December 28, 2012

Measuring and Counting

The week before Winter Break we took a little step back from addition and subtraction to do a short unit on measuring and counting strategies.  

This short Investigation started by having the kiddos trace each other's feet.  Of course, the kiddos loved this!  They worked carefully to trace around their partners' shoes and get an outline of each foot.  Then we talked about different ways to the we could measure our feet.  I briefly introduced words like perimeter, length, and width as the kiddos made suggestions for measuring around or across the outlines.  We eventually decided that we would estimate the area of our feet by filling the outlines of our feet with square inch-tiles and counting the tiles. 

As the kiddos arranged and counted their tiles, I walked around and took notes on their strategies.  I made suggestions to individuals and partners about how to improve their accuracy and double check their counting.  Some of the kiddos counted the tiles as they put them on the outline and again as they took them off.  Some of them slid each tile off the outline as they counted it, while others organized their tiles into stacks or piles and counted at the end. After everyone had a completed the task, the kiddos shared their strategies with the class. Then we recorded our total numbers on a chart.  

The chart started like this: 

Once we had our chart, I posed the question to the kiddos, "is this the easiest way to organize our data?"  Our next unit is going to focus heavily on graphing, so I wanted to the kiddos used to the idea of different ways to organize information.  The little guys suggested that perhaps we could group the like numbers together.  I pushed them further to think about how we could write the numbers to quickly tell what size was the most and least common and which numbers were the biggest and smallest.  Eventually, our chart looked like this:

The next day, we tried different materials to measure the area of our feet, such as pennies.  This was a great anecdotal assessment of how high the kiddos can count, since most of their outlines held 40+ pennies.  After break we will be working on counting, writing, and reading numbers over 100!

Addition v. Subtraction

A couple of weeks ago, the little guys and I started discussing strategies to solve subtraction story problems (see post).

Just as the kiddos were getting comfortable with this idea, I threw in a new twist ... addition and subtraction word problems on the same page!  In order to solve these problems, the kiddos had to determine if the problem required addition or subtraction.  For this, I really focused on visualizing and retelling the action of the story.  We also noticed that word problems often have key words that suggest either addition or subtraction. 

I knew that taking this next step would be challenging, and although I tried to make it seem like a very exciting step, some of the kiddos were still a litte wary.  In order to make things as easy as possible, I wanted to create an anchor chart that contained tips and strategies the little guys could reference as they went about tackling these problem sets.  

Here is what I came up with:

So far it has proved very helpful!  When a kiddo comes to a problem that he is not sure what to do with, I encourage him to check the chart for key words and then choose a relevant strategy.  As one of my adorable kiddos put it, pointing to the chart, "This really helps me!" As a  class, they are getting better at deciding which operation to use and choosing logical strategies.  

{from Investigations Math, 1st Grade}
Some of the kiddos have even moved on to "challenging word problems" which take a little more thought and use slightly larger numbers. They continue to reference the chart thoughtfully and are beginning to internalize the strategies that work best for them. I love math anchor charts!  

Geography Field "Trip"

My school is fortunate to be located near many museums and cultural landmarks in DC.  A few weeks ago we had planned a trip to the Library of Congress to explore their maps department, as part of our Social Studies Geography Unit.  However, just before the trip, we found out that the maps wing was going to be under construction and we would not be able to visit. The kiddos were very disappointed; we had been building up to this trip for a few weeks.

Thankfully, the staff person who typically leads this program (the first grade has gone on this same trip for the last few years) offered to bring a few of the resources and materials to our school.  I was a little apprehensive, but I think this on-site field experience was possibly even better than the original off-site version!  The librarian came to the school in the morning spread out maps on the tables in our multi-purpose room.  She was able to deliver her presentation to both of our first grade classes as they sat on the carpet, instead of awkwardly in the hallway of the Library of Congress.

The program focused on how maps can be made on any surface, with any type of image.  We got to see maps of houses, neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and the world.  We also saw birds-eye view maps, 3-d relief maps, and color key maps.  The classes' favorites were the map on a pillow, the map on the basketball, and the map on a yo-yo.

The kiddos then got to spread out around the room and explore the materials independently, with guidance from the teachers.  The little guys' rotated around the room while we offered suggestions and questions to encourage them to look, read, and discover more on the maps.

