5 Ways to Make Your Weather Unit WILD

Make your kids WILD about learning with these Wild about Weather ideas on Virginia is for Teachers.
Tsunamis, tornadoes, blizzards...oh my! Kids are just fascinated by them, and tapping into their curious natures is the best way to make those standards come alive.

So how do you reel your kids in and help them take in those challenging concepts and terms? Well, let's explore a few ideas to see if there are options you might work in to your unit this year.
Use Text Sets to Expand Learning
Let's face it. Not all of our fourth graders are on grade level and above with reading, and yet, they're all tested on the same content. One way to extend concepts and/or reteach concepts is to gather a collection of nonfiction titles that include the information your students need in bold, appealing, and child friendly ways. How do you find appropriate books to include?  Well, I love yard sales for this type of thing, but I also keep my eye out for related books at consignment shops and when I see Scholastic's dollar deals. Naturally, you can also borrow from your local library, school library, or school tradebook room too. When you're gathering up your books, don't overlook the magazines or audio books. Time for Kids and National Geographic for Kids are two of the best. They have specialty issues that target many of our standards. Below, you'll see some of the books I'd recommend you pull. My favorite authors for nonfiction are Gail Gibbons, Seymour Simon, Anne Rockwell, National Geographic Readers, and DK Kids. 
Make your kids WILD about learning with these Wild about Weather ideas on Virginia is for Teachers.
Extend Science Learning Across the Curriculum
Okay, I confess. I am old and began teaching during the "Whole Language Era". Gasp! I will say that one of the best things from teaching at that time was learning to plan thematically. I guess that's why I enjoy Thematic Thursday on my blog so much. Well, in my experience working with struggling readers, I have found that for them to retain the concepts, they really need to interact with text in a memorable way. Our school has the Benchmark Learning Leveled Library, so there are many book options that work with the weather unit, but don't forget to look for other options too such as close reading sets or readers' theater. I love using readers theater scripts with my kids. We can practice multiple reads without boredom, work on building fluency, and improve comprehension too. Because I bring science into our guided reading time, we also get to work on that challenging vocabulary. This close reading set in my store targets the fourth grade standards for weather instruments, cloud types, the weather cycle, and general meteorology concepts. 
Make your kids WILD about learning with these Wild about Weather ideas on Virginia is for Teachers.
 Experiment, Experiment, Experiment
Science learning is not intended to be done out of a textbook, so having simple experiments ready to roll is a great plan. Have you seen this website?  What a great collection of activities. I love all of the tech resources. What a huge help!
SOL Teacher Store
[This Pinterest Board] from Carol Emerson includes a ton of links to experiments and other hands-on projects, and Rockingham County Public Schools has a wonderful database of options too. Here is my Pinterest board for Weather Resources:
Call Upon Your Resource Teachers
I think in the rush of planning, grading, communicating with parents, creating, and copying, we often forget to include our resource teachers. They are a GREAT resource to us too. Back in the day A few years ago, we extended science units into music, art, and even PE. In music, the kids sang songs from the period in history or that tied into our science unit, and our art teacher may have had the kids make a weather vane or displays of the different cloud types. The PE teacher might have come up with themed games to play too. Of course, they have standards to follow too, but even so, you'd be surprised at some of the options they could do. Just look at a few of these examples:
http://media-cache-ak2.pinimg.com/originals/f6/be/ba/f6beba37e1ffefb06d71d9b68ad772bf.jpg:   The Water Cycle, as drawn in a droplet of water, by Esther, 10 years old, Artist Of The Day on 04/10/2013 • Art My Kid Made #kidart:
4 Rain Rhymes to Get Kids Moving  
I looked for weather themed games, and alas, there just wasn't much out there. I did find Weather Tag and Winter Dress Relay on Teacher Web. You could also try tying in weather trivia questions as the kids warm up with jumping jacks or chants to help the kids recall concepts. Connecting movement to learning helps kids remember too.
Tie in Tech
This PDF file contains links to weather videos found on YouTube that are perfect for use in a  K-6 classroom unit on weather and or clouds.I shared the link to SOL Teacher and to Rockingham County's website links, but certainly youtube clips are a huge help in providing students with a visual model to concepts. My friend, Teresa from Confessions of a Teaching Junkie linked up [this post] with my weekly Thematic Thursday post last year, and her list of videos is fabulous. For other weather ideas, you might look back at her post and that week's Thematic Thursday on my blog
The Virginia is for Teachers blog authors have a few weather resources that might be helpful to you too. Check them out by clicking the images below. 
All About Weather Powerpoint and Notes Sheet
Powerpoint and Notes Sheet
$3.00 from The Techie Teacher
Weather Vocabulary Cards
Weather Vocabulary Cards
$3.00 from Owls and Lesson Plans
In addition to these  resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, be sure to check out Jessica's weather resources on her website, The Teaching Oasis. She has a weather study guide, bingo boards for weather terms, weather scavenger hunt, and water cycle lapbook foldables.

