Monday, April 29, 2013

Gooooo Capitalism!

Ok.  So My sister and I decided to go into business together and open up a TpT store.   So far, the most difficult part has been setting up the profile page.  I CANNOT, for the life of me, figure out how to post a picture on there.  It's supposed to look like this:

The products in this store are a joint venture between myself and my lovely sister, Traci.  Traci provides the line drawing for our clipart, and then I graphically design them into digital images.  We want you to be pleased with our products.  If there is anything you would like to see please let us know. 
Traci has a undergraduate degree in Art from the University of Tennessee, and a Graduate degree in Costume Design and Puppetry from the University of Connecticut.  She is now an exotic unicorn traversing the world and living in New Zealand. 

Aside from working in the theater industry and freelance design under her brand Meek and Wild Creations- I'm most proud of her short lived stint on a New Zealand soap opera where she was complimented on her "realistic sleeping" as a coma patient.  This ability to sleep anywhere, I believe, is the reason she got a one liner as a head nurse in a later episode before she left the biz.

I’m Heather.  I don’t normally look like this.  But I can say that on this particular day, my drama group was performing for Parent’s Weekend, and I had what I thought would be a hot date later that afternoon. To find out how that date ended up, please go to Awards and What-Not and reference question/Answer Number 3...
This is Traci.  She normally looks like this. You can find Traci on her Facebook page:
We are still this cool.
  But on to the details... Here are the, so far, two packages I am getting ready to put on the site.  They are clip art and paper bundles.  What do you guys think?

I'm planning on putting Spring Floral up as a freebie.

We have all four seasons as well.  I'll be getting the summer package up next, and autumn.  Just waiting on a couple more drawing from Sis for the winter package.  We don't need to worry about snow so soon, do we?

I love my sister's art.  I wish I could draw as well as she does.  I am satisfied at the moment to be able to make her images digital and make things with them.  I also have on the ole desktop here an aquarium/money/technology project for the kids and white tail deer goodness.  I think this is going to be a very fun bonding experience for the two of us.

In the meantime, I am trying to learn about product pricing.  I posted in the forum, but no one is answering, so I think I must have broken a rule or something. Frustration. Any feedback from you guys would be well appreciated.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Animal Research PebbleGo vs. Creature Feature

I've been doing "independent" animal research with the kids this week in a combined writing/science time.  Generally, I've always let the kids choose which animal they want to research, but I don't let anybody do the same animal. Then they happily head off to the library only to discover that since the entire grade level is also doing animal research, either the desired book is already checked out or the library never had such a book in the first place.

Oh, but hey! No problem!  It's all about technology these days so just let them scamper off to the internet and find an article.

Gah.  Never mind that your little Hildegard reads on a kindergarten level.  Never mind that Annoying Andy managed to find the site featuring monkey butts and has now shown EVERYONE.

I have tried to combat the latter by teaching my kids to always add the words "facts for kids" after their search words.  This has helped somewhat- but it is still hard to find a good site where the article is helpful and readable.

So I stumbled on to National Geographic for Kids Creature Feature section this year.

There are hundred of animals available to look at, and as you can see from the tabs, not only can they read the facts with an accompanying photo, there is also video and sound, and a map of their locations around the world.  The Print this Creature tab takes you to a printer friendly version that included one photo, the map and all of the facts. 

At first I thought that this was the jackpot.  And I'm not saying that it isn't all well and good- but then Flamingo Fabulous steered me over to PebbleGo.  Now, PebbleGo is not free.  So if you are interested after the preview they offer, talk to your administration about purchasing it.  It's worth it.  They have more than animals.  2nd Grade Virginia teachers- they've got all of the Famous Americans (YEP- even Jackie and Susan!)

Things that are similar is the interface.  A child can read facts along with pictures.  There is also video and sound, but as an added bonus, if a student clicks the megaphone next to the text, the site will read the passage aloud.  This makes PebbleGo a serious plus for Hildegard, who can't read the information on National Geographic Kids.  Also has a printer friendly version with one photo.  Notice the purple caption beneath the polar bear?  That's a link to a diagram- text feature GOLD!

What puts PebbleGo over the top though, is that it breaks the information into headings- Body, Habitat, Food, Life Cycle and Fun Facts.  making it a lot easier for the kiddos to locate the information they need.

