Let’s Play Outdoors This Winter!

It’s 30 degrees outside and there is snow up to your kids’ knees. The recess bell rings and you glance towards the pile of coats hanging on the coat rack; you can already picture the line of students standing next to you to do up zippers, tie snowboots, or pull on a mitten. Do you: 

A. Declare today an inside recess day and pull out all of the fun board games in your closet? 

B. Take a deep breath and start zipping up coats. 

Obviously keeping inside during the winter is easiest, whether you’re a mom of three kids or a teacher of 32 students, winter clothes will always be a chore. But rest assured, your hard work is not going to waste, the benefit these kids have by playing outside is well worth the work in the end. 

Many schools are moving to a stance where recess is not an option, it just happens, given outside circumstances are not extreme. Teachers are no longer permitted to use less recess and outdoor time as a consequence in many schools across the nation, so choosing to stay indoors during the winter months is less common. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t teachers out there wishing they could choose option A and stay in sometimes. 

Sending kids outside to play in the cold can boost their immune systems. Yes, really! Winter gets a bad rap on sickness because many think the cold weather brings the sniffles. But in reality, it’s us hiding from the cold that creates sick kids by cooping everyone up indoors and sharing more germs. Giving them a chance to be outdoors and in fresh air is just what we need to fight off sickness. 

Kids that play outside are resilient kids that will continue to have outdoor winter hobbies throughout their lives. When they have experienced being outside often and how to deal with cold weather, wind, and snow, they have those tools for life and are more likely to continue to use them into adulthood. Providing opportunities for authentic outdoor play as a child pays off well into the adult years. 

With warmer weather, it’s common to see teachers out with their students for various lessons, whether they are doing an activity for P.E. or switching it up with a math lesson on the basketball courts, being outside is a great change of pace for restless students. How often are we as teachers bringing our class outdoors in cold weather for lessons? It does take more time and effort to bring kids out in the winter, but again, the rewards are worth it. 

Something that often holds us back from outdoor play is the lack of proper snow and cold gear. It can be difficult to spend too much time outside with cold toes and fingers, so making sure our mittens, boots, and coats are weather appropriate can have a great impact on the duration we and our students are willing to stay outside. 

In this video, a school in Canada talks about how important outdoor play is. They even give multiple examples of things kids can do outside, such as paint in the snow or observe nature. Trees and ponds and even animals are not the same year-round and observing these changes can be very insightful to watch. 

In what ways are you facilitating outdoor play and learning with your students?

Inquiry into Scale & Perspective

Being more spatially-challenged in general, I always had trouble as a child comprehending concepts like mirror images, rotations, and geometry nets.

Fortunately, as a grew older, I learned that these are all just facets of broader concepts of scale and perspective. I’ve also benefited by recognizing their applications beyond mathematics–from art to city planning to interpersonal relationships.

So this week consists of a provocation to help our young learners begin with the big picture of scale and perspective, hopefully encouraging them to draw their own connections and conclusions.

The first is a fascinating video that lays out the entire history of the earth on a football field.

The second is a photo series by artist Matthew Albanese. He creates stunningly realistic landscapes using forced perspective, using materials from nutmeg to steel wool to fake fog. Head over to his site to view the collection of images, along with the incredible behind-the-scenes images and information on his process. 

Provocation Questions:

  • How do people use scale and perspective to help us see “the big picture?”
  • How does technology allow us new possibilities to show scale and perspective?
  • How do scale and perspective change the way we see the world?
  • What is our responsibility to use perspective in our lives?
  • How are scale and perspective connected?
  • How does perspective help us understand other people?
  • How does scale help us understand the world?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Hunting For Good Nonfiction Picture Books (10 Ideas) #TeacherMom

In the middle of a long speech about her favorite books, my 6 year old recently said something that surprised me: “But learning books are boring.”

I paused, not quite sure what she meant by “learning books.” Then I asked, “Do you mean nonfiction–books about real people and places and facts?”

“Yeah, I don’t like those ones very much.”

As I thought a bit more, I was transported back to my own elementary school years–I could almost feel the musty dinginess of the nonfiction corner of the library again. I honestly didn’t like nonfiction very much as a kid, either.

So I told her, “You know what, I have a hard time liking learning books sometimes, too. They often don’t really tell a story, do they? And I’ve noticed that a lot of time, the pictures aren’t as fun. But you know what? There are WAY more fun nonfiction books now than when I was a kid. How about we hunt together for the good ones?”

