Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cool (Cocoa) Beans!

My students started out their year learning about communities, plants, and farm-to-table. It was a really fun way to start the school year and we spent lots of time in our school's garden observing and exploring. This knowledge also served as the foundation for our second big unit on chocolate and culture. We've just wrapped everything up, and I thought I'd share some highlights.

Essential Questions:
  • How does chocolate get to a store?
  • What affect does the environment have on a culture?
  • What affect does a culture have on the environment?
  • What does Fair Trade mean?
  • How does the chocolate industry impact our community?
A Few of our Favorite Activities:

Chocolate History
We practiced writing non-fiction summaries by reading short sections from The Story of Chocolate. We supplemented this book with a few others (Smart About Chocolate and Chocolate: Riches From the Rainforest) which helped students add more details, cross-reference facts, and synthesize information from multiple sources. Learning about chocolate across many centuries also provided us with lots of practice reading and thinking about timelines.

From Bean to Bar
Students researched the process in which chocolate is made, putting the steps in order from bean to bar. We also paid special attention to the location of each step, either completed in the natural environment or in a factory, as well as the types of jobs that might be required in the process (farmer, exporter, shipper, factory worker, marketing director, grocer, etc.)

The Chocolate Giants
Students read biographies about Milton Hershey and The Mars Family, using graphic organizers to take notes. From there, students created a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two big chocolate powerhouses.

Culture Investigations
Before winter break, students investigated what elements helped form a culture. The iceberg lesson is a great one for this. From there, I split students into smaller groups to investigate a top producing cocoa bean country and discuss some cultural elements from that country. Our grops were: Cote D'Voire, Ghana, Brazil, Ecuador, and Indonesia. This was their first attempt at a big group research project, and perhaps a tad overwhelming for my second graders. I'll definitely change some things here the next time I do this. In any case, it was a great conversation-starter for nonfiction text features, citing resources, and finding information efficiently.

Hot Chocolate Experiment
Over winter break, I read an article that said hot chocolate tasted better in orange cups. When I shared the article with my students, we decided it would be fun to replicate the experiment at our school. Students initially worked in three teams - researchers, surveyors, and experimenters. The researchers created a hypothesis based on information about how color affects mood and food perception, surveyors created a Google Form for participants to complete after the taste test, and experimenters created a script and set expectations for how the experiment was to run. We invited another classroom and about 15 teachers to be our participants. It was a great project to take on, and provided many opportunities to hone research, graphing, and scientific process skills.

By the way, our study showed that most people preferred the blue or green cup over the orange or red. We also saw relationships between the number of people that chose blue/green cups and stuffy noses (were their taste buds affected?) as well as a feeling of calmness after drinking from the blue cups.

Fair Trade
Global Exchange's downloadable book is just fabulous and allowed me to present a very heavy topic in an easy to understand way. Great conversations that really impacted kids' thinking.

Theo's Chocolate Visit
Theo Chocolate is a local company from Seattle, sourcing only organic and fair trade cocoa beans. When we couldn't afford a field trip to their factory, they kindly sent a representative to talk with my students. It was an incredible experience and students got to see firsthand the impact of the cocoa industry in our own community. We crushed cocoa nibs and even tasted some of their products! In the afternoon, students created their own new flavors of chocolate bars to send to the company!

Our discussions about culture and chocolate certainly led to some great conversations. We hit on some pretty difficult topics and accomplished some lofty goals. This was a very engaging unit for kids, addressing a topic that they enjoy while touching on many standards across the curriculum. This has been such a fun unit, and I know it'll be a go-to in the future. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spread the Love

One of my most favorite (and most feared) days as a classroom teacher is Valentine's Day. High emotions plus incredible amounts of sugar are always a tricky combination and I never know what to expect.

One activity I love doing every year is having my students write anonymous positive notes to their classmates. It's a very powerful activity, and one that my students tell me is among their favorites at the end of the year.  I start by having each student write their name in the middle of a piece of white construction paper. After a quick meeting to brainstorm positive thoughts and set expectations, students have one minute to write their note and then rotate their classmates' papers. Papers travel around the room for about 30 minutes and finally make their way back to the original student. During my prep time, I take a moment to write a note for each student, too.

Every year I am blown away by the kind and thoughtful messages kids write. This year, was no exception. Here are a few of my favorites:

You are confident whenever it comes to a problem.
I like how you are very funny when we talk about Minecraft.
Brave. You're important.
I know you care by the way you speak.
When things don't go your way, you just grow stronger.
You are very independent.

I love the anonymity and total honesty of these notes. During our debrief, my students shared how much they enjoyed this activity because it demonstrated that deep down everyone in class really cares about each other. Even more shocking for some students was the ability to say something positive to another classmate even if they weren't close friends or got along well. It left us feeling connected and happy, and I know my students will treasure this experience for a long time.

For this Valentine's Day, I thought I'd send a few anonymous positive notes out into the world for some fellow educators and bloggers that I admire. They may never read them, but this is what I'd say:

  • Every day I see how hard you work for your students and your family, always putting others' needs before your own. You are a rockstar and are doing amazing things. I am honored to know and work with you.
  • I only hope that I can be as good of an educator as you.
  • I don't know you personally, but I wish I did. I am inspired by every post you write. You bring such positivity to the education world. 
  • I would love to be a fly on your classroom wall. The way you talk about your students is incredible and I love how you are never afraid to take big risks.
  • You are a person and an educator I routinely look to for inspiration. I admire your creativity and dedication, and have no doubt you will go far. I sure wish our paths crossed more often, but I hope you see yourself in the wrinkles.
  • Thank you for believing in me and throwing me into things I wasn't sure I could handle. I really appreciate that.
Spread the love, friends. I encourage you to write a positive note to someone you think is pretty rad. What would you say? 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do It Anyway

I got to see my favorite band last Monday night with my friend, Shannon. And it was awesome.


Ben Folds Five has been with me a long time. They got me through awkward teenage years, played an instrumental role in getting to know my husband during college, and have provided a rockin' soundtrack to lesson planning as an adult. Their songs carry a lot of meaning for me, and many are among my all-time favorites. 

One song, in particular, has been following me around since September. I'll admit it's not my favorite on their new album, but the message has been popping up in my head at all the right times this year. 


Do it, anyway. Risk it, anyway. Be honest, anyway. I've done all sorts of ridiculous things this year because of this song. Things I never imagined myself doing. Through this way of thinking I'm trusting myself more, enjoying new experiences, and becoming more confident. I even find myself singing it to my students - encouraging them to not get paralyzed by a voice in your head. 

There's a lot of icky stuff in education. Negative attitudes. Testing. Excessive amounts of paperwork. This song helps me find the positive, trust my professional judgement, and get what needs-to-get-done, done

What's your go-to song for a burst of confidence? Perhaps we can make an awesome mix of tunes for those times when we all need a boost.