Now, I believe you are all set. I hope you find these ideas helpful and that your kids are engaged and learning.  See you next month!

Assessments in Kindergarten

Hi, I'm Christin and I blog over at Shifting Teacher K-2.  I was born and raised in Virginia - right around the Richmond area.  I now teach in the same county I grew up in and have taught kindergarten, first grade and second grade.  Most of my experience is in kindergarten- my passion!!!  This lovely group of VA teachers have invited me to share my ideas on this blog every 2 months.  So.....today, I'm here to share what assessments in kindergarten look like.

Believe if or not, we have to assess our little ones in order to mark their report cards at the end of the grading period.  Those who have never taught kindergarten don't always understand what these assessments entail.  So...I'm going to try to show you!  If you teach kindergarten, stick around to the end where I'll share my assessment pack with you. 

Before the assessing begins, I need to be sure I have all of my supplies needed to assess the skills for that nine weeks. As a team, we go through our pacing and make note of the skills we have taught that the students should be held accountable for.  I just use a sticky note for this. I like to keep it in my plan book so that next year when I'm looking back I will have it. 

I also need the assessment pack I made to check off what skills each student knows and what they are struggling with. I have it organized in the order that my team teaches things. The math pacing changed this year and I did not update that yet. Click the picture below to get your copy from Google Drive. 

I make a copy of the pack for each student and keep it in this binder. There is a divider for each student but labeled by number instead of name so I don't have to change that part each year. 

The final thing I need is my "Assessment Tool" (the pink pack in the picture above), which is printed on card stock and laminated. I use this for the students to look at while asking them questions (like id letters, sounds, numbers, shapes,etc). Click the picture above to get a copy from Google Drive. 

Now that I have all of that ready, we are ready for assessments.  But let me first share what the class is doing in the meantime. Since I have to assess my students one in one, the best time to do this is during my reading center time. So while my students are working independently, I'm calling them over one at a time to assess. And since they are already used to me teaching guided reading and not able to help them during that time, they keep the same expectations while assessments happen. You can read more about that routine on my blog here.

Yes, you're not crazy....that child is wearing a sleeveless shirt with a sleeveless vest on top during the week of a snow storm!!!  But what can we do....

So after I finish my assessments, they have to the be put into the computer. Our county uses PowerSchool to do that. Now, in any other grade, that sounds wonderful....put in graded papers and it will average everything to give a final grade.  However, kindergarten is so different yet again!  Since it is developmentally appropriate for students to continue their learning throughout the year, we do not grade papers and put grades in PowerSchool.  So when we first started this journey 3 years ago, our county worked with the PowerSchool people to make the system look just like our current report card. Well...look at this picture.....

That is what our report card looks like. So needless to say, this whole enter assessments into the computer thing takes a good 2-3 days before completion!  Luckily, the county is currently revamping our kindergarten report card to better reflect the expectations of the county and state standards. I can't wait till next year!!

So once all that data is collected, it is actually very powerful when I start to make my guided reading groups. Since students in kindergarten learn at MANY different levels and paces, it is very important as a kindergarten teacher to have flexible groupings.   For example, I realized with these assessments that I needed 5 reading groups instead of 4 - there are 2 students who just don't have a concept of word and cannot hang in my group of A/B readers.   

To those kindergarten teachers out there, good luck with assessments - it is a long task and feels very good when finished!  To all of our other readers, I hope you have a better look at what is expected of your fellow kindergarten teachers! 

Photo Credit: http://quotesgram.com/inspirational-teaching-quotes-for-students/

Now head out and give your fellow kindergarten teachers some good vibes! 

3 Tips to Make Social Studies Hands-On

Vestal's 21st Century Classroom          Good Afternoon, from ‘Vestal’s 21st Century Classroom!’  I’m Meghan Vestal and I am excited to have the privilege of being one of the newest bloggers for ‘Virginia is for Teachers!’  I have about 6 years of experience as an educator in Virginia.  I have taught 4th and 5th grades in Charlottesville and Lynchburg. I also spent 2 years as the Education Director for Amazement Square Children’s Museum (if you took a field trip there between 2012-2014, we may have met!).  With a minor in social studies and a master’s degree in Public Policy, I am passionate about getting kids excited about history through hands-on activities and unique learning experiences.  For my first post, I would like to share just a few ways I have made social studies a favorite subject for almost every student I have taught.
     As a classroom teacher, I have sat in on a lot of IEP meetings.  I can’t recall the details of most of these meetings, but there is one from about a year ago that I cannot get out of my head.  As I listened to the special education teacher explain the student’s grades, it was difficult for me to not say anything when she told the parents the student was failing Virginia Studies because it was not possible to make social studies fun or hands-on.  This is a comment I frequently hear teachers make and, as a lover of all things history and government, I find this statement to be appalling.  People love to watch action, drama, and romance on the big screen.  So, how can the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional conventions, or the affairs of multiple U.S. presidents be boring!?  A few years ago, I received the most meaningful letter I have ever received from a student.  In it, the student said he always thought social studies was boring but, after being in my class, it had become his favorite subject because he learned it could be fun.  I want to hear more students saying those words and here are a few ways I have made it happen in my class.

