Should I use Thematic Units in my Teaching?—–I do, and my answer is YES!

themesAll teachers use different strategies and learning opportunities for their students. We all know that we need to change our ideas and teaching each year too, depending on who our students are, what they know and what they need. We are usually given a set of curriculum that either the state has mandated or the school district has adopted. These are usually great, and very basic for what you need to be teaching. They usually ensure that you are covering all of the material you need to cover before the end of the school year.

What about going above and beyond? Engaging students through what they are interested in? What about using our expertise and knowledge of students, the way students grow and develop and our personal philosophies of how we should differentiate in the classroom and teach in a developmentally appropriate way? I was told my first year of teaching there would be no fun in the classroom. I was bound and determined that I was going to use thematic lessons and centers because I believed in them. I believe in using children’s interest to build on their background knowledge. I believe that a child’s learning happens through play and hands on engagement, not just sitting at a table and writing and listening. This article is about using thematic units in an appropriate way, differentiating and engaging students in their own learning, and still covering the mandated curriculum. It does take time and work, but it is worth it in the end.

What exactly is a thematic unit? A thematic unit is: organizing your curriculum around a specific idea (theme). It also integrates this idea (theme) across all curricular areas. For consistency, I am going to talk about the Fall theme I do for different examples.

1. What will your thematic units be?—-I had basic ones I liked to use that children either already knew about, or I felt were important in case they weren’t learning about the topic outside of school. Remember though, as you develop these units you need to be able to back up why you are using the unit, how you are using the unit and be able to incorporate the following:

Find Themes here: Thematic units I used in my classroom

2. Planning your thematic units. (Materials, Time, Organization)—How will you do this? Weekly? Monthly? I changed to a new unit each week. A monthly unit can seem long and drawn out. In an early childhood classroom we are trying to expose children to as many ideas as we can. Changing weekly worked well for me, you have to do what is best for your classroom and children. This should be organized at the beginning of the year, and I organized mine by the letter of the week we were studying. You probably have a system in place you would follow. (“F” for fall, “W” for winter or fall for the month of October etc).

3. Align your text or mandated teaching materials with your units. (Objectives) As your mandated curriculum moves forward “make” your thematic unit meet the needs of what you are being asked to do by this curriculum. This does take creativity. For a simple example, if you are doing fall, take all of the things you will be incorporating into your thematic unit and then just use all ideas to enhance your mandated curriculum. The following will provide ideas.

4. What Math concepts need to be covered? Taking the fall thematic unit and teaching math concepts:

a. buy pumpkins and count the seeds b. sort different colored pumpkins c. weigh pumpkins d. measure pumpkins e. count, add, subtract, and even graph pumpkins. Make sure what you are teaching, by the mandated curriculum is covered in your chosen theme.

Find ideas here: Math Ideas for Themes

5. What Science ideas can be presented? Sticking with the fall theme, you again take your thematic unit and make it fit Science ideas. In my classroom we took a fall walk. Each child had a bag and picked up things along the walk and we took them back to the classroom and put them in our science area and in the “fall box”. They also went on a fall walk at home and were allowed to bring things back to share. The science area is a great way to incorporate your thematic unit.

6. Where can I incorporate reading, writing and spelling? I love to have a word wall that covers words we will use in our writing. I also have a word of the week I introduce that goes along with our theme. For example I tell my students we are studying fall but fall is also sometimes called autumn. Books in the writing and library center that cover the theme we are doing each week also enhance the students vocabulary.

Find Ideas here: Make and Take books to use with your students

7. Can I cook with my students? Cooking in the classroom is one of my very favorite things. So if I am continuing my fall theme, I would bake the seeds we counted, and we would sprinkle different things on them, sugar, salt and even cinnamon. We would also make pumpkin pie in a baggie. Cooking teaches: organization, math concepts, following directions etc. There are so many different things you teach using different themes and concepts.

Find Ideas here: Cooking in the Classroom

(Here you will also find a list of classroom mascots I used in my classroom. Each week along with the theme I had a mascot with a name that began with that letter that was with us all week. Find the letter of the week and the mascot it will provide you with a list of recipes to make with your students).

8. Is there background and history that can be shared? I like to share history of different themes, such as Thanksgiving, how to plant a seed and grow a pumpkin etc. Many times we can incorporate technology here and even a book.

9. Where is Art appropriate and what skills will it cover? Fine motor: cutting, gluing, tearing, stringing beads (pumpkins, leaves) etc.

