Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wonder Table

So this magical thing happened, totally by accident, and it has been glorious.  A child visited Connecticut and brought back Buckeyes and fall leaves.  You see in Florida we don't see much fall.  Leaves that are yellow, red and orange are way cooler than green and brown.  I said, "Let's put it on this table so others can check it out."

And that's how the Wonder Table began...but the name came a few days later.

It was also serendipity that I am in a book study reading A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough.  As I was reading, I came across their idea for a Discovery Table and I knew we would keep it.   (If you are a primary teacher, this is a good read!)

It's really simple.  Pick a spot, put a couple tools out (forceps, magnifying glass, measuring tape, etc.), and then tell the kids to bring treasures in.  BOOM! that's it.

 Here is what our table looked like this morning.  We have our tools to the left, a Betta fish, snake skins, dragonfly, exoskeleton of a crab, shells, leaves, buckeyes, reptile skin, sea glass, soil samples, and slides for a microscope.  Above is our bread experiment to see if washing hands matters.



Close-up of snake skins, exoskeleton, leaves, and shells.  One child even found a paperclip that they had never seen before...so magical.

Leaves, soil samples, buckeyes, acorns, reptile skin, and slides

 Simple, right?!

 I bought each child a small notebook.  Our wonder notebooks were born!  I found them at Target in the party aisle.

Some of the wonderings are based off the Wonder Table.  Others like this one are based off interest.

This question was based off the table.  She found out about the diets of snakes, reptiles and dragonflies and was still feeling curious.

The benefits of the Wonder Table are:
*Easy way to bring in science topics
*Creates eagerness 
*Teaches students to appreciate the small things in life
*Gets students to independently ask and answer questions on their own
*Creates a scientist mentality in all students
*Lets students share without having Show and Tell

To keep the table fresh I am going to add books that relate to topics and put out different items for each unit.  Some ideas are paintings, poetry, globe, flashlights, magazines, nature items, etc.

So that's it.  A huge impact in our classroom happened by chance but that's how these things go.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Beginning of the Year Math

When I think about first grade math, I think about addition and subtraction.  I think about the stage of each learner: concrete, representational, or abstract.  I think about strategies. I think about fluency.

I started out using our math series and quickly put it back.  I found out that I should also be thinking about depth and breadth.  It made me think about starting off  in a different way.  Here's what I'm doing now to encourage math fluency, strategies, and depth and breadth:

1. Number Talks- math fluency, strategies
This is a short time, in which you show a problem quickly and the students mentally solve.  I ask, "What did you see?  How did you see it?"  This gets the students doing mental math! and it has them explaining their thinking, which directly ties to strategies.  Read more about Number Talks here:  Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning

2. Open-ended Math Problems- math fluency, strategies and depth and breadth
Immediately I saw that my students do not know how to read and reason with math word problems.  This is one of our most important math standards.  It helps students with reasoning and knowing what to do is essential.  I knew I needed to teach my students to use the reading & math strategies they already have to understand how to plan, solve and check tricky word problems.
OH.MY.WORD using open-ended questions has been the BEST formative assessment I could have ever used.  What strategies do they have?  Are they in concrete, representational, or abstract phase?  Do they have math fact fluency?  Do they understand how to read a problem?  It has opened my eyes in a new way.  I feel like I'm starting off the year really understanding each child's mathematical abilities.  

I have some problems for you here:  OpenEndedMath.  Pages 1-4 have differentiated addition problems on the top and bottom.  Pages 5-8 have differentiated subtraction problems on two separate pages.  

After I created a few problems, I went on TPT and bought Emmy Mac Shop's A Year of Monthly Open Ended Problems.  This is a bundle but you can also buy it separately.  I am very impressed with the quality and am glad I splurged on the bundle!

3. Math Running Records- math strategies, fluency 
I saw and then quickly bought The Classroom Key's Math Running Records, Addition and Subtraction.  I have always loved starting the year by listening to the readers in my room and conducting a running record.  So when I saw this fabulous idea, I knew I wanted to try it.  And it is AH.MAZ.ING!!  It really helps you grasp what your student gets and what they need help on.  I also loved that I could see how long it took each child to solve the problems.  Now that I have finished (just today), I am ready to use the data to help create groups.  This tells you WAY MORE than a math series beginning of the year test...and it helps you get started right away!

I hope you find these tips helpful!  I feel that I finally understand the mathematicians in my class.  I know that our math time will be more meaningful and focused.

Have a lovely night,

Rubrics and My Anchor Chart Must-Haves

The Growth Mindset is starting to make an impact in education.  Carol Dweck explains Growth Mindset,
 In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. It enhances relationships. When you read Mindset, you’ll see how.
In my mind this directly relates to rubrics being created and shared with students.  If you know what is expected of you, and you know what it takes to go beyond, you can set goals to get their.  I remember when I went to school, I was handed an assignment and told to read a section of the textbook.  I didn't really know what I was working on other than what the teacher told me to do it.  I would turn in my work and hope for the best.  I had no control.  It either worked in my favor or it didn't.

