Great Websites for the Kids

I'm always on the lookout for websites for the children to visit, since it's something they love to do, and there are so many activities out there that the children can benefit from using!  Here are some of my favorites:

Scholastic's Book Flix  This is the only one I'm recommending that requires payment, but you can get a free trial, and it's soooo worth it!  Video story books!  Classic literature!  How can you miss?  (They do have some ideas for funding!)

Spelling City Enter your vocabulary list, and let the kids choose from a number of games and activities.  Enjoy!

Mem Fox Read Alouds  Mem Fox reads her own books.  It just adds an extra thrill to hear a book read by the actual author!  And Mem Fox is fantastic.

I know I've seen more "Author Reads", I just can't remember where they are!  If you know, please let me know!

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives  I use this all the time to demonstrate math activities, but I also let the children have a go.  It's the next best thing to base ten blocks, and it's on the computer, so they love it!

Xtramath  Sign up your class, and they can mark their own growth on math facts.  They can even practice on their home computers!  It comes highly recommended!

Due for Another Pay it Forward Friday

It's been a few weeks since I've shared some of my favorite sites.  Here are some great spots I highly recommend!

Classroom Freebies If you are into freebies, this is the place for you!  Now, honestly, who doesn't like freebies?  This site has loads of contributors, from all grade levels, giving their goods away for free.  Yep, that says free!

The Teacher's Chatterbox has a great description of the basics of "Whole Brain Learning". I've seen a few videos from Whole Brain Learning, and I'm becoming more and more interested.  Of course, I might have mentioned that I LOVE the brain! 

Speaking of Whole Brain Teaching,  here's their website.  Look around, watch some videos, and stop by one of their Tuesday night webinars.  I've been to a few, and can't wait for the next!

Teaching Blog Traffic School  If you are a blogger, this is a must!  Charity Preston is amazing.  She knows just how to get plenty of blog traffic and shares her traffic knowledge in a way that even I can understand it!  (I'm close to 6,000 views in 6 weeks, thanks to Charity's methods!) 

Rockin Teacher Materials  With a name like Rockin Teacher, how can you miss?  Hilary has tons of ideas and materials for my favorite grade, second!  If you get there fast, you can still enter her contest!

Real Age  This has absolutely nothing to do with teaching.  But I enjoy being healthy, and the newsletters I get from  Real Age give me lots of information about health research.  Who wouldn't want to know how to stay healthy!

Wow, I could go on, and on, and on!  Enjoy!

Finding the Carrot

I've taught many grades.  I've had a lot of students.  I've had my share of challenging students.  As different as they all are, I've found one thing in common.  They all want something. 

Some children only want to be noticed.  Luckily, there are many students who want to do the right thing.  Some want to have fun.  Some want to do nothing.  Some want to antagonize their teacher.  In many ways teaching is all about finding that thing they want.  It's about finding that thing that will motivate them.  It's about finding the carrot to dangle.

I really learned this lesson many years ago when I was a young teacher who would do anything for some work experience to get me closer to a real job.  Although most of my training and experience was in the early childhood years, I took a job teaching Language Arts in a summer school program with 8th graders.  I was so very much out of my league, but it didn't take me long to figure out what these kids wanted.  They wanted to pass my class so they could move onto High School.

It was a shock for the boys.  (Yes, it was a group of 8 boys.)  Everyone was taller than I was, and they were certainly tough kids.  They thought all they had to do was show up for the class.  They were quite shocked to find out that they actually had to do work and participate in class!  But I frequently reminded them that they were expected to do the work I gave them, and reluctantly, they did it.  After a while they softened a little and almost started to enjoy themselves. 

The second graders I've had these past few years have been somewhat easier to please.  The thing that works for most of them:  beanie babies!  I have a huge collection of them, and if someone does something well, they get to keep a beanie on their desk for the rest of the day. 

It all started a few years back in a moment of desperation.  I had several beanies around the room as decorations.  The class was restless that day, and I was searching for someone who was doing things right and a way to reward that student.  Finally I found a kid who was focused and working, so I grabbed one of the beanies and plopped it on the student's desk.  That child was so thrilled, that I managed to find a few others who "got the hint" and started to work, so I put beanies on their desks, too.  It was such a hit that I kept it going and it still goes on today.

Sure, the kids want to play with the beanies.  I often remind them, if they play with it, they lose it.  ("It's not a toy, it's a tool to remind you to be good.")  And I have to take them every so often to the laundromat for their "bath".  But it's been a hit.

Who wouldn't want an adorable little beanie on their desk to keep them company?


Brain-Based Learning, What is it All About?

I'm nuts about the brain.  I find it completely fascinating, and I'm excited about the research and its implications in education. 

