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Woodland Curriculum Connections Blog
The Curriculum Connections Blog is designed to share best practices and strategies Woodland uses to create a learning environment that helps grow the potential of each child. Woodland values the importance of balancing the many aspects of a child’s life and teachers choose experiences intended to foster the individual growth of the intellectual, spiritual, creative, physical, social, and emotional roots.
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Math Engagement Through Active Learning, by Gina Lester, 5th and 6th Grade Math TeacherPosted by Amy Smythe on 10/24/2018 4:35:00 PM
It seems every article I read about math in the middle school classroom details the anxiety that accompanies it. I often hear students say, “My parents are bad at math, so I am too” or “Math is my worst subject.” I can completely relate! Math was not my favorite subject in middle school or high school! When I became a math teacher, I vowed to teach it in a different way from how I was taught. I want my students to love coming to my class, enjoy being challenged, and leave feeling confident with their growth. A few ways I differentiate teaching math is by getting the kids moving in the classroom, playing math games, and rotating through math stations.
Moving around the classroom is an easy way I get my students to relax in class. Studies have shown that, regardless of age, movement is the most effective way to maintain focus. Math games are another way I engage students in the math classroom. Math games break up the monotony in solving math problems on a worksheet, while encouraging a competitive atmosphere. It is amazing to watch an old game of Jenga, Candyland, or Jeopardy excite students to solve math problems. Math rotations are also an integral part of my math class. Math rotations are important because it allows me to break down the class into small groups of students to work with individually. I am able to focus my attention on a group that needs extra help, while challenging other students with higher-level assignments.
My class provides challenging opportunities that fosters growth and independent learning. My students learn best while having fun and being actively engaged. Students are never inspired by staring at a teacher working problems on the board or completing worksheets with no interaction. They thrive on active learning.
The Use of Songs, Chants, and Call and Response to Promote Student Engagement, by Nicci Bandermann, 3rd Grade TeacherPosted by Amy Smythe on 9/27/2018 2:05:00 PM
Woodland chooses experiences that foster individual growth of the intellectual, spiritual, creative, physical, social, and emotional roots
If you were a student, walking the halls of a new school and you could pick any class, would you choose your own? This is a profound question and one that should engage all teachers to reflect on practices in their classrooms that would encourage students to “choose it” if they had the choice.
At a recent conference, one of the presenters stated her philosophy that without student engagement, you have nothing. But, with student engagement, rigor and classroom management will fall into place. Does this resonate with you? If so, what are some best practices that could be used to liven up your classroom and spark student engagement?
One of the practices that has been successful in drawing students in and making them excited to learn is using songs, chants, and call and responses. Using these chants and songs promotes student engagement and builds a classroom culture where students are aware of the expectations but they set the boundaries and are able to learn at their own pace.
One way we use songs is to say “Good Morning!” This starts our day off on the right foot and students are ready for the learning and hard work that is coming their way.
Watch and listen to a morning song, here.
Songs and chants are also used to enhance learning so that students can recall new skills quickly and with excitement. Popular, catchy songs with edited lyrics to match our curriculum are used to liven up the classroom, step away from the mundane, and to engage students even more. The students become invested when they are able to have some ownership of the lyrics and/or the dance moves and they are learning at the same time.
Watch a content song, here.
Watching students guide their own instruction and driving meaningful conversations with their peers allows for them to become even more invested in their learning. Using call and responses is a quick strategy to bring students back together and to focus on the speaker. Another great way to use these chants is for student celebration. Now that our students have been given the expectations with these cheers, it has become a seamless part of our day. When a peer does something worthy, they are able to celebrate one another quickly and then return to the task at hand.
Watch a redirection video, here.
Watch a transition video, here.
Using songs and chants in the classroom is such a fun way to promote student engagement and get students excited about learning. While it takes training and teaching boundaries, students are able to transition from one task to the next efficiently and have lots of fun along the way.
Engaging Students through Classroom Transformations, by Gina Lester, 5th and 6th Grade Math TeacherPosted by Adam Moore on 1/22/2018
Getting kids to enjoy coming to school every day can be a daunting task! Even as adults, we often become bored with the monotony each day can bring. Whether it be a visit by a friend, a boss buying you lunch, or a coworker bringing you a cup of coffee, everyone enjoys a surprise thrown in from time to time. Room transformations creatively engage students into learning content while making them LOVE coming to school.
