Moving, Math and Literacy: Brownsville Physical Educators Lead the Way

October 31, 2012

Educators in Albemarle County Public Schools create learning opportunities for children to acquire Lifelong Learning Competencies. We believe that physical education offers a pathway for children to engage in movement activities that support development of math and literacy skills, while providing healthy exercise which we know is a critical aspect of both academic learning and sustaining a healthy lifestyle over a lifetime. The Physical Education program at Brownsville Elementary offers wonderful examples of how the physical education teachers engage children in challenging, interesting and interactive learning. I know you will enjoy reading this narrative they constructed about their work with children.

_________________________________________________________________

Integrating PE with language arts and math supports our mission at Brownsville Elementary School to create lifelong learners who realize that learning is interdisciplinary.

One of the ways we integrate math in the early grades is to play a well-known P.E. game called “Clean up the Backyard.”  This game happens at the end of an activity when we have the students place the balls on a line on their side.  Initially we just have them count the balls.  Then we might have them place them in groups and we count by twos, threes, fours etc.  Eventually we just say we have 5 sets of 3 balls, or 5 x 3.

How many do we have below? Can children think like mathematicians even when they’re in PE class? We think so.

 This year in PE we are measuring everything as we integrate Lifelong Learning Skills of estimation and measurement into our lessons and activities.  We estimate the length and width of various PE equipment and objects, and we have the kids vote on the closest and most reasonable estimations. Then we measure a space or something like a volleyball net. In doing this we are creating reference points so that hopefully the students will later be able to look at a distance or space and have some idea what unit of measurement they will want to use when measuring.

_______________________________________________________________

Another thing the students enjoy doing is trying to jump their height.  First students measure their height, and then they try to jump that distance. They come up with lots of different ways of doing this!

                           

_______________________________________________________________

In one of our students’ favorite games, “Builders and Destroyers”, the students earn bricks by doing exercises and running laps.  They then work with their team mates to build towers.  In the final stage of the game, the students get to throw a ball to try to knock over their opponents’ towers.  The students then measure the surviving towers’ dimensions to determine a winner.  It is always interesting to see them work to build the tallest, yet sturdiest, tower, and then to measure it afterwards.  In the picture below, this team designed their tower so that the smallest side of the tower faced the throwers; it ended up being the winning tower.

Here at Brownsville our little Bees love playing “Butter Battle,” which is one of the ways that we incorporate Language Arts and Reading into PE.  “Butter Battle” is a game created by Mr. Bragg, who taught at Brownsville for many years.  Mr. Bragg got the idea from the “Butter Battle” book, written by Dr. Seuss, to craft a game which involves throwing and giving hugs. When Ms. Witt joined the team here at BES she added the element of reading part of the book by Dr. Seuss, “The Butter Battle Book,” and you can see Ms. Yeatman reading the book in the picture below.

While reading only the first four pages of the book, the stage is set for the game and the kids are overflowing with excitement.  In the game the students practice throwing yellow balls (“butter balls”) across a line as they recreate parts of the “Butter Battle Book.”

At Brownsville Elementary School we are proud of the interdisciplinary way that our students learn and how our PE teachers integrate math and reading into their classes.

Advertisements

Different Pathways to Finding Voice: a Writing Teacher’s Story

October 14, 2012

When I read a blog post recently by Brian Kayser, published short story author and sixth grade collaborative teacher at Walton Middle School, I was reminded that all children have stories to tell,  questions to answer, problems to solve, poetry to create, and research to accomplish as they move through our schools.  Learning to write and writing to learn represent critical competencies that our children begin to develop from their first days in kindergarten. Mr. Kayser captures through his own story why he is committed to all children finding voice as writers.  When learners experience a writing teacher such as Mr. Kayser, they are more likely to kindle a passion for writing in their own work.

  The staff of the National Writing Project, established in 1974, know that writing is essential to a literate citizenry. They have established October 19 as a National Day on Writing to encourage us all to participate by responding to a theme of “what I write”, then sharing our writing on that day through social media or other venues. You can find out more here. And, with his permission to cross-publish on this blog site, Brian’s blog post follows:

The Different Paths

to Finding Voice

Students are great at showing their voice. Too often, it’s just not how teachers want it. If students can write a coherent rant on Facebook for why they can’t stand school but they “just can’t master the expository format,” then that student is suffering more from an engagement problem than a writing problem. If you ask a language arts teacher why it’s important to teach writing, a common response will probably be, “Because writing is everywhere.” All good writing has voice, and if writing lacks voice and you’re not reading an instruction manual for installing a garbage disposal, then there’s a problem. As teachers of writing, and that should include teachers of any content, we have to help our students find their voice, and the truest way to do this is to give students choice in the writing they engage in and the modes they display their writing, their voice will be heard and appreciated by many.

Last year, I started Global Fiction Readings for my students in language arts. After students edited their writing pieces, they practiced reading it with a partner. After much practice, we went to our school’s library and broadcast students reading their pieces to the world through UStream. At first, other teachers were skeptical that this was more of a distraction than something important. Students were also tentative to share, unsure of what exactly a Global Fiction Reading was. For our first reading, only a few students from my one class participated, and at the time, they did not know exactly who they were reading to, as all they could see was their classmates and an intimidating webcam staring at them. At the end of the reading, I was able to share what people shared about their readings. Students who participated were impressed that college professors in other states, other classes, and teachers on planning tuned in to hear what they had to say. Not only did students receive instant feedback from their peers through laughter and gasps, but they saw that their audience was much more expansive than the walls of their classroom. When I shared with them that their superintendent watched their readings, they nodded. After explaining that a superintendent was our principal’s boss, a collective “ooh” went through the crowd. One student said that he didn’t think his piece was very good, but realized it was funny once his classmates laughed. This was reinforced by a teacher from Australia commenting that she enjoyed the piece by our “little comedian.”

