Forging Connections By Studying Family

Watching young children's natural curiosity light up as they learn about the world around them is an unforgettable experience for parents and educators alike. As adults, we have fun rediscovering nature through teaching children about plants, animals and insects. We imagine with our students as they learn to read, and we retread the steps of famous explorers as they turn globes. There is, however, one area we all too often overlook while helping children learn about society: The very roots that planted them there - their families.

Encouraging children to explore their family connections through writing, and creating family trees
has a lot of benefits for young children.  Here are just a few.

  • Learning about family creates a stronger sense of identity. We begin forming a sense of individual identity as toddlers and lay most of the groundwork for who we’ll become between the ages of 5-9. (The core aspects of our personality are usually in place by our preteen years.) Learning about where we come from during grades K-3—including the values and traits we share with our close relatives—entwines our individual identity with a sense of permanence, belonging, and stability. This in turn leads to increased confidence and self-esteem.

  • Creating a family tree can help a child begin to understand his or her place in the world. One of the core “journeys” of childhood is the transition from being a completely dependent, self-focused infant to being an independent, generous adult. When a child creates a family tree, he starts to see how he’s connected to something “bigger” than himself. He starts to think about how his relatives have influenced his life and how he’s changed theirs. 

  • Remember that a young child’s capacity for “big picture” thinking is quite limited, so they need to engage with broad concepts like “society” in smaller, more personal way than adults do. Ideally, you should limit a young child’s family tree to just the two most recent generations; filling it with people the child has actually met will help him to visualize and understand the concept of greater connectedness.  Here is a family tree and lesson I created specifically for young students.  This unit not only builds a sense of family, it also helps to create a sense of community. 

Interestingly, the popularity of genealogy in America (where the practice first made the transition from being an occupation of the wealthy to being an everyman pastime) can be attributed to this same need for a “local connection.” In the 1800s, genealogy (then known as “antiquarianism”) became a popular way to study local history and honor the achievements of the community, thereby building a sense of American identity.

  • Thinking and writing about family groups improves a child’s social skills. The sense of interconnectedness described above helps to increase a child’s ability to empathize. When children see how familial interactions have actively shaped their lives, they start to think more deeply about the impact their own actions can have on others. They begin to see that we’re all part of an interdependent web where caring, sharing, and providing assistance factor heavily into everyone’s continued happiness and success. 

  • Studying family history is a great catalyst for developing a general interest in history. For many children, history is a dry and distant subject. The dates, facts, and names contained in history books can easily feel completely irrelevant to a child’s life (and therefore profoundly dull). While teachers try many tactics to make history seem more “alive” to their students, they often overlook the literal “living history” contained in a child’s own immediate family tree. By exploring the world of their parents and grandparents, even young children can forge a personal connection to the past and begin to grow an understanding of how historic events have shaped our current reality.

When a child creates a family tree, that child is in essence creating a map of exactly where he or she belongs. This is both personally empowering and a valuable learning exercise thanks to its
implications of greater context and historical relevance. Better still, children generally enjoy this exercise so much—precisely because it’s so immediately relatable for them—that it feels more like play than work... And what more natural way is there to learn, than through play?

For more great December blog posts, check out the blog posts below:

Real World Math

I love to teach math.  I love working with numbers, and always have.  Sometimes, my students do not share my enthusiasm for numbers, and over the years some have even said "I will never use this in real life".  When I first heard those words, I realized that I needed to begin connecting my everyday uses of math to students' real lives.  Each time I connect math to real life, I find not only are students more engaged, it reassures them (and their parents) that they are in fact learning all of this math for a reason.  Here are five quick tips for incorporating real world math into your daily math lessons.

  • Addition, Subtraction and Money - I'm beginning with this basic math skill because it's one we begin working with in preschool.  Smart number sense begins at a young age, and it's important that children understand that we will always have to add and subtract.  These two math skills are the most important when it comes to managing our daily finances as adults.  We hear about rich celebrities going bankrupt all the time.  Sometimes it's for complicated reasons.  A lot of times, however, it comes down to basic addition and subtraction.  How much money is coming in, and how much money is going out.  My favorite line in math class, is this - If you don't count your money, someone else will count it for you and take it.  This always gets my students' attention.  The truth is, we have to be able to count our own money.  We have to be able to know that we are being billed correctly, and if we're paying in cash - make sure that the computer is showing the correct amount of money that we are owed.  Wells Fargo recently charged customers for fees incurred from debit and credit cards the customers never opened.  Alert customers who knew the amount of money that should have been in their accounts, were able to bring this to the attention of millions of people who were affected.  This is a great example of how basic addition and subtraction are necessary in everyday life.      

