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Wildlife From Your Window
You likely have more than one bird book in your library, and probably at least one window in your classroom. Now all you need is a feeder to hang outside the window to attract birds that can be looked up in the book. Birdfeeders can be constructed from empty plastic bottles (a project for students) and don't forget that squirrels, a nuisance to most bird watchers and feeders, can be a delight to watch. Also, you may have to draw the windowshades sometimes to eliminate distractions to your students.

Bring the Summer Into Your Classroom
Grades K-6

Overview: If your students are suffering from the cold-weather blues, turn your classroom into a summer resort for a day or a week. They will get a chance to pretend it's warm, and also do comparison activities that will put their brains to work.
Teacher Preparation: turn your classroom into a summer resort with lots of lighting and plants, and have students bring beach towels, sunscreen lotion, beach balls, etc. Make a large sun (wearing sunglasses) to hang in the room.
Procedure Ideas:

  • Research and compare average temperatures in June with January.
  • Have students make two lists: Typical Summer Activities and Typical Winter Activities.
  • Compare summer Olympic sports with winter ones.
  • Compare winter food with summer, including a look at gardening.
  • Share picture books with summer themes.
  • List countries that have summer in January.
  • Make ice cream.
  • Make a sandbox in a corner complete with little shovels and buckets.
  • Discuss dangers of staying out in the sun too long.
Points to Remember: Half the world experiences the opposite season at any given time, and the internet is a way to make contact with kids experiencing different climates (for example, we loved the e-mail we got from Austrailia talking about celebrating Christmas by the pool...). To make contact with other schools, go to our Key Pals page for information on listing your class.
Come Back to a New Room
OK, your students are coming back from the Christmas or spring break, to what: "the same old room?" (Their words, not ours.) Jump start their learning engines with a new seating arrangement, new bulletin boards, anything to make them feel like things are different. As they say, different is good.

Have a Magazine Corner
Got a magazine corner? Instead of using bookshelves, display your magazines so the covers can be seen, will draw attention and get read. Snag an old rack from a store or library or make your own; even a pegboard with 2 little hooks for each magazine to drop into, and leaning against the wall will let the covers be seen. And retire your old magazines to a box for later use in cutting out pictures, looking for headlines, etc.

What's the Temp?
Indoor/outdoor thermometers have come down so much in price, every classroom should have one. These digital wonders not only show both temperatures, but usually have resettable memories that store high and low temperatures. And the outdoor temperature sensor is on thin, flexible wires making it ideal to insert inside enclosures in science experiments and demonstrations.

Create Atmosphere with Plants
With fall eliminating the greenery outside, now's a great time to add some life inside. You don't need a green thumb; go to a greenhouse and describe the kind of sunlight your room receives to choose the proper plants to thrive there. Then get your students involved with a job list for watering and misting based on the greenhouse's recommendations. You can even take things a step furthur by teaching about the various forms of propagation, letting students start new plants from leaves, separated roots or shoots.

Give Your Plants a Vacation
If you're worried about the plants in your room dying off during breaks, and you don't want to move them home, there IS hope. Water as usual, then cover each one with a large clear plastic bag, like a dry cleaning bag. The bag will act like a miniature greenhouse. If they are going to turn down the heat in your building, you might want to move the plants to a spot as high as possible in the room to keep them just a few degrees warmer.

Bulletin Board Headlines
Whether you buy ready-made letters or use or cut your own for bulletin boards, there are some tricks for putting them up. If you're centering the head on the board, mark the center of the board with a piece of tape, then layout the letters on a table. Find the center of the headline, and begin putting up the letters from the center, working your way out to both ends. A mistake often made is to space them too far apart. Headline letters are usually set tighter than small type; it won't hurt if the letters touch. Also, rounded caps like "O" and "C" are really taller than squared-off letters like "A" and "M". Make sure they extend beyond the imaginary top and bottom lines formed by the other letters.

Comfy Chair, Comfy Price
Lots of teachers have a nice comfortable chair or sofa in their room. Mine is a cushioned chair sitting next to our pond that kids can use for quiet reading time. If you want one, try to get it for free; mine was a leftover from a garage/yard/tag sale that was given to me free on the spot just for telling them I was a teacher and needed it for my classroom. Another idea is to check with a nearby furniture store for old trade-ins and see if they will donate one for your classroom. They might even deliver.

Redefine the Alphabet
To acquaint my students with the multitude of typefaces out in the real world, we create our own version of the alphabet samples that are seen in classrooms everywhere. Have students look through magazines for different typefaces, then draw the outlines of each letter on paper and color with crayons or markers. Look for variety (new faces are being created each DAY) and draw them large enough to fill a letter sized sheet of paper.

Cheap Fish
Aquarium fish don't have to be tropical! The small catfish we got from the river as 1" babies are now 5" in length, deal with temperature fluctuations well and eat about anything. And yes, they were absolutely free. No aquarium? Make a pond in your classroom (see below).

More on Native Fish for Your Classroom
Dave Loveless (dloveles@njlink.pppl.gov) writes in: A couple of weeks ago you suggested using local fish in school aquariums. This is a great tip because many of the native fish are sturdy enough for the school environment. The same tip applies to salt water fish. I have been doing both for years and salt water fish from an estuary are the best since they are used to salinity, temperature changes, etc. I would also recommend a book Our Native Fish by John R. Quinn and published by The Countryman Press in Woodstock, Vermont. It covers both fresh and salt water and gives ideas on compatibility and feeding.

Where Are We?
Make signs to hang from the ceiling in the center of your room similar to street signs at intersections. Align one north-south and write your longitude, with latitude on the east-west one. We got the figures, that were very accurate, from our main public library, and left the signs up all year.

Estimation Center
I have a 1/2 gallon plastic jar under a simple "Estimation Center" sign. Sometimes I put a known quantity of items in the jar, or other times just write a simple estimation problem on a sheet of paper and tape to the wall under the sign such as "estimate how far to the office in feet". Students can put their answers on the wall with post-its, or sometimes we just discuss the problem and have them give estimates orally. I implemented this center last year and saw a noticeable improvement throughout the year in their answers.

The New High-Tech Chalkboards
Call us old-fashioned, but we're not impressed with the new white, slick marker boards that are beginning to be the rage. OK, they look cool. But there are some downsides you need to be aware of before asking to have your tired old antique chalkboards replaced with these new wonders. They require special markers to write with, the markers can stain clothing, the markers are also expensive and if you aren't careful, the boards can be prone to reflections and glare, depending on your room lighting and window arrangement. So think about lighting and the cost before making the plunge.

Removable Dry Erase Sheets
We just saw a new product available at office supply stores; dry erase sheets in a pad that are just torn off and adhere to a wall or blackboard by static electricity. They can then be written on with dry erase markers and wiped clean with a rag. Because they are thin plastic, ghost letters linger after erasing in the form of slightly raised bubbles under the plastic, possibly from solvent penetration from the markers, but can be removed by rubbing to force the air out. They may not be quite as nice as regular marker boards, but work fine for temporary use.

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