I need help spicing up second grade.
September 28, 2009 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Since I don't necessarily care if I get fired at the end of the year, what can I do to make this a memorable and completely awesome school year for my second graders?

At this point, I'm planning not to continue teaching once the current school year ends in June. Since I don't want another teaching position after this, getting a stellar end-of-year performance review isn't a concern (I also have former supervisors who can vouch for me). I want to end this part of my life on a high note, so what are some kick-ass short- and long-term projects, crafts, songs, lessons, books for story time, and field trips (New York City) that are low-to-no cost and that will make this one of the most memorable years of these kids' lives? I'll have to cover all costs myself--the kids all live in abject poverty--so anything that requires very little capital investment and parental involvement would be preferable. Supplies I already have: two computers, a laser printer, a stereo, an overhead projector, rolls of butcher paper in a wide assortment of colors, basic craft supplies, and a switchblade I confiscated.

I'll give you extra credit and a scratch 'n' sniff sticker if you can think of a way to turn all the boogers under the desks into art.

posted by HotPatatta to Education (58 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you're supposed to give them homework, don't. Second graders don't need it.
Give them plenty of time to move around and play. An extra 10 minute recess in mid-morning and again mid-afternoon, even just of playing a quick game of Mother May I in the classroom, would be way cool.
posted by katemonster at 5:51 AM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'd disagree with katemonster and say you should do something that they'll still remember in a year.
posted by dmd at 6:08 AM on September 28, 2009

Art? Boogers are food. Home Ec!

Anyway- Jump into lots of creative stuff. Finger paint. Silly arts and crafts. Read them a lot of books. Spend some serious time decorating the classroom with stuff they made.
posted by GilloD at 6:08 AM on September 28, 2009

From Ms. Vegetable:

Ask them. What do they want to do each day? Or even for the last hour?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:13 AM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm a little unsure why you mentioned the part about the review not mattering...are you planning on doing something illegal? You may have decided this is not for you, but your obligation is to the students to make sure they learn the material for second grade, not that you have a good time the rest of the year. You made a commitment and should honor it to the best of your ability.

Having said that...

I disagree with katemonster's suggestion. Homework in second grade is indeed necessary, if for nothing than the practice of doing something outside of school and disciplining yourself to do it, because it's something they'll be doing for the next 10 years. Being that teacher that didn't give homework will spoil the students and make all the rest of their teachers the bad guys for giving it to them. It shouldn't be seen as a negative, but a practice and reinforcement of what they learned that day. Make it practical and meaningful and definitely have them read at home.

And that would be my focus. Books and reading. Books are something that "kids that live in abject poverty" don't get enough of. It's just not a priority when a parent is having trouble getting money to put food on the table. I would work with local booksellers and maybe even contact Scholastic to see if you can get great deals or even freebies. One of my favorite teachers shared her appreciation for books by reading to us everyday after lunch, like a nice break before we got into our afternoon session. It was also a great way for her to model reading aloud with inflection. Short chapter books (Treehouse Mysteries, Ramona, etc) would be best for that grade. Didn't you love being read to as a child? When I taught older grades and was pressed for time, I'd whip out a Shel Silverstein book and read a poem or two.

Friday afternoon sings would be a great way to reward the students for working hard all week. Camp songs and silly songs work best.

The overhead projector can be fun for art projects. Trace a pattern onto clear plastic, put it on the overhead and then shine it on a wall where you've put up a big piece of that butcher paper you've got. Kids can trace the pattern on the wall and then color it in when they're done. I've also done a cool art project where the kids lay down on the butcher paper and have a partner trace them. Round up yarn, old scraps of cloth, etc and allow the students to decorate themselves and hang them in the room. When the students contribute to the classroom aesthetic, they feel like more a part of the classroom community.

Team building act ivies are great too and help foster that sense of classroom community. A quick google will reveal a lot of activities designed for business team building, but many can be adapted to a younger grade.

I do love that you're trying to make this a memorable year for them. Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 6:16 AM on September 28, 2009 [11 favorites]

Though katemonster is right in that there's too much homework being given to the very young.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:17 AM on September 28, 2009

Oh and along dmd's suggestion, one thing that students have told me years after the fact that they loved doing was cleaning pennies. Just gather your old pennies (perhaps make it a fund raiser for books) and clean them with salt and vinegar.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:18 AM on September 28, 2009

How about you give them the best education you can? I mean, these kids only have one shot at second grade. It seems kinda weird to want to change the way you are teaching them to the extent you might get fired, just to satisfy something inside you.
posted by gjc at 6:25 AM on September 28, 2009 [10 favorites]

You should be doing the same thing whether you care about getting fired or not. The only other way to interpret your declaration is that you think that the school system (NYC's?) does not either know what is best for the kids or actively encourages you to do things that are not in the best interests of the children.

Second grade is such an important year for putting in a foundation onto which they will be building their entire academic career. Work on the fundamentals. Basic math skills, solid reading skills and how to get along with others are the areas I would focus on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:27 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Make an animated video movie like this. Make sure all the kids appear in the video from time to time.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:29 AM on September 28, 2009

One thing I think is super colorful, fun, kid friendly and could go in a lot of directions are the quilts of Gee's Bend. Can you build a lesson about very rudimentary geometry? How about talking about scrap, thrift and recycling? Talk about a part of the country most of them have probably never been to? Read a kid's book on the subject? Finally, have the kids build their own quilts out of paper or (if you can get your hands on it) scrap fabric, all glued to butcher paper or flattened out paper bags. If you built a day or two or more of activities that tied in to these quilts, you'd have something pretty memorable.
posted by piratebowling at 6:36 AM on September 28, 2009

Choose an interest of your own and teach it with passion. Or choose something new and learn a bit about it.

