Monday, July 24, 2017

So You Want Your Students to Love History

Witness of my Ignited Love for History

Spring Semester of my last year of college, I had completed my student teaching and was preparing to graduate when my professors invited me to present to a crop of aspiring teachers in their 3rd year.

  "What topic do you want me to present on?"  I asked, feeling flattered.
  "We want you to share ideas about how you create lesson plans.  How you come up with your lessons.  We know you love history..."

I did, indeed.  Science was fun, Math and English were par for the course, but creating History units excited me to no end. 

Hadn't I talked a fellow student-teacher into dressing up as Cleopatra for her Egypt Unit?  And hand-painted her Egyptian necklace?   Hadn't I fried up bannocks in front of my class during a review presentation for Native Americans? 

 As I stood in front of that class of my own peers, I began sharing about lessons that thrilled the senses.  I went through the five senses one by one and talked about how to write a lesson that excited each one.  Pencils scratched all over the room as my fellow students began taking notes on how I came up with lessons I cared about. 

My temperament and personality are unique in the teaching profession.   I'm aware of this, because in a group of about 50 teachers that all took a personality test, I ended up in the minuscule group of 4,   labeled the "Artistic ones".    What's that mean when I stand up in front of a class? 

 I know what you're thinking:  "I bet she had one of those sorta disruptive, crazy, artistic classrooms, where everyone's doing their own thing, and it's crazy...some teachers can do that, I could not..." 

Haha, actually, I couldn't do those kind of classrooms either.  More power to them.  Nope, my classroom was quiet, well-managed and we usually did whole group activities.  I was jealous of my students' attention and insisted on a well-behaved class.  I required their interest and engagement.  Sometimes I had to work for it...but I needed them to not be a student like me.  

 Confession:  I was an indifferent student.  I was that kid, the one with glazed eyes.

Blessed to be a quick study, I did not put out extra effort and was satisfied with a few B's and mostly C's.  I did not have an innate drive to thrive in academics.  High grades and teacher praises were shrug-worthy matters.  At home, my older sister already fulfilled my parents' expectations with A's on every report card, and I was content to find another way to shine: usually doing something artsy.  The few teachers who found a way to light the fire of my interest were the ones who discovered that, if allowed, I would blaze trails with creativity. 

When I began teaching, it was the kids with the glazed over eyes, who I saw as my personal challenge.  What was required to light those fires?  That's what I asked myself.  The answer was most often, lessons outside of the "Read and Answer Questions" box. 

 Time for a Mountain Man unit?  I threw my hair in a braid and tucked it under a coonskin cap, changed into jeans and knee-length leather moccasins, and drew "stitches" around my ear with an eyebrow pencil.  Then, when my kids entered the class, I sat with my legs all man-spreaded and tried an "Old West" accent while I told the story of my (Jedidiah Smith's) battle with a bear.  There were no eye-glazes that day. 

Confession:  I still try for this approach in the lessons I create with my students today:  Which of the five senses can I light up today?  I do not practically succeed each time. 
Life interrupts and the best creative lessons often take the most effort and time to pull off.
But...when I can, I do. 

Because...why only read about Egypt's hieroglyphs when you can try to make them yourself? 

 Wouldn't it be easier for students to learn the agricultural crops of a country if they sample them in a meal first?

If you have an ancient tale kids need to remember, how about letting them turn it into a graphic novel?  The artistic ones might even be up for lengthening the tale, if allowed to.  

 If teaching Black History Month, play a version of the old hymn "Go Down, Moses" before explaining how Harriet Tubman alerted plantation slaves to her presence and willingness to lead them to freedom.  If the students read the lyrics themselves, all five verses, ask them why the song was relevant to Harriet and her people. 

This works for other subjects, too, by the way, even if my love doesn't shine as brightly in those areas.  You can always call in outside experts if you can't do it well, yourself.  For instance, science...When studying about the human body and digestion, I thought it would be cool if we got a local vet to share about the digestion system. 