In the book, The Wild Card: 7 Steps to an Educator’s Breakthrough, author’s Wade and Hope King explain “Kids will naturally be drawn to and focus their attention on things they enjoy.” Transforming a classroom brings learning to life and gives students a reason to enjoy school. Room transformations are one of the many strategies used to engage students in the learning process at Woodland.
Recently, I transformed my room into a huge game of Candyland. Fifth and sixth grade students reviewed math content for an upcoming test by competing against their peers in the life-size board game. Small groups worked at their own pace answering leveled math questions. When questions were answered correctly, a card was drawn from the Snow Queen (me), and the group moved their game pawn on the game board. It was amazing to see the level of excitement in the classroom while the students practiced math!
Kim Bearden, cofounder of the famed Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, recently said “The more you see creativity, the more it starts to blossom inside of you.” At Woodland, one of our educational philosophies is to provide experiences that allow for growth intellectually and creatively. Room transformations are one of the innovative techniques many Woodland teachers use to bring lessons to life and encourage growth both intellectually and creatively.
Other recent room transformations at Woodland:
- Contraction Surgery
- Pumpkin Exploration
- Spy Day
- Courtroom Debate
The Importance of an Outdoor Learning and Gardens in Schools by David Ogdon, Lower School Science/STEM TeacherPosted by Adam Moore on 12/11/2017
In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv addressed the growing problem in our culture that children are spending less and less time outside in nature. This book sparked a national review of what was becoming a case of “nature deficit disorder” (Louv, 2008) and called for educational programs and parents to address the problem.
Early childhood teachers know that play, particularly outdoor play, is an important and effective method of teaching very young children and helping to develop a child’s natural curiosity and creativity. Natural settings are essential for a child’s healthy development because they stimulate all of the senses and integrate informal play with formal learning (Louv, 2008). Research shows that all children benefit from being outside and that their imaginations, inventiveness, and creativity blossom in natural settings.
With these thoughts in mind, our Outdoor Learning Center and Garden Renovation Committee has set out to develop a plan that would support Woodland’s Educational Philosophy by providing a less formal and more natural play/exploration space that supports our students’ sense of curiosity, inventiveness, intellectual development, and creativity while integrating spontaneous play with informal learning. Community projects like the outdoor learning space at Woodland provide numerous opportunities for extended members of the school community to be engaged in the program. In developing our plan, input was sought from students and school faculty and has become a collaborative project among teachers, students, their families, and the entire community.
If you would like to get involved or hear more about Woodland’s Outdoor Learning Center and Garden Renovation project, you can contact STEM teacher, Mr. David Ogdon at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Update on Outdoor Garden Renovation Project
We are drawing near the end of Phase 1 of the renovation which was to:
- clean up the space
- move the compost pile to another place in the garden
- create more space that is open to sunlight by removing a tree
Students in the Middle School Garden Club engaged in the cleanup and exercised their creativity by designing a fairy garden. This also included investigating which plants would grow in the fall and planting snow peas in a space they created. A tipi frame trellis was researched and built for the peas to climb. In addition, students researched and designed a water wall and a sound wall for use by early childhood students. One of the student’s grandfather built the frame for the sound wall. A group of fifth grade students volunteered to help with the cleanup by working after school. During this process, they learned about composting and how to differentiate between desirable garden plants and weeds.
Strategies Teachers Can Use to Differentiate Teaching and Learning, by Allison Booten, 5th and 6th Grade Science TeacherPosted by Amy Smythe on 11/6/2017 12:35:00 PM
Teaching middle schoolers is no easy task! In an article from Edutopia, titled “Brains, Brains, Brains! How the Mind of a Middle Schooler Works,” one can learn that middle schoolers are in a constant state of change both mentally and physically. This means that the middle school teacher also has to be in a constant state of change to keep up with the needs of his or her students. All teachers should individualize and differentiate their teaching and learning strategies to best fit the learner. Many of these strategies can be seen being used in the middle school science classes.