But what I liked about the NGK site was the richness of the info.  The animal research we were doing as a class was relatively simple- What do they eat? Where do they live? How do they grow? Statistics (weight and so forth) and Fabulous Fact.  The statistics information was a bit hit or miss with PebbleGo, some animals offering more than others.  Life Cycle information was not always everything we were looking for either.

We ended up combining when we could.  PebbleGo and NGK feature many of the same animals, so some kids lucked out with double articles.  Not that Hildegard could get a lot of use out of one of them... But next year, I'm going to pre-print these articles and keep them together in a big binder.  I decided that what would make a great nonfiction lesson for my above grade level kids would be to cut apart the NGK article, and separate the information into the PebbleGO categories, making an even richer document that was easier for my not-so-on-grade-level folks to navigate.

You can check my bank account, neither one of these websites offered me any compensation.  I remain on the edge of bankruptcy...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ohhhh deer, Virginia

Don't get me wrong.  I do love Virginia.  It is beautiful.  I appreciate its scenery every day on my hour commute to and from work.  It's my time of zen.  But I do believe that someone in the department of education is trying to exceed the limitations of my medication.

Here's the new addition to the life cycle portion of our standards:

In order to meet this standard, it is expected that students will
·         describe changes in the life cycles of a butterfly and a white-tailed deer.
·         compare and contrast life cycles of a butterfly and a white-tailed deer.
·         identify the stages in the life cycle of a flowering plant.
·         construct and interpret models/diagrams of animal and plant life cycles.

Ummmm... am I just crazy?  Does this make sense?  Can you compare and contrast the butterfly AND the white tailed deer?  But never mind that- let's press forward into the resources that are provided by the Old Dominion.

Please take a quick moment to peruse, and note that someone in the brain tank decided that the best way to get across to second graders that deer "grow" and "change" is to show them their teeth.  I want you to understand that at a certain point this year I was handed four bags of deer jawbone that were sort of "fresh" and told I would have to clean them before having the children handling them. Can I tell you that I said "Oh, Honey, NO!" But luckily I was not the only one who said so, and haven't heard of the jawbones since.

But I still had to get this taught.  A sticky point to be sure.  First stop, Amazon.



These were the only three that I had any success with.  There are others, but they don't offer a table of contents, or a glossary, and therefore makes it a bit difficult for your second graders to find any good information. I am considering getting guided reading sets of the first two.  Click pictures for links.  I'm pretty sure it's the second one that has a table in one of the last pages that offer up all of the deer statistics.  What none of these books offered in any concrete way was information on the lifecycle of a deer.  Even the Virginia web site doesn't offer this information!  I ended up printing off any reasonable article about deer for kids I could find on the internet to supplement our research materials- and in the end, used this video from the Virginia site, and some pieced together info to write this one simple paragraph about the life cycle of the white tail deer:
A doe gives birth in June to twin fawns.  Fawns weigh 4 to 6 pounds and have spotted fur to blend in with their surroundings.  Bucks begin to grow antlers when they are a year old.  Deer become adults at two years of age.
And this is not ground breaking by any means.  Frustration.
I had my kids make peek-a-boo posters to record our information on deer.

 I guided them through the drawing (which is not spectacular) so that they would draw BIG.  For some reason, eight year olds love to draw teeny.  As I gave them a heading topic for the card, they would search with a partner in a book or article for the answer and then we'd compose the sentence together.  Teaching them all one animal this way has set them up to know what to look for when they create one for an animal of their choice as their research reports.
You'll have to turn your head for the next two.  I can't get the picture flipped around.  FRUSTRATION again.  One of my kids asked if he could draw his deer in the night time, which I think was an excuse to get the coloring over super quickly- but I decided not to fight it.  In the last tab they got to pick any fact they wanted to put in.  NightVision went with "Deer can smell danger!!!" Which I admit, makes me snort every time I pass it in the hallway.

Virginia folks, what are YOU doing with this white tailed deer deal?  I feel like I've got to come up with a way to beat those teeth! In reflection, I probably wouldn't have minded showing jawbones to the kids.  If someone ELSE cleaned them first.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Whoop whoop! And, yeah- FOSSILS

First, for the whoop whoop!  I successfully ( I think, anyway) figured out how to design my own blog background, and header (ok, so it's a tad short), and button, and profile pic.  And I also managed to make my own digital cupcake clipart, my own background papers, and I edited my old piece of Moose to get my little lovely there in the oval.  I am feeling SMUG I tell you!  And excited, because now I think I can do allllll sorts of things.  Critique or comments appreciated.

