Classroom Christmas Crafts

If students have not yet made presents for their parents, now is the time. In addition to holiday activities that teach to curriculum standards, there is room for an hour or two of crafts – especially when done as a way of giving to others.

Below are videos demonstrating four Christmas craft ideas.

When choosing crafts, consider three things:

  1. If possible, crafts should provide an opportunity for learning beyond the practice of fine motor skills.
  2. Given your time constraints this time of year, you want to choose crafts that require as little prep as possible.
  3. Given school budgets, you want to plan crafts that don’t dig into your purse or cause you to have to fill out multiple reimbursement forms.

Danish Christmas Ornaments

In the Danish tradition, Heart-shaped ornaments are hung from Christmas trees and filled with cookies.

The ornaments require paper, scissors, and a heap of spacial reasoning skills. Challenge your students to tackle weave designs of increasing complexity.

3-D Christmas Cards

Pop-up cards are fun to receive. For younger students, the process of creating the card requires spacial reasoning. You can create the cards from paper, stencils, and other materials you happen to have around your classroom.

Felt Christmas Ornaments

Students love to see how simple cuts and folds can be used to create art. Consider combining this craft with activities related to the Mobius strip.

Beaded Santa Ornaments

If you have time to pick up beads, the Santa ornaments are a hit with the students. Under the video is the roadmap for each row of beads.

After the initial jingle bell and white bead…

Red, Red
Red, Red, Red
Red, Red, Red, Red
White, White, White, White, White
White, Pink, Black, Pink, Black, Pink, White
White, Pink, White, White, Pink, White
White, White, Pink, White, White
White, White, White, White
White, White, White

Many thanks to my teaching assistant, Nancy, and to the many parents who helped show me these craft ideas.

What are your favorite holiday craft gifts to parents? Please share!

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Monday Mentions

I look forward to the many daily email posts delivered to my inbox. I save many of the posts to savor with coffee, wine, and/or chocolate. Below are blog posts received this past week that have given me reason to pause and ponder…

Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress 2012 and Finnish Education

The author, gwinridenhour, correctly says that we need to consider cultural differences in any discussions that compare education systems. One of the best ways to compare is to look at the work of Geert Hofstede who surveyed IBM employees in 170+ different countries. You can see his cultural considerations as well as Finland’s rating at

If you compare the Finnish “scores” on Hofstede’s scale to the scores of the US, two things stick out. First, the US is far more individualistic. We believe an unspoken “truth” (Hofstede calls it “software of the mind” – or the way we are programmed) to believe that the individual can “pull him/herself up by the bootstraps.” Finland, in contrast, is more collective. They would be less likely to say that any problems in education rest in the student…or the teacher…or the parent. Raising children is a collective effort.

The other comparison that sticks out is the “masculinity/femininity” scale. This scale is NOT about gender, but in the tendency to be driven by (or not driven by) competition, achievement and success. America is a highly competitive society and we look for comparative measures such as standardized tests. Finland’s scale scores indicate that free time and flexibility are greater incentives than “success”.

The Finnish school system reflects its society values. So does the American system. The Finnish system, in its full form, would make many Americans uncomfortable. Isn’t it interesting that Americans (myself included) call the system “good” based on measures that we value far more highly than they do?

Expatriate Everywhere

James R. Mitchener‘s Third Culture Kid (TCK) blog was new to me this week – introduced through an article from Janneke of Drie Culturen (congrats on the award, BTW!).

I’d like to use James’s writing as an example to my students. How can they describe their ever-changing surroundings to readers who have never visited such places? How can they describe what seems so “normal” to them but is beyond comprehension to those who grew up in a single country?

I’ve pinned one of James’s articles, The TCK Barrier Between Parent and Child, to share with parents of my students.

Daily Infographic

eClassroom News included an article on teaching with Infographics. The article included a link to Over 100 Infographic Resource Links. Having 25% battery left as I sipped Chardonnay at a local cafe, I pinned sites that would help students create infographics, and pinned infographics that related to units of study. I ended up signing up for the Daily Infographic – they are just cool.

Actually, It Is About the Technology

John T. Spencer got me re-thinking my strong “it’s not about the tech” assertion.

I continue to think it is more valuable for teachers to focus on core subject objectives than focus on the tools used to communication, collaboration, and create. However, John Spencer rightly says that we often don’t take full adventure of platforms.

So now I’m wondering if, perhaps, the best way to help students (and me) make the best use of tech is to give them intentional time to “show off.” Open source works because programmers take pride in their work – and enjoy showing off their skills. I want people to show me more cool stuff. I suspect my students want to see more cool stuff too.

Platforms really can do amazing things.

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Classroom and Student Blogs: Advice from the Masters

I’m a big fan of learning from the masters. We look to the masters when learning art, music, literature, sports – even prayer and meditation.

This post is dedicated to the blog masters – those who post advice for teachers with classroom and student blogs. Wisdom of the masters + personal experience has led me to embrace the following pieces of wisdom:

Bookmark Great Examples of Kid Blogs

Before diving into blogging, you should check out some examples of classroom blogs and kid blogs. Bookmark your favorites – you can use the great ones as examples for your students.

