Monday, December 9, 2013

MindWare: Great Tools for Critical Thinking!

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, my class this year is unique! I knew early on that I needed to supplement my instruction with opportunities for the students to think critically. Unfortunately, all the resources I had on hand were to help below-level learners. I set out on a search to find some useful resources and stumbled  upon a fantastic website- MindWare! This company offers all kinds of items from toys to workbooks to satisfy learners of all types. 

To start out, I bought a sampling of things that sounded like they would fit our needs. First up, Perplexors. These are deductive reasoning puzzles that force kids to think critically. Based on a slim number of clues, students must match certain items with their correct descriptions. The puzzles are great for students who need a challenge and who love to solve puzzles, but they also are fabulous for readers who struggle with drawing conclusions. All of my students LOVE these puzzles!

MindWare also has Math Perplexors that are similar to the Perplexors, but require students to use a combination of logic and math concepts. They are fabulous! Obviously, my students who struggle in math have a harder time with these, but my GT students love the challenge. Even the struggling students can eventually reach the solution when paired with other students and allowed sufficient time. These puzzles really get your brain working!

Another resource my students love are the Analogy Crosswords. Students must draw on their background knowledge and make reasonable connections in order to solve the puzzles. Analogies are great tools on their own (and kids love them), but combined with the challenge of a crossword puzzle, it makes for great discussions and learning opportunities! We've had to make several trips to the classroom library when working on these puzzles to help us solve them!

All of these puzzles come in various levels of complexity. Because my students are third graders, we either use the Basic Level or the Level A puzzles, depending on which type of puzzle we are working with. Most puzzles range from Basic Level up to Expert Level (which is recommended for ages 13 and up), so they are great for students of any age.

My students literally cheer when I pass out a new packets of these puzzles. I'm excited to try out other resources from this company throughout the year. I'll let you know how it goes!

Do you have any other ideas or resources that encourage critical thinking? I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

iTeach: Empowering Students and Inspiring Research

Happy Sunday!

Today I wanted to share about something I have introduced in my classroom that is absolutely making magic every day!

Let me start out by saying that this year I have a very unique class full of curious and inquisitive learners. They soak up information and are constantly thirsting for more. They also love to share what they are learning with anyone who will listen! This is all very new for me because for the last three years, the majority of my students were significantly below level. This year, I learn something new each and every day from my students and it is amazing!

Because of this, I introduced something I call iTeach into our daily schedule. At the end of each day, I open up a fifteen minute segment to the students. During this time, students can share their independent learning with the class. Each slot is five minutes long and there are three slots per day. Students sign up and list what they will be doing during their slot and then they have that time to "teach" the class!

So far, I have had students read picture books to the class and ask various comprehension questions throughout the reading, (we have learned about George Washington's wooden teeth among many other subjects), share informational books on topics we have been studying in class, and one student even presented about the atom and how scientists discovered nuclear energy! It's crazy!

The only restrictions the students have is that whatever they are presenting must connect in some way to what we have been learning in class or teach the class something new. For example, if a student wants to read a poem to the class, they must discuss the poetic devices the poet used or mention the theme of the poem, etc.

This whole process is still fairly new- this is the third week we have had iTeach as part of our schedule. I'm treading carefully because the last thing I want to do is stifle their curiosity or discourage their sharing by placing lots of restrictions on them. Students can present on any topic they are interested in learning about and can read, research, and/or practice for their presentations during our independent reading time. They can choose to present alone or team up with partners. So far, it's been wonderful!

Students who normally are resistant to read are now asking me to do mini-projects on various things and actually reading so that they can present during iTeach. Even my most shy student stood up in front of the class and read! I wish I had taken pictures during the students' presentations, but I'm always so wrapped up in what they are saying that I never remember my camera!

I'm going to keep using iTeach and as we go, I may make some tweaks as needed. For now, I'm going to keep enjoying it!!

If you have any suggestions for me on how to create the most encouraging environment for student sharing or ways that I can make the process even better, please let me know!!! I need as many ideas as possible!