Now, fossils.

If you are in Virginia, then you know that we are one of two states NOT participating in common core standards.  I will mostly avoid referencing that this is similar to how we seceded from the union in 1865- but whatever.  It's not like I'm going to move any time soon to teach in another state that has it's act together with cooperating...  Anyway.  This year they changed up some of our science SoL's (yep, the irony is taxing) to include the teaching of fossils.

It reads like this:

          d)   fossils provide information about living systems that were on Earth years ago.

Rivetingly specific, isn't it?

And yet I've got to do something with that.  That second graders will understand.  And be willing to participate in. 

I went to a "training" where it was suggested that we have them sketch out 30 line drawings of fossils into a grid and then analyze the placement of said fossils to decide what the land was like millions of years ago.  There were teachers there that refused to draw the thirty sketches in the thirty minutes allotted to finish.  And that got me to thinking/realizing that my 23 students were pretty much going to do the same thing.

Barf.  As a teacher, I have to say, I get very disturbed/angry/frothing when people who don't deal with children decide what I have to do but don't give me anything useful to do it with. End froth.  Thank the Lord he gave me a brain to get creative and some colleagues with the same initiative.

First thing I did was to make a little power point presentation to set the scene up for my kids.
I used border frames from both Graphics From the Bond and Ashley Hughes. Just click the pics to link up to the TpT download. The rest of the pictures are just from on-line and Microsoft office.  If you want a copy of it, just send me an email- I'll happily share it.  There are links to a How fossils form video, a virtual fossil exploration site, and (my favorite) a you tube video of They Might be Giants singing "Paleontologist".  I also included some "this is what this has to do with Virginia" sorts of pages- including our state fossil, and a map explaining what sorts of fossils can be found in our state by region.


 Ok, so the fun stuff- I merged two ecosystem standards- the adaptation of camouflage and also the fossils.  I used plastic Easter eggs in the colors of greens, yellows, pink and blue.  One for each kid in the class and just scattered them in a small area on the playground grass. They could easily see where they were, it wasn't really about hunting.  But they had to run as fast as they could, grab the first one they saw, and run back.  I recorded their color find and the number I had hid inside the egg.  (The number matched them up with a random partner.  When we displayed the eggs in the order that they retrieved them, they could see that the pinks and blues were the first grabbed, and then the oranges, greens, and yellows.  So we were able to talk about eggs that blend in to the surroundings are much more likely to survive than unusually colored ones.

With their new partner, they were given a picture of a fossil and asked to make a representation of it out of air dried clay.  We had a snafu with a cement idea, and I ended up taking them home to enclose in magic mud to dry over the weekend. The magic mud is made from used coffee grounds- and considering the amount I needed for thirty fossil trays, and the fact that I don't really drink much coffee, I enlisted the aid f a nearby Starbucks.  They happily gave me a gigantic bag of the used grounds they were planning to put in the dumpster.  I repeated the recipe (free on TpT, just click the word magic mud) a good fifteen times to cover up 30 fossils.  My colleague had bought the little tins at the dollar store.  They were the perfect size.  The recipe was very easy to make, and I have to say, as a salt dough recipe, mixed quickly, easily, and I really liked the texture.  Next year we'll go with this option instead of the cement idea and the kids can mix their own and encase their fossil on their own.  A great way to incorporate measurement math and how-to writing if I don't say so myself.

So here's the shot of all of the air dry clay fossils drying on my back porch.  I kept the little fossil picture with the creation since not all of them were hugely identifiable (they're eight year olds, remember).  We also labeled the bottom of the pie tins with the picture so we could identify it later as well.

I made a bottom layer of the mud to put the fossil on, before I put on the top layer- trying not to break the fossil inside since they are pretty fragile.  I did learn that the moisture of the magic mud reactivates the air hardening clay- so next year I will need to spray the fossils with clear spray paint or a fixative of some sort before I put them in the mud to prevent that from happening.  Live and learn, kittens.