  • Restaurants and Tips -  Students can amaze their family and friends by correctly calculating tips in their head. Calculating percentages of numbers used to be one of those skills my students would complain they would never use in real life. Then I began bringing up restaurant tips.  This got their attention, because everyone eats out. The reality is calculating 10% of any number is not that complicated.  If you can calculate 10%, you can divide that in half and add the quotient to the initial 10% for a 15% tip.  For awesome service, just multiply the 10% tip by 2 and you have your 20% tip ready to go. When I taught junior high school, I told my students I expected them to calculate their tip for their families every time they ate out.  They LOVED this.  They would come back and tell me how impressed their parents were, because their parents hated calculating tips.

  • Credit Cards and Negative Numbers - I truly believe in my heart that if more teachers taught negative numbers and related it to credit card debt, we would not have the problem with debt that we have today in our country.  I love teaching students to add and subtract with negative numbers, because we truly use negative numbers each time we pay for anything.  Relating negative numbers to using debit or credit cards, or paying a credit card bill is a must for me.  Connecting any math skill to money is sure to get students' attention, because most students love learning about money. The reason subtracting a negative number makes the number go higher is because you're paying off debt - plain and simple.  That always hit home for my students, and helped them understand adding and subtracting with negative and positive numbers.

  • The Stock Market - Students like learning about the stock market.  They hear about it on the news, and they equate it with wealth.  Students and their families are more engaged when it comes to studying something they feel can bring wealth into their lives.  When I taught junior high school, my students would choose a stock to follow for a month and create a report on it.  If you're interested, you can access my full Understanding the Stock Market lesson here.

  • Cost Benefit Analysis - As adults we compare things in our minds, or on paper all the time.  Is this the right time to move?  Should I pay to repair my car, or buy a new one?  Is this new job actually paying me more money, or am I simply working longer hours?  These are math decisions.  Once a week, I would write up a real world math scenario and simply discuss it as a class.  I always told them there was no right or wrong answer.  In fact, we would even discuss the cost of things like time or worry into our discussions.

I hope you find these tips useful.  Do you have any real world math discussions or activities you use with your class?  Please share them with me in the comments below.

Are You Ready For Your Best School Year Ever?

I remember reading Scholastic's ABC's For a Low Stress School Year year's ago.  The tips are just for teachers, and they are truly fabulous!  A, stands for attitude - "If you think you'll have a great year, you will".  I know it sounds a little bit trite, but years that I remember this bit of advice always go better than years that I don't.  Another favorite letter for me is N - Neutralize "If you can't change the situation, change how you view or respond to it".  Check out the full alphabet of ideas, they're sure to make you smile.

I am heading back to school too, and rereading those ABC's!  In addition to sharing them with all of you, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New School Year!!

In that light, I have THREE things guaranteed to make you smile.  First, a FREEBIE!!!  These are free calendar headers which you can pop pictures of your students and class directly into.  Print them, laminate them, and you're ready to go.  Personally I like to use pictures of groups of kids, so that between August and June every student is in at least two calendar headings.  I do use a checklist when I select the pictures I'll use to make sure all students are included.

Second, TPT is having a one day only sale - August 21st!  Save up to 28% off on amazing resources for your classroom.  Use the code: OneDay to save an additional 8%.  Seriously, don't check out without typing in that promo code.  I've forgotten to do that in the past, and kicked myself.

The third thing that will make you smile is a gift just for you.  Not for your students.  I know that this time of year is very expensive for teachers.  We are preparing our classrooms and new students for the year ahead, and feel the need to buy so many classroom supplies.  In honor of that, I am participating in a giveaway for a $40 Tieks Gift Card that you can use for a new pair of Tieks shoes!!  Just for you.   Go ahead and enter.