Many know Adora Svitak from TED talks. She keeps a blog.
A Second Grader’s blog: Nick’s Picks
A Third Grader’s blog: Jarrod’s Awesome Blog
My Fifth Graders:
Blogs by High School students in Norway are linked to Ann S. Michaelson’s site

Need more? Check out the Edublog Award Winners.

Start with a Classroom Blog

By “classroom blog”, I mean the one that you control.

No need to fear first steps. Online real estate is free. If you want to start slowly and deliberately, consider signing up for the Edublog Teacher Challenge. The challenge takes you through blog setup in a step-by-step fashion.

You can play around with a couple different formats. I’ve tried Blogger. Blogger is easy because it links to your Gmail account. The cautions with Blogger are twofold: Google may “suggest” to students that they check out blogs that are inappropriate. Google, by nature, will also have advertising.

Consider going through Edublogs. When students write on Edublogs, they are only exposed to other education blogs – blogs with safe content. My only complaint with Edublogger is that you cannot keep track of the users who sign up for your blog. I hope they will add that feature – I want to know the email addresses that receive direct email feeds.

Other teachers have successfully used Kidblog.

Generally, professional bloggers use WordPress. You can start with a site. Like blogspot, WordPress is open to everyone in the world (not just kids). But, my experience is that users are more committed to good content.

Video tutorials are available to help you get started on Blogger and WordPress.

Unsure about what to put on your class blog? Here are 65 ideas.

The two most Twitter-mentioned classroom blogs are Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom and Leopold Primary School (Australia). Use their posts as examples.

Begin the year by teaching Good Commenting

I don’t recommend giving students personal blogs too early in the year. Students should demonstrate responsibility first. I like the steps that teacher Kathleen Morris takes with her students.

Prior to writing full blog posts, students need to learn how to write quality comments.

Video tutorials exist to help students make comments on WordPress and Edublog sites.

Video tutorials also exist to help students make comments on Blogger sites.

A colleague of mine started student comments with a discussion about responsible use.

One of the biggest reasons to have a classroom blog is for students to practice commenting in a controlled environment. I don’t find that students post inappropriate things, but I DO find they type their last names. I both delete the last names and conference with children who sign with full names.

Helping Student Get Started

One of the easiest ways to help students get started is to have them sign up for the Edublogs Student Blog Challenge. Students receive emails with links to instructions on how to make their blog look great. And, students link up with other student bloggers.

Getting Parents Involved

Next year, I want to make a more concerted effort to get parents involved. A few of my students’ parents have made nice comments on student posts. Kathleen Morris has been far more intentional and has experienced the subsequent success.

Let parents know that students LOVE to receive comments. Comments are one of the biggest motivators for students to continue writing.

If you Want to Assess

I don’t formally assess student blogging. I want blogging to become something students want to do. Instead of formally assessing students, I point out to them ways in which I see their writing improve.

That said, sample rubrics are available.

Safety Stuff

The biggest lesson is to keep identities anonymous. When commenting, students should not use full names. When students create blogs of their own, they should be careful with the “About Me” page. I encourage students to put a Wordle on their “About” page – using words they would use to describe themselves.

I highly discourage names attached to pictures.

I don’t tend to advertise the location of my school. Viewers could deduce the location from the school uniforms, but the name of the school shouldn’t show up in Google searches.

Mrs. Ripp has a great post guiding students to think about how the Internet is like the mall. She also includes a letter to parents regarding safety.

Who do you believe are the master blog teachers? What have you learned from them? What links would you recommend?

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Top 10 Lessons Learned the First Year Overseas

A few weeks ago, International School Services tweeted the question What did you learn in your first year of International School teaching?

1. Human Resources personnel and principals are your best friends.
After receiving the official job offer, I must have emailed Human Resources once per week. Should I bring x? Does the school have y? What rare tropical diseases might I encounter? Japanese Encephalitis exists outside of Japan???

Visa paperwork can be overwhelming: health checks, copies of transcripts and diplomas, proof of vaccinations. If you have pets, plan on a separate set of procedures.

2. International Schools have a culture of their own.
I signed to join a group who met monthly to discuss critical issues related to education. One of our first topics for discussion was Third Culture Kids (TCKs). I learned that many of my students have never lived in their passport countries. Also, they do not regularly interact with host country children. The students develop a culture of their own.

I’ve since realized that overseas faculties are much the same. Teachers in more politically unstable countries live on compounds and rely on each other for socialization and general sanity. Faculties in large cities tend to get out and mingle with other expats – many of whom are not teachers. Some schools tend to attract younger folks in search of adventure. I landed at a school with a rich history that could be learned from colleagues who had been at the school more than 20 years.

3. Different cultures give teachers varying amounts of respect.
Although I left the USA before the infamous passage of No Child Left Behind, I heard and read plenty of criticism about the state of education in America. I taught in a district without music or PE teachers. Colleagues in other districts were put on paper rations and were required to dust and mop their classrooms. The school district had many active, wonderful parents. Also, the school district held restraining orders against parents who had threatened staff and students.

