Westward Expansion Bulletin Board

My fourth grade students do a huge Westward Expansion and Lewis and Clark unit with their general studies teacher. In an effort to support what is happening in the classroom, I created this bulletin board: 

I purchased these awesome Westward Expansion Trading Cards from the Technology Integration Depot on Teachers Pay Teachers. Each card has a graphic and a short blurb of information, I am constantly finding kiddos standing in front of the board soaking up new facts.
The trail routes on the Westward Expansion map were made using yarn (and lots of patience). The mountains are just little construction paper triangles with a dab of white paint to look like snow. Lastly, the rivers were made by twisting strips of blue tissue paper to make a sort of rope, the “rope” was then adhered to the map with glue.
The best part of this whole display? I’ve now seen the fourth grade general education teacher bring her students to sit in front of the bulletin board two different times to enhance her lesson. Yaaay for library resources.

Layers of the Earth Clay Models

Do you remember studying the layers of the earth when you were in elementary school? Yep, me neither. If I had made a clay model of the earth that was later cut open to expose the layers, that might be a different story…

This project came about after talking to the third grade classroom teacher and the art teacher, we all worked together to incorporate our areas of expertise into one cool experience for our kiddos. The students have been learning about the earth for a few weeks now so the kids have a great deal of background knowledge.

Before this project even began, I bought (lots) of Crayola Model Magic, this stuff is great to work with, dries over time and comes in lots of fun colors. I bought six colors, one for each of the layers of the earth the students were asked to represent:

I then divided the clay into individual bags, one for each student. I also included handouts for all of the tables and made my sample earth model: 
After a very short period of instruction, students set to work on making their models:
I purposely did not give the kiddos much direction, they discovered that if they make a ball for the very center of the earth and then wrap the remaining colors around that ball, it works well:
They loved this project!
The earth models looked great, they wanted to immediately cut them open to expose the layers, but I made them wait until the clay had a chance to dry.
Sadly, because we had a few weeks without library time, the earths got a little too dry and the seams started to crack. Fortunately, the models still held together and looked good:
After meeting with the art teacher, we decided these models should go on display for the entire school community. Therefore, we needed backdrops… What a great opportunity to re-visit the layers of the earth. The art teacher worked with the kiddos to create a diorama (of sorts) that both held the model and showed the layers of the earth:
Next step, cutting the models open, yaaay! And, yes, I let them wield the knife (brave, I know, but I watched them closely and they were so careful knowing this was a big responsibility):
It was so fun to see the variations in the layers!
After cutting open the models, the students made labels of the different layers of the earth using sticky envelope labels and toothpicks (the simplest supplies are sometimes the best option):
The models turned out GREAT and the kids were so proud!

Character and Setting Dioramas

I am a huge fan of cross-curricular collaborations to make learning more meaningful. My second graders are reading The One and Only Ivan in class so I recently constructed a bulletin board to feature the book and share with the community what is happening in one of the classrooms. Check out the bulletin board post here. Needless to say, the bulletin board worked. Everyone loved it, faculty, students and visitors asked second graders about the book and were encouraged to read it themselves.

When I found out the second grade kiddos were studying character and setting, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for another collaborative project. I contacted our amazing art teacher and she showed me a 3-D diorama that her daughter created for a book and we knew it was perfect for this project. I created my example using a different book so the students could be free to create without a per-conceived piece of art in their mind:

I wish I could figure out the official name of this process, I know there are other educators out there doing this and I would love to give them credit. If you have seen this process done before, or if you’re doing it yourself, please contact me in the comments section.

The students received three pieces of thick card stock, each piece is slightly smaller than the one behind it. For example, the back piece of paper is 8.5″ x 11″, the middle sheet is 8.5″ x 10″ and the front sheet is 8.5″ x 9.” This makes it so the final product curves inward and makes the diorama stand up on its own.

