Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Best. Field. Trip. Ever.

One of the complaints my team had to deal with as we moved into fifth grade was that the parents really wanted an overnight trip, but in the past, they had been too long, expensive, and poorly planned. 

So, I wanted something that had real 'wow' factor but was reasonably priced and within a few hours' drive. Easy-peasy. Atlanta.

We did the CNN tour, visited the MLK, Jr. National Monument, and hit the World of Coke. Definitely a day loaded with learning and shenanigans, as you can see.

 The kids loved the CNN center and everyone was awed by the MLK visit. The best part of the trip, though, in everyone's opinion, was spending the night (yep, as in, with sleeping bags) at the Georgia Aquarium. We began our visit after it had closed to the public, had a behind-the-scenes tour that held more than a few surprises, played learning games, took conservation classes, and had pizza.

Having the aquarium to ourselves was magical. It was very quiet and dimly lit, and the effect of that and of the animals on the kids - the wonder of it all - was a thing of beauty to see. Kind of an 'Oh, yeah, this is why I teach.' moment:
This is Maris, a very, very pregnant Beluga whale. So much so that when she rolled over, we could watch the baby move. Poor girl; we moms felt for her.She was quite interested in the kids. She seemed to know that people didn't belong at that time.

A way-cool moment was watching one of the chaperones, who was quite enamored with Maris. She just couldn't pull herself away, long after the kids had gone on. Another chaperone and I left her, finally, saying, "When else in your life will you get to be all alone with her like that?"

Anyway, after a crazy-full but-nobody-minded evening, we bedded down for the night. Here.
One of the nice things about having better-than-average management skills is that I could have an epic pillow fight with 52 kids and know that it wouldn't get totally out of control. What's good's a sleepover with no pillow fight? Something that surprised me was that there was no fussing about who slept next to whom. Boys and girls, though in clumps, ended up next to each other, and I ended up with a kid I'd taught in kindergarten, but wasn't in my class now, next to me. 

Eventually, everyone got in for lights out. Here's the night's view. Yes, that would be a whale shark at the top of the tank. The Georgia Aquarium has four. 

There is something to be said for falling asleep watching whale sharks and manta rays. Seriously.

Anyway, the tank lights come on at 6:00, and as soon as they did, the kids were watching and whispering. I groaned at them to go back to sleep, like that might actually happen, but they were right. It was too awesome. 

We still had a full morning ahead, with more behind-the-scenes, now that more people were at work, and a dolphin show.

If you're anywhere within reasonable driving distance, I would strongly recommend the overnight experience. We'll definitely be going back!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cheap Thrills: Using Kidblog to Power Up Reading Responses

Getting kids to respond thoughtfully to higher-order thinking questions in book club discussions isn't all that hard. Sure, it takes some training, some modeling, but once you get them engaged in the conversations, the kids really take off. In fact, after a bit, you get in the way.

Writing the thoughts out in a well-constructed response? Yeah. Not so much.

Since I'm sending the kiddos off to middle school next year, and I know, having once been a middle school ELA teacher, how annoying it is when their responses are, at best, shallow, and, at worst, incomprehensible, I really want them to hone this skill. Unfortunately, as much as they love to talk about their reading, they acted like getting it down on paper was cruel and unusual punishment.

Then I found Kidblog.

The platform is extremely easy to use, for both the kids and for me. We had tried working with edublogs, but found it very cumbersome. There's a bit of a learning curve as the kids figure out how to navigate their dashboards, but most catch on quickly, and everyone else, wanting to show off their computing chops (and, thus, making the computer geek kids the coolest kids in the room) love to pitch in and help. Kidblog is also very secure, with nothing - no posts, no comments - being posted without my approval. We can invite people outside of our class to join and access our pages, but the world at large can be safely locked out. The basic package, all you really need, is free. Yup. Free. If you want to drop $25 a year, the kids can customize their pages

Suddenly, reading responses were their favorite thing to do! Score!

Here's a post one of my boys, a just-graduated-from-ESL student did this winter:

We use our blogs in content areas, too. Discussing ideas across our blogs is an easy way to make 'getting it' fun. Here, the kids wrote about William Lloyd Garrison:

Oh, and you'll notice that the kids have funny names.Another online safety measure I use is to assign them new names that we use for everything from blogs to IXL. These came from a blues name generator I found on Google. I think next year we'll go with the unicorn name generator. 

For the small amount of effort put into setting them up, the blogs have had a big payoff. As you can see, I sprang for the snazzy pages, but it really isn't necessary. 

One of my goals for setting up these blogs was to post badges that they earned in math to them. Edublogs promised that I'd be able to link in with Classbadges and it would be easy. It wasn't. Getting that sorted will be one of my goals for this summer.

Here's a nifty freebie I whipped up to help kids plan blog posts and comments along with a rubric for grading responses: Find it here!

As the year draws to a close, you might find a little time to play with the idea. If you're a bit of a technophobe, you can get help from the kids you already know and who already think you rock. Lets you save face next year, when you're in front of a new batch! 

Happy blogging,