Here's some fun ideas: Chinese calligraphy, jazz music, the Mongols (always a crowd pleaser), astronomy, messy science projects weekly, folktales of a foreign country, especially ones about vampires, bizarre marine creatures, piracy/buccaneers from a solid historical standpoint, Dragons: fact or fiction?, etc. The history of Halloween is another great topic. learn about the culture of the native Americans in your hometown, if you are in the US.

Teach an art movement and present slides of famous paintings. Then have kids make pieces in the style of each one. Especially the last one, but all should have cheap activities or field trips that you could throw together. Invite graduate students from local schools in to do presentations like this about their fields. They would probably have fun and be happy with resume padding. You should absolutely pay for speaker's transport, but as a volunteer gig payment would be appreciated but not essential.

The super-easy route:
->Show several long documentary series about interesting topics. Archives.org is a great place to go for ideas, so is PBS. For great Asia related projects, see Asia For Educators. Stop a few minutes before the end of class so they can ask you questions.

->Invite speakers as often as possible. Reliable parents could come talk about their jobs or some significant moment in their lives. If the emigrated to the US, have the talk about that and let kids ask questions. Or if they have a special interest, say Dadaism, ask them to make presentation for your class

That said, I have major reservations about your plan. You're going to put kids who live in "abject poverty" possibly even further behind peers in their age group. If it were me hell-bent on such a plan, it would center on reading activities as much as possible. Plus, your idea seems rather selfish for a teacher, who has one of the most important and undervalued jobs in the world. (Of course I understand your wanting to move on.)

While you may not care about that reference now, you might need it sooner than you think, even if you have other good references. I get the sense that you are young.

Anyway, open the students' minds to things completely outside their world. Make your lessons of substance and interesting to. In a sense, by deviating from the reading and math skill expectations for their grade level you're doing them a gross disservice so the replacement curriculum had better be awe-inspiring.
posted by vincele at 6:49 AM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Depending on where in the city your school's located, can you walk to a nice park or somewhere with a lot of nature? You could do some simple natural science lessons (learn about different types of trees, clouds, rocks) and then go identify things in the real world.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:50 AM on September 28, 2009

As a former teacher myself, I don't see how not caring about performance reviews or getting rehired at the end of the year should in any way affect how you teach kids. I really don't. Your lessons should always be created and delivered with the best needs of kids in mind.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:52 AM on September 28, 2009 [10 favorites]

I second asking what the kids want to do. Maybe have them write down their names and an activity they want to do, toss 'em in a hat, and every day a new name is drawn. Or just their names, and they can pick an activity from three that you lay out (Drawing, reading, recess or whatever your kids like).

Try making normal work fun. One of my grade school teachers would quiz us and, if we got it right, we'd get tossed a piece of candy. Another teacher had a small shop set up, so at the end of every month we could shop with the "money" we got for doing well on tests, class participation or behaving in class. The money was just fake stuff printed off the computer. The stuff for sale was cheap junk but to us it was awesome. I'm 24 now and still remember that, so obviously it leaves an impression.
posted by caveat at 6:54 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

if the kids are living in 'abject poverty', are there any life lesson type things that would be useful for them later in life? Healthy eating (field trip to school cafeteria?)? 'Where veg comes from' (students bring plastic cups/bottles, you supply seeds and soil)? Money management (second graders might be a little young for this)?

What about 'career weeks'? It's been a while since I've been a second grader, but I remember doing a lot of this when I was that age, and I always said I wanted to be a teacher because that was one of the few 'real' jobs I had any experience with. So one week, you're running an office, with product developers, accountants [math lesson], secretaries [letter writing?], assembly line, marketers, etc. Week starts with students coming up with a product based on the supplies you have (hopefully they want to go into the card-making business). Then you discuss what sorts of materials they'll need for it and how much they'll need to make x products. Students write letters to suppliers asking for x many supplies to arrive by Wednesday. Students make the product and then have a chance to 'market' product by making posters, magazine advertisements, etc., which gives you a chance to discuss how they are being marketed at by advertisers. [On preview, this might be a bit better suited for slightly older kids, but still would be fun]
posted by brambory at 7:00 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

For the love of all things good and tasty, DO NOT DO THINGS THAT ARE A WASTE OF TIME. Don't "just let them play for the last hour." You won't make it 3 weeks, much less a year, and you won't be doing them any favors.

Also, these are second graders. What they don't need is drama, propaganda, or to be put in the middle of some bullcrap political stunting. I'm not saying that's what you're doing, I'm saying to ignore the responses that encourage it.

What they DO need is encouragement, high expectations, and an opportunity to learn HOW to think instead of WHAT to think. Play games with them that encourage free thinking, critical thinking, creativity, and individualism. Do book reports and show-and-tell but set crazy boundaries. (not a book in this room, not something the rest of us have ever seen before), etc.

Of course, the fact that you're so dour and jaded tells me that you should have already quit. That's a mean thing to say, but education is important to me. I have hope though, because you're not giving in a being a robot, and I like that.

Challenge other classrooms. Have your class organize a food drive or a book drive or build a Habitat house or a library in guatemala. Hold class elections, let them think of things to vote on for Friday Afternoons and then vote on them. Hold contests for best attendance, or work on team building exercises, or offer bonus points for spelling word sentences that rhyme.