I think one of the things that I love most about the recent research is that most of it implies that the stuff I've been doing for the last 34 years as a teacher has been exactly what the brain requires for learning. One thing that saddens me is that the extensive testing that our children have been dealing with lately is exactly the opposite of what the research implies is best for children and learning.  (We actually knew that, didn't we?)

This morning I was reading an article that Eric Jensen wrote a couple of years ago: A Fresh Look at Brain Based Education .  It contains a great deal of information... the kind of article I'll need to read a few times before I really comprehend all of it.

There were a few key points I want to share:

1.  Exercise is essential for the brain and learning.

2.  Social conditions affect the brain in both positive and negative ways.        

3.  Proper nutrition affects cognition, memory, attention, stress, and even intelligence. 

4.  Stress has a negative impact on the brain and learning.

Funny, these are the same key points I've read over and over in my readings on brain research and learning.  And trust me, I've read tons of books and articles on brain research and learning!

What have you read about brain based learning?

Happy Constitution Day!

I have mixed feelings about celebrating Constitution Day.  On one hand, it's frustrating to fit in any "extra" lessons when the curriculum is so demanding these days.  On the other hand, I never miss an opportunity to celebrate my country!

In honor of Constitution Day, I thought I'd attach some interesting links related to our country's constitution.

First, I'm attaching one of my former blog entries:  Developing Class Rules.  I think this is a good introduction to the little ones, since this is a "watered down" version of  what our founding fathers did so many years ago. I even had my students sign the final copy of our class rules... but only if they thought the rules were fair.  (Which they all did, they developed the rules!)

Jr. Achievement Constitution Day lessons by grade level -  I can't speak for all grade levels, but the K-2 level is very age appropriate.

The Constitution for Kids - this resource is very much in a language that children can understand, with links to pictures of the constitution.

Constitution Quiz - I qualify as a "Constitution Whiz Kid".  I doubt my second graders would do quite so well, but this would be fun for older kids.

Center for Civic Education - I found several age appropriate lessons and materials at this site.

Scholastic -There are several links to information about the Constitution on this site.

Ben's Guide to the US Government - Our good friend Ben Franklin explains the US Government.  Gotta love Ben!

Utah Education Network.  Tons of links here, many of them are by grade level.

Printable resources - coloring pages and word finds, along with a few other sheets.

Seven Quick Facts About the US Constitution - I love simplicity.  This sums up the key parts.

USA Patriotic Holidays - Click the image to download my freebie... this helps students sort out the different Patriotic holidays!

Which Patriotic Holiday - This is a sorting game for the children to talk about the differences of each USA holiday, and remember which is which.  It includes Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Constitution Day and Veterans Day. Click the image to see the product.

Tomorrow the children have been encouraged to wear red, white, and blue.  The whole school will come outside to the flagpole for the Pledge of Allegiance.  My class will be having some conversations about how the country's constitution was made.  Then I'll have a few choices of word finds and coloring sheets that will hopefully spark conversations about our country and the constitution.  We'll finish up by signing our school's promise with a quill pen, just like our founding fathers did over 200 years ago.

What are your plans?

Giving Feedback

I find it is important to give honest feedback to children.  I won't tell a child he's doing a good job, unless I honestly feel it is a good job.  I tell the truth.

I choose to be honest with children.  They know how they're doing.  If they're not putting in much effort, and you tell them they're doing a good job, isn't that giving them the wrong message?  Isn't that telling them they don't need to try?

I've often found the best way to build self esteem is to give opportunities for the child to work.  I'm sure most people, after completing a very difficult project, are beaming with pride.  I remember caressing the cover of certain reports in college, simply because it was the result of a whole lot of hard work, and I felt proud that it was completed.

In every day work, I use a simple system.  Since I work with young ones, they need feedback within a day if possible.  Since many are non readers or beginning readers, I need to make it simple to understand.  I use highlighters and a traffic light system.

I'll highlight the child's name in one of these colors:

Green:  Go!  You're doing just what's expected of a second grader.

Yellow:  Caution:  there are some things you need to be careful about

Red:  Stop!  There's a problem here.

There is one more color I use:  purple.  Purple means "above and beyond the expectations of a second grader."  Purple means they are royalty.

I'm very stingy with purple.  They really have to go "above and beyond" to get it.  And they should be extremely proud when they earn it.

These are the papers I usually show off to the whole class.  Not only do they get the feedback they need, they are now role models for the others.  (Of course, it doesn't hurt that I bow to them, and refer to them as "kings and queens".)

And what about the kids who gets yellow or red?  Does this destroy their self esteem?  Of course not!  They know that if they didn't put in any effort, they won't get much in return.  They also know if they don't like what they got, they have the power to change that.  I often remind them:  when the going gets tough, the tough get going!

How do you give feedback?

Speaking of Heroes

I had the most incredible morning. The town where I grew up dedicated a road in the name of my dad. 

