Setting the Stage for Exploration and Involvement

By Victoria Jasztal on August 26, 2009

A new school year has begun in my classroom, and I feel it is important to make connections with my students as well as my parents as soon as possible. This post is split into two parts: Special Mini-Projects I Give Students in the First Week and Ways I Communicate with Families Immediately.

Special Mini-Projects I Give Students in the First Week

1. Me Bags-
Students fill bags with items that mean a great deal to them. They have five minutes to talk about why they chose those particular items. Our class this year has one student who is new to our school, so this gave the class the opportunity to learn more about her interests and family. Here are some items that my students have placed in their "Me Bags"-

- Sports team photos
- Photos of family and friends (older and newer)
- A gift you have received that you have considered to be special
- A reward that was earned (academic, sports, scouting, other)
- Letters that were written to you or cards that were received
- Baseball with autographs from a team
- Historical memoirs
- Postcards
- Books or special yearbooks


2. How Your Family Uses Math at Home-

Students write about how their families use math at home. They must write ten sentences or more.

Questions to guide thinking-
-Does anyone in your family use math in their job?
-When your family goes grocery shopping, how is math used?
-When you cook dinner, how is math used?
-What does your family do when they budget their money?

Students are encouraged to think in a creative manner and come up with original ideas.

3. What's in a name? I encourage my students to ask their parents about the origin of their first names (and middle names, if possible). Here are some questions-

-Were you named after someone?
-What is the origin of your name?
-What names did your parents consider before choosing your name?
-Why did they choose your name?
-What is your name's country of origin?
-What is your nickname? How did you get that nickname?
-If you could change your name, what would you name yourself?

After answering those questions, the students can write their name in a creative way at the bottom of their sheet (fancy writing, swirls, block letters, in a pattern). Additionally, they attach a small picture of themselves from when they were very young. 

Additionally, I give two surveys over the course of the week (one that focuses around general interests/favorites) and one that particularly focuses on reading interests.

Ways I Communicate with Families Immediately

1. Students keep an organizational binder called the jPod (Jasztalville is Prepared and Organized Daily).


The jPod binder consists of these sections-

-Class Handbook
-To-Do Lists
-Reading Log
-Folder for notes and handouts from the school, to sign and return or to keep at home
-Heavy-duty poly folder that holds homework assignments that are being assigned and returned
-Plastic zipper pouch to hold incentive money (a system we use school-wide)

The binder helps with organization (which at this age, is critical) and parental involvement because all papers that go home are able to be located easily. I encourage families to look at the binder every night and sign their child's agenda.

2. Additionally, I give families a survey asking how I can best teach their child. It addresses strengths, areas in which their child needs assistance, interests, and activities in which their children are involved outside of school. Immediately, I tell families that they have several opportunities in which they can volunteer in our classroom (from science experiments to celebrations), and I ask what they are willing to do either from home or in our classroom to assist.

More ideas may be posted over time, but this is what I have done this week to let families know I value their thoughts/suggestions and encouraged students to find creative ways to "explore" themselves.


Do you send home the bag for them to put items in for their "Me Bags" or do the kids just bring their own bag in? I really would like to do this with my class.

I can't wait to try the me bags!!!! Too cute and the connection you have made with your students is so valuable!!!

... Wonderful!! I'm willing to see pictures if you take any. The kids truly love that activity every year. - Victoria

Victoria, I just tried out the "Me Bag" today, and I loved it! I learned a lot about my students that I may not have ever learned about. It also tied into my writing curriculum nicely since we are initiating writer's workshop by working on personal narratives. We talked about how objects sometimes jog a memory and how they also help us tell stories about our lives. Keep up the great work on Scholastic!

I tried your "Me Bag" idea this week, and it was wonderful! I learned so much about my students that I may not have heard about if I hadn't given them the opportunity to share it. Also, I felt like it fit perfectly into my Personal Narratives lessons from Lucy Calkin's Units of Study, especially because of the mini-lesson about using objects as an inspiration! Thanks for the idea! . . . . . Absolutely, Amanda. The students really enjoyed it this year and learned quite a bit about one another. Then this Friday, they will be bringing photos to school again, as they will be decorating their composition books for writing. - Victoria

Hi, Love many of your ideas! I want to use the writing activity "nutritional facts", but I am not 100% what the kids are expected to write...could you send me a little more description please? School starts 9/1 and I want to use it that day to coordinate with another activity. Thanks!

Hi, Kim- Did you see the "nutritional facts" in a .pdf file on my website? For that activity, the students basically fill out the lines and they say what they are "made of" for "ingredients" like humor, wit, sarcasm, talent, etc. Mine complete it in the middle of the year because I like to incorporate self-exploration projects (and mini-projects) throughout the school year.

FYI, also- receiving the "Ways We Use Math at Home" was awesome today. Some students had amazingly creative ways their family uses math at home.

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