Just don't waste time. Making creative use of time that encourages critical thinking and individualism is something that they will grow from and that they will remember, and it's teacher-of-the-year material. Bullshit "let's fight the man" will confuse them, upset them, get you fired faster, and not help them in the least.
posted by TomMelee at 7:11 AM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

> The only other way to interpret your declaration is that you think that the school system (NYC's?) does not either know what is best for the kids or actively encourages you to do things that are not in the best interests of the children.

He doesn't think that, he knows that. How about all you "OMG give them an education!!" people assume that the poster is a good teacher, knows what he's doing, and is not about to let all hell break loose and give the kids a bad start on life? He wants to teach them and give them good memories.

> Homework in second grade is indeed necessary, if for nothing than the practice of doing something outside of school and disciplining yourself to do it, because it's something they'll be doing for the next 10 years.

By that logic, they should be getting homework as soon as they can understand the concept. In fact, since they're going to spend most of their lives doing boring, meaningless jobs, why not make school as boring and meaningless as possible right from the start? What a terrible attitude.
posted by languagehat at 7:14 AM on September 28, 2009 [9 favorites]

Oh, and I'll give you an awesome insider tip for working with children and families from poverty. Don't treat them like they're poor. Don't expect less. Don't even mention it, because it doesn't matter. A good school, a good teacher, doesn't need capital investment from parents and it doesn't need (or want) all its kids on the same step of the learning curve.

Nobody "saves" anybody from anything. We change lives by engendering self empowerment.
posted by TomMelee at 7:16 AM on September 28, 2009

I honestly think that whatever interesting ideas you come up with are bound to polarize your superiors and colleagues, but that is just as likely to work in your favor when it comes time for your review, or later on when you are describing your experience to new employers.

Also I think you may feel like a better teacher when you have pushed outside the boundaries a bit, so I hope this year winds up leaving you with a lot of inspiration.

I don't remember anything I did in second grade, except for all the phonics exercises they made us do (which I was already nerdy enough to enjoy). But I will say that I was a sucker for anything related to the holidays, whether it was scary stories and drawings for Halloween, or making decorations for Christmas, etc. etc. These things had components that reached outside the classroom (it's almost Halloween at home too!) and drummed up anticipation for my favorite days of the year. Also I learned a lot of historical stuff about the holidays that no one had ever thought to tell me.
posted by hermitosis at 7:17 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do your job.
posted by downing street memo at 7:20 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I always thought making books was cool; writing the stories, doing the illustrations, and binding them forced me to learn about general structure and narrative. It could be a long term project that would include lots of reading and writing workshops, as well as illustration workshops, and the binding/ pasting day. They could finally share them with their classmates if they wanted to, and it would be awesome to take home.

I don’t think enough posters are giving you the benefit of the doubt re: your teaching plans. I assume you are going for fun AND enriching activities. I can understand where the confusion is because you seem to plan to go against district policy and the general 2nd grade curriculum. I think that’s a bad idea. Just try your damndest to augment it with awesome activities, who knows – maybe you’ll grow to love teaching again. Good luck
posted by Think_Long at 7:26 AM on September 28, 2009

Nthing "do your job". I know it's an awful thing to 'teach to the test", but what's going to happen if you play around all year, watching movies, etc. is that your kids are going to be even further behind once they've left your class.

Don't not assign homework or play Mother May I? in the classroom. Do read with them, often.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:30 AM on September 28, 2009

Response by poster: He doesn't think that, he knows that. How about all you "OMG give them an education!!" people assume that the poster is a good teacher, knows what he's doing, and is not about to let all hell break loose and give the kids a bad start on life? He wants to teach them and give them good memories.

Here's the thing: I don't want to get fired midyear, as that would make it impossible for me to give them the amazing year we're here to discuss. So I'm somewhat limited in what I can do. All hell can't break loose. Allowing that to happen is bad teaching and kids can't learn in a chaotic environment. I know that. I believe in state learning standards and I'm committed to delivering a standards-based education.
posted by HotPatatta at 7:40 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a big supply of books appropriate for your kids' reading levels (from library book sales, donated by others, etc.). Once a month (or once a week if you can get enough books!) let each kid pick their own book. Keep bookshelves in the classroom, make bookplates for each child to write their name on, and teach the kids to keep a library. You can relate their libraries to larger libraries by doing a field trip to the New York Public Library (both the main building at 42nd and 5th and a branch library with a good children's section) and make sure all the kids get a library card and know how it works. Let the kids explore these books on their own (make other reading assignments, but reserve their libraries for reading on their own), but check in with them and ask what they've enjoyed reading from their libraries from time to time.

Things this accomplishes:
1. Giving kids pride in themselves for taking care of their libraries.
2. Providing kids with a several books of their own (which most of these kids wouldn't otherwise have).
3. Introducing kids to several different kinds of books.
4. Giving kids the opportunity their own books, when before books have always been chosen for them.

All of these things are important for instilling a love of reading.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:47 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

HotPatatta: I’m a little confused about the types of activities you’re looking for if they carry such a risk of being fired. I know district standards are sort of rigid, but if you’re committed to delivering a standards-based education, then why are you so worried? Surely any activities you choose will not go against this general ethos and get you in trouble.
posted by Think_Long at 7:50 AM on September 28, 2009

Again from Ms. Vegetable:

Is there something you could build that would be a year-long project? I like the quilt idea, but what about building a small playhouse inside your classroom? Or building the giant ferris wheel K'nex project? Or a boxcar, like the Boxcar children?

Or ask them what they want to be when they grow up - and then help them get there. If they want to be the president, they need to know a lot about other countries, for instance. If they want to work in an office, they need to know about business meetings and how to run them. Maybe let them pick a career once a month and then they're that "character" for the month.

