September 27, 2013

Pinterest Finds

I've been on Pinterest for awhile now and love getting inspiration for my classroom, kitchen, and apartment.  I frequently troll the Education and Kids pages while I'm cooking dinner, getting ready for bed, or waiting in line.  I've gotten a ton of ideas for Anchor Charts, bulletin boards, and worksheets.

I also got an idea for a Back-to-School treat for my teacher friends. During our Week Zero (professional development week before the kiddos come back), I made about 50 of these cute little tags and attached them to a mini-bag of M'n'Ms.  I snuck them into all of the teacher mailboxes over the weekend before the first day of school (since, of course, I was at school on Saturday to finish setting up). 

Then I saw a lot of cute pictures of kiddos holding signs announcing their grade.  I thought this would be a fun idea for the first day of school.  I downloaded this template from Mama Bub.

The kiddos loved getting their picture taken with the sign and the pictures turned out great. I made them into a collage of our whole class which I'm going to use for thank you cards.

Although Pinterest has potential to be a huge "time-suck" and it certainly has plenty of junk, I think it's a great way to share and discover new ideas and inspiration.  Plus, I'm starting to see some of my own pictures from TeachersPayTeachers and this blog surfacing on some of the Education pages -- and that's just cool! :)

September 26, 2013

Safety Tips... Updated!

Here is the original Safety Tips post...

This year, once again, we began our year with Officer Buckle.  I love this book to get the year started.  Officer Buckle and Gloria are great characters and the message of the book really gets through to the kiddos.  Once again, we read the story and then encouraged the kiddos to think of their own safety tips.  I tried to guide them toward thinking specifically of ways we stay safe at school.  They came up with some great ideas!

{Top: Do not talk when there is a fire drill. Bottom: Do not lean back on a chair or else you fall}

This year, I also used this lesson to introduce scissors and glue.  First we did a "Guided Discovery" of the scissors.  We talked about what scissors are used for -- and what they are not to be used for -- at school. The kiddos each demonstrated holding and carrying the scissors safely.  Then they got to cut out their own stars.  This was challenging for some kiddos but great practice.  Afterward, they kiddos got to use glue sticks to glue their star onto a circle (I cut out the circles).  We discussed safety and responsibility with the glue sticks as well.

The kiddos were very excited to see Officer Buckle and Gloria make an appearance in the hallway -- some of them even remembered them from last year.  Admittedly, I was nervous that having the kiddos do the cutting and gluing would make the bulletin board "messy" but my wonderful colleague reminded me that it would be great for the kiddos to see their work on display and they are, after all, in first grade so a little messiness would be okay.  I like this bulletin board tradition!

September 25, 2013

Ordering Numbers

I'm trying to stay caught up on blog posts, but there's so just so much that happens in the first few weeks of school!

I took these pictures two weeks ago while we were working on ordering numbers.  Here the kiddos are working to build towers of numbers and put them in order, least to greatest.  As I started to write about this activity, I realized that we've already moved so far beyond this lesson.  Today we began finding different combinations of numbers that can equal 7 (i.e. 5+2, 4+3, 6+1, etc.).

Nevertheless, I'm reminded of how essential it was that the kiddos started with these foundational activities.  We begin our year with a series of "games" where the kiddos match numerals to quantities, order quantities, determine less and greater, and count specific quantities.  Although we progressed through these lessons quickly, they really set the tone for the year: we developed common math language, identified strategies for counting and double-checking, and established the importance of counting and comparing accurately.

These first few weeks have also been a valuable time for me to gather anecdotal notes.  As the kiddos worked, I walked around taking notes about how they read numbers (do they know the difference between 6 and 9?), how they count quantities (do they start at 1 each time or can they group small amounts and count on?), and how they order and combine (do they have to count up or do they have an instinct about larger numbers?).  I have also been able to pull small groups of students who need to shore up their basic skills (I had a few kiddos who were not able to accurately draw or count a group of 20 objects.)

More to come on the math games that were introduced during this unit...