I cut the papers down to size and cut the window out of the front paper prior to handing them out to students. The kiddos were instructed to thinking about the following:
  • The back page (the largest piece) is to show the setting. Where did Ivan live? What did his cage look like? What was on the walls?
  • The middle page (the medium-sized piece) is to show the character(s). What did Ivan look like? How large was Ivan compared to his cage? Were there other important characters in the story?
  • The front page (the smallest piece, already cut into a frame) is to tell others what book you’re sharing. What is the title of the book? Who is the author? Who created this diorama?
It’s important to note that I cut around the character(s) after the kiddos finished their art. The pieces that turned out the best were those that were connected to the frame on 3-4 sides (the head, the arms, the legs), this made the character stay upright when on display. You can see this in some of the examples below:
The art teacher stopped by to check in and remind students to pay close attention to their craftsmanship. What details can be included to make your art even more interesting? In beautiful paintings are the backgrounds blank or do they include colors and interesting features? These questions really helped students to create some amazing pieces.
These dioramas went on display in the foyer of the school and they were a bit hit. I love successful collaborations that work to serve our students and provide them with a wonderful learning experience!

Blackout Poetry

Whoa! It’s been an insane month of loosing my mother-in-law, driving cross-country, signing a new contract for the coming school year and welcoming my husband home after being on the road for five weeks. Sigh. Needless to say, I have been neglecting this here blog. So, to get back into it, I thought I would post an overview of the coolest type of poetry I have ever seen!
Austin Kleon, the author of Newspaper Blackout (as well as a number of other awesome art-inspiring titles) is the guru of blackout poetry. His Newspaper Blackout site is pure awesomeness. He has the ability to make something surprisingly hard to do, look incredibly easy.

The I’ve-Been-Featured-Happy-Dance

That’s right, I’m doing a little happy dance. Well, it’s a rather big happy dance, actually. I’ve been featured! You might have noticed that I recently added to my blog, my Digital Age Teaching badge through Tamritz and was then featured in their newsletter! How exciting!

Tamritz Badge Learning: http://tamritz.org/teachers-pd/
Tamritz Badge Learning: http://tamritz.org/teachers-pd/

Tamritz is a digital badge learning network designed by Sarah Blattner, specifically geared towards Jewish day schools. I earned my Digital Age Teaching badge from Tamritz, which included the following badge courses: Learner 2.0, PLNs (Professional & Personal Learning Networks), Digital Citizenship, Create 2.0 and Learning Design. Course participants explore a variety of topics from social bookmarking to netiquette to copyright to game-based learning and beyond (way, way beyond).
 Tamritz Badge Learning: http://tamritz.org/teachers-pd/
Perpetual student, that’s me. Thank goodness there are always ample opportunities to learn cool stuff from cool people.


I Spy… Colored Rice!

I am absolutely loving library centers in kindergarten and first grade, the kids are so engaged! I have been scouring Pinterest for new center ideas and I recently came across MaryLea’s Rainbow Rice Eye Spy Bottles on Pink and Green Mama. Not only are they so much fun, they’re also crazy easy to make. I’ve been meaning to make colored rice for a long time, but I have always put it off because I thought it was super labor-intensive… Not with MaryLea’s recipe! It was so easy that I almost couldn’t believe it!

I started with cheap white rice, a bottle of clear hand sanitizer with a pump, basic food coloring and plastic Ziploc bags.
I made the six colors of the rainbow, but you could make any color that is possible to create using food coloring. I poured one cup of rice into each bag.
I added four pumps of hand sanitizer to each bag of rice.
I then added four drops of color to each bag. For combination colors like orange and purple, I used two drops of each necessary color. You can adjust this to your liking.
Time to seal the bags and mix. It didn’t take much, I just gave them a gentle massage and the color was nicely dispersed.
I opened all the bags and let them air dry overnight. It worked great. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer makes it so the rice dries very quickly.
Now, let your imagination run wild! I made I Spy bottles using beads, sequins, stickers, pom-poms and other trinkets from around the school.
The sky is truly the limit for this stuff! As soon as Art Teacher Extraordinaire saw the rice, she immediately decided to make some and incorporate it into a Navajo sand painting lesson. We also thought it would be great to do a collaborative project using the rice to create Starry Night-like pieces of art. Just imagine the possibilities!
Rainbow Rice Recipe
1 cup of white rice
4 pumps of clear hand sanitizer
4 drops of food coloring
Mix in a closed plastic baggie until all color is evenly incorporated. Open bag until rice is thoroughly dried.