Take them on a behind-the-scenes tour of the subway system. Take them to meet the mayor. Take them to a city council meeting or to a school board meeting.

Or each day of the week, have a different subject going. Mondays could be science day - and do all those wonderful science experiments like markers on coffee filters, or making bubbles or clay, or baking soda and vinegar. Tuesday could be reading day, Wednesday could be math day, Thursday is body/PE day (healthy eating, movement, etc.)

Get a hamster.

Have them pick a subject a week - quilts, history, the city, art, whatever - and THROW yourself into it.

Math. Every day. Drill them with worksheets first thing in the day. They need to know basic math. I used to teach high school seniors who needed a calculator to subtract. Not ok. Reward them when the whole class gets the worksheets right.

Read. Aloud, individually, magazines, books, the newspaper. Read some more. I recommend the old school Grimms fairy tales, just because they're so weird.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:53 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was part of sort of an "alternative experiment" classroom in second grade. I still remember things about it, while the rest of elementary school tends to blur together.

Let the kids pick their own spelling words. We did a spelling test each week, and there was a word from every kid in the class. The kids who want to be lazy and put C-A-T balanced out those of us who put antidisestablishmentarianism on the list. Since we picked our own, it helped our vocabulary too.

Do you take attendance? We had an introduction to Venn Diagrams each morning. Each student had a magnet with their name on it, and each morning we got to vote on something via the diagram. So it would be something like "favorite flavor of ice cream" and you'd put your magnet in vanilla, or chocolate, or in between. The diagrams were fluid, so if someone came up and said "rocky road" the teacher would add the circle in as an option. I still remember the "best pizza in town" debate that raged for weeks.

Could you do something like a country a week, and integrate that into your regular curriculum? We did this, so each week we'd learn to count to ten in that language (math) and then learn a nursery song (music) and try a different food (home ec) and some basic geography and history. Costumes were optional, but we occasionally did do a craft that was related to that country. I am confident that a museum field trip would supplement this project.
posted by librarianamy at 8:02 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

What neighborhood is your school in?

I went to an elementary school probably close to what you describe. I remember in 2nd grade we sat in a circle and counted by fives, we used the computer lab to play Reader Rabbit, and my teacher got pregnant. So just remember after several years they're not going to remember all that much about you.. :-)

Trips to the library are good, as well as trips to a park or a museum. [I'm guessing you'd be near at least one of those options to walk]. Trips are good for breaking the monotony of lessons while still offering something educational, and poor children usually don't get to travel around much.

I don't have a great idea for long-term projects, but make sure each kid gets something to take home w them in the end. :)

One project I remember doing in 3rd grade involved us lining up in the playground to get polaroid photos taken, and then us making little photo frames with popsicle sticks to give to our moms on Mother's Day. In kindergarten we made Mother's Day cards by gluing buttons onto paper cards cut in the shape of a lady's head profile. You've probably heard of all these ideas before and more but I thought I'd throw them out there just in case anything strikes you. :P
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:04 AM on September 28, 2009

Keep snails in a snailatorium made of linked fizzy drink bottles.

Get them to sew two circles of fabric together, turn them inside out, stuff them, draw faces on with marker pen, then attach stuffed baby clothes as necessary to create dolls. Wool makes good hair.

Have a doll's tea party. If you can get hold of a portable oven, bake cakes. Invite the headteacher.
posted by emilyw at 8:11 AM on September 28, 2009

Response by poster: I’m a little confused about the types of activities you’re looking for if they carry such a risk of being fired.

Many teachers in NYC get fired every day for teaching the standards. The method is what gets some into trouble. Our school, for example, makes teachers follow an extremely rigid method for teaching anything. No matter what the material, we have to use the prescribed method, regardless of whether it's the optimal way to teach the content. There are countless requirements for classroom instruction and room environment that do nothing to improve the quality of instruction. I could list these requirements and bitch about them and let heavy-handed Mefites just tell me to "do my job," but that is completely beside the point of this thread.

Perhaps an example of what I'm looking for might help get this thread back on track. In second grade, students need to learn about rocks, i.e., what they're made of, how they're formed, texture, appearance, etc. An inquiry-based unit involving experiments with rocks would be a much more effective way of teaching the content. What are some experiments that second graders can conduct with rocks to allow them to discover the properties of rocks rather than hear the information read to them from a book?
posted by HotPatatta at 8:12 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Creative writing was my personal favorite around that age, so I second making books, which can be done pretty cheaply. Also, science experiments that are fun and create an end result, like plants or food or something, always went over big. Dioramas seem cheesy, but are fun and you could collect old shoe boxes. I also really liked putting on educational plays, like we did one about Lewis and Clark. You could do that with some construction paper hats and printouts

And let me tell you something about NYS standards. A lot of my friends from high school ended up with crappy jobs because of "teaching the test" and not making education interesting. That is the standard, and it's pretty useless in my opinion. Anything you could do to make what they must learn fun, should absolutely not be shunned.
posted by itsonreserve at 8:15 AM on September 28, 2009

Worm composting bins look pretty cool. Here's one link of many from Google. Eventually you could have the kids use the compost to plant their own bean plant or similar.

Have a big clear jar or two with little cheap rewards - little pieces of candy (or is this sort of thing not okay anymore?) or stickers, etc, and use that as a way to reward kids for good work - ie "Well done Jimmy, you can choose something from the reward jar". Obviously spread it around so it seems fair. Me and a few other people have specific memories of classrooms where the teachers did this.

