradition of leaving prayers in Jerusalem’s Western Wall, asked the students to take some time to write a private note to Sadako. Like they did so many months ago after meditating about their neighborhood, the class went silent and commenced spilling their thoughts.

(The notes will be sealed shut, affixed to the cranes, and hung throughout our room to commemorate Sadako and the moving unit on which we’re embarking).

Here are the contents of some of their notes:

Evelyn: I still think that you are happy that you are wearing your kimono when you are died. …P.S. We will make the rest of the cranes.

Victoria: I think you were really really brave and I want to be as brave as you were. …I also want you to rest in peace.

In memory of Sadako and in recognition of the horrors of war, we fold cranes.

Leo: You are very inspiring. If I lived in Hiroshima I would visit you every time and bring some paper cranes. And I will try to bring as many as I can to get to 1,000, then you will feel strong and healthy.

Mighty Mouse: I hope you life happily in the sky. Now you will never die again and rest in peace.

Giggles: I would’ve hoped that you would finish your 1,000 paper cranes, but you couldn’t. So now my class and I are finishing the 356 cranes you didn’t get to do. Maybe if you had finished the 1,000 cranes you could’ve gotten the miracle you wanted. I hope you rest in peace.

Humble Pie: We did this to remember you for being a strong girl that didn’t give up.

Gladys: We succeeded to make 27 cranes. And we are going to hang the cranes in your honor. I felt like crying.

Dazy: I hope you rest in peace and that you’re happy wherever you are . We’re making cranes for you to finish the thousand you were making.

Santa Claus: At the end of the book when it said you never woke up, in the inside I was crying. …I just want you to know we are sad what happened to you. We love you alot. You inspire us.

Vivian (a girl who has been touched by death this year and writes beautifully about somber happenings): I admire the hope you show and the hope you use to fight for your life. I could never be as strong as you are. You never gave up. You fought for your life each day, each minute, and each second. What happened to you moved me. I realized anything can happen at any moment. You never know. I promise to you that I will treasure what I have like you did. I will treasure my family, my friends, my house, and more. You are a hero to people who need hope.

And with that, I bid you all a wonderful weekend.

Content Area Creativity

I wanted to share images of some of my students’ book covers for the unit we just wrapped up, content area (non-fiction) writing. They took to this unit wonderfully and really threw themselves into it. I really enjoyed the organized chaos of their research during the workshop periods.

Did I emphasize too greatly the inclusion of a knock out cover? It’s possible. But so far, from what I’ve read, the books actually are pretty good. Take a look at some of their creativity below.