Reflecting Upon the Brain Workshop

I'm a naturally reflective person.  As a teacher, I reflect upon every lesson I teach, constantly thinking about how it could have gone better.  That's usually a good thing, but sometimes I make myself crazy thinking about things.  And I do tend to be hard on myself.  That's one of the harder things about being a perfectionist. 

I presented a workshop yesterday on Brain Based Learning to other teachers in my district. It was kind of a rushed day, since I was at DIBELS training at another school in the district earlier in the day. We got out with plenty of time, but I didn't want to get back too early since I din't want to interrupt the substitute. Since the workshop was due to start in my classroom at 3:30, I needed to be in my classroom by 3:10 to set up on time. Unfortunately, several kids are still there at that time, waiting for their bus, so I had no choice but to enter the classroom with all my workshop stuff. 

Of course, the kids that were left gave me a wonderful greeting.  (You'd think I hadn't seen them in years!) Then I needed to chat with the sub, who was also going to be there the next day while I went to the rest of the training. (I was glad about that, she's great!) Needless to say, I was barely ready when the other teachers arrived. 

It was a small group, just 5 teachers. Most of them I knew, and they were from all levels. I had snacks, water bottles, handouts, a selection of books about brain research, and, of course, several copies of my Elementary Matters business cards.

The presentation went very well. The other teachers liked the material (who wouldn't, it's fascinating stuff!) and particularly seemed to like my "Brain Jeopardy". (Based on THIS fascinating article!)

Of course, being a reflective person, there are a few things I'd do to make it better:

  1. I like to have music on when people enter. (I do this for my students often, too.) The kind of music that makes you feel good. Upbeat, with a bounce to it. I had planned to have one of my bouncy Christmas CDs on, but just didn't get to it.
  2. I had snacks, but didn't have anything to put the snacks in. I dug up some cups in the classroom, so they could put Cheese Its into plastic cups. Next time I'll have nice bowls or containers for the snacks, and napkins!
  3. As I do often in class, I had too much material, and didn't finish it all. Of course, it's such a wide topic, and there's so much I want to share. Next time, I'll just pick the most important parts and go into more detail. 
But, all in all, it went well. I got this email this afternoon:

This afternoon a HS teacher came into my office to tell me what an excellent workshop you ran yesterday. She wished more teachers (especially from the HS) had come. She used some of what she learned already today in her classes. Great job!

So, I guess I'm happy about that!

    My Favorite Holiday Literature

    I brought my box of holiday books down from the attic this weekend, and now I'm getting excited about sharing some of my favorite holiday books with my students. Reading to the children is my very favorite thing to do as a teacher, and this is a great time of year for it!

    Nutcracker Noel by Kate McMullen is one I can't read without getting choked up.  The story itself isn't that emotional, it's just the special connection I have. When my daughter was little (6 years old), she had a role in a professional production of The Nutcracker. The role that Noel has is pretty much the same. I get choked every time Noel steps onto the stage with the fog and the snow and becomes part of the magic.  It gets me every time.

    Speaking of The Nutcracker, I found this version of the story by Susan Jeffers to be a beautiful picture book version of the famous story.  The story is somewhat simplified, but contains the key elements that make this story such a classic. The illustrations are gorgeous, and you can't miss with a story setting called The Kingdom of Sweets! 

    Peef the Christmas Bear is a heartwarming story about a special bear that Santa made who accompanies Santa once a year on his special trip.  As we all know, the true desire of any bear is to be loved by a boy or girl, so Peef has a difficult decision to make.  The look on the children's faces as I read make this book priceless. 

    I make a point to read The Night Before Christmas on the last school day before the holiday.  Jan Brett's illustrations are as beautiful as Clement C. Moore's famous words. You just don't hear descriptive language like this anymore!  ("The moon on the breast of the newfallen snow gave a luster of midday to objects below."  When I explain to the children that's about the moon reflecting on the snow, their eyes lighten up with the visual!)

    Of course, I don't actually read this book.  I don't need to look at the words anymore, I can recite the whole thing by heart, I've read it so many times!

    What are your favorite holiday read alouds?

    My Favorite Holiday Activity

    My Favorite Holiday Activity: Do you have an activity that works so well you bring it back every year? That's how I feel about this freebie!

    Do you have a favorite activity that you've used year after year, that the kids love, you love, and learning happens every time?  That's how I feel about this activity.  It's about classic literature, classic music, and reading/ listening comprehension.

    Every year I have the children listen to the music from The Nutcracker.  They talk about what's happening in each section of the story, and illustrate.  Somewhere between the drawing, the music, and the conversation, the brain is focused and happy!

    The activity is available at my TeachersPayTeachers store.  It's a summary of the ballet version of the Nutcracker story.  Just click the Nutcracker to get there!

    Did you check for S.P.U.N.C?

    Whenever my children have completed some written work, I always tell them to check it for S.P.U.N.C. before passing it in. 

    What's S.P.U.N.C?  It stands for Spelling, Punctuation, Use of words, Neatness, and Capitalization. 

    I suggest the kids do a "finger read" as they double check for each part of S.P.U.N.C, that really helps them figure out if they left out a word or wrote something that usually makes sense.

    Sometimes I'll remind the kids to make their work S.P.U.N.C.Y. 
    What does the Y stand for?  Your very best work!

    Thanksgiving Freebie

    Here's a freebie for Thanksgiving!  
    It's a "old Maid" type game for children to practice their +9 math facts.  
    My kids love this game and practice it over and over! 
     Just click the link for the freebie!

    This one's not a freebie, but it's one of mine and my students' favorite Thanksgiving activities.  

