Welcome to Paula's Primary Classroom! This blog is where I share ideas for teaching and learning with families, friends and other early childhood educators. Please don't use the photos or text of this blog without permission, but please do use any ideas you find useful. Thank you for stopping by!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Calaveras Big Tree State Park, California

Until now, all my blog posts here have focused on teaching young children, on materials and ideas that have worked in my own classrooms, and that I hope may be useful to others.  Today I'm going to step outside of that zone, but with purpose.  I hope you'll come along with me.

Last week, during spring break, my family took a trip to Calaveras Big Tree State Park in California.

I've seen pictures of giant sequoias before, you probably have too.  Pictures showing groups of people all holding hands to reach around the base of a tree, pictures of cars driving through holes carved into their trunks, pictures of people dwarved by them.  I knew I wanted to see them, my family has wanted to see them for a while, so we jumped at the opportunity to go.  What I didn't know, was that all those pictures mean next to nothing until you stand at the base of a BIG tree.

We walked through the North Grove, a 1.5 mile path amongst 2000 year old sequoias.  There are both shorter and longer paths, camp sites, and much more to do at the park, and if you are interested you can click the link at the top of this page to the official web page for the park.

Early in our walk we came upon this tree stump, which was used as a dance floor way back when. 
 You get a much better perspective when you see a person near a section of the tree!  These trees were so large that there weren't saws long enough to cut through them, so they used plumbing augers to drill many many holes into the trunk instead.

During this early part of the walk I really was just taking in the sheer size of the trees, which, regardless of seeing pictures, I hadn't really understood.

These trees, Mother and Son, appear to have been pressed against each other, the parts of their trunks facing each other mirroring each other's shape.
Here's the view from between them.
It is amazing to me to think of these trees being 2000 years old;  they aren't the oldest trees on earth, or even the tallest, but they are certainly the biggest.  According to the website,
 "The largest redwood in Calaveras Big Trees State Park is the Louis Agassiz tree. It is located in the South Grove. This tree is "only" 250 feet tall, but it is over 25 feet in diameter six feet above the ground! The largest tree in the North Grove is probably the Empire State Tree, which is 18 feet in diameter six feet above the ground." 
 The largest Sierra Redwoods have a diameter of 30 feet, and measure 93 feet around!

If you are a teacher, try measuring out 93 feet of string, tying it into a loop, and laying it out on the ground.  How many children can you get in that space?  Oh, my, goodness!  Can you measure and lay out a string 300 feet long to represent the height of one of these trees?  Wow!

My family laughed at me, but I laid on the ground to take a picture looking up at these marvels of nature.  I got dusty, but the view was well worth it!

There is  a  hollow, fallen tree that you can walk through.  I'm 5'2" and could easily stand up, my 6' tall son had to stoop in some places.  This is the view up through a crack in the tree.  Look how thick the remaining wood is.

Just past half way along the trail we came upon The Mother of the Forest. 
She is dead, killed by human greed.
The price of viewing her reassembled bark was sixpence.  I keep finding myself making judgements about these circumstances, and then skirting around the very difficult environmental questions of our own times, and my own role in using resources.

 Does she remind you of Edvard Munch's "The Scream"? 

 Near her is another testament to human folly.  I have to admit, seeing pictures like the one below, I've briefly wondered if cutting the hole through it harmed the tree, but I've always let it go, to be amazed by the very clear size of the trees shown in pictures like this. 

 The answer is yes, cutting through trees like this does indeed harm them.  It's 140 years since this tree was  hollowed out, and there is only one small surviving branch. 

 Here's the remaining life in the tree, the little leafy part at the top left in this picture.
 Again, I wondered about my own role in all of this, as I stood at the base of this dying tree, taking pictures in the same place people have been taking pictures for 140 years, a photo opportunity that is killing the tree.  I understand why this is a national park, why people fought political battles to save the remaining trees, and why we still visit Mother of the Forest, and  The Pioneer Cabin Tree.  They are reminders to stop and think about our own roles in the world, a call to arms - or at least to composting, recycling and using resources more wisely.

What does this experience mean for me as a teacher and as a parent?  I have to admit, after a week thinking about it, I'm still not sure.  I don't know my own role in this, not clearly, and so how can I lead children to find theirs?  When it comes to reading and writing and math and how caterpillars grown and change into butterflies, all those "normal" things we teach our children, I know where I stand.  I'm comfortable dancing my part in the give and take of learning and teaching. It is a dance, a back and forth, leading and following, finding the way together.

And there the answer lies.   I'm sharing my experience with you, continuing the dance, learning and and teaching. 

We'll find the way together. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ever so much learning with class books

How do you learn best?  Do you like to hear information, or do you prefer to see it?  Do you need to be involved in doing something to really learn and remember?  Do you learn best when you are totally involved?

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

I think most of us are familiar with this quote from Benjamin Franklin.  It has stood the test of time, and still rings true today.  So how do we involve children, so that they really do learn?