I called one up and got even more than I had hoped for.  He offered to do a dissection and show the digestion organs inside a mouse.  I said, "Sure!" and let him take over my class as I opted out because of a weak stomach. 

My students had the option to leave if they couldn't handle it anymore.  About five of them ended up joining me in an outside room, but the veterinarian and any potential doctors in my class had a fabulous time together. 

One more confession, before I sign off: 

Confession:  With all of my own innate creativity, I did not find my love for history on my own.  Like every other subject area, I was indifferent to history all through elementary and high school.  It took a teacher, a college professor in my case, to ignite my love for it. 

He'd been teaching for years and like me, was indifferent to tests and grades.  Tests, schmests: Use the cheat sheet he provided.  All he asked was that we show up for his class and take notes on what he shared.  And did he share.  He brought history to life for me, in a way no one ever had.  He turned history into a story of humanity that was real and important and relevant.  I never missed a class.

But what he did and how he taught, ignited a love that not only sent me all around my continent to see historical sights.  It started off a chain reaction to inspire that same love in others. 

Take a moment.  Think over a stale lesson.  Which one of the five senses can you use to ignite a child's world?  To make that lesson alive and relevant?  There's always a way to turn an eye-glazed and indifferent student into a trail-blazer.  And as teachers, you already know how much fun it is to succeed at that. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sam the Ram, Looking Slick!

It's been over a year now since ole "Sam the Ram" became "mad at me" and with that fierce little frown, a whole new line of supplemental activities for "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" was born!

To be honest, Sam needed a bit of sprucing up so that he could keep on delighting children.  Recently, our collection of FREE sample supplements got an upgraded cover:

It's been great to see the response with which our supplements have been received!

Due to customer demand, we had to package our entire set of activities for the first 50 lessons in a bundle for ease and the reviews on this have been fabulous!  Yay!

In fact, I had to get busy finishing off the next bundle, "After Fifty-Five through After One Hundred", because I have been hearing the requests for the rest of our supplements and they are now available in our store, too!  Yay! 

Most of you are familiar with the Reading Program, and I can promise you it has been easier to come up with engaging stories and entertaining activities with the broader range of sounds I have to work with, having once hit lesson 50.  In fact, I'd like to show you a few of these new stories...

Here is the Mini Book that comes with the After Seventy-Five Packet.  Look at that pink car!  There just isn't anything more fun than a horse named Molly, stealing a pink car and driving it into a tree.
 My graphics chi is definitely improving!

Another change we see as our supplementals progress through the lessons, is the ability to move on to more standard looking fonts in the stories.

Because the classic fonts are introduced at this time in the Reading Program, and they are introduced along with the entire alphabet of letters, I decided children should get the chance to use their deciphering and decoding skills as they match letters in a variety of fun fonts.

This offers excellent practice with old letters and new, and gives you great opportunity to share the names of the letters as you go.

The last change that we see in these latest supplemental packets, is the opportunity to observe words in both the font from the Reading Program and let kids match it with the exact word in a new font.

And the crafts included in these great little packets tie in perfectly with the stories from the program.

All in all, we've come a long way since Sam, but the overall reach and appeal has, if anything, increased.  We're super excited to bring Sam back and look forward to another great year as we finish up these reading supplements and bundle them all up for a final product.

We have now completed the 2ND bundle of these fabulous supplements.  We call this one, "After Fifty-Five" Through "After One Hundred" and it is available in our TpT store.

It is filled with the same activities you and your child have grown used to:  applicable crafts, additional stories for reading practice and comprehension checks, writing practice sheets that align with the program's lessons,

we also included pages that tie in the new font introduced, with the old font.

 We also give additional alphabet practice for those lessons that introduce letters and sounds which do not receive a whole lot of attention, like Q or X. 

There is a huge amount of relief to me in completing all these phonics packets, for the sake of those who were waiting on them!  But thanks for loving the packets.  And thanks for encouraging me to complete the rest.  Because of you, ol' Sam the Ram was a huge success!