The Semi-Centered School Library

I was so inspired by the rockstars of The Centered School Library (Cari at Library Learners, Caroline at Risking Failure and Jessica at Mrs. Lodge’s Library) that I have been working hard to put a library center program into place with my first graders. My hope is to expand the program to multiple grades, but for now, this is a good starting point.

Tonight I used my new laminating machine (which I’m in love with!!) to make rotation charts. I am obsessed with Velcro and this was just another excuse to pull out my endless roll (if you’re like me, check out iTapeStore for your Velcro needs. They sell it for a reasonable price and you can buy the hook and loop sides separately, good for all those felt board projects).

I’m thinking the actual centers are a little too specific for the charts to work permanently, but for the time-being, I think this will work well. The acting center and word center are both driven by what is happening in the classroom (this week the kiddos will be acting out nouns and verbs and doing solid, liquid and gas crossword puzzles).

Teacher, Now Student

I think it’s a great practice for teachers to experience how it feels not to know how to do something. To remember how it feels to be unsure and vulnerable. For me, it helps to remind me what my students are feeling and experiencing on a daily basis. Today, I stepped into the role of student… And it was wonderful. It was, as I expected, difficult and frustrating, but the pride that came with the challenge was worth the work. I (drumroll, please…) wrote in Hebrew for the very first time!

I am astonished by my students, they’re so good at it and I’m so… well, not. My first graders are practicing Hebrew names for clothing and I wanted to provide them reinforcement during library centers (yes, I finally started doing centers. I love them! But, more on that in a later post). I created some felt “paper” dolls (again, check back for another post on my felt fashion creations), and the Hebrew clothing labels, the center gives them time to match the two together. Instead of asking a Hebrew teacher to create the labels for me, I did it myself! One of the Hebrew teachers quickly jotted the correct letters down on a scrap of paper and then I did the rest. Check it out, I’m pretty proud of myself!

Mrs. Todd at lessordinarylibrarian.blogspot.com

My Librarian Heart is Singing

I recently accompanied my eighth grade seminar students and their (amazingly brilliant) language arts teacher, Ms. E, to our (gigantic, beautiful, breathtaking) downtown library. It was such a rich experience, for both the adults and the students. I truly believe it should be a once a week occurrence. Okay, yeah right, but a librarian can dream! At the beginning of the year, each student chose a topic and has been formulating questions and developing outlines based on that topic. Ms. E and I team-taught a quick demonstration on how to search for books in the downtown library and students then conducted their searches and made lists of books they would like to look for the following day.
After boarding the city bus (even this part was a great experience, the kids were awesome and the bus driver was friendly), we took a quick ride downtown and arrived at the library. Ms. E separated the kids into small groups based on like-call numbers. Once inside, groups helped one another locate their books. Seeing as how the non-fiction section is two (huge) floors, I was super impressed how the students managed their time, helped one another and came back to a central location when they’d found what they needed. I was also giddy to see the kids asking the public librarians questions and thanking them for their help (yippie!!!).
It gets even better… All of the kids found books for their topic, two students signed up for library cards (every student has an active library card with the city or county library, but some of them have gotten to the age where they can get a card independent from their parents and they were excited to take advantage of that privilege), they were desperate to go to the Young Adult section and check out the fiction books, and they continued to ask to check out additional books they discovered (not for their projects, just because they wanted them!). Big, big sigh. This was such an amazing experience. They learned so much and had fun doing it. It makes my heart sing. And THAT is why I think it should be a once a week outing. I’m just saying…