Prize: $40 Tieks Gift Card

Giveaway Organized by: Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher)

Co-hosts: An Apple for the Teacher, Katie Roltgen, Teaching Ideas For Those Who Love Teaching, Teach with Hope, The Literacy Garden, Sliding into 1st, Mrs Humphries Class, Peas In A Pod, and Mrs Irvins Toolbox.

Rules: Use the Rafflecopter to enter. Giveaway ends 8/29/16 and is open worldwide.

Are you a Teacher Blogger or Teachers pay Teachers seller who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your store and social media? Click here to find out how you can join our totally awesome group of bloggers!

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Tips For Teaching The Presidential Election

Teaching during a Presidential election can be a ton of fun.  It is, however, not without pitfalls.  Here are a few tips to make your election lessons informative for your students, and politics free for you.

  • Never share your personal politics:  This seems pretty obvious, but there are little ways that it can creep into your teaching.  Make sure that your students, and their families, cannot tell which politician you are in favor of.  

  • No class is homogeneous:  You may believe that everyone in your class will have families that support one candidate.  This will NOT be the case.  Make sure that you cover both candidates equally.  Remember that students who do not share the opinions of the majority of the students may not speak up in class.  They will, however, go home and share what was discussed in class.  Make sure that you are not allowing students to trash one particular candidate during political discussions.  It can be wonderful when you have a student who feels strongly about one candidate, and shares appropriate points about that candidate in class.  Simply make sure all discussions in class remain courteous - even if our actual candidates cannot do this.

  • Study the basics:  Students can research details about the politician of their choice at home. Presidential elections bring out a range of emotions in people.  You do not want to upset a family by covering something in class they feel was slanted against their candidate.  I created  the 2016 Presidential Election Bundle to cover the basic history of each candidate.  Whatever material you cover in the classroom, make sure that it is balanced.  

  • Have secure mock elections:  Model any mock elections off of real elections.  Students should have a secure voting area where no one can see their vote.  In my room, we actually appoint "election judges" to handle handing out ballots.  I even have students fold their own ballots and turn them into the election box themselves.  You can even have an election judge hand students "I voted" slips after they have turned in their ballots.  Finally, have students tally the election results.  This makes students understand the entire election process.
  • Remind students not to share their vote:  This one is difficult in a classroom.  Children love to discuss everything with one another.  Voting choices is not something that students should share.  Remind students that the only way anyone will know who they voted for, is if they tell someone.

For More fun tips this month, check out the blogs below:

Summer Tech Talk

It's been a while since I've posted about technology in the classroom. I recently had the opportunity to try out a new program with my students. It's called Mathletics. It's a math program that is tailored for individual students in the room. It was pretty easy to set up each students' account, and then I let my class try it out.

I was not sure how my students would react to it, as we use other math programs in the classroom. I was a bit surprised when my first student said that he loved it. I then asked other students, and overall they really liked it. They said they loved the graphics, and the ability to try out different math skills. The next day, my students asked if they could log back into Mathletics.

I  started with their free two week trial. There were a few features that really stood out for me. I liked being able to assign certain skills for students to work on.

The nicest feature, was assigning math groups based on the Mathletics skill. My students often want to work together while their doing their techonolgy work, but because the other technology programs I use are so differentiated they're rarely working on the same skill at the same time. Mathletics has a feature that allows teachers to assign students their skill, so that you can build a guided math lesson for a small group around it.

Another  feature that I know my students liked was the competition. Students can actually compete for points with other students using Mathletics around the world. Healthy competition is always a good thing.

You can get your own free 2 week trial by clicking here.  They have a summer promotion going now that allows you to subscribe and have free access until August 31st, 2016.

If you like it, and want to get your school to purchase it, I highly recommend working with Regional Manager Debbie Jones.  She is so sweet!  She will come to your school and demonstrate everything for your principal.  To schedule an administrative demonstration email her at debbie.jones@3plearning.


Best Way To Paint With a Class!

I love painting with my students, probably because I loved painting so much as a child myself. The struggle of course, is prepping the paint and then cleaning up afterwards. Nevertheless, I always paint with my class. Recently, however, I was given an opportunity to try out Kwik Stix in my room.  I LOVED them.