My first parent night overseas: At least one parent of every student showed up. Dressed up. Took notes. Parents frequently brought gifts. If I called a parent about a discipline issue, the issue never arose again.

4. Expat parents expect a LOT.
While parents gave me a huge amount of respect, they kept me on my toes. “Average” and “Meeting Expectations” were unacceptable grades for many. They wanted to know what else could be done to ensure that their 10-year-old entered an Ivy League university. For some, standardized test scores below the 95th percentile were reason for an extra parent-teacher conference. Perhaps that is not true in all schools, but it was true in mine.

5. Absentee parentism is as prevalent in rich schools as in poor schools – but it looks different.
The main reasons parents had such high expectations for their children was that the parents expected a lot of themselves. Many of my students’ parents were bilingual and traveled throughout Asia overseeing factories, starting joint venture companies, attending regional CEO meetings, and more.

The kids missed their parents. They eagerly awaited parents’ return home. Some felt abandoned because, even when parents were home, they were on regular conference calls.

In the end, many students spent less time with their parents than did students in my former USA public school. Kids of divorced parents typically saw Dad on Wednesdays and every other weekend. The international students were never sure when Dad (and sometimes Mom) would be home again.

6. One of the most valuable forms of professional development is working with teachers who are natives of other countries.
When I hear of Common Core Standards, I recall the first year I taught with an Australian teacher. While I was struggling to figure student grades by rubrics and percentages, I watched her create checklists of things students needed to know. She ticked the boxes when students had mastered standards. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was called Standards-based education.

Standards-based marking made sense. List what students must know and do, mark progress, and make a special mark when students go above and beyond the standard.

7. You long for the smells of home.
Christmas 2001. I had been in Asia since August. The weather was no longer oppressively hot – it felt like Spring.

One afternoon I opened the classroom door and stopped. Pine smell. Could it be??? I must have looked like a basset hound sniffing the trail. The scent got stronger as I climbed to the third floor, the fourth floor, and around to the office. There stood a Douglas Fir, imported from my home state of Oregon.

I ate my lunch beside the tree every day until the Christmas break. Most of my life, I had taken the smell of pine for granted. Now the scent took me home to my family.

8. There are spices other than salt and pepper.
I lived a meat-and-potatoes childhood. One of the first weeks of school, my colleagues invited me to dinner at an Indian restaurant.

I couldn’t make any sense of the menu but, since all the dishes were served family-style, I let others do the ordering.

I took a bite. My eyes watered. I grabbed beer, gulping it down and praying for my tongue would forgive me. A colleague turned to me and chuckled. He said, Yes, Janet, there are spices other than salt and pepper.

Indian and Thai are now favorites – but they shocked the palette (and the intestines) the first few times.

9. Labels meet different things to different people.
I quickly stopped using the words conservative and liberal. In Australia, the Liberal party is like more like the US Republican party and the Labour is more “Democrat”. I was in a group of South Africans, Dutch, Germans, and Americans. One American was a self-proclaimed conservative. Another in the party turned and said to him, “Oh, so you’re racist.” Whoa.

I’m happy to talk about my feelings on an issue, but I’ve learned to not try and capture the opinions under an umbrella label. Political and religious labels do not translate well across the various forms of English.

10. Life really isn’t fair.
Yesterday I wrote a post for Expat Sisterhood about how my understanding of “woman-hood” has changed since moving overseas.

Early in my first year, I joined a Family Bike Trip into the Pearl River District of Mainland China. I saw Asian poverty for the first time. We passed through rural villages with no plumbing.

We needed a nurse for the Family Bike Trip. One of the families brought along their domestic helper. Their helper had been an Emergency Room nurse in the Philippines. She made more money as a domestic helper (approximately US$400 per month) than she did as a nurse in her home country. She left her two children to work in Hong Kong so that her children could go to High School.

The first summer, I taught English to English teachers in another part of China. As I got to know them, I realized the hardships they face when they are educated, they want to earn more money, but they must apply and wait up to 20 years to move from the village to a city.

I went with a team to deliver scholarships to students in China. These A-students had been accepted into High School but could not attend because the family was unable to pay the required US$150 for annual tuition. We helped 30 young people. Millions are in similar circumstances.

I guess it’s fair to say the learning curve is pretty steep the first year. What did you learn?

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Student Photographers and Picasa Slideshows

My most recent post has been featured on The Edublogger. The post is entitled Picasa Slideshows: Giving Parents a Glimpse of School.

Here are the highlights:

For a more detailed explanation of each step, please visit The Edublogger. And, consider subscribing to Edublogger site posts – especially if you want to start class blogs or student blogs.

Here are some great posts to get you started or take you to the next level:
Five steps to starting a class blog
Setting up student blogs
64 Ideas for class blog posts
14 steps to meaningful student blogging
Blogging can help teens who suffer from anxiety
Getting parents involved in blogging

While I’m still in the beginning stages of class and student blogs, the Picasa slideshow inserts have been a big hit. One step at a time…

Happy teaching!

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