Since then, we’ve been working to shift her opinion of nonfiction.  I try to forego even telling her a book is nonfiction until we finish reading it–then it’s all the more a pleasant surprise when she finds out how much she liked that “learning book.”

This is just one of several strategies to help students become better readers and enjoy the process of making meaning for themselves–which, of course, is what reading is all about.

Since we started this expedition, here are a few of our favorite discoveries. If you have any great “learning books” to share, too, please add them in the comments–my 6 year old and I will thank you!

swan

Laurel Snyder’s biography of dancer Anna Pavlova had us both mesmerized. The beautiful illustrations and vibrant storytelling felt like a dance in and of themselves. My daughter spent days afterward creating her own versions of “Swan.”

in-marys-garden

I love the way Tina Kugler shares Mary Nohl’s love of making art for her own enjoyment. It’s a beautiful and important message for kids everywhere.

 

luna-and-me

My daughter couldn’t wait until the end of the story to find out if this was a real “learning book.” We were both eager to learn more at the end of Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw’s book about Julia Hill’s conservation activism.

 

some-bugs

A simple and charming read by Angela DiTerlizzi to get us thinking about all the different types of bugs and their functions.

over-under-the-snow

Kate Messner’s Over & Under the Snow was really an eye-opener to get my 6 year old considering what happens to animals in the wintertime.

actual-size

Both my daughter and my 2 year old son loved Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size, comparing the images with their own hands.

 

finding-winnie

Lindsay Mattick’s story of this loveable bear is an instant classic. You’ll be surprised to find out whose origin story this is…

 

im-trying-to-love-spiders

Despite Bethany Barton’s best efforts in providing all the facts that show what useful and loveable(?) creatures spiders are, my 6 year old still wasn’t convinced. But she did walk around afterward for a while telling people that she was trying to love spiders.

 

water-is-water

Miranda Paul does a beautiful job introducing the water cycle in a way that will captivate any audience, sparking our imagination for the many forms and uses of water.

 

look-up

Already an avid birder (following after daddy’s footsteps), it wasn’t tough to get my daughter to love this one. But I was impressed at just how engaging and informative Annette LeBlanc Cate’s guide on bird watching was. And best of all, it resulted in my daughter creating her own birding field journal.

4 Reasons To Add The Seventh Wish To Your Upper Elementary Shelves

 

Nothing made me want to read Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish more than when I first heard it had been censored from certain schools. Plus, having witnessed the devastating effects of drug abuse in loved ones myself as a child, I was anxious to see her approach to such a difficult subject for younger readers.

And she exceeded all expectations. Here are four reasons you should add this book to your elementary school libraries and read aloud lists this year:

It’s a realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy your kids will love

One would be justified in worrying about how to address drug addiction in a realistic fiction for kids–how to avoid dwelling on its dark and all-encompassing realities while also avoiding an overly light-hearted tone that minimizes those realities? Messner masterfully achieves this by weaving the subject through other realistic and highly-relatable themes: feeling noticed by parents, helping friends who struggle with school or home, and pursuing dreams in sports. And to cap it off, she gets readers imagining what would happen to these if you found a magical wish-granting fish. She goes on to illustrate the impact on all these when a family member gets caught up with drugs, including a powerful parallel depicting the dangers of believing there’s any silver bullet that can solve our problems.

For the many lonely kids for whom drug addiction in a loved one is already a reality, it gives validation, hope, and courage.

Messner shared one librarian’s reasoning for pulling the book from her shelves:

“It’s not that I don’t think heroin addiction is extremely important. Our community has faced its share of heartbreaking stories in regards to drug abuse but fourth and fifth graders are still so innocent to the sad drug world. Even two years from now when they’re in sixth grade this book will be a wonderful and important read but as a mother of a fourth grader, I would never give him a book about heroin because he doesn’t even know what that is. I just don’t think that at 10 years old he needs to worry about that on top of all of the other things he already worries about… For now, I just need the 10 and 11-year-olds biggest worry to be about friendships, summer camps, and maybe their first pimple or two.”

But the devastating truth is that we can’t control what our 10 and 11 year-olds’ biggest worries are–and it’s unfair to ignore that drug addiction in family members is already the reality for far too many.

In the story, Messner validates those realities young kids face: the loneliness and embarrassment. The deception and theft. The pain of watching your loved one slip away. We cannot know how many of our students face this daily. But the real question is how many could be encouraged by this story’s message to know that they are not alone and that they can find a safe place to talk about how they’re feeling?

Furthermore, in the event that drug abuse has thankfully not yet touched the life of a younger child, this book will help him/her develop both awareness and empathy for their friends that have or will feel its impact.

