January 31, 2013

Night at the {First Grade} Museum

Last night was Museum Night!  Around the school, the excitement was palpable among the teachers and kiddos.  After working for weeks, and often months, Museum Night is the celebration of a lot of preparing, learning, designing, writing, and producing.

However, it was not a night off for the kiddos!  When they arrived at our exhibit that evening, I handed them their official docent name tags, which read, "My name is ______, Ask me about ______."  Under "Ask me about," I had filled in the names of the different locations that they had written about for our map project.  (Mine said "Ask me about Nothing! haha)

The kiddos were extremely proud of their stickers.  They stood near the exhibit and eagerly told their parents, siblings, and neighbors about the animals they had created, the labels they had written, and the learning webs they had drawn.  As a class, we had prepared and practiced answers for common questions like, "What are the continents?", "What is an ocean?," and "How did you make your animals?"  (I had also sent an email to parents encouraging them to ask these and other questions to get the kiddos talking).

The families seemed very pleased with the learning and creative work our kiddos had done.  A few parents even said they were learning new things!  Almost no one who finished high school after before 2001 had heard of the Southern Ocean (which was first designated an ocean in the year 2000).

Although many of the kiddos stayed in our end of the hallway for most of the evening, they also got to tour the school to see the exhibits in all the other classrooms.  It was wonderful to have former students come up with their Docent name-tags and invite me to come see their imaginary class community or the cityscapes they had sculpted.   I didn't make it to every classroom last night, but, fortunately, got to see most of the exhibits in the hallways when I got to school this morning.

We will probably keep our map up for another week before we take it down to make room for the next celebration of learning :)

Informational Books

It's nearly February!  Somehow, in all the excitement and busy-ness of the past few weeks, I never posted about our Writing Unit.  For the past couple of weeks, we have been working on writing Informational Books.  Last year when I taught this unit, I didn't love how it turned out.  We had the kiddos do "research" in nonfiction books to write their stories and we ended up with a lot of confusion and fair amount of plagiarism.  This  year, I really wanted to focus on the kiddos coming up with their own topics and use nonfiction books simply as mentor texts.

We began this unit by brainstorming about topics we know a lot about.  The kiddos came up with such great topics!  Some of their ideas included "soccer stadiums," "cats," "the Wii," and "bowling." After they had their ideas, we learned how to make a web for our topic.  The main topic went in the middle, and then the "sub-topics" went around the outside.  We discussed how all of the sub-topics would need to be connected to center topic.  We also talked a lot about how our informational books were going to teach other people, so we would need to make sure that we included the answers to questions that others might have about our subject.

Once we had our Pre-Writing done, the kiddos moved on to drafting.  I intentionally scheduled this Writing Unit to align with our Nonfiction Reading Unit so that we could have over-lapping mini-lessons.  For instance, in reading we talked about how the Table of Contents shows us the sub-topics covered in the book; then in writing, the kiddos drafted a Table of Contents for their own informational book.  We also looked at how pages were organized in nonfiction books and discovered that they often have "Interesting Facts" insets, "zoom-in" pictures, and labeled diagrams.  The kiddos tried to add many of these features into their own writing.

Finally, the kiddos spent the last week revising and editing their writing to include comparisons (such as "a soccer field is as long at 100 cobra snakes" or "when you do a cannonball, you will make a splash that will hurt will like a shot"), proper punctuation, and correct capitalization.  I pulled out the trusty "Features of Easy to Read Writing" Anchor Chart but addd the new punctuation and capitalization rules that we've learned (i.e. commas, colons, and capitalizing names of places).  

Tomorrow we are going to share our informational books with the other first grade classes.  In reading, we've been practicing reading like narrators (...post on this to come soon), so this will be a great opportunity to highlight our Jeff Corwin voices.

January 30, 2013

First Grade Curators

Museum Night is almost here.  The first grade curators have been working hard to put the finishing touches on our exhibit.  

