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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Building a Community of Learners

   Welcome back to another fresh and exciting school year. Maybe I'm crazy, but there's just something about an unopened pack of Ticonderoga pencils, fresh glue sticks, and a new pack of Flair pens. (Yes, I was the kid that asked for a laminator for my tenth birthday as well...)
    As we begin a new school year, it is important to not only think about the math and reading lessons we have to teach, but to remember that in order to achieve a high level of learning, our students need to feel that they are welcomed, valued, and part of something bigger. It is with this in mind that I bring you some of my favorite back to school activities that help build the community that we will base our learning off of for the entire year.

   Interactive Tickets Out The Door
     My favorite addition to my classroom this year is my interactive Twitter "Ticket Out the Door" door. The kids each have their own twitter bubble with their name on it that they use to post their ticket out the door answers on with a sticky note. The kids love this because they know their work is going to be on display for all to see, and it's way more fun for them to post on the door than turn it into the basket. This is also super easy for me to quickly see who has actually turned in the response or not. Taking data on these at a quick glance is also super easy as well. You can get the template for this board in my TPT store here

                                                     TPT Interactive Twitter Board

                                              Getting to Know The Teacher
    I have always viewed the first few weeks of school as vital in setting the tone for the year. You've probably heard many teachers refer to their students as their "kids," and this is exactly how I feel about mine. We do in fact spend the majority of our day together, so in the end we end up being more of a family than a class. If we are a family, we first need to get to know each other like a family. With this in mind, I always try to base my "get to know you" activities on concepts and tools that we will use throughout the year. The first thing I do is use the idea of a "K-W-L" chart to introduce this learning strategy to the students, but also to have them learn more about me as well.
    Since I teach 6th grade in an elementary school, many of the students know me from seeing me in the hall or their siblings having me as a teacher. It's always fun to see what they come up with in terms of things they already know about me. I have them first complete the "Know" and "Want to Know" columns on their own K-W-L chart, and then we share out as a class. The fun part comes when they get to learn more about me. To do this I write fun facts on slips of paper such as- "Mrs. Dessert loves the Ducks" and "Mrs. Dessert is a basketball coach." Then we play a version of Pictionary, where one student will choose a slip and draw a picture that shows the fun fact, while the rest of the class guesses. It's great to see some of the more shy students volunteer first to come up and draw for everyone.

At the end of the week I give an extra credit quiz of about ten questions to see who was paying the best attention all week. The kids absolutely love it!

Team Building Activities 
    Much of what we do in our class is based around team work. Gone are the days of quiet seat work, and here are the days of active collaboration, questioning, and explaining your thinking. In order to get kids to start talking and used to working together, I found some great activities that allow students to work on these skills at a level that all students will feel successful. My two favorites of the week are the "Tower Challenge" and "Save Fred." 
    The set up for the Tower Challenge is six plastic cups, a piece of string for each student, and two rubber bands. The only directions are that students may not touch the cups with their hands, but they need to stack the cups in a 3-2-1 formation. These kind of open ended directions allow for the students to get creative and problem solve together. It was inspiring to see all the different ways that students came up with to solve this problem. For those early finishers, their groups had to re-stack the cups into a single stack with the same directions as before. 


      I found the idea for the Save Fred challenge on Instagram after it had been used in a few other fabulous teachers' classrooms. The set up for this challenge requires a gummy worm, gummy life saver, plastic cup and a paperclip for each student. The cup should be put upside down with the gummy worm on top and the lifesaver underneath. 
    The background story is that Fred was riding in his boat, when it capsized and he ended up on top. His only chance of survival is to get his life jacket on, which is underneath the boat. Students are told they may not use their hands to touch the boat, life jacket, or worm, but can use the paperclip to help them. They also may not stab the worm or life jacket because, well jeez... that would just be cruel and the life jacket would be obsolete. This was great fun to watch and the kids really took an interest in making sure Fred was safe. Cheers were heard around the room as each Fred was saved! 

Time Capsules
    Although the year is just beginning, it's not too early to start thinking about the end. No, not summer, but instead that last week when the kids are checked out and ready to go. For this my solution is a time capsule! Even though it's just a year, so much changes and the kids always find it fun to look back and see how they have changed in the year. 
    My time capsule template allows students to answer fun questions about their life, goal setting questions, and also work on their letter writing skills. I have created a template of time capsules for grades K-6 that is available in my TPT store by clicking the link below. Even if you're already a few weeks into the year, it's not too late to try this one out! At the end of the year the students fill out the form again and then I give them their original. The laughs and smiles are priceless. After reading their time capsule they write themselves one final letter which I keep and will send back to them when they graduate high school. (But I don't tell them that... shhh) Grab these templates now while they are on sale for just $1! 


                                                    Goal Setting Self-Portraits
    Finally, a project that has been a class favorite for the last few years. Art Projects for Kids has some wonderful ideas to incorporate art into your classroom. This project walks students through the process of drawing their faces, while leaving out the hard parts such a nose and a mouth. Students then write 3-4 goals for the school year and add that to a piece of notebook paper and glue it on. The final project is absolutely adorable and great to have up at Back to School night or conferences. Follow the link below for the step by step directions.

    Hopefully these activities will give you some ideas to help build a classroom community and start the year off on the right foot. As always, my goal is help lighten the load for all of us, so if you have other great ideas that you use, please leave a comment and share them! I'd love to continue to build our classroom community with your great ideas! 


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