    I'm big on getting the kids to do the illustrations.  For one thing, I'd prefer they be creative rather than me. For another thing, as they illustrate, they're internalizing the knowledge, getting it to stick! (There's plenty of brain research out there to back this up!) It's a strategy I use often, and the kids love it, too!

    I read a couple of stories lately to the children about the first Thanksgiving, and we talk about it.  Sometimes we do a Guided Imagry activity to get them to really think about what it was like to be there. 
    I've even shown a couple of videos.  (Try these, from Scholastic!)

    I like to round things by giving the children an opportunity to illustrate the story.

    I always play some classical music while I let them illustrate.  It lets the creative juices flow.
    This is a perfect opportunity to see if they've learned what I want them to learn! It's also a nice keepsake for the children to remember the story, and share with their families on Thanksgiving Day!

    Whatever Happened to Patriotism?

    When I was growing up (in the 50s and 60s), there was a lot of patriotism in our part of the world.  Everyone knew all the patriotic songs, and knew the rules about how to respect the American flag.  They were proud to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and loved a patriotic parade.  We were proud of our country and showed it whenever we could.

    Kids don't have that now. In fact, many adults don't have that now.  I wonder why?

    In fact, people often show a lack of respect for our country.  They are quick to criticize what's going on in our country and criticize the people in charge.

    Now, I admit, there's a lot that's not right with our country right now.  People can't find jobs.  Taxes keep getting higher, and people are angry about everything these days.  It's not a good time in our world. 

    But I know that the basis for our country is so strong, that somehow we will get past these hard times and move on.  These are the words that our country is based on: 

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
    that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

    I can't help but get all sappy when I hear those words.  Does that still happen with anyone else?

    On this Veterans Day, I particularly think about how much I appreciate living in the USA.  I'm Proud to be an American.  Are you?

    Thanks, Veterans!

    10 Key Points About the Brain

    10 Key Points About the Brain: Here are ten key points from my research on brain based learning that have helped me as a teacher in the classroom.
    As I've mentioned on previous blogs, I'm fascinated by how the brain works, and have done a lot of reading about brain based learning. 

    I'm giving  a workshop to my peers on Thursday, and I'm going over my notes. These are some of my key points:
    1. Students can only take in 2 - 4 chunks of information per sitting. These sittings should never last more than 4 - 8 minutes.
    2. Students need frequent review and reflection time for these chunks to become part of the long term memory.
    3. The brain is a parallel processor. That means the brain needs to have more than one process happening at a time, such as seeing and hearing, or talking and moving. If only one thing is happening, the brain becomes bored and seeks other stimulation, such as daydreaming.
    4. The brain needs to make associations and find patterns. We need to help students use prior knowledge in order to remember what they are learning.
    5. Engaging emotions will help learning along. Emotions are key to memory.
    6. Engaging the students socially will also help the brain. There should be a variety of large group, small group, and pairs. Independent work should take up less than 50% of the child's time in school.
    7. Engaging students physically is another hook to learning. Finding ways to connect the learning to moving will ensure learning.
    8. Music is magical. It connects us emotionally and helps the memory.
    9. Practice does not make perfect, but good practice makes better. Practice can make learning harder if the practice is inaccurate.  Feedback is essential. The best feedback is real, honest feedback.
    10. Exercise and movement are essential to learning. Phys Ed, recess, and other forms of exercise ensure the brain will get sufficient oxygen.   

    Thanks for helping me organize my thoughts! Wish me luck on Thursday!

    Cancer Awareness Link Up

    Cooperative Learning 365 is having a link up.  All you have to do is be someone who has experienced cancer, or cares about someone who has experienced cancer, and you can link up! 

    You can also download her lavendar ribbon for cancer awareness.


    Thank you. Veterans!

    Wow, I am so grateful for out veterans!  They preserve our freedom and protect our country.  I've been looking for the perfect activity to help the children appreciate those brave men and women.  I've spent the afternoon searching videos, and have several I want to show!  I've narrowed it down to a couple:

    The one above gives a nice collection of pictures of various soldiers performing various duties, accompanied by a powerful song.

    This one is a good one, as it uses voices of children.  It has good visuals, and lyrics on the screen so the children can sing along.

    The lyrics are in a language the children can understand.  Very child friendly!

    If I can get through this song without crying, this video gives a nice connection of visuals of soldiers and the USA.

    Speaking of "can't get through it without crying," I thought I'd read my favorite book for Veterans Day.  I've read this every year, and I am amazed every year by the look on the children's faces as I read.  It definitely touches their emotions!

    This freebie is a chance for the children to write to the veterans they know and thank them for all they do. You can find it HERE.

    HERE's a fun activity to help the children figure out who could be a veteran. Don't tell the kids, but ALL these describe what a veteran could be!

    Americans, what are your plans to celebrate our Veterans?

    Brain Facts

    I just love learning about the brain!  Here are a few interesting facts I've learned from this site:

    The brain weighs about 3 pounds. 

    Reading aloud to a child promotes brain development.

    The capacity for many emotions is present at birth.

    The brain uses 20% of the body's oxygen.

    Stress has been known to alter brain cells and brain function.

    Memory is formed by associations, so if you want help remembering things, create associations for yourself.

    Lack of sleep may hurt your ability to make memories.

    Music lessons have shown to considerably boost brain organization and ability in both children and adults.

    Isn't this stuff fascinating?  There's a lot more at this site, which is where I got these facts.

    What does all this mean to us as teachers?  Well, it means that children need enough sleep and plenty of oxygen. (That means exercise!)  It means we may need to work at creating associations for the children to remember what we're teaching them.  It means that music lessons help the children learn. 

    We probably already knew most of this, but it sure is great stuff!
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