One strategy used is hands-on experiments or demonstrations. Sure, the students could learn the material by reading from a textbook or examining a diagram, but allowing them the opportunity to work with, measure, and manipulate variables offers a one of a kind learning experience. I have seen exponential growth when interactive learning takes place.
These first-hand learning experiences also lead to another learning strategy-collaborative learning. In today’s society it is so important for students to not only learn how to work together, but they have to learn to learn from one another as well. During the hands-on labs, students are encouraged to discuss hypotheses and to draw from their different educational experiences. It is truly remarkable see this age group argue-respectfully and defend their thoughts, predictions, and conclusions. It’s even greater to hear another say, “Oh wow! I never thought of that!”
While the typical middle schooler is changing every day, they are still rising to the high expectations set by each of his or her teachers. This is especially evident in the science classroom. When given the chance to complete hands-on activities and to collaborate with peers, middle schoolers constantly show us why they are some of the best schoolers!
8th Graders Experience Facing History and Ourselves, by Jessica OriansPosted by Amy Smythe on 10/14/2017 10:00:00 AM
Woodland believes that education should foster the individual growth of the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional roots of our students by helping them make the essential connections between history and the moral choices they face as adolescents. Our eighth graders are participating in Facing History and Ourselves, which is an international, educational organization whose mission is to “engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.”
The Facing History and Ourselves curriculum prepares our students to be contributing and productive members of society by increasing their ability to relate history to their own lives and promotes a greater understanding of their roles and responsibilities in a democracy. We look deeply at historical moments when individuals made decisions about their own lives and the lives of their neighbors, and then make the essential connection between history and the moral choices that we confront in our own lives. Many years of research have shown that a study of this history helps students understand how their decisions might influence others and also strengthens their ability to take different perspectives on an issue, as well as to consider the ethical implications of their choices.
Human behavior is analyzed to heighten our understanding of racism, religious intolerance, and prejudice. We begin to understand how “People Make Choices and Choices Make History” based on this examination. As we celebrate the potential in every student and seek to create a safe, nurturing, and Christ-centered learning environment, we hope that our students will walk away from this class with the ability and understanding to be UPSTANDERS and not BYSTANDERS.
Jessica Orians, Middle School Teacher
Flexible Seating in First Grade, by Mary LirettePosted by Amy Smythe on 1/31/2017 9:05:00 AM
In 1st Grade at Woodland Presbyterian School, we believe in individualizing and differentiating our classrooms. We use flexible seating and it has transformed my classroom into a student-centered space that promotes movement and engagement.
Research tells us that physical activity enhances the learning process. The brain learns best when it is actively involved. It makes sense that movement and learning should go hand in hand. We know students love to move, play and engage with one another in ways that are not always conducive to sitting in chairs for long periods of time. I find this true for adults as well! Therefore, students need to be given the option to move around and find positions that are comfortable, beneficial and supportive of their learning processes.
What might this look like?
If you were to walk into my classroom you would see students in various workspaces. Students regularly utilize groups of traditional desks and chairs, tables, stability balls, “scoop” rockers, wobble seat stools, beanbag chairs, a wooden bench, crate seats, cube seats, etc. It is also very common to see boys and girls stretched out across the carpet with a clipboard or curled up on the floor with a book. My students are encouraged to explore and find a space that works for them allowing for maximum performance and engagement.
In my experience, I have found that non-traditional furniture in the classroom promotes student collaboration, caters to various learning styles, and increases student motivation. It also gives students an outlet for excess energy and improves their core body strength. By encouraging flexible seating, I have noticed a decrease in the requests for random bathroom breaks and water breaks. My students no longer need an excuse to get up and move for a minute. Students change positions as needed in an effort to remain focused and on task. By promoting flexible seating choices, students are able to take an active role in their own learning process and work towards academic success. This gives greater opportunity for the teacher to serve in a facilitator role in the classroom. These student-led opportunities are beneficial for students as they foster a deeper understanding of content and promote critical and logical thinking skills.