1.  Experience New Places Without Leaving Your Classroom
I don’t think there is anything more fun or hands-on to teach than geography!  To start, throw out the traditional construction paper and markers and get creative with map making!  Most teachers have play dough somewhere in their classroom and I have found this to be one of the best geography tools.  When my students are studying the regions of Virginia, they use play dough to construct 3D maps.  After the playdough dries, the students add major rivers with glitter glue and label major cities with markers.  Many students have told me this is one of their favorite activities from the entire school year. 
Another fun geography activity, that incorporates career readiness skills, is having the students become tourism directors for whatever location they are learning about.  When studying the products and industries of Virginia, I put my students in groups and they must develop a marketing campaign for Virginia that incorporates information about all 5 regions.  Students must create a slogan, a brochure, and film a commercial showcasing the 5 regions.
In addition to hands-on activities, there are free digital resources available that make it easy for students to learn about new places, even if they cannot actually visit those places.  Google Earth is one of my student’s favorite resources.  This is a free download that works great on an iPad or computer.  When we are studying historical sites, such as Monticello or Appomattox Court House, my students actually get to visit these places by finding the location on a digital map and then zooming in to examine actual street views of site.  We have also been able to travel across the entire state of Virginia, with an eye level view, to see how the terrain changes from east to west.  Google Earth is a fantastic tool allows students to travel anywhere in the world without leaving their desk!  National Geographic, Virginia Trekkers, and the Smithsonian also offer interactive geography based experiences on their websites for free.

2.  Throw Out the Textbook and Make Everything Project Based 
I hear a lot of students say social studies is their least favorite subject because it is boring.  I think that is because they have come to associate social studies with reading a textbook and then filling out a worksheet.  Granted, there is a certain degree of reading and comprehension review needed to ensure students are getting all the information, but it is possible to do something creative with those facts! 
In my classroom, social studies is always taught using project based learning and students are expected to complete a project before each unit test.  Above, I shared the tourism project students create during the unit on Virginia’s regions.  Another popular project my students have completed is creating board games with an objective to get the settlers safely from England to Jamestown.  We then keep these games in the classroom throughout the year for students to play during indoor recess. 
Project based learning also leaves LOTS of room for critical thinking.  For example, when learning about the Civil War, I put the students into groups and have them pull from a hat whether they will represent the north or the south.  The groups then have to research the reasons why their side wanted to go to war and use this information to create a poster that might have been used during the time period, convincing others to join their cause.  Initially, this was a challenging concept for the students who selected the south.  But, I made sure to remind them that part of history is understanding the mindset of various individuals, even individuals who have done horrible things.  As the famous saying goes, “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  
I have included some links to some of my project based units at the conclusion of this post. 

3.  Make Memorizing Facts Fun
Teachers frequently use sayings and songs to help students remember a lot of information at once but there are a few things to keep in mind if it is truly going to be successful.  First, when it comes to sayings, students are more likely to remember sayings that are silly or random.  My students use sayings like “James York Reads Poorly” to remember important rivers in Virginia and the popular phrase “Never Taste Ketchup With Mustard” to remember the states surrounding Virginia.  These sayings don’t necessarily have anything to do with what is being taught but the kids think these are funny so the information sticks.
Next, music is one of the best ways to help students remember information but it must be done properly for the students to really buy into it.  Most importantly, make sure it is music the students enjoy!  A few years ago, I had a class of 4th graders who loved Maroon 5.  So, I wrote a song about the products and industries of Virginia to the tune of Maroon 5’s song, ‘Misery’ (this can be found on my Teachers Pay Teachers store).  The students couldn’t get enough of it!  We sang it all the time and I even had to ask some students to hum softer when they were taking the unit test.  A colleague saw how successful this was and tried to replicate it in her 3rd grade class.  She wrote a song comparing Greece and Rome to the tune of ‘Good Riddance’ by Green Day.  A few days later she came to me and asked why the kids weren’t getting into it.  I like Green Day as much as the next girl who grew up in the 90’s, but 3rd graders in 2016 don’t have a clue what Green Day is.  My colleague rewrote her song to the tune of a Selena Gomez song and it was a success!  The students just needed something they could relate to.  

Virginia's Products & Industries Song

I hope I’ve sparked a few ideas to spice up your social studies class!  If you are looking for some pre-made, hands-on social studies units, be sure to check these out that appear in my store.  Click on each of the images to learn more about the unit.
American Revolution
 Colonial America
 Virginia Regions Unit

Next month, on February 28, find out how to take students on a field trip to a local museum or historical site even if you have a tight budget (or no budget at all).  I will be sharing a post with places throughout Virginia that offer free and discounted field trips and/or classroom outreach programs at a significantly discounted price.   

Vestal's 21st Century Classroom


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