I explain to the kiddos that part of curating an exhibit is ensuring that visitors to the exhibit will be able to learn from the artifacts and displays.  They thought back about visiting the Natural History Museum and how we had learned about the animals there.  They decided that they would need to have some writing about the regions they had learned about.   They worked with in their table teams to create webs for each continent and ocean, and a web about the major mountain ranges.  Each web included a title, picture, an interesting fact, description and location of the region, and a list of some of the animals that live there.  

We also wanted to ensure that our visitors would be able to recognize everything on our map of the world.  To do this, the kiddos made labels for the continents, oceans, and mountain ranges.  They wrote and posted their labels in the proper place on the map.  (I labeled all of their animals with a label maker so they would be small and wouldn't interfere with primary focus of the exhibit.)  They have had lots of practice with labeling in writing, but it was fun to have such a hands-on experience with deciding what to label and how to label it.

All of our museum projects are closely aligned to the DC standards for first grade.  For this project, we focused on our geography standards:
  • Social Studies 1.1.1 Locate the cardinal direction (e.g. north, south, east, and west) and apply them to maps and globes.
  • Social Studies 1.1.4 Label the continents, oceans, and mountain ranges on a map.

Of course, we also incorporated a lot of other standards throughout the development and planning, including the Common Core ELA standards for reading and writing: 
  • RI.1.7  Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
  • RI.1.10  Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, tables of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text.
  • W.1.7  Participate in shared research and writing projects

Here are a few picts of the final product.  The kiddos are so excited to share it with their families and friends!

January 29, 2013

Would you rather...

Recently, we had "survey day" in first grade!  This is one of my favorite days in our math curriculum.  Both the first and second grade students have been learning about collecting and representing information from surveys as part of our data analysis units.

In the morning, a small team of second graders visited our classroom to survey the first graders.  They were collecting data about how many teeth each first grader had lost (their answers varied from 0 to 9).   I love that the second grade survey day corresponded with ours because it makes the progression of learning very evident.  My kiddos were so excited to find out that they would get to survey other classes when they get to second grade (if they become excellent surveyors!)

In the meantime, they developed questions to ask their own classmates.  The kiddos worked in partnerships to think of a "Would you rather" question. A few of their questions were:

  • Would you rather read mystery books or fairy tales?
  • Would you rather watch a movie inside or play outside?
  • Would you rather eat strawberries or a banana?

After they had their question, each partnership had to plan out which parter would ask the question and which partner would record the responses.  They also needed to determine how they would record the responses.  I made sure that they had class lists, colored cubes, blank paper, and colored pencils available to choose from.  Many of the kids used the class list to make sure they got around to everyone in the class.  Each partnership got a chance to go around the room and asked their question (while the other kids worked on story problems in their math books).  

After the groups finished their data collection, they made representations of their information using pictures, tally marks, cube towers, or names.  They also answered questions about how many total students answered their question, which response received more responses, and what information was surprising or interesting from their survey.   This is such a fun lesson because the kiddos are very invested in accurately collecting their data and making representations. They also get to practice some important partner skills as they negotiate and compromise about the question they want to ask and how to divide up duties.  

Now the kiddos are interested in turning everything into a survey... oh boy.  

January 28, 2013

Animal Artifacts

Last week, our class went to the Natural History Museum to learn about the animals that live on each continent and in the oceans.  Now we are using the information we learned to build our class exhibit on the map of the world.
Continents (minus Europe and Asia)

A few months ago, we began learning about the continents and oceans as part of our geography unit.  We are building our final project for this unit on the bulletin board in the hallway in front of the classroom.  I started by drawing the continents on green paper.  I asked parent and student volunteers help cut out continents and then we pinned them on the board.

Once we had the backdrop done, I started animal project by assigning each table of kiddos in my class (there are 3-4 kids at each table) one of the 5 oceans, and we had one table that worked on the major mountain ranges.  (In the other first grade class, each table was assigned one of the 7 continents.)  The kiddos got to look through books and pictures online to learn about the animals that live in their particular region (continent, ocean, or mountain range).   Once they had an idea of the animal they wanted to create, they started to draw their animals.