This field experience is one step in the creation of our own class map of the world.  I'll be posting more on that project after Winter Break.

How-To Celebration

At the end of each Writing Unit, I try to plan a celebration to remind the kiddos just how much we've learned over the past few weeks.  I usually try to find a way to share our finished writing with another class or our families.  However, for this How-To Unit, we were wrapping up just before Winter Break and some of the kiddos were leaving early so I didn't want to plan something that required every student to have a finished piece. Instead, I decided to plan an afternoon of celebrating that would allow families to see how much the kiddos had learned and let the kiddos have a little winter fun.

As a class, we had just read The Gingerbread Man, by Jim Aylesworth (this book is part of our Text Talk Vocabulary Program), and I knew the kids would love to make their own gingerbread cookies.  I found a few "How to" videos online about baking and decorating gingerbread men.  On Friday afternoon we watched the videos and compared the video's structure to our own books.  The kiddos noticed pretty quickly that they all included an introduction, ingredients list, warnings, and a closing.

Afterward, each kiddo got their own cookie to decorate.  My amazing Room Parent and wonderful parent volunteers donated all of the cookies and the decorations.  After the kiddos decorated their gingerbread, they filled out their "How To Decorate a Gingerbread Cookie" books to teach family and friends how to decorate a cookie just like theirs.  They had a great time and I think the families really enjoyed seeing the writing process in action.  We ended up with some great stories and even more delicious treats!

(Yes, it was also Pajama Day, which made the celebration all the more fun!)


We have reached a milestone in first grade... starting subtraction!  Subtraction is a big deal in first grade.  The kiddos know it exists and they get the general concept, but it still seems like a bit of enigma.  Last week we finally figured it out!

Our Investigations Math curriculum has a lot of games that introduce and reinforce concepts, so we started by adapting some familiar math games from addition games to subtraction games.  The kiddos practiced counting back and using doubles and familiar number combinations to find the difference between two numbers.  Most of the kiddos were able to do this pretty easily out loud and on their fingers.

Then I introduced subtraction story problems.  The most challenging thing about subtraction seems to be remembering which strategies to use to solve a subtraction problem.  A lot of kiddos are so comfortable using addition strategies that they get themselves all confused by drawing the wrong picture or trying to count all instead of counting back.  Therefore, I spent a lot of time this past week retelling the sequence of events in subtraction story problems and modeling what happens when we subtract.  We used counters, fingers, and pictures.  Then we created an anchor chart to remind us of the subtraction strategies we know.

The kiddos have been doing a pretty good job of incorporating these strategies into their mathematical repertoire.

December 16, 2012

How-To Writing

This week we are finishing up our procedural writing, or "How-To Writing," Unit.  This unit is one of my favorites because the kiddos always come up with the best ideas for stories to teach others. Since this is my first post about How-To Writing, I'll start from the beginning.  

As with our other writing units, we began by creating a "What is How-To Writing?" Anchor Chart.  We developed this chart by reading a few mentor texts, including Walk On: A Guide For Babies of All Ages and How to Babysit a Grandpa.  The kiddos always love these books and they get really into the concept of writing their own how-to stories.  I think this unit gives the kiddos self-confidence as they realize there are a lot of things they know how to do, even as six- and seven-year-olds.

For Pre-Writing, the kiddos brainstormed a list of things they could teach others.  Some of their topics included, "How to Be a Big Brother," "How to Catch a Baseball," "How to Draw a Cat," and "How to Play Piano."  For each idea, they also had to consider their audience, or who they wanted teach.  Throughout this unit, I continued to refer back to their chosen audience because authors have to make sure that each step in a how-tos will help future readers.  After we drafted the basic steps of the how-to, we added lists of materials or ingredients, warnings, and a closing to wish our readers "good luck" as they try their new skill on their own.  

This unit makes good use of writing partners.  The kiddos relied on their writing partners to check the order of their steps and make sure they had included appropriate warnings. As we moved into revising and editing our drafts, writing partners also helped suggest more precise language that could help readers follow directions more closely.  

Now it's once again time for publishing.  For this unit, though, we will not be having a school-wide Publishing Party.  Instead, we are going to celebrate within our class by sharing a class-wide how-to activity.  More on that to come...