I think letting the kids vote on stuff/pick stuff is also cool - subjects to teach, projects to do, etc. Picking your own spelling words is a cool idea.

Individual projects are always cool, especially when you get to choose the topic - like "my favorite animal" or something. If you have access to old magazines, kids can also make their own collages (old nature magazine or National Geographic are great for this sort of thing - maybe if you put an ad on Craigslist or something people would donate their old stuff to you?).

Go to a park on a field trip, and collect something (leaves, a rock, twigs, etc) and make something - ie painting/decorating a rock to make it into an imaginary animal, and then describing it to the class.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 8:16 AM on September 28, 2009

I went to what is known over here in Britain as a "bog standard" primary then comprehensive school without many resources, with a large number of students, and a somewhat jaded and tired teaching staff. Later I went to a university where a large number of students had been to private schools or grammar schools with lots of resources, and got to compare experiences.

The number one thing I wish I'd done at school which I never got to do? Drama and theatre. Doing drama, and going to the theatre. I grew up in a town with no real theatre believing that it was "not for me" and that only the snobbish rich went to see plays. Even when I left home for uni I continued in my belief that I hated theatre (and Shakespeare in particular) and that it had nothing to offer me.

I was totally wrong. Theatre and drama should be art for everyone, not just for the privileged. From your profile it looks like you're in NYC, a quick googling tells me there are loads of theatre events designed for kids. In the UK, theatres will often offer discounts or even free tickets to schoolchildren, particularly children from unprivileged backgrounds, and some of the larger theatres do "kids performances" of classics. You say the activity has to be low cost-- I guess there's nothing wrong with writing to theatre companies and saying guys, we've got no money for tickets, do you have a fund set aside to help children experience the culture which is their birthright. If they're smart, they'll realise it's an investment: children who grow up thinking the theatre isn't for them may never, ever grow up to go and see a play, if you start off early and build a consumer base who know that the theatre is for them too, they'll come back and back and back.

You might also think about writing to theatre companies and local drama groups (anything from the large and famous to the very small community groups) and asking if they have anyone who would maybe come in and talk to the class. Not just actors or directors: stage designers, stage managers, make-up artists, wig makers, costumers.

Aside from field trips and visits, have you thought about setting up a school/class play? There are loads of plays designed to be acted by children. If you have the time, you can have the class read through a selection and pick their favourite. If you have lots of time, get your kids to write or improvise a play about something that matters to them, something that's going on in their lives, a historical event that grabbed their attention, a fictional story they've made up. Buy a really cheap webcam and get your kids to take turns making videologs of their progress. It doesn't have to be stuck up online, necessarily. If you don't have the classroom time for this, perhaps an afterschool club? There are dozens and dozens of games and activities you can play to help teach drama skills. I've got a friend who's positively evangelical about the benefits of drama with kids, and if you're interested, do message me.

There's so much this is good for: reading skills, public speaking and performance, costuming, design. Even history and geography and social studies, if you do a historical pageant. Drama can be done on basically no budget, and you don't need fancy costumes or lighting to make it effective, or even a stage. It'll be useful later on-- kids that can't comprehend Shakespeare on the page, for instance find it comes alive on the stage in front of them. (I found this out three years into a three-year English degree and wish I'd learned it earlier.)

Probably the most important thing here is to get them to understand that "culture" is not remote and distant from them: it is both something they should be able to access any time they want, but also something they can create themselves. It's the best legacy you can give them.
posted by somergames at 8:31 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Based on your location, resources, and school rules, it may not be possible for you to have a classroom pet. Nevertheless, my upper elementary class raised ducklings from eggs last year, and it was an AMAZING learning experience for them. We candled the eggs, watched the ducklings hatch, recorded their mass every day (and were duly astonished at how quickly they grew), kept records of their growth and development in Duckling Diaries, and learned how to properly handle the ducklings. When they were old enough, my kids helped the ducklings learn to swim. I think this project could easily appeal to second graders; so much of the introduction to science is inquiry-based learning and observation. My kids were absolutely fascinated throughout this project, and it was a blast for me, too. (I was teaching in an impoverished area with few resources provided by the school, and all of the costs were out of my own pocket; I think I spent about $75 - 100 total, and it was SO worth it. We had a local farmer "adopt" the ducklings when they got too big for the classroom.)

Another excellent project that I did with my class last year was to transform the four corners of my classroom into four ecosystems. We mostly used "found" materials -- crumpled construction paper for vines, pipe cleaners, cotton for snow, etc. and I encouraged the kids to bring in decorations from home (with parents' permission), so we had rubber snakes in the "tropical rainforest" corner, a stuffed animal whale in the "ocean," etc. It involved a lot of after-school time for me, and we used some art-class time, as well, but it was a great hands-on way for the students to learn about ecosystems and to encourage their ownership of their classroom; they were really proud of their work, and my room looked awesome afterwards, too.

Finally, the very best field trips I've ever done have not been to museums or historical landmarks (though these can be fun., too). In spring and fall, I take the kids on one all day "field biology" walk through the local state parks. As we walk, we talk about all of the signs of the changing seasons, identify animals that we see (even if they're mostly squirrels), and answer questions that come up. ("Why do leaves change color?" etc.) Last year, we explored a small cave. We had a picnic lunch. The kids, who were not regularly out in nature during their everyday lives, LOVED this. Highly recommended.

Second grade is a great time to explore good books, too. James and the Giant Peach is a fantastically fun book to read with that age group. If you can find a local children's theatre company, coordinate their reading curriculum with a play that's being produced (this is actually pretty easy to do!) and take them to see a play based on a book you've just read as a class. Youth theatre companies, in my experience, are usually NPOs, and they charge only $1-2 per ticket (at least in my area). The kids will be amazed to see children their own age acting in such a professional production. Very cool.

