Friday, September 29, 2017

Summer Drama Camp

         I have often expressed my feelings about the beauty of a K-12 school and the benefits of interacting with kids of such a wide age range. If you haven't heard me talk about that, feel free to read about it here. We did something new this past summer that really gave us the opportunity to take advantage of this. I am in charge of our school's high school drama department and this summer the high schooler students hosted a summer drama camp for some of our elementary kids. 

         It was a week long camp that took place at school in the mornings. Each day we worked on various theater skills including acting, singing, dancing, and set design. Each morning also included a mini lesson taught by one of our high schoolers on topics like back stage etiquette and theater vocabulary. Our high schoolers filled the roles of directors, choreographers, music directors, and scenic artists as well as shoe tie-ers, snack passer-outers, hug-givers, and all the other jobs that come with working with kids. 

          We only do two shows a year at our school and we do not give our high school students opportunities to direct, so I loved to see their creativity and talents shining through as they worked with these excited learners. It was fun to see who excelled at handling a large group of kids and keeping them focused and interested, and who patiently worked one-on-one going over the same lines or notes until they had it just right. I heard our big kids be encouragers and cheer-leaders and promise to be right there if anyone forgot a line or wanted someone to sing with them. They well deserved the the trust and admiration they earned from of our young thespians. 

          Throughout the week, they were working on Pirates Past Noon: Kids, a Magic Treehouse musical. They learned songs, sang solos, learned dances, wore costumes, and painted a set. It was a lot to do in a week but the kids were excellent workers (fueled at times by popsicles in our hot auditorium!). On Friday evening, parents and friends came to see the performance. It was a great evening. Parents were impressed, kids were thrilled, high schoolers were proud, and everyone had a great time. Our headmaster asked that we perform for the school body once the year started, which we did. 

           All of this happened a number of weeks ago but I am still seeing the lasting effects. Our elementary kids are still singing the songs, but that doesn't surprise me. But I am also seeing confidence in our young thespians when they stand with their class in front of the elementary school for memory time. I am hearing clear articulation and loud volume when practicing Bible memory in the classroom, and I am seeing more excitement about the upcoming Christmas program than I have seen in a while...and we've only had one year of camp. We've had little kids, parents, and big kids all express excitement about the camp next summer. They are excited for the fun of the activity, but I'm excited to see the confidence and skills that our kids will learn after a few years of summer drama camp. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Exploring King Tut's Tomb

Last week, two teams of explorers entered the Valley of the Kings competing to discover the treasures of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. After eight years of exploring, one team emerged famous and the other was forgotten....

We spent four days last week playing an awesome game together as we learned about the exploration of King Tut's tomb. We split into two teams of explorers (boys and girls worked nicely for us) who competed to explore the tomb and become the most famous exploration team. On each turn, the team spent wealth to make an exploration and find an item from the tomb. The items gained the explorers wealth, which could be traded for fame. Sometimes, an event occurred and the team had to decide what course of action to take. The teams had to work together to manage their wealth and make decisions that would lead to their team getting the most fame and winning the game. 

The boys team was in the lead for most of the week, but not by much. The girls team found a lot of very valuable items including the mummy's mask, but they also got cursed by the mummy. On the last day of play, the two teams were neck and neck and the final scores ended 50 to 51 points with the boys the champions. It was so close! 

The items from the tomb and the events that happened were displayed in a powerpoint and we played two Senet games using our Senet board. Each team had a giant die to roll which was a ton of fun. This was a fantastic way to look at and learn about the items in the tomb of King Tut and the kids loved playing the game. It was like Choose Your Own Adventure meets National Treasure. Sometimes, it was difficult to get through our days because they couldn't wait until it was time to play more! They took the game seriously, thought hard about each decision, did a great job working together, and learned a ton about the exploration of King Tut's tomb in the process. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hidden Learning

"Miss Sarah, it sure seems to me that lately we are doing a lot more fun stuff and a lot less learning stuff..." 

There was a combination of judgement and orneriness in this comment that was loudly announced in my classroom this week. I couldn't help but laugh, partly at the comment itself, but mostly at the fact that they actually thought that. Silly kids. They missed that all these recent fun activities were full of learning! 

They never realized that making a giant Thank You banner for our office lady as she moves to a new job was teaching us to appreciate what others do for us and to be encouragers. 

They missed that playing with dry ice bubbles taught us about the states of matter and carbon dioxide. 

They didn't recognize that when we went to the ninth grade cultural fair, we learned about the geography, food, and games of other countries around the world.  

