Thursday, January 22, 2015

Genius Hour by TJ Fassler

After a long hiatus to our class blog, I wanted to share some notes about and photos of projects students were working on before and after Winter Break. With a pause in enrichments, we had some extra time to devote to student selected topics. We called this time Genius Hour. Ranging from 40-60 minutes 3-4 times a week, students had ample time to explore a subject they found interesting and get creative in a very hands on way. Some students tried out Makey-Makeys with no direct instruction. Makey-Makeys are simple color coded parts that when combined in “right” order allow electric current to flow through creating a circuit that can run a light or small motor. It was great to see the enthusiasm and even though there weren’t enough sets for each student that was interested to have their own, it fostered collaboration, patience, and teamwork.


Other students went the art route, yet in many different forms. Some students focused on holiday decorations and created a tree, colored construction paper chains, pipe cleaner bows, and even faux presents. Other students worked on a large mural and gained an incredible amount of respect from me when another student accidentally spilled water on it and they had to work on something else while it dried. Another student, when not assisting others, diligently worked on creating cardboard blades from a character in a game League of Legends. By the end, another student had created a cardboard mask/head from a different game. Even projects that weren’t aren’t specific had some type of flair.


Some students gravitated towards cardboard and a group of boys made a jet pack and others laser blasters. Some students created a ping pong ball toss game using cardboard and a few girls took it further and created a target for a bow that shot unsharpened pencils. In the final stretch of time, two more cardboard arenas were created, one for football and one for basketball, including raised hoops for the latter and advertising billboards for the former.

I was even impressed by those who started out simply wanting to play some games. A group of boys started by playing Connect Four, but by the end had created modified rules to make the game more fun and challenging. Another group of girls were simple passing around a putty ball, and when encouraged to think about ways to expand, created a styrofoam bordered arena complete with goals and the ability to play 2-on-2, much like foosball.

The process did require some patience on my end, as well as a willingness to at times let things get a little messy, and even a little more noisy than usual, but the final (and sometimes still incomplete) projects show that it was a worthwhile endeavor. I highly encourage offering time to your children to just mess around. With simple supplies that were found around the class as well as things that were being unused at my home, there was more than enough to stimulate curiosity and creativity. On a last note, if lack of cardboard is ever the determining factor, Costco will gladly give it away when asked. That’s an insider tip, just don’t tell anyone that you heard it from me.




Monday, January 19, 2015

It takes returning to 4th grade... by Ella Richards

Ella Richards is currently a UC Davis student teacher in Petra Luhrsen's 4th grade class

Throughout my schooling people have commented on what a "good writer" I am.  It's a shame that no matter what people say, it is hard to believe something unless you genuinely feel it yourself.  Such has it been in my experience with writing.

I still recall the the cold rush of stress that would fill my body anytime I was assigned a writing project in high school or college.  It actually felt like a physical response that I could not control.  Despite the fact that I usually received A's on my assignments, I could not rid myself of the terrifying sensation I experienced when it came time to write... that is, until I returned to 4th grade.  

My student teaching experience in Petra's classroom has genuinely transformed my attitude towards writing.  For the first time, perhaps in my life, I feel excited when I receive a writing prompt.  In my writer's journal I am free to write without judgment. My "heart map" tells me that I have significant things to write about-- and I have learned that even the "seemingly insignificant" topics are valid because they make up who I am.  I am starting to truly believe that anyone can be an author.  

In addition to enjoying the writing process more, I am noticing that the quality of my writing has been improving as well!  As I am given more choice and freedom in writing, I feel an increased sense ownership over my written work.  I believe it is this sense of ownership that is causing the improvement-- rather than fear of how others might evaluate my work.  In 4th grade, the rules and restrictions have been removed, and thus I am beginning to find my true, passionate voice as a writer.

I am so thankful to have had this experience during my year of teacher-training.  I have no doubt that the shift in my personal attitude towards writing will serve to benefit my students in the future.  I have come to experience the joy of writing, and I hope to pass that on in the years to come.

-Ella Richards

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fitness is fun at Star Academy!

