Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wear the "Cape". Save a Student.

"I like your cape."

This is one of my favorite quotes from this year, from a five-year-old boy looking at my red and blue, striped tie. This same student would choose to buy me a tie for Christmas (which I thought was awesome, by the way). It made an impression on him...on all of my students, actually. They like my ties, my shiny shoes, and my socks (Batman, Ninja Turtles, Super Grover...I am a Kindergarten teacher, after all). 

I'm working at a school that is in a low-income area, with a very high percentage of students on Free and Reduced Lunch Plans. Many of the students at my school have no exposure to the world of resumes and cover letters, budgets and bills. Lately I've been thinking about how necessary it is to mix some real-world experience into lessons and projects. Scouring Twitter the other night, I came across the idea (on of having students write resumes for main characters in books as an alternative book report (I think they could also be used as reports for historical figures). This made me try to think of other ways that real-world skills could be brought into an elementary classroom.

I feel like the idea of creating resumes for fictional characters or historical figures is a great one. What better way to give kids their first experience resume writing than with practice on characters or famous people who have done many things that could be included? They won't run out of material, and they'll be discovering how to develop their own resume when it's time. I thought that teachers could use the concept of creating a budget or paying bills to help teach math. Addition, subtraction, multiplication,'s all there. Opportunities for mock interviews or presentations would be great experience. Encouraging the kids to dress up for those presentations or interviews could help as well.

These are just a few skills that kids in today's world may not see being modeled at home. They may not know that bills exist, or should be paid. They probably don't know how that affects a budget, if they even know what a budget is. They may not have seen someone wear a tie, or "dress to impress" at an interview.

If we want to "save" students, or just help them to become a part of the workforce, and successfully contribute to society, we have to help them build the skills that are necessary to do so. Now, I just have to think of some practical ways to mix this into my kindergarten classroom...

Got any ideas? How can you work real-world skills in your elementary classroom?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Busy Weeks aren't as Bad as You Think...

Quick thoughts from our first full week back in the classroom since December (no delays, no snow days...just me and a bunch of five-year-olds).

  • Martin Luther King Day was on Monday, and while we talked about him multiple times this week, the bulk of our discussion was on the actual day. I introduced Dr. King to my kiddos with a BrainPop Jr. video talking about his life and what he stood for. It was a great choice. The video hit on the serious talking points about MLK and his life, but did it in a cartoony way that the kids loved. While they enjoyed Moby and Annie, the room was pretty silent as they were taking it all in. I would stop the video every now and then to simplify some main ideas, and draw comparisons or try to draw out some background knowledge. Afterward, we read a book, The Crayon Box That Talked, where the crayons don't like each other at the beginning because they are different colors, but work together in the end to make a beautiful picture. The kids made the connections very quickly. Then we did this journal page, where students told what their dreams were:
Upper Left: "My dream is that my family could always be together." Upper Right: "My dream is that everybody would share." Lower Left: "My dream is that everybody would have food." Lower Right: "My dream is that everyone would share their toys."

I left school on Monday believing that, (contrary to what I think sometimes after a high school tennis practice), the future of our nation does not look so bleak after all. Every kid provided an answer that gave me a glimpse into their giving and caring hearts. Five-year-olds are awesome.
  • I have been reading so much about coding in the classroom recently, and I wanted to give it a try. Setting up an iPad station, I introduced my kiddos to the game Kodable, which teaches them the basics of computer programming. According to numerous articles, coding can help develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. It also provides opportunities for collaboration while helping them develop some computational thinking skills that will inevitably be necessary for the future. I was unsure of how my group would take to it, but they loved it. By the end of the week, they were working pretty independently, using trial and error to navigate characters through the levels. Some of them were very successful with it. I was glad that I could bring coding into my classroom, and expose my kids to it.
  • I started using GoNoodle in my classroom this week. GoNoodle ( is a website that helps teachers find and compile videos for brain breaks to be used in their classroom. It is very user friendly, and it has a great collection of videos on it already. As a teacher, it's nice to have a website where I can show my students videos, and not worry about the advertisements and junk surrounding it. The Koo Koo Kangaroo! videos are our favorites so far, but it will let me show videos from YouTube as well, so Big Block SingSong videos are coming...
  • Thursday of this week was our 100th day of school this year. It's hard to believe that we are already 100 days in, and it's hard for me to believe how much these kids have grown, and how much they've learned. We are definitely on the down-hill part of this year's journey, and we have a long way to go, but it's been a blast so far!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Allowing My Kindergarteners to Code and Create

I've been reading so much about the Hour of Code (coding in the classroom) and The Maker Movement in education, that it has me wondering what my Kindergarten students really think about our daily routine.

We focus a lot of our time on reading, writing, math, letter identification and letter sounds...all major pieces of the state standards. I know that NOVELTY is an education buzz word right now, with teachers saying that the best results from their kiddos come when the presentation of the material is switched up, generating more interest and keeping them engaged in the subject matter. The material is stuff that I have to cover. I try to make it interesting, I've taken some risks (some that did not pan out), but it's still the information that I have to cover. It's important. It's very important. But I'm not sure that, as a five or six-year-old kid, I would be enthusiastic about attempting to learn it four or five hours a day, five days a week.

Lately, I've been interested in giving my students something else to be excited about. Opportunities to learn in different ways. I want to give them a chance to make something or create something. They are kindergarteners, so it would be hard for them to complete a step-by-step project, creating something that they will write about or make videos about. I think I'd like to try, though.

First came the interest in the Hour of Code, where students spend time in their classrooms coding. This is the first step in communicating with a computer or robot and getting it to do what you want it to do. This will undoubtedly be a life skill necessary for my students to be successful in the real world in the next 10 years (maybe earlier). There are several apps and websites (check out this Edutopia article) that provide games for students to practice this on a basic level (if you check me out on Twitter @WesDicken, I retweet and post several articles about it). I watched my five-year-old play some of the apps at home this weekend, and I'm convinced that my students would enjoy it, and eventually be good at it. She loved Run Marco and Kodable, both apps that have students move a character throughout a level, step by step, by providing instructions. She found the games fun and engaging, and they were both very user friendly. Within minutes, she was asking me to stop helping her, wanting to play the game herself.

Also at the forefront of my mind is just allowing my kids to create something...anything. As I watch my own kids mess with cardboard and paper to create different objects, I am convinced that cardboard tubes and boxes could serve as building blocks for kids. With some direction and encouragement, they could make some pretty cool things that might even complete an objective they've been given. I read an interesting article on Edutopia talking about kids using cardboard and wanting to build and create, and then watched a video on kids creating Rube Goldberg projects using random materials. In the video, the project was student-led, giving them the chance to communicate with each other and work as a team to create something together...very valuable real-life lessons.

I know that my students will love these opportunities. I just have to make them happen.