It helps kids catch a glimpse of what true resilience looks like.

“But there’s no answer for this one. Mom didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s not fair. Life has rules, and if you follow them, things are supposed to work out.

If you place in all your dances, you get to move up to the next level.

If you brush your teeth, you’re not supposed to get cavities.

If you love your kids and take care of them and send them to a good college, they’re not supposed to stick needles in their arms.

But I guess it doesn’t work that way. None of this is working the way it should. Because Abby was stupid enough to try drugs.”

So much of what happens in life is out of our control–a fact kids know better than most. If we try to perpetuate the “fairness” of life in the name of protecting our kids, we only rob them of a developed sense of resilience when that false dichotomy is challenged.  

It breaks away from the stereotypes of drug abuse users in typical D.A.R.E. programs

“We learned about heroin in the D.A.R.E. Program, when Officer Randolph came to talk to all the fifth graders about drugs. We had to watch a movie, and in the heroin part, these raggedy, greasyhaired people were sitting around a smoky room, sticking needles in their arms.”

Charlie keeps returning to the fact that that as a great sister, student, and athlete, Abby had never looked like the people in those videos, which makes the entire situation much more shocking and difficult for her to understand. But Messner’s decision to depict a user from a stable, loving family helps readers gain broader perspective that drug abuse doesn’t just happen to “those people,” but that it is a choice made by individuals everywhere.

I believe that sharing books that provide such a perspective would have a more powerful and long-lasting effect when it comes to drug prevention.

Have you read The Seventh Wish yet? Please share your impressions below!

featured image: John Liu

7 Videos That Will Prove That Science Rocks

It seems like there are a thousand videos on every known scientific topic, with most hardly more engaging than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off‘s econ teacher (“Anyone? Anyone?”). But every now and then, we stumble across something truly inspiring. Here are seven that take my breath away–and may they do the same for you and your students!

Inner Life of a Cell (3:12) by Harvard University & XVIVO

When I was first introduced to this video nine years ago in my college biology course, I actually cried for the beauty presented. This animation by Harvard University and XVIVO is every bit as moving now as it was then. Click here for the full 8 minute version with labels. 

The Miracle of Life (12:15) by Silvio Falcinelli

I came across this video when my daughter asked for details about her little brother’s growth in-utero. It may or may not have been what prompted her to contradict our storytime librarians when they explained that mammals don’t come from eggs… But at any rate, this detailed animation is a wonderful way to show a baby’s journey from conception to birth, and to inspire the wonders of life science.

The Known Universe by AMNH (6:31)

This astronomy animated film takes viewers from the Himilayas all the way to the furthest reaches of the known universe–and then back again. It is an incredible way to orient students to our minuscule relative position in space. A similar, but shorter video can be found here, entitled “An Animated Flight Through the Universe.” It is not labeled, so students may not understand what they are seeing, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

Massive Black Hole Shreds a Passing Star (1:02) by NASA

You’ll probably want to watch this brief NASA animation more than once.

Why Do I Study Physics? (3:14) by Shixie

This is a phenomenal stop motion sketched animation by Shixie. It addresses one student’s complex relationship with the subject of physics in a personal, playful, and thought-provoking manner. 

Beautiful Chemical Reactions (6:30) by L2Molecule

Witness various examples of eight different chemical reactions, sped up to view every intricate detail. Published by L2Molecule.

Animation Explores the Beautiful Circles of Our World (2:06) by National Geographic

This video could make a thrilling provocation or conversation-starter for students studying shapes, nature, patterns, and more.

What are other high-quality science videos you’ve come across? Please share in the comments!

featured image: Bureau of Land Management

5 Resources on Refugees for Elementary Grades

For our students, the topic of refugees may be fraught with misunderstanding, emotion, or even unawareness. Between misinformation in the media and its inherently violent/disturbing nature, teachers sometimes hesitate to breach the subject with younger students in particular.

But of course, these are the very reasons to do so; how can we expect students to grow to become empathetic and active global citizens if they are shielded from some of the world’s most pressing issues?

That said, we should take care to curate the resources we share to keep them as age-appropriate and objective as possible. Below are 5 resources to help prompt discussion and awareness about refugees among our young learners.

Share “BBC Learning: “Seeking Refuge” Series–Ali’s Story”

A story told in the words of a 10 year old refugee.

Share news snapshots

When you come across photojournalism that is age appropriate, seize the opportunity to share it with your students. For instance, this series of portraits of Syrian refugee children also includes their experiences in their words–perfect to open up the conversation and help students relate to these children across the globe.

