January 28, 2014

Tools of Travel

This week we are exploring maps -- and globes and atlases!  

The first grade geography standards for the DC Public Schools include "Locate the cardinal directions and apply them to maps and globes," "Locate Washington, DC on a map," and "Label the continents, oceans, and major mountain ranges on a map."  Although there are many aspects of this unit that require direct instruction, I wanted to be sure to include some interactive learning as well.  Investigating the differences between map tools was a perfect way to incorporate some hands-on work.  

I set out a globe, world and U.S. atlases, and a few maps of DC on tables around the room and the kiddos set out to make some observations.  Yep, they are wearing their jackets inside.  The heater in my classroom has been having some issues so the temp was in the 50s for much of the day, but that didn't stop these scholars! :)

The kiddos cycled around the tables for about 15 minutes.  When we came back together we filled out a chart with our reflections.  The kiddos made some great observations!  They quickly noticed that the globe only labeled countries, that the maps showed details such as streets and businesses, and that the atlas had many maps, as well as information about certain places.  We concluded our discussion by considering why one might select a map versus a globe versus an atlas.  I came up with some potential scenarios and the kiddos put up their fingers to indicate the best tools (1=globe, 2=map, 3=atlas).  For instance, "I want to walk from my house to the library" (2), or "I wonder what Brazil is like" (3), or "I want to know how far it is from Washington, DC to Japan" (1). I have to admit that in my head the answer to all of them was "Google," but the kiddos got the idea. :)

Another great tool for teaching about maps (or anything else) is BrainPOP Jr. -- we watched "Reading Maps" as a review of our basic map skills and and introduction to the next bend in our unit: world geography.

January 27, 2014

Maps of the Classroom

I began our current social studies unit by reading Me on the Map, by Joan Sweeney.  Last year the Kindergarten classes had a whole unit based on this book, so most of my kiddos were familiar with it; nevertheless it's such a great introduction to maps and geography that I didn't mind repeating it (and the kiddos didn't either).  Specifically, it's a perfect reminder about how our community and country fit into the world.  

After reading the book, we discussed how maps can be useful to see landmarks, distance, and important features.  I also introduced some geography vocabulary words, such as key, legend, compass rose, cardinal directions, and scale, using the book We Need Directions, a Rookie Read-About Geography book.  (There are a bunch of these little books that cover a variety of geography topics -- so helpful!) Then, we created individual classroom maps.  We talked about why we might need a map of the classroom, for instance if we got a new student, had a substitute teacher, or invited our families to visit, they might use the map to find our pencil sharpener or computers.  Firsties often struggle to show objects from the birds-eye perspective so their maps can be quite interesting; nevertheless, they love adding their table, cubbies, shelves, and other classroom features.  

Their maps turned out so well! 

January 23, 2014

Reading Nonfiction

We are now in the 3rd week of our nonfiction reading unit.  For the first part of the year, our classroom library had a few fiction book bins, organized by author or theme, and a few popular nonfiction bins, such as "plants" and "how-to."  During our nonfiction unit, though, the whole library becomes dedicated to nonfiction.  Last year, I did the work of turning over our library and organizing the book bins.  This year, I really wanted to get the kids in on the action.

On the first day of the unit I pulled out a box of about 75 nonfiction books on a variety of topics.  I explained to my eager readers that I had found all of these nonfiction books in the closet (no lie) and needed their help to organize them.  We talked about how we could sort the books like librarians do: by author, by level,  by type (chapter books, picture books), or by topic.  We decided that sorting by topic made the most sense for nonfiction books, so I set a pile of books on each table and let them go to work!

The kiddos did a great job with this task, quickly making piles of animal books, bird books, insect books, plant books, and ocean creature books.  Then the kiddos came to group of books that presented a slight challenge.  They created a "dangerous things" pile (which included books on earthquakes, volcanos, twisters, and storms), a "weather" pile, and still had a few books on fossils and caves left over.  I knew that all of these books were actually part of an "earth science" set, but the kiddos insisted that they didn't all go together.  I began to push them to keep the set together, but then realized that their way made perfect sense too.  Instead, I taught them the term "natural disasters" for all of the "dangerous" topics, and we put the rest into a "weather and nature" bin. Problem solved!

I did have to gather up a few extra bins to accommodate all of our topics, but it was worth it to see how invested the kiddos have become in our library!  After we had all of our piles, I handed out some index cards and had the kiddos create labels for the bins.  They've been so excited to actually read the books they had put in the bins, and they're being very responsible about putting books back where they belong. 

January 18, 2014

Reading Rainbow Reviews

The Thursday before Winter Break was our school-wide Publishing Night.  This annual event brings families into our classrooms to celebrate the writing process.  However, in the past, we've typically had only one polished, re-written, titled, and illustrated piece of writing to share.  This year, in accordance with the new Units of Study from Lucy Calkins, our published work looked a little different.

First off, as I explained in my last post (here) about the Opinion Writing Unit, the kiddos actually "published" three different reviews.  For Publishing Night, I set up tables with our collection reviews and review anthologies.  I put the kiddos' book reviews at their tables, with their book inspirations propped up.  It was incredibly powerful for parents to see all of the writing that their kiddos had produced.  One mother picked up her daughter's first review and actually ask if it was from the beginning of the year!  When I explained that, no, it was only from a few weeks earlier, she was definitely impressed with her daughter's progress.