10. Large motor skills that can be incorporated? What games can you play and incorporate your theme that allow students to develop gross motor skills? The fall walk could also be incorporated here. As you read through the ten ideas, you see that your thematic unit will cover a broad base of curricular areas and you can even add any others you would like. This list is only an example. I just made sure to cover my mandated curriculum along with what I know to be developmentally appropriate. In the next article, you will see how you can set up centers using developmentally appropriate themes and ideas.

My challenge for you is to begin incorporating some of these thematic ideas. Take your time, as it does take time to organize, plan and implement. Good luck, and enjoy the themes you use. Thematic units will engage your students in their own learning, they will become better problem solvers and be able to work in a collaborative group.

Great resources about Thematic Units

http://www.njtesol-njbe.org/handouts/BridgingtheGap.pdf

http://www.units4teachers.com/

http://store.oblockbooks.com/themes-holiday-seasonal-celebrations/


This guest post was written by Tisha Shipley. Tisha has a doctorate of education in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught multiple grade levels at Moore Public Schools, including pre–K and gifted 3rd–6th graders.

You can find Tisha online in these places:

Website
Twitter
Pinterest
YouTube

Great Teachers

notebook-and-pen

What kind of teacher are you?

Would you like to be better at what you do?

Are you at a point where you want to change, or can change?

Do you self-reflect and continually change?

What qualities do you possess that make you the kind of teacher you would want your child to have, or your grandchildren to have?  

As I taught, I would think of my nieces and nephews and what kind of person I would want for them to have as a teacher.  I tried my hardest to teach each child in the way that would push them to succeed. What makes a great teacher? What qualities are vital to be looked upon as a great teacher?  This is about what qualities makes a great teacher in my opinion, which comes from amazing teachers I’ve had, I’ve observed, interviewed and worked with.   How many of these qualities do you possess?

A Great teacher:

  1. is organized, prepared and is present each day. Your presence is about time and giving each child your full attention—you may be the only present adult in their life.
  2. is educated about children, families, communities, relationships and understands they are held accountable for their teaching and profession.
  3. is a researcher (always looking for current and changing/updated topics, ideas, assessment and curriculum).
  4. is kind, loving, understanding, knowledgeable, trustworthy, timely, efficient, fun, bold and one of a kind.
  5. makes mistakes (and learns from them and changes)
  6. self-reflects  (what can I do better?  How can I do it better? Why do I need to change?)
  7. builds respectful and reciprocal relationships (with families, the children and other colleagues) He or she gets to know each child one on one.  The great teacher is relatable to the family. The great teacher attends after school events, finds out about the family, makes positive calls home and keeps in constant contact.
  8. attends professional development opportunities and uses what they’ve learned in their   classroom and is always willing to learn more.
  9. facilitates an engaging and developmentally appropriate practice classroom where children are learning and making mistakes. He or she teaches procedures, expectations and routines.
  10. builds a classroom community that includes high expectations for all students—greets all students each day at the door as they arrive. To build a classroom community a great teacher has children help set expectations and makes each responsible for their actions. A great teacher gives children responsibilities in the classroom that make the classroom community run smoothly. They also allow the children to have a purpose by contributing to that community.
  11. mentors, collaborates and shares with colleagues and other professionals in the field.
  12. models professional, positive attitudes, morals and behaviors and sets goals for his or herself.
  13. is adaptable and willing to make changes
  14. have a repertoire of community resources to help families and children.
  15. Is an advocate for children and his or her profession

How many of these great teacher qualities do you possess?  How many are you willing to take on or try this year? Great teachers come in all shapes and sizes.  You probably have other ideas to add to this list.  Print these off, add your own ideas of what a great teacher is and does.  Strive to be the best you can be for your students and their families.


This guest post was written by Tisha Shipley. Tisha has a doctorate of education in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught multiple grade levels at Moore Public Schools, including pre–K and gifted 3rd–6th graders.

You can find Tisha online in these places:

Website
Twitter
Pinterest
YouTube

Let’s learn about our fossil friends!

Dinosaur_Collage

Get ready to travel back thousands of years and explore the world of the dinosaurs! There is something incredibly fascinating about these creatures, and we are here to unveil the mystery. Build nests, paint, play with eggs, fossils, and even look at their poop! Grab your magnifying lenses and take a closer look at the past.

Check out a list of Pinterest activities, songs and books that we have gathered to have some fun with Dinosaurs!

Kaymbu takes on Digital Yearbooks!

