Monday, January 16, 2017

Snowballs and Math

We have plenty of snow outside. We just can't play with it, because it's just been way too cold to go outside. Fortunately, though cooped up inside, they're hangin' with me fairly well. It helps that we take lots of breaks. Today we took one that they'd love to repeat often. I didn't invent the idea, but I did take it up a notch by adding a simple math component.

I split the group in half and sent them to opposite sides of the room with their paper snowballs. At my signal they let them fly. The winning team is the one with the fewest number of snowballs on their side when time is up, so they did their best to get those snowballs on to the opposite side of the room. At my signal, they stopped throwing and two chosen collectors gathered up each team's snowballs. Here's the best part. Instead of simply counting them up, we created a visual. It was easy, meaningful, and so quick, we grabbed our snowballs and played one more time.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Saturday Sayings: The Language We Use

Teacher lingo is a real thing. It's a language all of our own, filled with buzz words, acronyms, and teacher-friendly terms. IEP, IRI, SBAC, formative assessments, pedagogy, etc. It's a foreign language to the world outside of education. In fact, I've often worried during IEP meetings whether the parents could understand half of what was being said. Sometimes it's easier to smile and nod.

I'm convinced that we speak this language without hardly thinking about it, because it's our culture. And if we did stop to think about it, maybe we'd find opportunities to revise our language, like in these examples: 

He's a low reader. 
She's in the low math group. 

Haven't we all said something similar about a student at one point or another and hardly thought twice about it? We're culturized to describe them that way. I understand that it's simply a descriptor, not used with any malicious intent. I've been using the word "low" most of my career, and I've never used it offensively. Yet it's been causing me some angst of late, because I stopped to think about how it sounds when it's attached to the name of someone who's in my care. And because it's on my radar, I notice how often we teachers use it to describe our students. A lot. 

Some might argue that it's merely a matter of semantics. Will a different adjective fix the problems these students face or how we go about helping them? Maybe not, but is there a better word we could use? I've got a few in mind. Maybe I'll never find a replacement that I'm completely comfortable with, but on behalf of my students who struggle academically, I'd like to use my words concerning them more carefully regardless of the fact they'll never hear me describe them that way.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

80 Books

I'm an avid reader, but I suppose even avid readers have to put their books down every so often. Unfortunately, this school year has been one big reason to put books down. I've simply been amazingly busy and haven't had much time for anything but school. Thanksgiving and Christmas gave me a small respite, so I tried my best to make up for all the books I haven't had time to read since school started. Here's my journey. (FYI: These are all young adult and juvenile fiction books.)

5 stars 

 3 stars

 3 stars

4 stars

4 stars

4 stars

2 stars (Readers on Goodreads loved this book though.)

5 stars

3 stars

4 stars

5 stars

2 stars

3 stars

3 stars

4 stars

3 stars

3 stars

4 stars

My favorites:

A Court of Mist and Fury - This is book two of a fantasy series. I didn't know I was a fantasy fan, but I've enjoyed this series a lot.

The Thing About Jellyfish - It's endearing and well-written.

Because of Mr. Terupt - I adored this book, and it surprised me.

So B. It - This story ranks at the top of my list, for sure. I loved it from beginning to end.

There are lots of good books on my list, and many of them had great Goodread ratings. Hopefully you found something here that you can add to your list.

P.S. I read 80 books in 2016. That's not a bad total, especially considering my August, September, October, and November.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Moo! by David LaRochelle is my new favorite picture book. More importantly, it's a crowd pleaser in my room. Without giving away too many details, because you really must experience the book for yourself, the plot is told so cleverly with one single word: Moo. Who knew one could tell a whole story by repeatedly using the same word? The author pulls it off though. With the help of picture clues, inferencing, and punctuation, the word Moo tells such a clever, engaging, and funny story. And I love that any of my readers can read it, and they do....repeatedly and loudly. In fact, this is the kind of book that readers will read with the kind of enthusiasm that is just a bit distracting, which is a great problem to have. It just begs to be read with a fluent, expressive storyteller's voice. Go check it out. Even better, buy yourself a copy. You'll be glad you did.