September 24, 2013

Grammar & Punctuation

This year we are the Evan-Moor Grammar & Punctuation e-books to teach grammar.  These comprehensive books outline 25 rules for each grade level that cover all of the grammar and punctuation expectations.  Each rule has a simple poster with a few examples and then three practice worksheets.  
We have been trying to introduce 1-2 rules per week in the beginning of the year; as the year goes on we will reinforce and extend the rules through writing and reading.  Already, the kiddos seem to be incorporating the rules into their understanding.  During our daily "Fix-It" sentences, the kiddos have been recognizing asking and telling sentences to determine the appropriate punctuation. (Rule 3 states that "a sentence that tells something needs a period at the end," and Rule 4 states "a sentence that ask somethings needs a question mark at the end.")

I have also been using the practice pages in our Literacy Work Stations.  Some of the worksheets allow the kiddos to cut and paste to finish sentences, sort asking vs. telling sentences, or build new words.  My goal is that the rules can easily be incorporated into our Writing Workshop as well.  This week the kiddos started editing their writing and I put up the Rules posters to remind them of all the punctuation and capitalization rules we have learned so far.  The kiddos were able to check their writing for capitals at the beginning of sentences and names, and the letter "I."  I am using a new Literacy Work Station rubric this year to ensure that the kiddos are always held accountable for these skills.

Next week I'll introduce Rule 11 (nouns) and Rule 12 (verbs).  I'm hoping to incorporate these rules into Word Study by sorting "naming words" and "action words."

September 22, 2013

Strategies for Counting

This summer I was fortunate to attend the 5-day workshop Investigations in the Classroom workshop, hosted by my school. The training focused on how children develop number sense and mathematical reasoning skills.  We were able to explore some of the games and activities that are part of the Investigations curriculum and consider how we might adapt or extend these learning experiences to meet the needs our students.  

One of my biggest take-away from the sessions was the difference between strategies and tools.  As a math teacher, especially of young mathematicians, my hope is that my kiddos develop many strategies for solving math problems. I want them to be able to approach a problem in different ways so that, eventually, they can find the most efficient and practical way to solve it. 

However, too often, we end up teaching students to use the same strategy with a variety of tools.  For instance, students may learn to add using their fingers, cubes or counters, and by drawing pictures, but they may only use the simplistic strategy of "counting all" (starting at 1 and counting up).  Similarly, students can learn the "counting on" strategy (starting at the larger number and counting up) using their fingers, a number line, and a 100-chart.  

While tools, such as the 100-chart, are necessary and valuable for young learners; it is important to emphasize the strategies that students choose, rather than just the tool, so that the students can become critical of their choices.  I often see kiddos, especially when I'm tutoring struggling older students, who are reliant on tools, like pictures or number lines, and can not analyze a problem to choose a creative, logical, or more effective strategy to find a solution.

This year, I am trying to be very explicit with my kiddos about strategies.  I made a chart to remind us of the strategies we already know; as the year goes on, I'll add to it.  When a kiddo volunteers to share how he solved a math problem, I encourage him to name the strategy he used and then explain his tool (if any). We are currently playing a lot of games where the kiddos are combining numbers (more on these games later) so they are getting lots of practice explaining their strategies with partners as well.

Buddy Classsrooms

Last year I posted about our "Chill Spot" when my classroom got flooded by Hurricane Sandy.  Hopefully this year, we will avoid any natural disasters coming into the school, but just in case, I've been carefully to pick up the carpet and pillows from the leaky corner before I leave for the weekend :)

Although it's a couple of weeks into the year, I've been taking my time to introduce materials, classroom structures, and routines, so I actually just introduced the "calm down corner" (as we are calling it this year).  We read When Sophie Gets Angry -- Really, Really Angry and sang a great song called "Full of Lots of Feelings" which I got from a teacher at a KIPP school a few years ago.  Then we discussed the importance of having a place in our room to calm down.

We also talked about how sometimes it can be helpful to calm down away from our friends and classmates.  The kids quickly identified that it can be hard to calm down when you are feeling angry at someone, or other kids are playing around you, or your friends are trying to make you laugh.  When I asked my kiddos where they think they could go to calm down, they immediately thought of their Kindergarten or Pre-K teachers' rooms and other rooms on our floor. I love that they know they'd be welcomed and safe all around our school.