I put the thirty trays back out on the porch to dry.  They made me think of brownies, for some reason, which did not help with the emotional eating urges. They ended up fitting nicely inside a diaper box to take back to school.

Excavation time.  We set the trays up in the grid, with yarn and post-its for the number.  We watched a brief video on dino digs so the kids can see how they actually do section off the dig site.

We used both ends of a paint brush and toothpicks to dig out our fossils.

We kept our fossil catalog nearby to help us try to identify the fossil we found.

This group was the first to discover that they had found dinosaur eggs.

And this group accidentally broke up their fossil during the dig, and then tried to put it back together to identify it.

All of the trays are back in their places. 

At the end, we set up a matrix on the promethean board to list our discoveries and decide on the land features of the area.  We found that our site had a section of land, beach, and ocean based on the location of the found fossils.  I have a feeling of success with this project.  I had fun, the kids had fun, and they pretty much get the idea of fossils now.  With the slight exception that a couple of them now think all bones are fossils- but they are EIGHT! I'll get that ironed out soon enough.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Getting Wormy

I have no excuse.  I am just lazy.  And I'll stop there.

But hey! I did manage to break my wrist on a field trip, so we can all take a small moment to feel sorry for me.  Annnnd move on.  Don't let anybody every tell you teaching isn't dangerous.

I do have something to share though.  I'm pretty proud of myself.
In science we're doing our whole ecosystems unit.  Making sure the kids know the difference between living and nonliving is part of the dealio.  So, it turns out that it is a tad difficult to make an eight year old understand that water is not a living thing.  And clouds, apparently it's not fair tat they aren't alive. Sheesh.

Lucky for me though, the night after this disastrous discussion, it rained.  Which meant that by morning, the sidewalk was crawling with some juicy worms.  Quick walk around the building and I had fifteen in a cup.  FYI, when you put fifteen worms in a cup they get upset (or really NOT upset) and secrete junk. I don't want to know why. 

 Anyhoo- I scraped up a patch of dirt from the playground into a plastic tub and dumped in the worms.  They had buried themselves within five minutes before the kids got to the room.  So I pulled small groups and we went exploring in our plastic tub looking for signs of life. I was expecting to encounter at least one other type of bug, but it turned out to just be the worms.

What we did find though, was a bug casing, a ton of trash, and an interesting piece of quartz.  Besides the worms.  But in this small group exploration, we were able to have an extremely casual conversation about how we know we're alive.  And how that helps us know that the worms are alive.  And then how that helped us know that the grass was alive- but not the dirt, or the rocks, or the water.  They all got it.


Awesomely, we were also able to tie in a discussion of how humans can harm or help an environment.  We harm it by leaving our trash behind, but we can help it by removing the trash when we find it.  I've now got a small legion of litter watchers out on the playground, picking up what they find and barking at people who drop things.

Tying this in to language arts time, we also recorded words we thought of to describe how the worms looked, and felt, and moved, and questions we still had about them.  I compiled all of the different group ideas into one chart and the kids are using it to write about the worms during writing time, and also what to look up during computer research time.

It was an interesting assortment of trash that came out of this one little patch of ground I put  in the box.  And it has gotten me thinking about how I can tie this into a math lesson for Earth Day coming up this month.  If I send my kids out to either gather trash from our school yard, we could sort the trash into categories and then graph the results.  If then I have the kids share the information with the rest of the school, and develop ideas to reduce our yard trash- then I've nicely gotten this worm project wrapped up into student led action.

I was pretty surprised with myself for enjoying the worm hunt. I took my daughter to the reservoir this weekend thinking I could find a newt or crawdad or something.  I men, how hard could it be?  Last time I went with a friend and her boys and every five seconds they picked up a rock and said "Look what I found!"  I found moss.  MOSS.  Which is interesting I suppose, but disappointing.  Poor moss, I guess no one every gets excited about moss.  I apparently do not have the necessary gene to find a newt.  And neither did squirt.  I guess I'll have to beg my dad to come with us next time.

I've taken to picking things up as I find them- a dried worm to put into a magnifier box to study.  Even found a huge dead black beetle yesterday and heard myself tell the kids today- "You be careful! That's my treasure! Look how hairy it's legs are!" Who have I become?  I refuse to touch a spider though.  Unless, maybe, it were already dead and curled up.  Maybe.