Not only did we have more writing this year than ever before, but for the first time we did not spend time re-writing.  In the past, I've saved 3-4 days at the end of each unit for the kiddos to copy their finished writing neatly onto clean paper.  My rationale was always that they could use the handwriting practice, but some fellow teachers who attended Teachers College this past summer, pointed out that re-writing every piece was really wasting up to two weeks of valuable instructional time.  More importantly, by not re-writing, we were able to recognize and honor the hard work of revising and editing.  I "warned" families ahead of time that they would likely see cross-out, carets, arrows, and other tools that writers use to revise their work, but no one seemed to mind.  I think they actually appreciated seeing how the kiddos had worked to improve content, spelling, and grammar of their stories.

Another new feature of this Publishing Night was the interactive SMART Notebook with clickable pictures of the kiddos and their books.  At the end of this unit I filmed each kiddo reading his/her book review.  (In order for the kiddos to get this concept we watched a couple episodes of Reading Rainbow on DVD, since, sadly, the show is no longer on the air).  The kiddos loved touching the pictures and watching the reviews pop-up!

I've usually enjoyed Publishing Nights just fine, but this one was, by far, my favorite.  Not only that, but I think it was most "impactful" (I know it's not a word, but it just works well here) for parents.  I'm already looking forward to teaching this unit and producing Reading Rainbow reviews next year!

Ways to Make "n"

Right before Winter Break we were in a Number System Unit in Math, focusing creating equivalent equations.  I posed questions to the kiddos such as, "I have ten toys. Some of them are blocks. Some of them are marbles. How many of each could I have?"  Our Investigations curriculum has a variety of these "how many of each?" problems throughout the first grade program.

This year my school is fortunate to have a consultant from the curriculum working with our staff, and she gave us some suggestions for how to make these lessons more meaningful and effective for our mathematicians.  First, she encouraged us to have the kiddos build all of their equivalent expressions with connecting cubes.  

In the past I'd always used two-sided counters to help students visualize different combinations, but with the connecting cubes it's much easier to see how different combinations all equal the same number.  As the kiddos constructed trains with two colors of cubes, it was also very evident how they were thinking about the problem.  Some of them quickly organized their trains with the "pairs" next to each other (i.e. 2 red + 8 blue and 8 red + 2 blue); others started with 1+9 and increased one color while decreasing the other.  Some of the kiddos just tried out various combinations to see if they added to 10. 

The second piece of advice we received was to keep the sums small.  When the kiddos started guessing equivalent equations (8+5=10?), we were encouraged to scale back to a smaller number.  Almost all of the kiddos could find equivalent expressions within 5, even when they struggled with 9 or 10.  Even when a kiddos demonstrated understanding and fluency with combinations up to 10 or 12, we didn't provide a bigger sum.  The reason being that once you realize the pattern (increase one color, or addend, while decreasing the other), you can do it with any number.  Instead, we asked kiddos to try using three addends, or colors.  This was a challenge, but most "high-flying" mathematicians love a puzzle and enjoyed giving it a try.  

One of the first things I ever pinned on Pinterest was this "__ Ways to Make __" worksheet from Kinder-Craze.  I decided it was perfect thing to add into this session to have one more way of visualizing equivalent combinations.  We actually don't do much coloring in our class, so they loved getting to pull out the crayons and create these fun designs.  (I don't have a lot of bulletin board space but they looked great on the window above our math shelf.

Back At It

I have a lot of catching up to do!  I'd drafted 3 posts before the Winter Break but lost track of them and now it's been quite awhile (I'll post them later today).  As I rediscovered them this week, I was reminded of all the great things that were going on in my classroom before the break and relieved to realize that we have (mostly) picked up where we left off, despite the 18 days off we had in the middle.

Admittedly, I was nervous about having such a long break; we had two full weeks off over Christmas and New Years, which I filled with reading, eating, drinking, relaxing, watching movies, and cooking, but I had some nerves heading back to school.  You never know if the kiddos will have forgotten all the rules and expectations.  We went back to work last Monday for a half-day PD, then I spent the rest of the day co-planning and readying my classroom.  Tuesday morning I felt anxious but ready, then, about an hour and a half before the kiddos arrived, the heater in my classroom broke.  The temps were in the teens and my room quickly turned into a refrigerator.  Not good.

Despite the inconvenience of relocating (we spent the morning in the Chinese room and then moved around while other classes had special) and not being able to review the classroom routines and procedures that I'd hoped to, we had a great day!  In fact, having to think on my feet and figure out what/how to teach out of a box helped shake off the mental "dust" from being away and made me forget about my nerves.  The kiddos were just excited to see their friends again, and me, and thought it was pretty hilarious that we got to switch rooms throughout the day.

Thankfully, the heater was fixed by Wednesday morning and we were back in the classroom and back to our routine.  I had set aside time to go over our class expectations, discuss our class and individual goals, and review procedures, but the kiddos remembered almost everything.  They quickly reminded each other about our bathroom signal, how to "SHINE," and where to sit.  Now it's hard to believe we were away from each other for such a long time!