They didn't catch that when we finger painted all over our desks, we were learning about primary and secondary colors. 

They didn't even know that when we spent the day working in the local park, we were learning to be good stewards and to serve our neighbors.  

They never noticed that when we did an egg drop, we were learning to work as a team to make a plans and execute them. 

 They didn't grasp that seeing the play The Adventures of Nate the Great was an opportunity to learn about theatre etiquette, characterization, and story elements.

They weren't aware that the time spent running and playing on the playground at a local park was time learning to play together, to include others, and to be imaginative.

We've been doing a lot of learning lately. But not all learning involves paper and pencils. Often great learning happens in the midst of chatter, running, paint, or dirt. It may not feel like learning and sometimes it may not look like learning from the outside, but there is so much to learn through play. Second grade minds are anxious to devour information, invent things, come up with ideas, and figure things out. So if you find us eating pancakes, playing in a creek, or dressing like an Egyptian in these last few weeks of second grade,  don't worry. We're doing a lot of fun stuff, but we're also learning!

Saturday, April 8, 2017


We are experts on seventeen different famous man made pieces of architecture and we made the really cool projects to prove it. We spent time in this past few months working on doing research and writing reports- a big task for second graders. Then we learned how to give an oral presentation, and at home, made an awesome project to go with our report. These projects were totally amazing! 

We were so happy with our projects that we invited our kindergarten and first grade friends to see them. They walked around our room and checked out our projects and we had a chance to tell them some things about them. 

We finished our projects a couple weeks ago but I love to hear the lasting effects of that work. Yesterday for our science lab, we were were building structures using toothpicks and marshmallows. This was a very free and creative lab and I loved hearing them collaborate, compete, and discuss as they worked. As they were building, they were attempting to recreate may of the pieces of architecture we studied, including the Eiffel Tower and Atomium. 

They worked so hard on their projects and learned a ton- how to do research, how to take notes, how to write an informational report, how to give a presentation. But they also now have knowledge about a large number of famous places around the world and those places have become a part of their vocabulary and their play. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Spider and the Fly

       Last year, we began a new tradition at our school. In February we have a school wide speech meet. All students in grades 3-12 memorize a poem, passage from a book, piece of scripture, or a speech. They recite these in their classroom and three winners from each grade are chosen to perform at the all school speech meet assembly. 
       Our K-2 classes are not a part of the competition but are participants. We memorize and recite a poem as a class. This year, the second graders learned The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt. This poem was written in 1829. The opening line of this poem is well known and often quoted (and misquoted) in media and literature. The poem is a tale of caution warning against those who use flattery for selfish gains. 
       We began memorizing our poem on the second day of school by reading the picture book version illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi. (You can read about the time I met Mr. DiTerlizzi here.) We read the poem every day and soon, we were all saying it together. As the speech meet got closer, we began practicing on the stage and talking about expression and presentation. Two of our friends dressed as a spider and a fly just to add a little fun to our poem performance. 
       The speech meet was a great event and we did a fabulous job! We enjoyed listening to a wide variety of presentations by our friends in older grades and seeing our Kindergarten and first grade friends perform their poems. Many parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were able to attend the event. 
       I especially enjoyed seeing the third graders perform. Last year, they were the little guys who did a poem as a class and now I loved seeing them up on the stage reciting a poem individually and doing a fabulous job. It makes me excited to see my second graders make that switch each year. 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Don't Rush Past the Picture Books

       Second graders are in a funny in-between spot. They are still little in most ways, yet are beginning to grow into big kids. They are becoming independent readers who are able to read for long periods of time with success and that often leads to switching over to chapter books.
       For a long time, much of the youth fiction in chapter book form was targeted at someone a bit older than second grade, though many of the books could still be interesting to a second grader. However, in recent years there have been many great chapter books written for the second grade crowd. Books like the Nancy Clancy series and the Magic Treehouse series are often big hits with second graders and they read them with success. 
      But don't totally pass on the picture books. Many picture books are written for adults to read to children so the reading level* of these books is quite high. Once a kid has reached second grade and has become a good reader, they are only just beginning to reach the point where they are able to read and enjoy these books solo. Kids love to read books that they already know and if they rush past the picture books, they are never given this opportunity.