Click on the book to see it on Amazon.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Makerspace: First Grade Style

George Couros, the Idaho Coaching Network, and Twitter have me thinking about creativity this year. 

Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset, says, "What we learn is not as important as what we create from what we learn." 

The Idaho Coaching Network is reminding me that the goal of school is not for students to get better at school. It's transfer. It's allowing and expecting students to do something with their learning that reaches beyond the walls of the classroom.

Twitter is daring me to think about #makerspaces, like this one that's been up and running in my room for almost two months now.

While Makerspaces can be technology-based, they don't have to be. So first I asked parents for donations. (See my letter below.) They responded brilliantly and continue to send in items. I believe the students must be encouraging them since I only asked for donations the one time. It's important to continually add items though since the materials are consumable.

Two students visit the Makerspace during Daily 5 each day. Those two students forgo all the independent parts of Daily 5 except for guided reading. (I wholeheartedly believe in Daily 5, but I can make a compromise and allow each student to take one day off every few weeks.) The time spent creating typically equates to about 45 minutes, which is more then enough time.

Since I'm making this up as I go, I decided to make the first Makerspace round exploratory. The only thing I asked students to do was create a plan first. Making a plan based on available materials and then sticking to it is not a natural skill for young learners. Neither is stopping when there's still time available. Adding, adding, and adding is more natural. We've continually discussed the fact that if you keep adding, your creation will turn into a monster. (Yet even the monsters are celebrated.) 

This is one student's plan.

a person

a house

a bell
At the end of the day, the two students who visited the Makerspace then have an opportunity to present their creations to the class. (In the future, I'm contemplating how technology might come into play with the presentation piece.)

After each student visited the Makerspace once, we started round two. The only change I made was a requirement to write about their creation when they finished. I think I left this too wide open and should have offered more scaffolds though.

This is one student's plan and reflection.

I'm planning to start round three after Christmas break. This time the students will have a STEM task to tackle at the Makerspace in addition to the planning and reflection writing pieces. I love the fact that students can have opportunities to explore freely but also be challenged by specific tasks. 

I'm pleased with what the Makerspace has offered my students so far. 
  • They practice growth mindset in a real way.
  • They create.
  • They problem solve.
  • They learn to plan and revise. (I love the connection to writing.)
  • They present.
  • They're engaged and talk positively about their experiences. (One boy asked a student from another classroom if she had a Makerspace too, and then went on to explain what he was doing.)

By the way, I have Legos in my Makerspace, but suprisingly the kids aren't interested in them. I can only assume it's because they want to cut, glue, tape, make, and take something home that they created from scratch, which is not something kids typically get to do at school.

If you're interested in reading more about Makerspaces, here's a useful article. I'll continue to share bits and pieces of my journey here on my blog. Even though it feels like I'm fumbling my way through this experience and know I'll find ways to make it ten times better in the future, I'm so glad I've taken on the challenge. I believe my students are too.

P.S. Come join me on Facebook at my teacher page. Click on the graphic to find me.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

O Christmas Tree

I tried a new Christmas project today that did not disappoint. It was easy to prepare.
It helped kids use their brain growers: optimism, flexibility, resilience, and persistence.
Not a single project looked exactly like another.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Sayings: It's Not Always Easy

It's not always easy, but it's important. 

I mysteriously created this saying this year. I decided it was smart enough to repeat, so my students hear it often. In reflection, I'm realizing that maybe in the past I've given my students the wrong impression. 

Have I inadvertenly caused them to believe that working with others is easy? 

Doing the right thing when no one is watching is a piece of cake? 

Listening to their heart will always feel natural? 

These are huge misconceptions, based alone on the fact we adults manage to struggle with these same issues.

Yet I'm not letting them off the hook. I'm still going to teach my students about integrity, cooperation, character, mindset, and numerous other qualities. I'm raising the bar high, helping them exercise and develop the right muscles for doing the right thing even when it's not convenient. Though a few already make it look kind of easy, I know life will challenge them all and hand them all sorts of opportunities and reasons to not do the right thing. It will take years of practice to get this right, so we'd better start now. 

But I'd better let them know something and repeat it often.

It's not always easy, but it's important.

P.S. If you'd like some new Christmas music, check out the CD my cousin and I have recently released here.

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