Star Academy parents probably know this already, but I tell my educator friends this: If you ever have a chance to visit our school, come on a Friday. And wear your workout clothes, please. Yes, that includes running shoes and comfy pants. You'll usually find me wearing some kind of running pants, my running shoes, and a t-shirt of some kind. My shirts vary: a long-sleeved school tee, book related shirts, even a Minecraft shirt. Anything to get the kids talking to me! But I won't be the only one wearing casual athletic gear-- because it's Fitness Friday every Friday at our school and everyone participates! 

Up first, we have our Friday walks consisting of 30 minutes of jogging, walking, and talking to the beat of our sound system. Once, the neighbors complained about the music being too loud. Me, I think it's really that they don't like Kids Bop! We moved the speakers a bit and cranked it up. The kids love it, and it's one of my favorite things each week- the kids sing out loud and smile and they look happy. Unless it's raining hard, you'll find us out there in the parking lot moving and grooving.

Later in the day, our second grade team has a grade level wide workout and they alternate weekly between Zumba and Boot Camp with the help of a few parents accompanied by music. Can you just picture 53 kids doing squats and high knees? It's awesome!

Of course, Fridays aren't the only days where you'll find kids getting fit together. Our third grade team has a cross-fit style workout and art rotation during the week, and you'll find games and circuit training and more going on throughout the week. 

Some days I'm lucky to join in for a bit, but unless it's a Friday I'm usually wearing a dress and boots-- something not so workout-ish. I always enjoy watching the kids, but secretly I've been wanting to join in.

Lucky for me, our 4th and 5th grade team has a totally awesome elective-style block of time where kids choose an enrichment activity that the teachers lead--something the teacher is passionate about. This round, kids chose from Knitting and Crocheting, Newsletter, Digital Photography, Minecraft, and Zumba. 

Yes, Zumba. 

Everybody dance now!
Friday I joined in. For a whole hour. It was AMAZING! A mix of boys and girls dancing, clapping, stomping, smiling for a solid hour. It's hard to even describe what it was like to dance with the kids, to see the sheer joy on their faces, to see everyone try even when the steps were tricky. I felt awkward but I kept on dancing. Kids from other grade levels came through the gym and some of them started dancing on their way through. The teachers were dancing. The kids were speechless, mostly, and I imagine I was a sight. 

What would you think if you saw your principal doing...

My FAVORITE dance of the day. Try it!

That hour of dancing changed my whole feeling for the rest of the day. I can't help but think that we have to find a way to move, to dance EVERY day. I can't wait for next Friday! 

In the meantime, if you'd like to join us and dance your heart out, here's Petra Luhrsen's playlist of YouTube videos for her Zumba time. With most of the dances chosen by the kids in the class. 

Everybody dance now!

*cross posted at my Lead.Learn.Sparkle blog

Monday, January 12, 2015

Creativity in Enrichment by Brook Bullock

I feel so lucky to be at a school where creativity is encouraged. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve had the opportunity to teach both engineering and crocheting/knitting to fourth and fifth graders. Star Academy is a place that allows teachers (I would argue it even encourages teachers) to draw on their personal interests and share them with students as an afternoon elective! Not only do I get students that are excited to try new things, but I also get ten and eleven year olds that are eager to learn.

Although today was only our first day of crocheting, I loved every minute of the chaos and discovery. From learning to tie a slipknot to discussing how to do a chain stitch, every second reminded of why I became a teacher- I love working with kids, teaching them something new, and seeing that smile on their face when it clicks. I look forward to the next few months with this new group as students as we learn together and see where our creativity takes us!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Power of Kindness by Caroline Hines

During the Month of January, I will feature stories of Kindness in honor of  The Great Kindness Challenge which takes place the last week of this month, January 26th-30th. 

I often think the power of kindness is underestimated. Say kind things, be nice to others...it seems pretty straightforward. How can something so simple have an impact on the things we say and do, or the way we think?

Kindness is more than just making people feel good. I believe that kindness connects us as human beings, and brings us closer to the people and communities around us.

