Star Reporter, Unique or Going it Alone?

I'm really going back and forth with how to set up my themes for next year.  There is much that would be appealing about going with a packaged program but at the same time I'm struggling with finding a program that I can get excited about the whole package.  There are certain themes that I like in both of them but then there are ones that I either don't like or I know will be too American content heavy to use.  

I am really drawn to the idea of building a classroom newsletter as is done in Star Reporter but also wonder if I really need a packaged program to just go ahead and do that.

So after checking out possible themes from Unique Learning System, Ablenet Star Reporter, Aimee Solutions, and Mayer-Johnson Curriculum Companions I have decided to just try to create my own themes and perhaps buy some materials from Aimee Solutions and Mayer-Johnson as a starting point for building my themes.

Right now I'm looking at the following monthly themes:
September 2010: Individuality: Our main project for this month is going to be having each student create a tri-fold display about themselves. We will then take an afternoon, set these up in the gym and invite other students to come in and get to know our students better.

October 2010: Looking Good: Our main focus for this unit is going to be related to grooming and taking care of ourselves. We will go on a trip over to a local cosmotology program and have them groom us all up. We will also be doing a spa day in the classroom.

November 2010: Where Can I Buy It?: This topic will be related to what store we would go to buy different things. Our CBI trip for this month will be a mall scavenger hunt. We will tie in an upcoming Chistmas gift exchange to this trip as well. 

December 2010: Celebrating Jesus' Birth: We are Catholic school so we will take a few weeks out of our regular schedule to study and celebrate the Christmas season.

January 2011: Music Mania: This one is going to be fun. We will look at different types of music, make musical instruments and do a mathematics study in voting and data display/analysis.  We will probably also dive a bit into the study of sound.

February 2011: Super Science: Science Fair time!  We will create projects based on personal interest and then share our displays with the school.

March 2011: Mexico (Cinco de Mayo): Lots of great stuff to study as we explore Mexico - its clothing, music, culture, food...etc.

April 2011: What Should I Wear?: This is both a study of weather and of clothing.  We will be looking at what clothing is appropriate for what weather.  Other topics to explore are the concept of hot/cold and precautions to take in various weather conditions.

May 2011: Food and Nutrition: Lots of great stuff to do as we study food and nutrition. This one would not be complete without a couple of trips to the grocery store and perhaps even out for a meal somewhere!

June 2011: Camping Out: Just a fun unit to end the year :). 
My thought is to create a classroom newsletter each month.  I do want the students to participate in creating part of the newspaper and am thinking of using some of the same ideas as what Star Reporter does and brinking them in to smaller groups to work on their section of the paper.  I will, however, add a few sections tht are just meant to be informative for parents.  Here are some of the things I'm thinking about.  Realize this is a brainstorm at this point and it probably won't end up being all of this!
Classroom Update: This will be a general update on what is going on in our classroom. It will be a place to celebrate accomplishments of each of our students and of our class as a whole.

Feature Article: This is one of the ones that will be done by one of the groups of students.

Reader's Review: Each month we will study a couple of different pieces of literature - these could be books, articles, sections of magazines...etc. This section will be about student responses to the literature we are studying.

Social Connections: I got this idea from looking at information about Star Reporter. I think this will help me make a more conscious decision to create some social opportunties for our students each month. 

What's Cooking?: We do monthy cooking as a group.  We also have several students who will be working on a lunch programs where they plan out, grocery shop and make their own lunches.  Updates on all of our classroom cooking will be included in this section.

Create It!: We are housed in a fine arts focused school so it is only fitting that we include a section to celebrate all the things that we create in our classroom. 

Beyond Our Classroom Walls: This section will include updates related to the things we do in the community.  This includes our community based instruction program, weekly hydropool visits, community based leisure activities, PCI Environmental Print excursions, and shopping for lunch program.

Photographs: This will be a section for photographs of things that are going on. I want to include this because so many of our students love photographs and this will open up more opportunties for parents to talk with their children about classroom going-ons.

Therapist's Corner: This is a section that I'm leaving open for the therapists that come in to our room.  I will send out an e-mail to them each month to find out if they want anything included.

It's Sensational: When I create themes I always add in sensory activities. I want to include a section on what these activities are as so many of the students enjoy them and parents may want to re-create them at home :).  As well, there are often lots of great pictures to go with this section!

Religion: This will just be a general update on what is going in our religion class :).

Current Events (news-2-you): I'm thinking of still doing news-2-you and then will include anything that might be important to put in this section.  This is a section that may or may not be there from month to month.
So there is what I'm thinking as it stands now.  I know things will change as we go along and I'm looking to only dedicating 3 or 4 afternoons to this project each week so will have all the other stuff going on as well.  Although it still needs a lot of tweaking, I'm very excited to be heading in this direction!

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