Read “Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery

While this story does not actually center on refugees, it does give insight for young students to comprehend the conditions that drive individuals from their homes.

Malala

Visit humanitarian Facebook groups, such as Lifting Hands International

In addition to highlighting ongoing action groups are taking to help refugees, these groups might also inspire students to consider possible steps they can take to be part of the solution.

Share educational videos that work to dispel myth from fact on the issue 

No one video is going to provide all the answers or approach all the nuances of the debates surrounding such a complex issue, but it can be a helpful place to start as students research and discuss these issues themselves.


 

Also check out: Video of picture book, “The Enemy, A Book about Peace.” Again, this does not center on refugees specifically, but it may serve to help students start thinking about how hate and stereotyping might perpetuate violence and misconceptions.

Photo Credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

The Unexpected Outcome of Morning Messages

My introduction came early in my teaching career. A visiting professional development speaker invited us to maintain “small daily doses” when it comes to modeling quality writing, emphasizing consistency over complexity. One of his recommendations was the Morning Message. Working on improving visual imagery? Add an example to your morning message. Having some confusion with certain homonyms? Toss ‘em in. Intrigued by the concept, I portioned off a space on my whiteboard to give it a try.

The results were as he described. I often modeled very specific writing skills in my morning message that we sometimes dissected as a whole class. Other times, I just let students notice them on their own. Soon, they were grasping the idea that writers employ specific tools with great purpose, and that they could identify and use those tools, too. They added techniques to their toolboxes. They openly discussed their strategies. And slowly, they came to see themselves as capable authors, too.

But there were certain other results that were quite unexpected. Wanting to be authentic with my students, I wrote those daily 3-4 sentences about my real-life experiences and feelings–and what much of my life revolved around at that time was my new baby girl, Lizzie. Her first year of life was my first year of teaching, and morning messages became a window for my students into my world with her.

Mostly, I shared moments that made us laugh. Like the time Lizzie tripped and then insisted that the floor pushed her. Or the time she instructed herself to smell a dandelion (and not to eat it) and then did so for 10 minutes. Or the time she combed her hair with a syrupy fork to be like Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Occasionally, I shared moments of sadness. Like when she woke up from a nap helplessly covered in vomit. Or the morning she told me, “Mommy no bye-bye.”  

Whatever I shared, it was real. And my students came to see me as a real person, experiencing the ups and downs of real life.

Morning Message
Morning Message from November 26, 2012

But that wasn’t the end of the surprises that morning messages brought to our class. Eventually, I realized that it would be fun to capture those little memories for my daughter to enjoy someday. Quietly, at the end of the day as the students cleaned up and did classroom jobs, I’d snap a photo of the morning message and email it to an account I’d created for her.

My students started to notice.

And then they started asking to take the photo for me.

And then they started fiercely safeguarding the message from getting prematurely erased before it could be photographed.

I started to hear them swapping “Lizzie stories.” Former students came in and reminisced about them. Even parents expressed how much their students looked forward to those stories.

In hindsight, I’d say that the morning messages became an instrumental way we built rapport, authenticity, and empathy in our classroom–because being real with our students is one of the most precious gifts we can give them. For you, that may be better achieved in other ways, but if you’d like to give morning messages a try, below are some tips to keep in mind.

Tips for Morning Messages

Keep them brief. For younger grades, maybe even just a sentence. For older ones, just a few. Don’t bog yourself or your students down.

Keep them optional… At first, we tried reading the messages aloud together, but it just felt so awkward for all of us that we decided to skip it. Maybe it would be suitable to read it together with younger students, but for my fifth graders, I didn’t want to burden them with another “to-do.” The only time we read it together was when we were evaluating specific writing techniques as part of our unit.

…but make them engaging. Make it something your students will want to read, even if you don’t require it.

Tie in current writing concepts... Though it was always a small dose of modeled writing, sharing my thought-process with my students on how exactly I decided to craft my sentences was always a powerful teaching opportunity.

…but keep them authentic. Don’t sacrifice authenticity for an overly-contrived teaching moment. Share your true experiences and thoughts. If it doesn’t feel natural and helpful to weave the morning message into your writing instruction, don’t force it for that particular message.

Cursive? I always wrote my morning messages in cursive simply for consistent, but small exposure. As I told them, I didn’t want anything to limit their able to read any text, because cursive does still show up now and then.

What about you? Do you do morning messages? Please share your experiences below!

Featured image: Jack Amick via flickr