       I'm a big fan of Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books. They are hysterically funny. These books are written at about a first grade reading level and while second graders still enjoy them, they are not a challenge to read. It's a great thing to have books that aren't a challenge to read. Sometime, we pull out the easy books to read just for pleasure and enjoyment when our brains need to relax and have fun. But they aren't for all the time. 
       There are picture books in my classroom that many second graders are still not able to read solo with success. Books like Snowflake Bentley, Saint George and the Dragon, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, Eleanor, Amos & Boris, and Rosa are all written at a fourth or fifth grade reading level. These are excellent books written by some of my favorite authors and should not be skipped. If you rush a kid to chapter books as soon as they are successful solo readers, they aren't given the chance to read some of these great books.

       Middle and high school teachers are finding that there is a place for picture books in their classroom as well. Having pictures in a book does not make it an easier read or make the content necessarily appropriate for a younger kid. The picture book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis is not a book I would read to a very young child, despite the fact that it has pictures. And books with no pictures are not necessarily harder. If you have not read The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak, you should. It's not a life changing piece of fantastic literature, but it is hilarious. Really, really hilarious. 
       Don't worry about a kid who hasn't made the switch to chapter books. They will get there and they will love and enjoy them too. Kids who are mostly reading chapter books should enjoy their chapters book. There are so many great ones to read. But they should also be encouraged to take a break sometime and read some of the many great picture books that they haven't yet experiences

*When I refer to reading levels, I am referring to reading levels as decided by Accelerated Reader since that's what we use at our school. The way that they level books is very comparable to other programs so no matter what program you prefer, my point is the same.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Harry Potter Problem

      I love the Harry Potter series. I love the characters, I love the story, and I love the world. I'm a big fan and I have been for quite some time. I didn't get into the series right away when they came out but by the release of later books, I was attending midnight releases at bookstores full of people dressed in robes with live owls riding on their shoulders. I spent time in my college years attending midnight movie showings followed by hours of discussion and debate. 

      The reading level throughout the Harry Potter series remains at around a sixth grade level. But while the reading level does not significantly increase, the interest level does. In the first few books, Harry is dealing with a bad guy at a distance and death and loss from long ago. In the later books, the evil is right in front of him, he loses people he loves, and the emotional strain on the reader is significant. The later books also deal with love interests, significant choices, teen angst, difficult relationships, and complex issues. These later books are targeted at someone who can relate to these issues on some level (even if it's a less wizard-y level). A seven year old who is capable of reading at a higher level, is not necessarily interested in, or able to understand, everything that the later Harry Potter books have to offer.         
     While it doesn't hold true for every book, for many books, it easy to tell the age of the target audience by the age of the protagonist in the story. That's the reason that the Harry Potter series has become so difficult. For those lucky few kids who were around ten when the first book came out, there was no problem. They aged right along with Harry and as he grew older and was able to handle more difficult problems, so were they. But that's no longer the situation. Kids begin reading the book series at a young age and there's no wait to get the next book. It's available to them right now. 
      There are many kids who don't make it past the fourth book when they begin early. That's okay! Kids know when a book is too much for them. The kids who do finish the series at a young age often didn't actually read it. In order to protect themselves from the high stress and emotional trauma, they flip the pages with little comprehension which is certainly a habit we don't want to reinforce.  
      I wish I had a great solution. I heard of a mom who planned to give her kid a book a year for Christmas. That could work...sort of. But the books are so readily available that it's not the prefect solution. While I don't have a solution, I have some encouragement and advice. 

1. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. This is advice my mother gave me as a kid and while she used it to apply to many situations, it applies to choosing books. Just because your kid can read a book, doesn't mean that they should read it.
2. Don't waste a great book series. Kids who flip the pages with no comprehension just missed out on a series that they should have read and loved later on. Perhaps they'll read it again. But perhaps they'll say "Oh, I already read that in second grade", and they will miss out on the amazing world that Rowling created. 
3. No spoilers. If your kid has read the books or seen the movies, don't let them spoil it for someone else. I know that there is a generally accepted time after which it's appropriate to spoil a book or movie, and I know it was many years ago for Harry Potter, but these kids just arrived on the Harry Potter scene. Let them have a chance to read the books with the same shock and delight that we all experienced ten years ago. 
4. Stick to your guns. If you gave your second grader the first three books and said to wait on the rest, stick to it. You encourage your kids not to give in to peer pressure, so don't fall victim yourself. 
5. Enjoy the first books. Let kids read and enjoy those first books. This is their first experience with the wizarding world. Read with them, talk about the book, eat chocolate frogs, wear your Gryffindor scarves together. Explore the world together and see the delight in their first experiences at Hogwarts.