Read-Aloud: Enemy Pie

One of my favorite parts of the day is Read-Aloud.  I love reading books aloud, using voices, building excitement, and sharing the language of literature.  I especially love when I get to read one of those books that draws kids in, has them holding their breath, giggling, and whispering along; books like Caps for Sale, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Strega Nona.  When I taught pre-K, these were the books I would read again and again just for fun.  I was a little nervous when I started teaching first grade that these books would no longer hold the same appeal, but fortunately books like these never really seem to get old.

This week, I read one of these great books, Enemy Pie, as part of our Voices Literature & Character Education Curriculum (by Zaner-Bloser).  Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson, is a Reading Rainbow book, as so many classic books are.  The story is about a boy whose father offers to bake "enemy pie" to help get rid of the boy's newest enemy.  Unfortunately, enemy pie only works if you spend the whole day with your enemy first.  The kiddos love hypothesizing, along with the boy in the story, about what horrible ingredients must be in enemy pie. At the end of the story, the boy, his father, and the boy's enemy sit down to eat enemy pie, only to discover that it tastes amazing and doesn't cause any weird side-effects. The little boy, along with my curious kiddos, wonder why the pie hasn't worked but simply conclude that it must be because the new kid has become a friend.  I love walking away from the carpet hearing the kiddos continue to whisper about what must really be in enemy pie.  Oh, how they can be cute!

Inferring with Blues Clues

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been "getting to know our characters" during Readers' Workshop.  This unit focuses on summarizing, identifying character traits, making connections, and inferring.  We have had a lot of fun reading about some favorite characters including Olivia, Franklin, and Arthur.  During the first part of the unit, I encouraged the kiddos to stay close to the text.  We put post-its in our books to mark our thinking and made text-to-self and text-to-text connections to help us understand our characters better.

When it came to teaching inferring though, I needed the kiddos to think beyond the text.  On the suggestion of a colleague, we started inferring with wordless books.  We used the image of separate "text clues" and "schema" puzzle pieces coming together to create an inference.  Wordless books are great for getting kiddos to realize their schema, or prior knowledge and understanding of a topic.  However, I wanted the kiddos to think about the text as well, so I had the idea to try a Blue's Clues book to teach the next step in inferencing.

I wasn't surprised when my "big kid" first-graders balked at the idea of reading a "baby book" like Blue's Clues.  But I persevered, ignoring their eye rolls and groans.  Then I avoided pointing out that every one of them called out "a clue, a clue!" on the first page with Blue's paw print.  I've always enjoyed Bue's Clues, and appreciated the concept of the show even more after reading Malcolm Gladwell's analysis of the show in The Tipping Point.  It turns out that even big first graders can benefit from the structure of the story (the books follow the same layout at the TV show).

Within the first few pages, the kiddos were eager to solve Blue's mystery.  A few pages later I had the kiddos make inferences about what Blue might want using the first two clues and their schema.  One of the books we read was called Blue's Frustrating Day.  In it, Blue is on her way to a birthday party but is frustrated about something.  Two of Blue's clues were a bow and a string so the kiddos inferred that perhaps Blue was frustrated because she could not tie a bow on a present.  Their schema told them that when you go to a birthday party you often bring a present.  After the final clue, a shoe, we revised our inference using the new information.  We determined that Blue was frustrated because she couldn't tie her shoes.  The kiddos took it one step further though, by inferring that Blue needed to wear shoes to the birthday party because people dress up for parties.  It was great to see them getting into the story and making thoughtful, logical inferences.  I think we are well set up to start inferring in other books!

December 4, 2012

Morning Meeting Attendance

The Investigations Math Curriculum for 1st grade has a variety of "Classroom Routines" which rotate throughout the week and provide critical thinking and basic skills practice.  One of these routines is taking attendance.  Although I learned early on in teaching that I should fill out the attendance record while the kiddos did Morning Work, I still have the kiddos "take attendance" each morning because it gives us an opportunity to practice counting strategies.