Our school has relied on "Buddy Classrooms" for awhile (read more about buddy teachers and classrooms from Responsive Classroom).  Most of the time, however, our teachers are not able to step away from their classrooms to invite a student or bring a student to another room.  In fact, when a student needs to take a break, we want to send them off quickly and with as little disruption as possible.  Last year, I began to think about a way to make this practical, and purposeful so that students could receive the best support.  So I came up with the idea of Buddy Classroom passes...

These passes quickly and easily indicate to the receiving teacher why a student has come for a "time out."  Sometimes, the student just needs to calm down in a different space, other times he needs to finish some work, and sometimes she needs to talk to an adult about a particular problem.  On the back of each pass are suggestions to the student for how to calm down (check them out on TeachersPayTeachers!).

Last year, we started using the passes on the second floor (with first and second grade only), but this year, we have extended their use to Kindergarten through 5th grade.  Most of us have attached the passes to a lanyard or string so it can go hang around a student's neck and act as a "hall pass" when they travel between buddy classrooms.  While we try to make every student feel welcome when they come into our rooms, it is helpful to know whether that student is coming in with excess energy or anger that needs to be diffused.

Of course, our hope is that our kiddos can function appropriately and productively in our classes all the time, but realistically we know that there will be times when we all need a little break. A couple of hours after I'd introduced the Buddy Classroom Passes, a 2nd grader with significant behavior challenges came into our class wearing his Calm Down Pass.  I knew the student had been being disruptive, and possibly violent, so I silently sent to put his head down at an empty table.  Immediately one of my cuties came over to me with the biggest smile, "I know why he's here," he said, "he gets to calm down!"  Yup! :)

First Grade Memories

As a follow-up to our Hopes and Dreams, this is a very late post about our end-of-year memory scrapbooks...

At the beginning of the school year, we do a lot of assessing and goal setting.  We talk about our Hopes and Dreams for the year, measure reading levels, take math benchmarks and on-demand writing prompts, set goals for reading growth, and track fluency with math facts.  We also talk about how perseverance and self-control will help us reach our goals.  We read books about characters who dream big, experience set-backs, work hard, and overcome obstacles.  All of this is in an effort, to set our kiddos up for a successful year.

And then we get to work.  By mid-November, we're typically into autopilot mode; we do what we need to do, glance up at our posted "hopes and dreams," track progress periodically, and adjust as necessary.  While I analyze student data frequently as I plan, intervene, and differentiate, it's challenging to keep the kids focused on our goals; June just seems way off for little kiddos who don't have much sense of time.  When we finally reach the end of the year, I can see how much they've grown and changed, but it's harder for them to reflect on the work they've put in and the progress they've made.

This past year, we made "First Grade Reflections" scrapbooks and had a great time re-living our favorite experiences, including reveling in how much we had accomplished. We had a page to reflect on our reading growth, a page to reflect on our favorite field trips, and a page to reflect on our favorite subjects.
Students wrote caption for field trip picts.

I also took down the "Hopes and Dreams" we had posted at the beginning of the year so the kids could reflect on whether they had met their first grade goal.  Most of the kids had, but even more interesting was to see how much their drawing, writing, and thinking had evolved. Many of them found their goals funny and noticed that they wrote their names in all capital letters.

It was so exciting to see them get excited about their own growth... and hopefully it motivated them to continue setting goals, working hard, and reflecting on their progress.

Hopes and Dreams

I'm trying to catch up on posts about the first few weeks of school...

At the beginning of the year, each class at our school discusses their "hopes and dreams." The kiddos think about their goals, what they want to learn or do, how they want their year to go; then they record their thoughts.  Many teachers find creative ways of displaying class hopes and dreams: posters, photographs with speech bubbles, class quilts, or drawings with dictation.  The Responsive Classroom approach suggests that discussing hopes and dreams is an essential part of the setting the climate in the classroom (Read more about "Hopes and Dreams" here).

This year, to kick off our discussion of dreams, I read my class Kristi Yamaguchi's adorable book Dream Big, Little Pig.  We talked about how Poppy the pig had many dreams and throughout the story she worked hard to accomplish them.  Then we talked about all of the things that we might do in first grade (we read the book School Days).  The kiddos got to brainstorm things some they wanted to accomplish, and they came up with some great ideas!