In my own job, I like to know what I'm being evaluated on and I like to know how to accomplish it.  I want to give my students that opportunity as well.  I want them to see that their education is their own and what they make of it goes with them wherever they are.

When a rubric becomes a part of your classroom your discussions change.  The students really understand the standards and why they are learning them.  It creates a culture of learning that is different than before.  I really focus on the growth students are making rather than their level on the rubric.  

My must-haves for anchor charts:

1. Essential question that is standards-based:  I like to create a culture of thought.  What better way than to ask a question at the beginning of the lesson?  This isn't a question that can be answered in one word. You will note that my essential questions are quite different than the reading textbooks questions.  That's because I focus on standards, not themes.   To read more about essential questions, look here:  Essential Questions &/or What is an Essential Question?
2. Rubric with several levels: To create growth, we must show the different levels of learning.  I try to make them kid-friendly statements.  They are discussed again and again.  I also show work at each level.  At the beginning of a lesson, the students goal set with a neighbor telling how they are going to meet that goal.  At the end of a lesson, they self-assess and share how they know.  

3. Steps, Tips and/or Language Stems for figuring out the standard: I want to go beyond what they're learning and teach them steps for getting there.  My students USE the charts.  During a unit of learning, my students get up randomly and walk to a chart and reread it.  Usually there is a "Oh, now I get it!" moment.

I have definitely gone through transformations with my anchor charts.  And there are times where I leave off one of my must-haves but it is usually for a reason.  During a unit, I may make a separate rubric chart to hang and then focus on different aspects on the anchor charts.  
Here is an older anchor chart.  I didn't share an essential question or rubric.  My, my, my, times have changed BUT I feel like I give my students more opportunities to be successful.  I love that as a class we focus on our growth and we know WE CAN LEARN ANYTHING!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Falling in love with bulletin boards

Before I was a teacher, I pined over bulletin boards.  I dreamed of what I would create with my students and looked forward to the process.  Fast forward a couple years later and they became the bane of my existence!  Measuring, changing paper/fabric/border, trying to be cute and creative had its toll.

I now buy a black sheet for all my boards at the beginning of the year and buy borders that can withstand the year and look good no matter the time of year.  The boards in my room are used for our daily learning and reference.  I don't put up cute projects that are only relevant to one day...I save that for the hall.

When thinking of what should be displayed on the boards I think about: 1.what do the students need to be successful, 2. what am I obligated to display, 3. what do I think will motivate the students, and 4. how likely will it be that someone uses the board.

I left this as a whiteboard because we will be using it as our Inquiry Board and I would like the students to write on it as our inquiries grow.

This Word Wall is on a whiteboard and will stay the same except for the addition of words.  I decided not to make it a sight word board but a vocabulary board.  I printed the Dolch words pre-primer through 3rd onto one sheet and laminated it for each child.  You can pick it up here: SightWordSheet

This is my favorite board.  During Meet the Teacher night, I take pictures of each family.  We use this board ALL.THE.TIME!  When the students miss their families, when they need to think about solving a problem, when they need a character for a story...the list goes on and on to how we  use this board in class.

So as I said before, I save the boards in our room for our learning.  Right now our reading and writing have displayed anchor charts that we are referring back to again and again.  Math has our strategies and rotations.  

This board is our display for the hall.  Each month I change the quilt with monthly pictures.  I use props like glasses or hats that show the time of year (bat glasses, elf hat, etc.).  At the end of the year we make a scrapbook of our year.  Parents and students love it!

Now that I have found what works for me and most importantly my students, I don't hate the boards anymore!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why my perfect set-up wasn't perfect...

So many teachers dedicated their summer time to preparing for the new year to come.  We have the perfect plan and diligently work on making it happen.  But what happens when that perfect plan isn't perfect when the students arrive?  One thing teachers have to fall back on is flexibility.

I am in a new classroom, at a new school and in a new district.  I set up the room with a lot of thought but I couldn't see how the students would use it.  18 bodies definitely change my plan!
This is a panoramic view of my new room.  I loved how the tables were in a straight row.  It was very visually pleasing and tidy...but it didn't work.  I have quite a few students that want to stand with their chair pushed out, or kind of lean on it.  It made it very hard to get around the room.  So we had to fix it.  It's not as visually pleasing but it does function MUCH better. 

Here is the change.  It was one of those changes that had a domino effect.  Other things had to find a new home.  The double sided shelf that holds the students book bins moved over by the mailboxes.  The double sided front loading book shelf had to move over by the library.  Small student chairs and crates were moved.

It wasn't how I wanted it but that's not what's important.  The students are the central reason to make any decisions in the classroom.  Yes, I like it to be pretty.  Yes, I like it to be visually pleasing. But more than anything I want the students to feel comfortable and happy in the space.  So flexibility and letting go of my wishes had to happen.  In the age of Pinterest and blogs, I know so many of us feel the pressure to have the cutest classroom  but make sure it works for your students.