Good luck -- have an amazing year!
posted by Spinneret at 8:32 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

It may or may not be appropriate in your situation, but 2 things I remember from second grade (nearly 40 years ago now) were the time Mrs. Miller took us all out to see her new car (a red Camaro, I think; I mainly remember her opening the hood to show us the engine) and the time she took us to her house (in groups of 2 or 3, spread out over a couple of weeks) to see her fish tank which which was bigger than the one in our classroom. These may seem like small things and very different, but I speculate what made them so memorable is that they were the first time I was exposed to the concept that teachers were people who had a life and interests outside of school.
posted by TedW at 8:33 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Read out loud to them -- regularly, every day.

This has the benefit of being something of a treat and being good educationally, but an aspect of learning to appreciate literature that is usually neglected in schools (especially in these days of teaching to the test).

I'm not talking picture books, but something that you can read a chapter, or a few pages, a day -- say 15 or 20 minutes at a stretch, long enough for them to get into it but not so long that their attention wanders. If you are are really good at reading out lout, voices etc., so much the better, but you don't have to be Jim Dale for kids to appreciate it; most kids like getting read to and few of them get enough of it.

You want books that continue from day to day so they look forward to finding out what happens next -- this implies fiction, but there is probably some non-fiction that would work too. I expect you already know books that would suit, but if not a good children's librarian would love to point you in the right direction.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 8:40 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

For the lesson on rocks, why not have them grow salt or sugar crystals? A big bonus is that the materials are quite cheap.
posted by brambory at 8:45 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have them make album covers. Play some music and have them create album covers of their interpretation of a song. Use the computers to show them classics like Sgt. Pepper, etc. for inspiration.

A switchblade? Um...not part of the supplies I would suggest for any project.
posted by stormpooper at 8:47 AM on September 28, 2009

I have been wanting to tell a teacher about this activity all week, since I remembered that I did it as a kid and I LOVED IT:
Use the overhead projector to beam light onto the kid, while there is a piece of black construction paper behind said kid. Trace kid's head's silhouette in chalk or white crayon, and have them cut the silhouette out. Then have each kid write a one-page "bio" of themselves that doesn't give away any super obvious details, but will enable other kids to guess whose picture and bio is whose, if they are all displayed on a wall. Mount the silhouettes and the bios together on a big paper, and then post them up, let kids guess whose is whose. Totally fun, and can help them exercise some social skills--they are introducing themselves and practicing recognition of important identifying characteristics about themselves (which can also be self-esteem boosting), and then they might need to ask each other questions to guess who's who.

Another more emotional development type of activity is a compliment game. Each kid can anonymously write something they like about every classmate, and you can assemble the compliments into a little booklet or collect them in a paper bag that they can each decorate, etc... the boost in self-esteem that I see in kids when I've done this with them is INCREDIBLE.

I also love the idea of letting them make up dramatic interpretations of stories that they come up with, about themselves or events that they study. Kids at this age are still really interested in dramatic and imaginary play, so this would be really exciting for them.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:21 AM on September 28, 2009

I went to an elementary school that practiced project-based learning, and not a day of my formal education has gone by that I don't miss it more than anything. Some of my favorites from around that age:
--Post Office: We made a mailbox for every classroom in our school, and students could write letters and send packages. There was a standardized addressing system and a regular pickup & delivery schedule, and we transformed our classroom into a sorting & routing station. We learned about weights & measures for science and manipulated postage amounts for math; in social sciences, we read about the history of the postal system (Pony Express!) and learned how the post office was administered by the government. We went on some really rad field trips to the biggest post office in our city and got to go behind the scenes at the dead letter office, etc.
--City Planning: we turned our classroom into a scale model (made of paper, toothpicks, etc.) of our ideal city--complete with zoning, municipal facilities, etc. (this was in 3rd grade!) Math was geometry based, science had a lot to do with plumbing & recycling, and social sciences involved things like trips to city council meetings & research on municipal codes. I fondly remember some classroom visits from architects as well.
--Circus: I wasn't in this one but I wish I had been! The third grade class took 3 months to plan and put on a circus, which involved learning about the history of the circus, investigating the biology of circus animals and the politics of their treatment, and culminated in actual performances (which meant P.E. integration. I think the whole school had to learn how to juggle that year.)

I realize these are all elaborate and required quite a bit of planning on our teachers' parts, but they were amazing experiences that cemented a love of learning and exploration. (Oh, and this was an inner city public school--all of these projects required working connections and involving the local community, but not a ton of money.) What I think was really important and gratifying was not just the integration of several subjects, although that was key in teaching us the relevance of each subject, but also the feeling of accomplishment. At my school, every classroom would be working together for months on their particular project, and there would be a big presentation night each quarter with food and presentations. We would run around in big chattery groups from classroom to classroom, eager to see what our friends had been working so hard on and excited & proud to show off our work to our classmates and relatives. If you could find some way to turn your students' second grade year into a project or series of projects, I think they will remember it for a long time.
posted by kelseyq at 9:22 AM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Here's a link to some projects at the school I went to:

It looks like the structure of project time has changed somewhat, but you might get some ideas from there. For example -- "2/3 Tim and Maya's classes will be making a chair- to do so, they will study how the muscular/skeletal system allows a person to sit in a chair"--what fun!