The timing to try them was perfect, because we needed to prepare for our school festival that evening.  We needed to create signs to advertise our booth.  We were short on time, so I wasn't sure if we could squeeze a painting project in.  I pulled out the Kwik Stix, and quickly explained how they worked.  My students were eager to try them out, and they got straight to work on their signs.

My students enjoyed the way the paint sticks glided across the paper, and I think they enjoyed not having to worry about getting themselves or their clothes dirty.  The best part is, that they explored a new medium of paint.  The whole idea of Kwik Stix is new, but my students were able to compare and contrast the paint sticks to painting with a brush.  Overall we noticed that students had more control over where the paint went using the Kwik Stix.  There were also no unexpected splatters, which the students liked a lot.  This was a very positive experience, and Kwik Stix are my new best friend when it comes to painting in the classroom!  

Our posters did the trick and we had a very successful booth at our festival.  Here are some of their final posters.

I am hosting a giveaway for a pack of Kwik Stix.  Enter your information below and the winner will be chosen this Thursday, April 28th 2016.

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French Lick Spring Bloggers Meetup

Last weekend I had so much fun as I joined fellow Teacher Bloggers in French Lick, Indiana. This time of year, is always tough for me.  I'm ready for Spring, but the nice weather has not arrived yet (I love living in Chicago, but it takes a while for Spring to get started here).  I feel like I'm ready for a break, but it's not quite time for Spring Break either.  The timing for our weekend retreat could not have been better.  I stayed at the French Lick Springs Hotel.  The resort and spa are beautiful, and the entire staff is friendly and outgoing.

My Mother was my traveling companion for the weekend, and after a long drive there on Friday night after work, we were ready to relax Saturday morning.  The first thing we did was take a relaxing soak in a mineral bath at the amazing spa at the French Lick Springs Hotel. The mineral bath was truly relaxing, and I rested in their amazing spa before going on with my
day.  After visiting the spa, we had a wonderful breakfast, and then parted ways for the day.  My mother spent the day touring the town, while I headed to our teacher blogger meetup.

There were about 200 teacher bloggers there, which was a bit overwhelming at first. Then, I began
seeing some familiar faces from the TPT conferences, and other meetups I've attended in the past.  Seeing familiar faces calmed me.  After greeting my friends, I noticed all of the amazing products that our fabulous sponsors so generously donated to us! I have a few pictures below.  I also have links to all of our fabulous sponsors at the bottom of my blog.

At our tables, we got to know one another, and wrote down what our passion was.  As a group, my table agreed that we were all passionate about writing.  We decorated the letter n with our information and our passions.  Then, collectively all of the groups shared our information, and made this beautiful collective sign.

If those words make you think of the 1980's film "Flashdance" then you will truly get the theme of our party later that evening.  We had an amazing 1980's party!!  I felt like I was back in Junior High School.  Here are some amazing pictures from the evening.  I'm the one in the blue metallic leggings.

I am especially thankful to Classroom Friendly for the fabulous pencil sharpener I won!! A lot of teachers have been talking about this amazing sharpener, and now that I have one of my own I know why! My students love it, it does not disrupt the class when it's being used, and it works great with all types of pencils! My students all lined up to give our new sharpener a whirl and suffice it to say it is a HIT in my classroom!!

Sunday morning arrived so quickly.  We all met for a farewell brunch, and then my Mother and I headed back to the Spa!  On Sunday, I soaked in the amazing mineral bath again, and I followed it with a massage.  I truly enjoyed that spa!!  Afterwards, my mother and I went to visit the sister resort:  The West Baden Springs Resort.  I learned that it was once the 8th wonder of the world.  After seeing it in person, I know why.  The indoor dome is amazing!  You feel like you are outdoors, even though you are inside.  Truly relaxing and breathtaking.  If you are looking for a relaxing place to visit, I would recommend either the French Lick Springs Hotel or the West Baden Springs Resort.  They are both beautiful places with extremely outgoing and friendly staffs.

Before we knew it, it was Sunday afternoon and time to head home.  I am grateful for my time in French Lick, and cannot wait to return again next year.  Thank you so much to Ehle and all of the other organizers!  A special thank you to all of our amazing sponsors who I am listing below.  Finally, if you want to read about how other teacher bloggers found the weekend, check out their blogs below.


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