-Mary Lirette, First Grade Teacher
Differentiated Choices Builds Fine Motor Skills, by Diane LucchesiPosted by Amy Smythe on 10/18/2016 11:00:00 AM
Fine motor development is the strengthening and coordination of small muscles in the hands and fingers with the eyes. Early childhood students at Woodland often choose from a wide variety of fine motor activities. With the proper fine-motor strength the student will have the muscle control necessary to be successful with a marker, crayon, pencil, and scissors. These fundamental skills are necessary for future school success.
Here are a few favorite activities that our students love to choose from:
- Stringing beads
- Peeling and placing stickers
- Screwing nuts and bolts together
- Using tongs or tweezers to pick up small objects
- Manipulating play-doh, clay, and therapy putty
- Using paper hole punchers
- Connecting and taking apart popper beads
- Using unifix cubes, clothespins, turkey basters, and medicine droppers
Free choice gives our students the option to choose which activity is interesting to them thus motivating the student to strengthen their fine motor muscles. Early Childhood teachers at Woodland are dedicated to meeting the needs of all students and value the partnership between home and school. Therefore, students have good success using Fine Motor Take Home Kits that supplement the activities we do in the classroom especially for those who need the additional exercise. For more information on fun and interesting fine motor activities, you can visit the PreKinders web site at http://www.prekinders.com/fine-motor-skills/.
-Diane Lucchesi, Junior Kindergarten Teacher
Color, Symbol, Image, by Melissa SalentinePosted by Amy Smythe on 5/10/2016 12:00:00 PM
In third grade we have used many visible thinking routines throughout the school year. One of the students’ favorites is the Color, Symbol, Image (CSI) thinking routine. Using thinking routines in the classroom, allows students to feel a sense of freedom, as they are able to state their own thoughts and opinions without having the fear of not getting the “correct answer”.
In the beginning of the year, several students almost seemed afraid to write their thoughts during the thinking routines as they have often been told there is a right answer and wrong answer. As we worked through several routines, the students blossomed and the way that their thinking is now shown is mesmerizing.
To begin a CSI, we typically have finished a novel or read an article in class and have a class discussion. From there, each student is given a piece of printer paper that is folded into six squares. The students label the top three boxes as Color, Symbol, and Image. In these boxes they are to draw an illustration for each word. For the word color, they are to pick a color that they feel represents the piece of literature that we have read and discussed. Upon picking a color, they write below why they felt this color represents the article or novel and further explain. Students will then pick a symbol that represents the text as a whole. They will then explain their choice of a symbol below the image. The last box is for choosing an image from the text that stuck out to them. Last, they are to explain why this image seemed important and what it represents.
Thinking routines are interactive and the students love the flexibility to make their own choices in the classroom.
-Melissa Salentine, Third Grade Teacher
Numbered Heads Together, by Mary Agnes EllisPosted by Amy Smythe on 2/7/2016 1:00:00 PMOne of my favorite teaching strategies in the classroom is Cooperative Learning. In class, students sit in groups of four, each made up of students with different learning levels. I love listening to the students teach, encourage,
and debate one another. It is so rewarding to hear their knowledge grow with the conversations they have in the small group setting.To further enhance our Cooperative Learning, we recently used a new activity called Numbered Heads Together. Numbered Heads Together is a great Kagan Strategy that really boosted participation. I especially enjoyed this activity because it made the students actively participate in their group, but it also held them accountable for their own individual work.Explaining the steps to the students was fast and simple.1. The students numbered off 1 through 4.2. I displayed a problem on the board, and each student individually worked the problem on a white board.3. After the students had a few minutes to work out the problem, I shouted, “Numbered Heads Together!” The students literally put their heads together and discussed their answers within their group. They used this time to debate, teach, and ask questions about the posed problem. Once they agreed on an answer, they sat down.4. I randomly chose a number 1 through 4. All of the students with that chosen number had to explain their answer and received points for the group if they were correct.I watched as the students defended their answers with accurate reasoning, rallied around a student who struggled with a concept, and cheered with enthusiasm when their group successfully worked through a problem.Cooperative Learning gives students a break from teacher-led lectures. The students benefit from the feedback and encouragement they receive from their peers, and they deepen their mastery of the content by coaching other students through various problems. I’m excited about the progress I’ve seen in my students through Cooperative Learning, and I’m proud of the Mathematicians that they are.-Mary Agnes Ellis, 7/8 Algebra Teacher