Interestingly enough, research shows that giving to others promotes cooperation and social connection:

"When you give, you’re more likely to get back: Several studies, including work by sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer, have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.

These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others—and research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health. As researcher John Cacioppo writes in his book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, 'The more extensive the reciprocal altruism born of social connection . . . the greater the advance toward health, wealth, and happiness.'”

"What’s more, when we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them. 'Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,' writes Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, and this 'fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.'”

From "5 Ways Giving is Good for You" - Greater Good: University of California, Berkeley

During 5th Grade's month in the Kind Kids Club (October), students brainstormed ideas for an act of kindness that would benefit the community. Students had lots of ideas and were excited to help! The most common theme was helping the homeless. Around the same time, Kid President (You Tube personality and inspiration to kids everywhere) was launching his annual #Socktober campaign. I showed them Kid President's video and we agreed this would be our act of kindness for the community!

For the next few weeks, students brought in donations of new socks, blankets, travel-size toiletries, hats, gloves, and other items to benefit Loaves and Fishes, a non-profit organization serving homeless men, women, and children in Sacramento. Before Thanksgiving break, bins were collected and sorted.

Below are the donation totals below for 5th Grade's #Socktober. A big THANK YOU to 5th grade students and their families for their time and donations!

- 77 new pairs of socks!
- 59 hygiene items and toiletries!
- 10 new pairs of gloves
- 4 new hats
- 3 new blankets
- 1 new scarf
- 1 stuffed animal

Loaves and Fishes provides a large variety of services to meet the needs of homeless individuals and families in our community. These include advocacy, affordable housing, dog kennel services, a dining room open 7 days a week/364 days a year, a park/recreation area, mental health/counseling, a full-service library, legal services, a daytime shelter for women and children, laundry and shower services, a long-term overnight shelter for women, and a free private school for children 3-15 years of age.


These pictures show the donation warehouse, where I dropped off the Kind Kids Club socks and other items. Many employees working for Loaves and Fishes were once homeless themselves, or benefitted from the services of Loaves and Fishes at one point in their life. Loaves and Fishes also works with a number of volunteer organizations, and has many regular and long-term volunteers.

The Mustard Seed School is a special emergency school for children from preschool to Middle School. Mustard Seed School started in 1989 to help meet the needs of homeless children in the community. The School can serve up to 35 children and the average stay for most students is 3-4 weeks. Some children have been out of school for a long period of time and need help transitioning back. The Mustard Seed School works to prepare and re-enroll homeless children into public school when families have found housing stability. Since the school began, over 4,500 children have been students at Mustard Seed. Students at Mustard Seed school receive a safe, positive learning environment, food and clothing resources, medical and dental screenings, immunizations updates, and counseling for children and their parents. 

According to Loaves and Fishes, "Many school age children do not attend school because of their homelessness; some lack immunizations, birth certificates, or other documents, some are in transit, and almost all lack a support system...Many homeless children are not enrolled in school because the places their families find to sleep are often not located near a child's school and the family only plans to be there a short time. Sometimes the school needs an address or updated immunizations which homeless families cannot provide."

Loaves and Fishes accepts donations year-round and offers a 2-hour orientation for those interested in learning more about the organization and its history or hoping to volunteer in the future. Loaves and Fishes also has a volunteer program for students 14 years and older. 

I am so proud of all our students and their desire to help others in need. I hope they continue to help others and model the power of kindness. Currently our 4th grade students are planning an act of kindness for the community during their month in the Kind Kids Club. Recent ideas from students include a toy drive and donations for a local animal shelter. Looking forward to share this completed act of kindness in the near future!

If you have a story of kindness you'd like to share on the Counseling Corner Blog this month, please email me at: chines@natomascharter.org

If you would like to learn more about The Great Kindness Challenge or how to bring it to your school, please visit their website: http://www.greatkindnesschallenge.org/

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Word it out! Mrs. Duley's TK word cloud

Look what's happening on our TK blog! The biggest words in the word cloud are the words that appear most on our blog.  

Thanks to Mrs. Duley for being a guest blogger! Made at worditout.com