Our hopes and dreams varied from "read chapter books," to "learn more Chinese," to "do the monkey bars," to "make a new friend."  I gently guided the kiddos to think about reasonable first grade goals and avoid unrealistic or impractical ones.  One kiddo wanted to make his goal "do multiplication," however, as he struggled to sound out the word "multiplication," I suggested that perhaps he should set his goal around something that would really help him in first grade.  Instead, he made his goal "to spell more words." (I especially love how he wrote his goal -- it's so perfect!)

After everyone wrote out their goals, I cut out the cloud shapes and put them up in the back of our classroom.  They will remain there all year as a reminder of our hopes and dreams.   We will be able to refer to them as we reach new milestones, get older, and set even higher goals.

September 2, 2013

Word Study Routines

Last year, I posted here about how we review rhyming word families, using the Words Their Way program.  This year, I've been thinking about how I want to set my students up for success with this program once again.  In the past, I've noticed that although most kiddos appear to be very successful with their sorts during the week, they often struggle to incorporate taught spelling patterns into their own writing.  I think this has to do with the lack of context with the words during word study, and sometimes a mis-match of skills and sort (i.e. kiddos working on sorts that are too hard or too easy).  

This year I'm trying to incorporate more practice opportunities into our word study routine, including building rimes (adding different consonants to at), writing words, and reading rhymes.  This week I started by having the kids think of words that rhyme with cat, before we even looked at the sort.  I drew pictures of the -at words they thought of on a large "at" (see picture).  Then I modeled using the WTW sort to match -at words and pictures.  

The following day, we used magnets to create -at words, and then the kiddos got to cut out their own pictures and words.  While the class worked on matching their sort pictures and words, I pulled a few kiddos over to make sure they could independently read the words, with and without the pictures.  This coming week we will use our sorts again for a few simple games.  The kiddos will write words to match pictures and fill in blanks in sentences using the same words.  They will get to highlight rhyming words in phonics readers (if I can find them in our storage closet ;) )  Finally, I am hoping to give a short weekly check -- quiz -- to see if they are able to write the practiced words as well as new rhyming word or two.

Hopefully these extra activities will help the kiddos generalize what they learn during word study into other times of the day, when they are reading and writing independently!

September 1, 2013

Handwriting Without Tears

This year our school switched to the Handwriting Without Tears system for teaching handwriting in Kindergarten and 1st grade.  Previously, we used a curriculum from Zaner-Bloser that included handwriting materials.  While I was part of the committee that made the decision to switch, and thought I was pretty familiar with the HWT approach (I used it in Pre-K for a couple of years), I actually didn't realize how different it would be "on the ground" in our classrooms until I received the student printing books last week.

My Printing Book, Handwriting Without Tears
As I started looking through the workbooks, it was clear that they were not nearly as straight-forward and self-explanatory as our previous ones.  There is much less tracing and writing than other handwriting books.  There are fewer practice pages and more pictures and opportunities for drawing.

I spent some time on the HWT website, youtube channel, and with the teacher's manual, but am still a little anxious about how we will use the program throughout the year.  I decided to get going, nevertheless, since handwriting is such a foundational skill for first graders.

We had our first HWT lesson on Thursday -- and it went well!  I started by playing the "Where do you start your letters?" song -- a favorite of mine for quite a while.  I showed the bottom and middle lines in the book (HWT doesn't use a top line) and we practiced pulling down from the top with our pointer fingers in the air.

Then the kiddos received their Printing Books.  They got to write their names on the front cover while I went around to observe how they held their pencils and used the lines.  One of the first pages in the book shows the proper writing posture and pencil grips, so the kiddos got to compare themselves to the kids in books as well.  Then we moved on to the "pencil pick-up activities."  The kiddos practiced adding raindrops, grass, caterpillar legs, wheel spokes -- all activities which require short, careful lines (which should start at the top).  They also practiced shading in a small circle and making a curly line.  It was interesting to see which kids were capable of completing these tasks and which ones were really challenged by it.

I don't know exactly how or when I'm going to fit in the HWT lessons, but I'm going to try to use the program fully throughout the year, to push my students to have neater, more efficient writing.