After the kiddos had their sketches, they cut out their shapes from colored felt.  We started with just the background color, but then the kiddos got to choose "accessories" such as sequins for scales, googly eyes, feathers, and textured felt for spots and designs.  Our sweet Art Teacher lent us all the materials for the kiddos to add to their animals.

Finally, the kiddos got to pin their animals onto our map of the world, according to their continent, ocean, or mountain range of origin. The animals turned out so cute!  These artifacts are an important part of our Museum Exhibit that we will share with our families later this week.

Here are a few of my favorite animal artifacts :)

January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Last week I took some time to talk to my kiddos about Martin Luther King Jr. and why we have a special day to honor and remember him each year.  I started the discussion by asking the kiddos what they already knew; most of them said "he was killed" and/or "he fought for peace." While both accurate, we clearly did not have the whole story. Fortunately, my assistant teacher and I were able to extend the discussion by reading a nonfiction book about MLK Jr. Day during our guided reading lessons.

Then, as a class, we read the book My Brother Martin, by Christine King Farris.  There are a few things that I love about this book. First, the pictures are gorgeous. Secondly, I love the perspective that this story provides on such an influential man.  The story begins with Christine describing the birth of her younger brother, whom she calls "M.L."  Throughout the story, we learn that M.L. was a typical kid; he enjoyed running around with his siblings, playing pranks, and listening to stories from his grandmother.

We also learn that despite being well protected by his parents, M.L. eventually had to face the harshness of segregation.  In particular, Christine shares how M.L. was shocked and hurt when his white friends, the children of local business owners, announced that they could no longer play with M.L. and his brother A.D. because the boys were black.  This incident was a turning point for M.L. and got him thinking about how things might be different in the future.

Finally, I appreciate how this story focuses on how and why MLK became a great leader, but does not spend much time talking about the trials he faced in this role.  The story does not even mention his assassination.  Although this is obviously an important part of MLK's history, I know my kiddos will have plenty of time to learn about that part.  For now, I'm happy to teach them how one small boy could identify injustice and grow up to change it.

I chose to do this read-aloud in two parts.  I paused the story right after M.L. had learned that the white family in his neighborhood would not let their children play with black children.  This gave my kiddos a little time to process and think about this difficult reality. When we came back to the story later in the day, the kiddos were incredulous that there could have been a time when children couldn't play together or attend school together simply because of their skin color. When we finished the story, one little guy raised his hand and shared that his cousin attends a school where only boys are allowed; he said he hoped that someday this too would change.  So cute!  I didn't bother to explain that his cousin might attend a school with a single-gender education philosophy -- I was just glad that he was anxious to identify something that might be unfair and look for an answer.  Hopefully all of my kiddos will be equally inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.

January 20, 2013

Morning at the Museum

I don't know where last week went!   I'd been out sick on Thursday and Friday so I felt a little off my game on Monday. Even though my wonderful assistant teacher led the class perfectly and the kiddos were ready to go when I returned, I still felt like I was playing catch up for most of the week.  We had a lot going on between assessments (we're nearing the end of the 2nd quarter), a field trip, and preparing for a big event at our school next week.  Plus the sickness seemed to spread throughout the class so we had between 2 and 6 kiddos out every day, poor little guys.

Nevertheless, we managed to get a lot done, including a field trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to do "research" for our upcoming Museum Exhibit Night.  Basically, for this annual event each class prepares an exhibit based on their current unit of study, and then we invite families to come to the "opening" of our school-wide museum.  My class (along with another 1st grade class) is preparing a map of the world as a culmination of our geography unit.  We are building the map on our bulletin board and will add labels, animals from each continent, cardinal directions, a map legend, and posters with information about each continent and ocean.

Kiddos on the metro*
I feel very fortunate to be at a school that is so close to fabulous museums and other cultural institutions.  Since our school is right near the metro and the Smithsonian museums are free, these trips are cheap and relatively easy to organize.  As daunting as it may seem to take 45 6-year-olds on the metro, we typically take at least 2 trips to the museums each year.  Of course, we get plenty of chaperones and carefully plan our trips, but I've always had a great experience.  (One big tip I've learned is that if you get on the front car of the metro, the driver can see you and will make sure the doors stay open long enough for everyone to get on and off.)

