Sunday, September 29, 2013

We Use Science Notebooks, too!

The Science Notebook Tubs. S1 means Science, first period.
The "Earth in Space" page is the title page for our first unit of study this school year.

Hopefully you read the previous post about Writer's Notebooks. Students also have what I call a Word Work Notebook that is used for spelling pre-tests, grammar practice, and vocabulary. Since I also teach science, guess what? I also have students keep a science notebook. I'd honestly love for them to have a readers notebook, as well as just a journal for daily writing. It just gets to be too much management! Instead I combine daily journaling with the Writer's Notebook, and reading lessons are taught with worksheets.

What is a Science Notebook? The kids keep this notebook at school in a tub. This helps avoid the "oops I left it at home" issue. To the left is a glimpse of the Table of Contents.

They're learning to take notes off the board (involves a great deal of focus & listening skill), follow instructions, draw simple diagrams with labels, and stay organized. In sixth grade, these kinds of things are closely monitored and are required by me. In subsequent grades, kids will have to take even more responsibility for their learning. I hope some of the skills I model will stay with them! 


Parents, you can help your child at home by helping them organize their 3-ring binders. Everyday I see kids just stuffing papers in their binder, disregarding the divider tabs. If a paper is graded, it needs to be removed. Other papers are meant to be used as a resource and should be kept in the appropriate section (science, for example) for later use. 
Let's keep working together to teach these kids how to be lifelong learners, and give them lots of skills to be successful!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Science Is So Much More Than Facts!

For the first few weeks of school, here's what your sixth graders have been doing in Science!
In our text book, Earth In Space, (P.S. click the link to view the online textbook!) the first four chapters cover the basics of the Earth and Sun and how they relate to one another. For example, the Earth's yearly orbit around the sun is responsible for the seasonal changes in weather and amounts of daylight. Similarly, the Earth's rotation on its axis is responsible for day and night. That seems like such an elementary concept, however, how many people can explicitly explain the cause and effect relationship? 

The objective, or learning target, has been: how and why do shadow lengths change during the day, during a season, & during the year? 

To prove students are learning how shadows change, they have measured shadow lengths from sunrise to sunset, and graphed their results. The hardest part has been communicating the results in writing. Students are learning to use comparison words to phrase their observations.

The shadow changes position and length as the earth rotates.
To prove they are learning why shadows vary, I will assess their ability to compare & contrast shadows in the summer vs. the winter, and their ability to state cause and effect relationships between the shadows and the earth's position in its orbit. 
Cause and effect diagram.

As you may notice, there is an emphasis based on thinking skills. That in itself is challenging, even when the material seems elementary- because of course many kids already know facts about the solar system.
But there is so much more to science than knowing the facts!
Additionally, if kids know the facts but aren't scoring well on tests, it is likely because they are not "showing what they know" through diagrams and expressing their understanding in writing. It can take more effort to think critically than to memorize facts.
Finally, in case you haven't studied psychology lately (wink, wink!), here are the levels of thinking that teachers are hoping to develop in young minds! The highest levels are at the top, while the basic levels of thinking are on the bottom of this image.

Image Credit
After wrapping up chapter four, Seasons, there will be a test. The next few weeks will focus on the moon's relationship to the sun and earth, especially lunar phases and eclipses. Thanks for keeping in the loop! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Teaching Cooperation

Two weeks of school, and I already love my class of sixth graders. They are so eager to learn, eager to please their teachers, and hopeful to impress their families with how grown up they are now that they are in middle school. Kids in my neck of the woods- or pasture- are growing up in a very caring community. Yes, we are 'small town,' but the community pride and compassion towards each other is notable.

However... I know from five years of teaching 6th grade (going onto my 12th year teaching!), and six years of coaching high school girls, that the best intentions sometimes get clouded by "bad days" and "rough patches" usually stemming from DUN, DUN, DUN... puberty. Not just the physiological stresses, but the pressures of popularity, competition, acceptance, and the teen culture in general. Or then again, maybe it's human nature.

Basically, he honeymoon period at the beginning of the year won't last.

