Saturday, November 1, 2008

First Blog as a Global Gorilla

Wow! Just finished grades for the first nine weeks and I realized I haven't blogged on this site yet this year. New school class name. Let me introduce the Global Gorillas. They are something!

Probably the reason I haven't blogged is because those gorillas have been keeping me busy. Since the beginning of the school year we have not only been following the election closely, but running an election of our own.

We started the first day of school, when I explained the two party system and explained that we had two parties in our class. Our two parties were the boys and the girls. We ran a primary and came up with two candidates (a boy and a girl.) Students not elected were given the option to work on a winner's campaign or being a part of the election board.

The election board remains neutral (until the election.) They have important responsibilities such as doling out money to the candidates, keeping track of what they spend on advertising, registering voters, making ballots, and preparing the voting booth.

Each campaign composed of all the rest of the class consists of vice president, treasurer, TV reporter, speech writer and a variety of other roles. Each campaign planned and executed a convention party. This consisted of one half hour for each candidate on a Friday afternoon. They could do whatever they wanted (within reason) to convince their classmates to vote for them. There was food, games, decorations, music and more.

Candidates also participated in a debate, had town hall meetings to discuss issues, made commercials and gave speeches. They also learned about electoral votes and in a surprising twist, I informed them that they each had two states' electoral votes. With 25 students, this accounted for all but Washington D.C. which one of the candidates won in the flip of a coin.

With days until the big date, students are busy polling, preparing, and bribing. Thankfully, it has been a much kinder and gentler campaign than the national election. John McCain and Barack Obama could learn a thing from these two candidates.

If you want to learn more, please click on the link below, or better yet watch their election commercials below. You choose the best candidate!

Election Blog

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Move Up Day

On Friday, students participated in "Move Up Day" where 4th graders go to 5th grade, 5th graders go to 6th grade, etc. My students came to me and asked if they could make a podcast for the upcoming fourth graders. Below is their podcast.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Take Your Kid to Work Day"

Today was "Take Your Kid to Work Day." Students had the opportunity to go to their parent's place of employment. Midway through the day, I received the following email from one of my students:

Hi Mrs. A!
It's me Kristen. I'm at the hospital with my mom so you can contact us here. I'm working on a powerpoint for the Oncology Patient care fund. Oh and tell the class I said Hi! And HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A little later I received another email with a Power Point Presentation attached. (See below.)

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by  jabernethy

Monday, April 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Mrs. A.

The benefits of having computer savvy fifth graders: A surprise birthday podcast!

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Students also made these wonderful cakes for their literature circle response (and my birthday cakes!) Recognize the book? Misty of Chincoteague!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

PSSA Preparation

As we strive to provide authentic learning for our students, ever present in the back of our minds is "the test!" Whether you teach in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida or any of the wonderful states in our country, you most likely have a state test to answer to. In Pennsylvania, our test is the PSSA. Despite the circumstances, all students are expected to perform, do well, and make their teachers shine!

Over the years, I've come up with some tips that seem to help most students relax and do their best on the test. I try to sprinkle these throughout the school year, and as the test day nears, I find the students can quote most of them verbatim. This year I decided instead of reviewing these tips with the students, I would have them create their own reviews to share with their peers.

Providing students with no rubric and minimum directions, I asked them to choose partners or small groups and create a presentation that would help others to perform well on the PSSA. Students chose to create movies, podcasts, powerpoints, and smartboard presentations to showcase their tips. I posted them all on a blog called "PSSA Preparation." Here is a link:

Below I am embedding some of my favorite projects. If you like these, by all means go to the site and check out some more.

Of course, I worry about PSSA results like every other teacher in Pennsylvania. From the first day of school, I am ever mindful of the standards and what I know my students need to know by that fateful day in March when they "take the test." On the other hand, I know there is a lot my students need to know that is "not on the test." I found this video that really hit the mark for me. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Letter Writing Strategy

When the Cyber Chickens attended their first Trinity Task Force meeting, Attorney Wallace introduced them to the "Letter Writing Strategy." He talked about a character in the movie Shawshank Redemption who worked in the prison library. He wanted new books for the library, so he wrote a letter to the state every week requesting money. Eventually they got tired of the letters, and they sent him $200. When he got the money, he started writing two letters a week.

Today the Cyber Chickens mapped out their "Letter Writing Strategy" for Project S.C.A.T. The goal: to expedite the cleanup of the contaminated site next to our school. Trinity Industries has already been ordered by the courts to clean the site, but they seem to be dragging their feet by trying to drag other parties into the lawsuit. It has been over a year since they were charged, but cleanup is not foreseeable in the near future.