As a Pre-K teacher I found that my kiddos did much better when we had a focused goals for a trip and stayed at a site only for a short time.  Whenever possible, it also helped if the teachers did not have a group of kiddos so we could rotate and assist parent chaperones as needed.  It turns out that this works really well for first graders too.  We organized this trip so that the kiddos had 30 minutes in the mammals hall and 30 minutes in the oceans hall.  For each hall, they had certain things they needs to look for with their group.  Each group had a clipboard to record the information they learned so we can refer back to it next week.

I actually spent this trip at our "homebase" watching the jackets (downside of doing a trip in January), but the kiddos seemed to have a great time and gathered a lot of good information to add to our exhibit.  More on the animals they are making soon...

* This picture was actually from 2011.  While we were on the metro this time I got caught up talking with the lovely woman next to me about our school and the kiddos so I didn't get to take any picts.

January 10, 2013

When a Line Bends

It's just about time to change our bulletin board again and I realized that I never posted our Shape Posters.  I put together this bulletin board at the end of our Geometry Unit.  We titled the board "When a Line Bends.... A Shape Begins," which comes from title of a book we read during this unit. Our Art Teacher actually uses this book to start off some of her art classes so a lot of the other classes were excited to see the phrase on our board too.

I used this board to display the shape posters that the kiddos made in math.  After we had spent a while identifying determining features of shapes,  the kiddos got to create posters to show what they had learned.  They had to work with a partner to sort a set of shapes into logical groups. They were allowed to choose how they would sort their shapes so this was a good way for me to see how well the kids understood the properties of the shapes. A lot of the kiddos used the idea of "round" or "curved" sides versus straight sides to sort their shapes.  A few partnerships grouped the shapes by the number of sides.

I think the board turned out pretty cute and the kiddos loved seeing each other's posters.  Next week we will have a new board though, in preparation for our Social Studies Exhibit.

January 8, 2013

Accountable Talk

Right before Winter Break I created this Anchor Chart to remind the kiddos about some of the Accountable Talk phrases we have discussed.  Accountable Talk essentially means actively participating in academic conversation.  In other words, the kiddos take turns speaking, provide proof for their opinions, add to previous comments, and disagree appropriately.  This type of academically-based conversation encourages the kiddos to think before they speak and really listen to each other.

I found this video on TeachingChannel.org which describes how one teacher introduced the concept of providing credit to the speaker, an important component of Accountable Talk. I used this idea when we began doing "Turn & Talk" conversations on the carpet.  Slowly I added in new phrases such as "I agree with ____, because..."  At this point in the year, my kiddos have gotten pretty fluent at Accountable Talk in the Whole Group.

As we come back from Break, I'm really encouraging the kiddos to utilize Accountable Talk when they meet with their reading partners.  Similar to Writing Partners (see post), I assign Reading Partners based on reading level.  It's important that the kiddos read and discuss books with peers who are reading books at the same level.  Over the next week, I will re-evaluate the kiddos partnerships based on my most recent assessments.  While most of the partnerships will stay the same, I do have some kiddos who have changed level dramatically and need a different partner.

I typically have the kiddos meet with their reading partners 3-4 times per week after Independent Reading during Readers' Workshop.  During partner reading time, the kiddos sit "hip-to-hip" (side by side) and put one book between them.  They take turns choosing the book to share.  Sometimes they take turns reading each page, although they also enjoy "echo reading" (repeating each line) and "choral reading" (reading together).  As they read, I encourage them to share observations, questions, and predictions.  This where our Accountable Talk Anchor Chart will come in handy. I hope to begin hearing the kiddos using these phrases independently with their partners to hold each other accountable.

January 7, 2013

Home {away from} Sweet Home

I've had two weeks away from my "2nd home" and this morning I was actually looking forward to getting back into the classroom!