My dad was a legendary football coach and Phys. Ed. director in my home town. He not only coached many successful seasons, he established a sports program in the town which has been in place since 1953. 

As I walked from my car to the spot for the ceremony, I noticed several sports teams playing on different parts of the field, cheerleaders stretching in preparation for the upcoming game, and an impromptu basketball game. There were signs and banners rooting for the home team. 

I realized, this scene was very similar to the scene I would have seen 40 years ago when I was one of those cheerleaders stretching in preparation for the game. This was the program my dad established all those many years ago. 

Several people spoke about the strong influence he had on the town's sports program, and quoted his incredible record. Former players and colleagues spoke of the way he had with his football players, and called him a great motivator. He truly coached the kids on and off the field. One of his favorite sayings came out today:  "I can, and I will!"

The program ended with my brother unveiling the new street sign.  We all posed for pictures under the sign, and talked to people we hadn't seen in a very long time.  Somehow I managed to keep from crying during the ceremony, but I did shed a few on the car ride home.

It's hard to believe that I could have a lot in common with a man who coached football. Me, with zilch athletic ability.  Me, who prefers to sing or tap dance or teach small children.

But we both have a common theme:  We both would do everything within our power to get young people to be the best that they can be.  We are both motivators.  We are both passionate people who care about kids being successful.  The man has been gone for 9 years, and yet he is with me every day.  He is my hero.

How appropriate for this weekend, the 10th anniversary of 9-11.  A time to celebrate the heroes in our lives.  We certainly celebrated a hero today!

Who is your hero?

Some links:
Bondelevitch Way Open for Travel

Big Blue Football Continues the Bondelevitch Winning Way

David Bondelevitch's blog: I Can and I Will

David Bondelevitch's blog:  Father's Day

Here's my dad (center) with his staff and captains back in the early 1970s.

Celebrate Heroes

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!
We had a great lesson today.   My alternative to a full fledged "9-11" Lesson turned into a lesson on heroes, and it couldn't have been more successful!

I modeled looking up the word heroes in 3 different dictionaries and led a delightful discussion on what heroes are and what heroes aren't.  The best "child friendly" definition came from Macmillian First Dictionary (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990)  Here it is:

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!
A hero is someone we think of as special because of the good or brave things that person has done.

We discussed what heroes are and why they're not superheroes. We talked about heroes in our families, in our school, and in our town.  Then I told them about my hero, my dad.  I told them why he's my hero.  (because he taught me to inspire kids to be the best they can be.)  I told them to think about who their own hero might be, and why that person fits the definition of hero.

While they were at lunch, I typed up Heros Writing Prompt, available here (or click the image) for free!  It has the child friendly definition of heroes, and a lead for the children to write about their heroes.  When writing time came, they were ready to write.  This was the most focused I'd seen this group of children yet this year.  They were so focused, that I actually had a chance to sit down with the children and write about my dad.  We ended up with a variety of heroes.  Lots of moms and dads, but children also picked neighbors, siblings, teachers, and, of course, firefighters and police officers.  Some of their explanations were quite touching!  It was the first time we had enough writing for a sharing session, and the children were truly interested in each others' work.   I was quite proud of them!

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!

American Heroes

I've decided what I'm going to do with my second graders to honor September 11th. I feel that the 10 year anniversary is far too important to ignore, but I'm concerned about sharing such painful events with young children.

Since they're way too young to discuss such frightening events that took place 10 years ago, I've decided to focus on heroes. 

The dictionary defines "hero" as "a person who is admired for courage or noble qualities" or "a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities"

Of course, technically "hero" is the male form of this person and "heroine" is the female form. We'll simplify things for my little ones by using the male form for both genders.

We might even bring up that the word hero also can describe a main character of a story. 

We'll have a discussion about what that means, and name some heroes in our school, community, and country. Then we'll do some pictures of the heroes in our lives while listening to patriotic music.

I'll probably cry. Patriotic music does that to me. 

Things I Say Over and Over

There are some phrases that I say over and over.  It gets to the point where the kids say these phrases along with me.
"When I'm done talking not before..."

"... in two shakes of a lamb's tail...

"turn and talk to your partner"

"We don't save places in line."

"Take a bow."

"Take a beanie."

"It's good to see you today."

"Your desk should look like ____'s."

"A wrong answer is better than no answer, because wrong answer means you tried."

"A mistake helps you learn.  That's how I got so smart."

"Thanks for making that mistake.  You helped us all learn."

"Thanks for bringing that to our attention."

"That's a great question."

"Exercise is good for the brain."

"It helps the brain remember if you...."

"As long as you do your best to learn, I'll do my best to make it fun."

I could go on and on, but I won't.  What phrases do you repeat a lot?
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