We started with a brainstorming session. First, the students discussed who our audience should be. They came up with a pretty comprehensive list including the governor, The Department of Environmental Protection, State Representatives, USA Today, Oprah Winfrey, CNN, Time for Kids, and Newsweek (for a start.)

Next, they discussed what should be in the letter. (This is when the teacher in me kicked in.) While they talked, I took notes in Microsoft Word and projected it onto the SmartBoard. When they were done, they had an outline for their letters (and I had a rubric to grade them.)

To wrap up our brainstorming session, they planned out their strategy. In groups of two to four students, each group will focus on an audience for their letter. Letters will be mailed out every other day to each audience with a total of 26 letters being mailed out per week. Their plan (keep in mind) is for each student to write a letter each week until the end of the school year. I did contribute at this point by suggesting we add a Google calendar to our wiki, so that we can keep track of who is getting letters when.

Finally, it was time for lunch and I announced we would put their plan into action next week. In my mind, I had already written my English plans for next week.

On the way to lunch, a student said to me, "Can we start after lunch?"

Another said, "Would it be okay if we start writing the letter this weekend?"

I said, "Sure. I think that would be okay."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Cyber Chickens Go Erin Brockovich

This week my students and I took authentic learning to a new level. Tuesday evening we attended the first ever Trinity Task Force meeting. It was amazing. Sitting around a table at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce was Attorney Dan Wallace, Greenville's Mayor Dick Miller, State Representative Michelle Brooks, about twenty concerned community members, myself and ten fifth grade students. In Dan Wallace's introduction, he made it clear that these fifth graders were not only the future of Greenville, they were every bit a member of this newly formed task force as everyone else at the table. As the sign-up sheet made its way around the table, my students proudly added their names and gaggle emails to the list.

How did these fifth graders end up in such a serious meeting discussing serious matters in a serious way? It all started with Tom McGee's Project Lemonade, where students are coming together from around the world with a common goal: to make a difference in the world. My students decided to make their difference right in their own back yard. Literally next door to our elementary school is an abandoned industrial site.

Trinity Industries, a major corporation, packed up their train car manufacturing plant and moved the operation to Mexico several years ago. In addition to the economic devastation they inflicted upon the town, they left a site contaminated with hazardous waste. Over a year ago, the company was taken to court by DEP and found guilty for environmental crimes. They were fined and ordered to clean up the site. Over a year has passed, and very little has been done to set the clean up in progress. Trinity, a large corporation with lots of resources at their fingertips, have chosen to use these resources to stall the process rather than expedite it.

So what is the goal of the Trinity Task Force? As stated in the meeting, we would like to see that the site is cleaned up as expeditiously as possible without sacrificing the safety of the community. We plan to be the watch dogs to make sure all the t's are crossed and i's dotted.

How do Mrs. Abernethy's Cyber Chickens plan to help? For starters, they already have a wiki and a blog. These have been set up to keep the public informed of the problem and the progress. It's also a place we hope the community can come to for discussion.

Students have already learned a lot with the added bonus of meeting quite a few state standards in their quest to learn more. Researching the history of the site, interviewing former employees, reading and analyzing newspaper articles and legal documents are just a few learning activities they have indulged in so far. Just think of what's to come.

If you're interested in following their project, by all means check out the wiki and blog and add them to your reader.
Project Trinity Wikispace
Project Trinity Blog

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A 21st Century Classroom

What does a 21st Century Classroom look like? About ten minutes before lunch today, I looked around my classroom. I grabbed a pen and paper and walked around the room recording what students were doing.
  1. Three students sitting at a laptop using Audacity to edit a podcast they made for literature circles.
  2. Two students adding titles and descriptions to Morpheus Fortuna's Flickr page.
  3. A student typing his blog entry on "What is Project S.C.A.T.?" (Stop Contamination at Trinity)
  4. Three students quietly reading newspaper articles to research for Project S.C.A.T.
  5. Two students using laptops to research the history of the Trinity site (taking notes in Microsoft Word.)
  6. Two students looking up Trinity stock prices on Yahoo Finance and recording in a table on a wiki page.
  7. Three students down the hall using an iPod and Tune Talk to record an interview with a teacher whose father died from asbestos exposure.
  8. Two students sorting through printed material and dispersing to students according to topic.
  9. Two students researching the chemicals Trinity dumped on our school's neighboring lot.
  10. Four students using laptops to research and record websites and small blurbs on a wikipage
  11. Two students saving pictures to network folder
I rang the classroom bell to let students know it was time for lunch and I heard a collective groan as students slowly pulled themselves away from their work.

Do you think that's what a 21st Century classroom is supposed to look like?