With the end of the year coming to a close, we wanted to create a momento for parents and students so they could keep everlasting memories. After lengthy brainstorming, the team came up with the great idea of digital yearbooks with photos, videos, and a slideshow for each child! Everyone at Kaymbu worked for months to develop this idea. From the design of the product to the creation of it, everyone came together to make this project happen.

When asked about his inspiration and enthusiasm behind the digital yearbooks, Kin said “We send daily communications to parents from the Kaymbu system, but as a parent of a young child, I thought it would be a great to have a collection of these special moments to save”.

Once the idea was developed, it was time to create a design concept. We turned to our friends at Bolt and got help from the industrial designer Joshua Harris. He came up with a sleek design which included the following parts:

dy_collage_2_720

With the design ready, it was time to start production. While the CTO, Gui Pinto, created over a thousand slideshows and got the flash drives ready, Archanaa Sundraraj, the Marketing Manager, began laser cutting and assembling some of the pieces. “The hardest part was automating the generation of a thousand plus unique USB drives. It wasn’t just thousands of USB drives with the same pictures, but instead, each USB had its own set of photos,” said Gui. He had to work very diligently just like the rest of the team.

dy_collage_720

When we asked Archanaa how she felt about the process, she said “It was a mixture of excitement and a lot of hard work. The highlight was watching everyone collaborate: each person making the individual parts and then coming together to create a product that parents will love and treasure forever”.

After we had spent over 15 days creating each individual piece, it was time to assemble them! When we began this process, it was taking an extraneous amount of time, so we decided to try an assembly line. In one day we put together 800 digital yearbooks, but the next challenge was taking them all to the post office.

dy6_720

In the following days we finished all of the 1213 orders! We hope that with this product you can enjoy the precious memories with your loved ones. So, what is your favorite thing about your digital yearbook?


This guest post was written by Carolina Caldas Ramos. She is a high school student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School about to start her senior year. When she is not busy studying for the SAT, she likes going on bike rides and watching documentaries.

Learning about Transportation!

How many means of transportation can you think of? Which one is your favorite? Which do you think is more eco-friendly? There are so many questions surrounding this theme that we thought it would be a great idea to explore it more. There are dozens of means of transportation all around us and we rarely stop to think about them!

transportation_collage_720

Check out our Pinterest Board filled with fun activities, creative snacks, and educative books to explore the different ways of getting around. Who knows, maybe you and your little one will be the next people to invent an innovative transportation system!

Take Flight: Learning about Birds!

bird_theme_collage_720

Who doesn’t love waking up on a hot summer day to birds chirping? This is the perfect season to venture outside and explore the world of our feathery friends. From their delicate wings to their sharp beaks, there is so much to explore about birds! Join us on an adventure to learn more about them!

Crafts
Birds are one of the most majestic animals, and nothing is more majestic than a peacock! Their vibrant colors, beautiful beak, and glamorous feathers will catch your little one’s eyes in a second. Check out this activity on how to make a beautiful peacock craft with just a few materials:
http://www.clareslittletots.co.uk/2015/06/peacock-craft/

Outdoor Activities
Since we can never get enough of the summertime, it’s essential that we spend as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors! Also, what is better for learning than hands on experiences? Explore the natural habitat of birds in this awesome guided “All About Birds” scavenger hunt.
http://inspirationlaboratories.com/birds-scavenger-hunt/

Sensory Tub
Everyone knows how much the little ones enjoy getting their hands dirty. Sensory tubs are a great way to teach the kids about bids and what their lives involve while also allowing them to stimulate their senses. Play a background soundtrack of birds chirping while you do this activity to add on to the experience.
http://totallytots.blogspot.com/2011/03/whats-in-tub-birds.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+TotallyTots+(Totally+Tots)&utm_content=Google+Reader

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFFRm0vNnh4

Books
Reading is a great way to learn more about something and it allows the imagination to run wild! Check out this amazing selection of books filled with educational information and beautiful illustrations.
http://delightfulchildrensbooks.com/2011/07/08/birds/

Snacks
Have you ever wanted to feel like a bird? You can get one step closer with these incredible snack ideas which are super easy to find! This will make you and the kids wish you could eat like a bird everyday!
http://mynearestanddearest.com/eat-like-bird/

Bird Feeder
Now that you’ve eaten like a bird, it’s time to feed our fluffy friends! Create a very simple bird feeder out of pinecones and watch as the birds fly over to snack on your delicious treats.
http://mynearestanddearest.com/bird-treats/


Now go outside, get excited, and explore the world of our feathered friends. With this ample variety of activities you are sure to spark the minds of your creative, adventurous, and curious kids as they learn more about a great animal!