One of the ways I like to do this is to make class books.  There are so many possibilities!  Over the years I've helped my classes write class experience stories, telling about a field trip or a cooking activity, bringing an element of literacy to follow up other kinds of learning.  We've made books of graphs, class books that are innovations on popular children's literature, big books, little books, whole class books and books by individuals.  We've made them with sturdy cardboard covers, flimsy paper books, and books we published in a "real" bound book.

For the last several years I've helped each child make two books of their very own: a hand print alphabet book, and an abc activities book.  Children sit and read them frequently, looking back at their illustrations, commenting on their writing, reading their names, and remembering letters and sounds we worked on to make each page.  I love that the children look back at their work so often, reviewing their learning because they want to.  I plan to publish examples and directions, as well as printables, for those of you who also teach little people - follow my TeachersPayTeachers store to get updates when these and other new materials become available.

Children love to see themselves, their writing and their pictures.  That's what makes class books such fantastic learning tool - they love to look back and revisit their learning.  In our Baa Baa colorful sheep book, we have lots of repetitive text (which helps support early reading), a familiar nursery rhyme (they know the words, so pretend reading and other early reading strategies are supported), and pictures that help the children figure out the unknown parts (using picture clues is an important early reading strategy too!)  Do you see where the children added their own name in the middle of the song?  We practiced writing our names as we made the book, and when they revisit the book they read the names of their class mates.  Want to try this one out?  I have a freebie you can download.

Innovations on familiar stories also support children's early reading - with repetitive text, familiar stories, opportunities to write and read our names, and picture clues.  Add in the irresistible draw of seeing their own work in the books, and you have a recipe for reading and writing success.  Those of you who know me, or are regular readers (thank you!) know that I like to include hands on learning, math skills, cooking, and field trips whenever I can.  Below you can see the letter C shaped cookies that the children made from scratch, and plastic sorting cookie shapes we practiced math skills with, along with a class book we made. 

Those field trips and cooking activities are great learning tools all by themselves, but it is easy to add an element of writing and reading, with class experience stories.  The pictures below tell the story of making applesauce, so why not have the children dictate as a class how it was done, then publish it?

After we finish an activity, I sit with the children and ask them to tell me what we did.  Because they are so young, they usually tell what they liked the best first, or what was most memorable.  I write their thoughts down on a chart, modelling the writing process.  When we've got all the important ideas down on paper, we look at the chart together, and decide what order their sentences should be in.  When the children go outside to play, I'll type up their words, add photos taken during the activity, and print it off.  My favorite simple way to bind children's class books is to print on regular paper and slip the pages into a bradded folder, gluing on a cover to finish it off.  These books have been sturdy enough to survive a couple of years of classroom use, and if you buy lots of bradded folders during back to school sales, you pay only a few cents for them.  The return on that investment is hours of children reading, an absolute bargain!

Below is an even easier, cheaper version, made by simply stapling pages of children's writing together.  The 3 children who made this book chose it for story time several times too, because we let them read it to their friends, another powerful motivator and teaching tool!

You can also use songs to put together class books.  When we were learning the letter J, we also learned Jugo de Naranja in Spanish, singing along with it on youtube.com.  I transcribed the words to make a book so that the children could choose to review it during storytime (who doesn't love a book that also involves singing along?!).  As you can see, we added a small drink of orange juice to the mix to keep everyone fully engaged, and we practiced the book, song, and Spanish language learning at least once a week, because students chose it for story time.  Happy memories are worth revisiting, and adding a literacy element was simple and effective.

Class books aren't only for learning literacy skills either, you can practice all kinds of math skills with your class books.  Here's the beginning of a spring/farm themed counting book we made.  Again, I made a simple cover to glue to a bradded folder, and inserted the children's pages.  This book includes names, numerals, counting, and an art project, all in one simple to create book.  Did we reread it? You bet!

You can also make books of graphs or other math skills that your class practices. When we read the very popular Pigeon books by Mo Willems, I added a math element to our learning with some Pigeon themed graphs.  I put the completed graphs in a bradded folder, and the children read and reread that too, finding their names on the graphs and practicing graphing skills as they did so.

For those of you who want to include more class books in your school day, but just don't have time to make them, I have put together a collection of 28 class books, ready to print and go: click on the picture below to check it out.  For even more ideas, check out Class books.
Class Books for Every Letter of the Alphabet, Using every PP word

 This set has books that work well for each letter of the alphabet, and between them use every preprimer word, so you cover reading and writing skills all year long, with very little preparation.  The books are all available individually too, so you can pick and choose what's right for you, or get the whole set at a huge discount.

Making class books is a tried and true method of involving students in their learning, and like Benjamin Franklin's quote, it has stood the test of time.  I hope you found some new ideas about how to incorporate class books into your school year, and I'd love to hear new ideas too, so please share your ideas in the comments!

Happy teaching and learning!