I have spent 4 years in this classroom.  Two years were spent as a Pre-K teacher and the classroom looked very different.  Our school had not yet been renovated so one wall (below) was actually a moveable wall that connected my room to the one next door.  Now I have my cubbies along this wall and a huge bulletin board above.  It's not the most practical place for a bulletin board, but I try to make it useful with our Class Expectations, Anchor Charts, and Goals that we refer to all year long (that way I rarely have to get up on top of the cubbies and change the board).  

On top of the cubbies, I have my classroom library. This is the first year that I've done this, and it's actually worked very well.  I have my teaching books (mentor texts, read-alouds, and guided reading books) on the very top, and then leveled books and category books (sorted by author, genre, or topic) in the top part of each cubby.  In the past I have used a bookshelf to store all of these books, but I actually find I can keep a lot more in the classroom this way. I still rotate out the category books depending on our theme and we take down the leveled books once a week when the kiddos book shop, but everything is always easily accessible which I love.

Going around the room to the right, the next thing is my math shelf (right).  I have had this shelf (or a version of it) every year I have taught and I wouldn't know what to do without it; it stores so much.  This year, I have all of my math manipulatives in clear, labeled boxes.  This makes it very easy for the kiddos to take out any materials they need for games or activities.  In addition, I keep table boxes on top of the shelf.  The table boxes store the games and materials for each table that we are using currently.  I refill these as needed throughout the week.

Continuing around the room, is my kidney table, math wall, SMART Board, and then white board.  I leave half of the white board empty for current Anchor Charts or teaching during the day. The second half of the bulletin board (below) has our Morning Meeting materials: calendar, days of school counter, and schedule. I also have a countdown timer clock which we use constantly throughout the day to time lessons, independent work time, and activities.  Below the bulletin board, I have pocket charts with our Class Helper Jobs.

To the right of the white board is my writing shelf.  I also love this shelf for all that it holds.  On the top are bins for our current writing paper options (which change with each unit), below are various writing materials (clipboards, letter stamps and magnets, white boards), and at the bottom are our Literacy Work Station bins (Learn how our Literacy Work Station are organize here).  

Finally, next to the door I have a shelf with additional writing and craft materials.  On top of the shelf are the colored pencils we use for Writers' Workshop, plus some stuffed animals from different colleges (even though you can't see that in the picture).  The colored art caddies on the top two shelves have scissors, glue, and colored pencils which we pull out for Word Study and other times.  Below them I have bins of additional arts and science materials.  

January 6, 2013

Back at it

Tomorrow we go back to school after 2 weeks off for Winter Break!  I'm excited to see the kiddos and my colleagues, but also a little anxious about everyone getting back into routines and learning.

Often I use Winter Break as a time to tweak my classroom routines and procedures, but this year, thankfully, I didn't really have to do that.  Things were going pretty smoothly before the break, so I'm hoping that we can pick up where we left off.  Nevertheless, I'm planning to reintroduce each part of the day, and I know I'll spend a good amount of time reviewing and reminding.

First thing in the morning, we are going to review our Class Expectations.  For the first six weeks of school, we went over these each morning as a class.  We chant the expectations "Whole Brain Teaching" style using motions I created for each one to help the kiddos recall them easily.  Tomorrow, we will review our chant and also discuss examples of how scholars follow each expectation.

I will also be reminding my kiddos about how to be a "STAR" in our classroom. I created the acronym "STAR" to teach the little guys about important character traits I want them to exhibit (More about this here). I moved these posters to our classroom door right before break to make sure the kiddos see them as soon as they enter the room.

Before we left school, I also brought out two of the anchor charts that I used at the beginning of the year to introduce workshop routines.  I'll be reviewing these with the kiddos tomorrow to make sure they remember our jobs during workshop.  I think it's important to talk about the the kiddos' jobs as well as the teachers' jobs so we all know what the expect from each other.  I also think it's helpful for the kiddos to see that our workshop routines are very similar.  I didn't plan very complicated mini-lessons for tomorrow either to allow plenty of time for reviewing expectations and getting the kiddos back into the routine.
Here's hoping for a smooth re-entry and a fast week!