In the beginning of the year, I led the attendance count by suggesting ways of keeping track of our count.  By now, the kiddos are leading most of Morning Meeting and our Attendance Counter has the job of leading this part.  I encourage the Attendance Counter to think of a new way to count the class each day (kiddos hold their job for the one week).  Sometimes everyone starts standing and sits down after being counted, sometimes each kiddo stands as he is counted, sometimes just the first person counted stands to mark the beginning of the count.  We are also starting to try more sophisticated ways of counting, such as making pairs and counting by 2s or making groups of 5 and counting by 5s.

After the Attendance Counter shares how many kiddos are present, we record it on the SMART Board. At first I recorded how many kids were present and absent by using cubes.  We started with a tower of 23 cubes (the total number of kiddos in our class); then we counted out how many were present, and discovered that the remaining cubes represented the absent ones.  For the past month, we have been writing an addition equation to show the attendance:  Here + Absent = Total.   Sometimes the number Absent is quick and easy to calculate (for instance when everyone is present), but I've also been able to suggest counting on from the number present.  Today we tried to create a subtraction equation as well.  We talked about what each number in the equation would represent in order for the equation to be true.

Although we have done the same routine for months, adding new ways of counting and recording the attendance keeps the practice fresh and encourages critical thinking. I can really see the progress as we get better at understanding numbers and what they mean.

December 3, 2012

Publishing Night

We finally had our Publishing Night last Thursday and the event was a success!

I set up our classroom with the kiddos' stories on their tables.  Every story had a cover page and an "About the Author" page on the back with the author's picture.  Around the room I put the anchor charts and Mentor Texts we used during our Personal Narratives Unit.  As the kiddos and their families entered, I encouraged them to read and share their stories and then to leave "Notes for the Authors."

This turned out to the best part of the evening!  The kiddos' notes to their friends were too cute!
Note 1:  It is 2nd the 1st best.
Note 2: Jack, It sounds like you had fun on Thanksgiving. Try a little more finger space. Your friend, Jude
Note 1: I love the colors. From Cate
Note 2: You taked (sic.) your time and added details. Nice Story.

On Friday morning the kiddos were so excited to read the notes they received on their stories!

Problem Solved

Last week during Morning Meeting I noticed a disturbing habit developing among my kiddos.  Some of the kiddos were shaking their heads and saying, "Not me," under their breath when it was coming up on their turn to be selected.  I brought this observation to the class and I saw lots of recognition around the circle.  The kiddos were quick to share that sometimes they don't want to switch seats and move away from their best friends and sometimes they want to be the last one standing (when we do an activity that has us sit down after our turn).  Then we talked about how this might make everyone else feel and how it might affect our class community.  We agreed that this was a problem because it did not make everyone feel welcome.  Finally, I asked the kiddos for suggestions to solve the problem.

We have been working on problem solving all year.  I started by teaching the kiddos that solutions always need to be related, respectful, reasonable, and helpful (this language comes from Positive Discipline).  This is a challenge for little ones who often think of punishments before solutions.  As we started talking about possible solutions to this problem, the first few solutions were not surprisingly more like punishments, such as, having the culprits sit out of future greetings and activities until they were being kind or skipping offenders in the circle.  However, the more we talked, the more the kiddos began to consider ways to prevent the problem from even occurring.  Eventually we settled on two possible preventative solutions: 1) the kiddos could come to the circle separately and choose a place to sit away from close friends so they wouldn't be tempted to resist moving and 2) we could make assigned seats around the circle so that no one would feel uncomfortable about moving if necessary.

At this point, I told the class I would consider both solutions.  Of course, it seems that I've taught them too well about how to solve problems fairly because immediately one little sweetie suggested that I let the class vote.  It was hard to argue with her logic since truthfully both solutions were acceptable to me.  So this morning we had a vote.  I had the kids close their eyes and raise their hands. The kiddos voted (20-3) to have assigned seats.  When they opened their eyes and I announced the winning solution the kiddos started fist-pumping with excitement.

I couldn't help but smile.  I could never have imagined such a positive reaction to the idea of assigned seats for class activities. In fact, I suspect that had I forced the idea of assigned seats on them as a "punishment" or consequence, I would have heard lots of complaints and frustration.  Yet when they could appreciate the problem and come to the solution on their own, they were more than willing to accept the idea.  We immediately created a chart with assigned circle seats and by the afternoon the kiddos were already reminding each other where they needed to sit.  Love it!