For students’ second creative writing piece, there was a dramatic improvement in effort and care to craft an original, engaging story from students who had participated in the reading. They wanted to be great, and not because they wanted a grade in the grade book, but because they knew they would be sharing their work with the world. More students from our class chose to participate in the second Global Fiction Reading, with other teachers joining in as well.

One student with an intellectual disability found her voice through telling stories about our school. Each day, she would take a picture of something happening in our school (the place or subject of the photo was her choice). She would then edit her photograph, save the edited version with captions, and then upload that picture to a Tumblr site. This site was then shared with others so they could see what she did. It was very motivating for this student to tell people that she had done her photo for the day as well as asking people if they’d seen her latest post. Not only did this student improve her writing skills as she worked on this year-long project, but she was able to practice independence, engage in high level thinking on a consistent basis, and receive authentic feedback from an authentic audience for her work. Because these elements were in place, the project was looked at more as something fun to work on than an assignment that had to be completed.

Students are also able to realize that their voice is more than how loud you speak. It’s what you put out into the world about yourself, and the mode with which you give the world your voice is entirely negotiable. Just as no two students in a class have the same voice, their paths to letting the world hear their voice will probably be very different. As a teacher, it’s important to help students find the mode students can be most engaged in. Some students may be natural comic makers while others are budding film directors. Not every mode will or should be the conventional five paragraph essay (don’t know when the five paragraph essay is a good thing, ever), and that’s okay. Students may choose a mode to bring forth their voice that the teacher is entirely unfamiliar with, and that too is okay. If a teacher is always comfortable in their class, then that’s exactly what it is – “their” class. A truly student-centered class will shift the power of learning and the power of voices to the students, which means the teacher will not always be the holder of all knowledge. If this makes the teacher feel uncomfortable or unprepared, then that teacher has made a great first step towards becoming a learner again. What I’ve learned from experience is that when students are in the driver’s seat, not only are they great at teaching me new things, but that we become a true community of learners that all enjoy class more.

Thank you, Mr. Kayser, for sharing your story about how children became motivated writers in your work with them.


Learning about Scratch by Eileen – and Albemarle’s Coder Dojos

October 2, 2012

The following post contains background on the Coder Dojo program underway in Albemarle County Public Schools and a guest post by Scratch programming enthusiast Eileen who attends Broadus Wood Elementary. If you would like to know more about our plans for our new round of Coder Dojo sessions or to volunteer to help, click here. Eileen’s page also has a link where you can download Scratch for free and see her original post as well.

By Eileen- a Broadus Wood student:

If you want to make your creations come to life, then Scratch is the website for you. You can make hundreds of different characters, and make them walk, talk and move in any kind of way. You don’t have to make characters, you can also make Movies,animated pictures,games, and puzzles! Scratch is an around-the-globe website, so anybody can play it! The cool thing about it is, if you like your creation, you can publish it online so the whole world can see it. You have to download this site, but its free, so there’s really nothing to it. It only takes a few seconds to download this site, so don’t plan anything ahead of time. I highly recommend Scratch, it is a fun, educational website. I am excited to hear about your creations, and if you can, post your creations on this blog, so I can see what you have created! Scratch is a fun website, and I hope you can get it.

Coder Dojos of Albemarle County Public Schools

summer Coder Dojo

This summer, Albemarle learners, ages 7 – 18, participated in our four-day Coder Dojo Academy where they learned basic to advanced programming skills.  The Coder Dojo movement began in Ireland and rapidly spread around the world. Albemarle County Public Schools is one of the first divisions in the United States to sponsor Coder Dojos for our young people.

We were surprised at the significant interest this summer from our families because we rolled the invite out towards the end of the summer and knew many children were already in activities or on vacation. We hoped to attract interest from 40-50 kids, but ended up with 900 on a waiting list, and expanded up our AHS program and served 200. The kids were amazing, coming in with little to no programming knowledge to knowing more than some of our teacher-facilitators. The Dojo is designed so that kids learn from the teachers as they have questions and often from each other in this multi-age setting. I watched elementary children teaching middle schoolers how to make Scratch games and high schoolers taking the time to help younger children with HTML so they could design, create, and publish web pages.

The purpose of the Coder Dojo movement is to provide young people with opportunities to experience computer programming as fun and something they can learn to do. Kids at the camp used a variety of languages to build more and less sophisticated projects. One parent of a high schooler said to me recently, “his participation in the Coder Dojo changed his life. He’s really interested in continuing to pursue computer programming now that he’s back in school and he spends time teaching himself what he needs to do.”  Some elementary children felt the same way, too.

Melissa Techman, librarian at Broadus Elementary, sent me the link to the blog post written by Eileen, which I’ve guest-posted with her parents’ and her permission. Thank you, Eileen, for helping me share how Scratch which was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can turn kids who like to play computer games into kids who make computer games!