Also, service learning--there is a ton of info on the web about it, but the main gist is that if you teach your students in a way that involves contributing to the community in concrete ways, they will not forget it. Yes, they're little, but can you take them volunteering at an NYC park? (They could learn a lot about rocks that way.) One project (from when I was a little older) was focused entirely on Golden Gate Park, and we went on a fieldtrip literally every week and did volunteer work in a different part of the park. I learned a ton about the City & the park that way, and I still drag people to check out the tree I helped plant when I was 11. There was less of a strong project element to that class but being outside & in nature for hours every week was incredibly good for my mental and physical health.
posted by kelseyq at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2009

Perhaps an example of what I'm looking for might help get this thread back on track. In second grade, students need to learn about rocks, i.e., what they're made of, how they're formed, texture, appearance, etc. An inquiry-based unit involving experiments with rocks would be a much more effective way of teaching the content. What are some experiments that second graders can conduct with rocks to allow them to discover the properties of rocks rather than hear the information read to them from a book?

No matter what you do, you're still going to have to transmit knowledge somehow, and that often comes from a book; writing out notes is something every student can do - it's easy, and allows you to build on the success (successes) are important and experiment with more complicated and creative exercises later on, once the students understand your style, and grow more confident in what they are doing.

But you need to establish a firm base for experimentation by creating successes, and you do this by giving the kids easy, concrete activities to do:

Pictures of 5 different kinds of rocks on your Powerpoint
Pencils, crayons, paper (notebooks)
1 or 2 sentence description of rocks on Powerpoint
Real, physical examples of the actual rocks

Kids write the rock names, descriptions in notebooks. When they have finished they can draw pictures of those rocks.

As the kids are writing in their notebooks, pass around examples of the rocks so they can hold and feel them.

Later on, to test knowledge, play hangman (total physical participation) or word search (individual activity) with the vocab.

Get a box. Take the top off, and cut off one side. Turn the box so the open side faces the class. Break class into teams. Call up a team member. Make it so that he can't see into the box, but the rest of the class can. Without showing the student what it is, place a rock in the box. The student has to guess what kind of rock it is. [This next bit might be too advanced for Grade 2 students] Students on his team can help by calling out the description of the rock. They can also spell out the name of the rock. If they call out the actual name they get fewer points, or perhaps lose points.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:36 AM on September 28, 2009

I love the book-binding idea -- though what to put in it?

Reading a long book to them (like Trumpet of the Swan) for 15 minutes a day is great if you're not already doing it. You might let them make suggestions, but also pick something a tiny bit above their level that will still grab their attention.

Write a story with them (or pick one they all know) and then put on a play. Or make instrumewnts with them and play music. (But no recorders: bah!)

Teach them about art: how the eye follows a triangle, for example, or how perspective & the vanishing point works. We did this in fourth grade and I've never forgotten it.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:43 AM on September 28, 2009

Following up on what wenestvedt wrote: I remember very little about elementary school but I still remember that my third-grade teacher read us Charlotte's Web. I still love it and re-read it.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:09 AM on September 28, 2009

Doing the salt crystals with the pencil and string is one of very few things that I remember from school. I also remember floating paperclips.

Getting to Central Park might be a stretch but it has some very interesting rocks. I think it would be very instructive to take the kids around. Here is a link with some details about the geology.
posted by shownomercy at 10:16 AM on September 28, 2009

Why not make NYC your theme? You could get a big map and "visit" a different part of the city each week as a theme. What's it's history? What's it like today? How do you get there? How long does it take? What type of buildings are there? I'm sure there's some math that could be done as well.

Bring in people from the city to talk about what their jobs and how they fit with the fabric of the city: the cab driver, the corner store owner, the restaurant owner, the city planner, the parks bureau worker, the garbage collector, the window washer, an artist, stagehand, and teachers!
posted by vespabelle at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2009

languagehat, you quoted me: Homework in second grade is indeed necessary, if for nothing than the practice of doing something outside of school and disciplining yourself to do it, because it's something they'll be doing for the next 10 years.

and then you replied:
By that logic, they should be getting homework as soon as they can understand the concept. In fact, since they're going to spend most of their lives doing boring, meaningless jobs, why not make school as boring and meaningless as possible right from the start? What a terrible attitude.

But I feel you were quick to judge my attitude as "terrible" as you only selected part of my quote, which I see as a cheap shot. I had also written:
It shouldn't be seen as a negative, but a practice and reinforcement of what they learned that day. Make it practical and meaningful and definitely have them read at home.

Homework is a fact of life and speaking as a teacher who works with many students who are living in abject poverty, anything that strengthens the home and school connection is a good thing.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2009

Contact your local rockhound/geology club about a classroom visit or two or maybe even to accompany you and the kids on a field trip. I know the ones here put on whole day exhibitions open to the public, and they LOVE the kids that show up to them. The make available rock "grab bags" for very little money which are fun to open and mess around with. Often the members are older grandparent types who really enjoy sharing their interest with anyone who will listen.
posted by jvilter at 11:31 AM on September 28, 2009

Hit up your local comic book shops and get back issues of kid-friendly books for classroom reading, then let them make their own comics. Back issues of kid stuff should be cheap, especially if the shop's sitting on a pile of old Archies or Free Comic Book Day stuff that isn't bagged and boarded and isn't going to sell.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:16 PM on September 28, 2009

I think anything you can do to help kids see the connection between what they are learning and the world that surrounds them outside the classroom is great, and is likely to leave a lasting impression. For rocks, you could go on a series of "rock walks" that highlight rocks in the urban environment. Are there rock outcrops in any nearby parks? (This website might help with research.) Is crushed stone used on a driveway or rail bed nearby? Are you near a shoreline protected by riprap? Are there any stone buildings or other structures? Talk about why people would choose to use rocks for building things (rocks are very hard and durable; some rocks are good-looking; etc.). Can you get the kids anywhere within view of the Palisades? The geologic specifics may be over their heads, but you can at least point out that hey, there are some big rocks around here! You can maybe even use neighborhood examples of concrete, asphalt, and brick to talk about why these things are LIKE rocks, but are NOT rocks.