Therefore, it's important to teach classroom behavior expectations. Do they probably already know this stuff? Sure. They have good parents. They've had years of teachers who have high standards for classroom behavior. But I've found that if you don't explicitly state what you want to see, some kids will take the easy way out or claim ignorance, thus not taking responsibility for their actions. So I do my best to teach and reteach to ensure success in the classroom!

I introduced the idea of compromise since we would be doing a small group decision making activity for science. Next, I gave students the pre-made post-it notes. We discussed examples of what to say/what not to say, and what to do/what not to do. My favorite was their reaction to the post-it note that says, "Shut up." I'm glad they knew where that belonged.
Here's a before and after poster in my classroom.

Here's to hoping the cooperation in the classroom translates to the hallways and lunchroom...
image credit

 An upcoming post will detail my behavior management system. Thanks for reading!  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Honoring the Memory of 9/11

Not only do I teach sixth grade, I teach one period of 7th and 8th graders in a class called Leadership. This is an elective, and the students rotate into another elective every nine weeks. Let me just start by saying I love it because I get to work with my former sixth graders. It is remarkable how much they mature, and how I'm able to connect with them in a different way. That's a whole other post in itself! 

The theme for this quarter is Making A Difference. The events of September 11 are great examples of heroism and service that illustrate making a difference. So I thought we would start with a little history review.
However to my surprise, my students knew very little about what happened that day in 2001, nor did they have any concrete understanding of the effects of 9/11. They had to remind me, the eighth graders were barely toddlers. One of seventh graders did the math; she was three months old on 9/11/01. 

I remember that day easily. I was getting ready for work and my roommate had her radio on. News of a plane crash seemed to be concerning everyone on the air. I wasn't too concerned with anything but getting to work. This was the second week of my first teaching job, so I had no energy to spare on anything except gearing up for those first graders. Even as the news unfolded throughout the morning, I don't remember the devastation really sinking in until much later. trucks, images on tv, a moment of silence... I know I will never forget that initial shock and fear. I'll never forget how patriotism soared and many returned to prayer in gratitude and hope for a peace.

"Where Were You"
Performed by Alan Jackson
In third period last week, we watched media clips from The National Park Service Flight 93 website. We listened to podcasts from a NYC survivor on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website (click highlighted text for links). P.S. Teachers, the two websites above have teacher links and lesson plans. I used several ideas from the 9/11 Museum site. If you want more details, email me!

We discussed the tragedy, the heroes, the aftermath. It was somber, which is not normal in middle school, especially for 13 year old boys! I was touched by their journal comments and artwork.
Here's hope for a generation that won't forget.
Pictures from student journals:

Thank you for viewing my blog! I love comments.  How do you think schools should honor the memory of 9/11?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What's a Writer's Notebook?

A writers notebook is a place to organize student learning and writing.

Each week I will teach a lesson that is intended to grow the student into a more crafty and skilled writer. Students will use their notebook to take notes. I will demonstrate the skill in my own notebook, and students will practice a draft in their notebook. Approximately once a month, students will choose a draft to publish. This draft must be edited, revised, and either typed or rewritten. 

Here's an example of the notes we took on Tuesday. 
Today, the kids followed along to create this foldable visual aid. It's a great way to see the parts of a friendly letter. It gets glued into the Writer's Notebook. 

Next is what you see when you open the flaps. It's all the parts of a friendly letter. We highlighted the punctuation as a visual reminder to use commas correctly. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Today I Become a Blogger!

Today I delve into blogging. Well, I currently read plenty of blogs, but from here on out, I'm an author!
...I pledge to...

  • Spell-check & edit my posts! However, I will inevitably be writing late in the evening after a long day of teaching and coaching, so please be gracious!
  • Update frequently! I want parents to know what's up in sixth grade. While I won't be posting daily assignments, due to my belief that your child needs to learn independence and responsibility, I hope my posts will keep you in the loop.
  • Protect the identity of the innocent (& not so innocent). I won't post pictures without consent, and won't discuss specific students by name.
  • Not to use blogging as an excuse to ignore laundry, dirty dishes, or grading papers. First things, first!

That seems to be it for today. I hope to hear from my readers as your comments will help me stay relevant. If you are a parent, don't forget to email my school address with any specific concerns or questions.