Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Winter Blues in the Classroom

Now January is here and the festivities of December are over. It almost feels anticlimactic and most of us breathe a sigh of relief. But before long the students start getting antsy and even teachers start feeling a sense of boredom. Now here in the US, it is winter and of course that means less sunlight which I think has a great impact on all of us. Are we going to sit around and whine about it until spring or can we do things that stimulate the students and even ourselves so we can make it to spring?

During this time I like to do different things that are fun and interesting with my students. I try to do more hands on lessons and activities that involve movement because most of the students are not getting outside enough to burn off all their excess energy. Here are some things that I have done during January and February that have been successful in my classroom:

1. Learn something new with my students. I have learned things like juggling, a new dance, a new board game, make beaded bracelets, and crochet an afghan during these months. The students love to see me learn along with them and we all help each other.

2. Make dough decorations. We follow the recipe and then shape the dough into whatever we want. Some students use cookie cutter and others just sculpt their own shapes. After baking them, we paint them. You can do this before Christmas but my students are usually over stimulated then and this wasn’t as successful as doing this after Christmas. They can even make ornaments for the next Christmas if they want. This usually takes about 3 days to complete.

3. Split the class into three groups and let them make lunch for the class once a week. When I didn’t have a kitchen, I swapped with the home ec class one day a week in January so my class could cook. Each group came up with the menu, the recipes and brought in the ingredients. We didn’t make anything fancy or hard since we really only had 50 minutes. For example, we’ve had sub sandwiches with chips and tuna salad sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. While one group made lunch, another group set up the table and the last group was in charge of cleaning. This rotated each week.

4. Make scrapbook pages for the future about this past year. I split the class into groups of 3 and each group is responsible for a scrapbook page. They use the internet and any other sources they can to find out the highlights. They have to choose at least 3 events and write about them on the page. (This is a good time to teach them about Creative Commons and Copyright Laws). After they are finished, they must present this to the class. Before they start, I give them a rubric with criteria that I use for grading (accuracy, creativity, required items, neatness etc.). We have made these pages with paper and digitally (we used Adobe Photoshop) and both were successful.

5. I write the name of each student on a piece of construction paper. Before I hand these out, we talk about positive words we can say about each other. These are written on the board. After we have exhausted all the positive words we can think of, I pass out one paper to each student that doesn’t have their name on it. Using crayons or markers, they write one word from the board they think fits that person but they can’t use a word that is already listed on that paper. Every 2 minutes I say, “Next” and everyone passes it to the next person (I determine the direction before we start). Eventually a student will get their own paper and they even have to find a word that describes themselves (which is really hard for many of them). After all of them are complete, I read them aloud in class and then we display them for at least 2 weeks. When I take them down, I laminate them and give them to the students to keep. I recently had lunch with a student I taught 16 years ago and she said she still had this paper and has looked at it when she felt discouraged.

6. Invite speakers to come to the class. I had nail technicians come in and talk about nail hygiene. Then they gave free manicures to the class and even polished the girls fingernails. I have invited former veterans to come talk about their experiences. A couple of times I have invited an author of a book that we read in the fall. Ellyn Bache (author of Takedown) and Marion Lazan (author of Four Perfect Pebbles) came to our class and my class was in absolutely floored by both.

These are just some of the activities I can think of right now. If you are a veteran teacher, do you do anything special during the winter months? If so, please share them in the comments so we can all learn from you. Maybe you have an idea that you haven’t tried yet, but would like to so feel free to share that too.
Original image: 'winter brightness' Grant MacDonald


samccoy said...

Excellent ideas for rejuvenating the year!

Penny Ryder said...

These are all such great ideas! I've never really had a plan for getting through the winter months. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

when the 1st snowflakes hit in Dec. We dug into the weather section of the science text and read what they had to say about snow & how it forms (2nd gr) and then we hit the rest of the weather topics. We'll revisit the topic for a few moments before or after our next snow day (whichever comes first) and then the next time, or when we're sick of winter & inside recess, we'll have to find out how to know when spring's starting. I'm trying to save fold & cut paper snowflakes for delayed start or emergency dismissal day. We need to make birdseed ornaments again when we have a sizable snow. Other than that, I have no plan...but I sure like the sound of that lunch thing...there's math in there...i could time it for the cowboy unit & do cowboy foods...hmmm....

loonyhiker said...

samccoy and Penny, : Glad you enjoyed them. This is always the hardest time of year for me.

loonyhiker said...

Margaret: Thanks for such wonderful suggestions. I remember making snowflakes and loving it as a child. In fact, I still do!