If you post some of the other subject areas that you need to cover this year, mefites might be able to help brainstorm more specific activities.
posted by Orinda at 12:23 PM on September 28, 2009

Or ask them what they want to be when they grow up - and then help them get there. If they want to be the president, they need to know a lot about other countries, for instance. If they want to work in an office, they need to know about business meetings and how to run them. Maybe let them pick a career once a month and then they're that "character" for the month. (a robot made out of meat)

This one sounds so cool. I would have loved this when I was a kid.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:20 PM on September 28, 2009

I don't know if I have any great ideas, but as a former teacher I just had to jump in here and say I totally get what you are asking and where you are coming from and the folks who are all "do your job" don't understand a thing about how school districts work.

I would follow the kids as much as possible, get them up and away from the classroom as much as you can. I'm thinking NYC has great transit for pretty low costs for kids. Any type of field tripping to see real life examples of what you are learning would be great. Like the rock formations in central park and how the island of manhattan was formed, a mechanic shop to understand combustion engines, a seamstress/tailor to find out about textiles, things like that. Museums, theatre, there just has to be a load of this kind of stuff in NYC. I know the logistics may be hard or impossible, but they will remember going places and meeting people much more than they will remember reading/getting lectures.
posted by Bueller at 1:39 PM on September 28, 2009

(Background: I was once a 2nd grader in NYC, my mother has been an elementary school teacher there for 20+ years, and I have worked as an educational coordinator in NYC summer programs)

The best and most memorable projects were ones that were long-term and involved many different smaller activities and events.
Take a unit on the History of New York City, for example. You could make this a whole year project if you really wanted to stretch it out.
- As a class, write a newspaper from the 1660s. Each kid contributes an article (or an illustration) about Peter Stuyvesant, the purchase of Manhattan, the building of Wall Street, etc. etc.
- In small groups, write and perform skits of major historical events (my group's was about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, for example). Have the goal be for each group to teach the rest of the class about their event. Invite parents to watch if that's appropriate.
- Take a tour of your school's neighborhood and create a big map on one wall. Integrate math: how long is a city block? Have them estimate, then come up with a way to measure. Use different units: sidewalk squares, fire hydrants per block, etc. What's the scale of the map? If you mapped all of the city (or Manhattan, or Queens, or whatever borough you're in), how big would your map need to be?
- Learn about different immigration trends. Have them interview their families about when and why they came to the city and share with the rest of the class (if you're teaching in a NYC public school, you will probably get some good stories)
- Take a lot of field trips! I have no idea of what's free or low-cost to schools, but the Queens Museum of Art has an incredible panorama of the whole city that I still recall with wonder more than 15 years after seeing it.

Basically: take an idea--a time period, or a place, or a people or culture--and just learn the hell out of it from every angle, using a combination of individual work, small group work and whole class projects. Integrate drama and art (usually lacking in most public school programs). Have the kids teach to each other. Allow the kids to get some biographical aspect in, if possible (everyone is engaged when the subject is themselves).

Other miscellaneous ideas:
- End every single day by reading out loud to them for 15 minutes to a half an hour (adjust accordingly to the attention span of your class)
- Have an individual quiet reading time every single day
- Make math as fun as possible. Set was always a popular game around that age. Dominos, mancala, Uno, etc. are all good ways of tricking kids into using math/logic.

As an aside: the best thing I did when I was working directly with kids was to introduce them to the public library. Most of them had NO idea that this resource to borrow books (and movies, and music)--for FREE--was available to them, and a lot of the kids were thrilled at the idea of picking out their own books to read after being given no choice in reading material in school. I went to a schmaltzy private elementary school where every two weeks we'd go to the school library and take out a book or two each, but if your school doesn't have a great library selection, see if you can arrange to take them to the public library once or twice a month. If you do one thing for your class this year, introduce to them the concept of reading for pleasure.
posted by cosmic osmo at 2:45 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

My third grade teacher read all of the Caldecott Illustration Award books to our class. My sister and I both had her and we both still remember a lot of them. I am now collecting them. It made a huge impression on us both.
posted by fyrebelley at 2:58 PM on September 28, 2009

Re: rocks

My teacher used graham crackers and cake frosting to demonstrate the breaking and moving of the tectonic plates and magma being pushed to the surface. Something like this.
posted by cosmic osmo at 3:04 PM on September 28, 2009

As for the rocks thing...I went through the stage where I was collecting rocks...they were just the stuff from the empty lot next door, but my mom had been a geologist (which I didn't know at that point in my life) and she taught me about the Mohs Hardness Scale by making me a scratch plate to rub the rocks on and see what kind of marks they made...by throwing a dinner plate on the floor and using the soft sides on the broken bits! I'll guarantee that throwing a dinner plate on the floor in front of the kids will make an impression :) I couldn't have been more than 5, and I still remember it at 40 :)
posted by legotech at 4:09 PM on September 28, 2009

> Homework is a fact of life and speaking as a teacher who works with many students who are living in abject poverty, anything that strengthens the home and school connection is a good thing.

Not at that age. We'll have to agree to disagree.
posted by languagehat at 6:09 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Should I sell my Banksy?   |   significantly negative about the education I got... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.