Saturday, September 26, 2015

Comparing Names (Freebie)

Keep it real. Keep it relevant. 

That's one of my math mottos this year. I'm not sure how well I'm doing on that, but it's a most worthy goal to keep in mind.  

Names are always real and relevant for first graders, so I invented a way for my kids to compare numbers using symbols with teen frames and their names. Click on the graphic below for your own copy.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Library Smarter Charts

Every year I figure out ways to make my charts smarter. Most of the time I think, "And why didn't I think of this before?" The charts above are this year's versions of my library charts. (They didn't start the year on the wall by the way. That's not the way good teaching charts work.) I like that they're easy for kids to follow, even kids who aren't readers yet. Charts won't be very useful if they're not friendly to everyone.

P.S. Have you read Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz? No? You need to.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Facilitator

This week I learned what a facilitator is. The teacher devotional I'm reading defined it as "one who makes things easy or less difficult." The words "accelerate, advance, enable, promote, and serve" were also included. The thought led me directly to the most obvious question. 

Am I a facilitator?

In this very moment, I have my doubts. Let's take writing for example. Although I have a passion for teaching writing, have studied writing from many of my favorite gurus, and have taught several teachers how to teach writing, I'm currently baffled as to how I can make it easy or less difficult for 20 out of my 25 students. 

I have a gift, as many early elementary teachers do, for reading the hieroglyphics of young writers, yet even I can only read the writing of five of my writers. I was hoping to use Calkins' new Units of Study this year. It's much too advanced, so I've put on the breaks and returned to her older units. Unfortunately, even the lessons there are proving to be a struggle. The required stamina, effort, and skills are missing in huge quantities. I've never run into this before.

Once I get over my woe-is-me attitude, and I must do that quickly, I have to find a way to make writing easy or less difficult for these 20 students. As Routman has referenced, their strengths are indeed initially small. It doesn't seem much to work with, especially compared to what I'm accustomed to, but comparison is the thief of joy. 

So they're not like any class I've ever had. What am I going to do about it? I have a responsibility to teach them, even if it varies from how I've taught before. I have to find a way to accelerate, advance, enable, promote, and serve this particular group of students. I must be a facilitator. 

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Welcome to My Room

I've never shared pictures of my classroom in my four years of blogging. I'd like to think my room is welcoming, warm, and kid-friendly, not to mention very organized, but it's not all matchy matchy, cutesy, or themed up. The only major decor choice I've made is the color scheme of blues and greens. 

I'm courageously sharing these pictures simply because someone out there might wonder where I live. So, welcome to Miss McMorrow's room. 

P.S. The walls didn't have much on them when school started. They're starting to fill up with our thinking and learning now.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Desk Disorganization

First grade has attacked my living room, so if you walked into my house at this very moment, you wouldn't know how much I like organization. Piles are just not my favorite. A lengthy list of emails on my screen even feels like piles to me. So it makes sense that I like organization in my classroom, even inside those twenty-five student desks. I gasp inside when I see the disarray seeping from desks outside of the ones under my supervision. How can those kids find anything?!

Maybe I have OCD, but my fervor for organized kid spaces goes way beyond my appreciation for neatness. It seems obvious to me that disorganization slows down instruction. Precious minutes are lost if we have to stop and wait for the pencil, whiteboard marker, blue crayon, glue stick, etc. that can't be found. If this happens numerous times to numerous children throughout the day, those precious minutes add up fast. In my room, that pencil needs to be tracked down and ready to use by the time we've sung a song, recited a poem, or skip counted to 100. That doesn't happen if school tools are running around loose inside desks.

Some students are naturally organized like me. (Gotta love 'em.) For those who aren't, they learn to be if they're in my room. It helps that every Friday when the person who brought the Estimation Jar from home filled with delicious sweets, checks the insides of each desk before handing the candy over after our math lesson. Nothing can be floating - papers, pencils, erasers, crayons, you name it. This little trick is a lifesaver.

In my opinion, efficiency in the classroom can lead directly to student learning. (Routman would also agree. Gotta love her too.) We all have a boat load to accomplish in such a short time, often combined with insurmountable academic or behavioral challenges. Every minute counts, even the one lost trying to find that silly pencil.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

See ya!

I sure appreciate on-timeness in life, so I definitely appreciate it in my classroom. It's a pertinent lifelong skill and one even first graders can practice and learn while the price tag is still small. It just might be too late to learn it when they're barely hanging on to that job at McDonald's because they can't get to work on time. And I'm all about telling my kids about that job some day at McDonald's. If they're not on time, they'll be out of a job and someone else will get to make the fries.

So when the bell rings, I really do expect the kids to find our classroom as quickly as they can. Dilly-dallying is illegal. The past two years I've discovered a little trick that seems to help with many of them. I've taught them to say, "See ya!" (Just imagine the inflection in our voices too.) As soon as the bell rings, they say it to friends, swings, monkey bars, slides, etc. 

After recess when I'm trying to make a point about being on time, especially to those who weren't, I'll ask the first kiddo who was in line, "How'd you get here so quickly? What's your secret? Please do share so everyone can be on time from now on." Their response? "I said, 'See ya.'" Yep, I figured so. 

(No, that's not my whole class. In my dreams though.)

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Free Exploration

Many years ago during Math Their Way training, I learned about the power of free exploration. Before I ever ask kids to use math manipulatives for a specific reason or in a specific way, they get to use them for their own purposes. They can explore, be creative, use their imaginations, and play. It honestly does lessen the amount of issues we might have later when I really do need them to use the tools for particular  objectives. 

There are only two rules:

  • We never toss, drop, or throw manipulatives.
  • We never take apart someone else's creation unless they give permission.

I love that the kids use their math skills during free exploration without even trying. They naturally sort, count, build, compare, create patterns, etc. They also use the same creative imaginations that they'll be using in the near future to make up their own math strategies. Also, they must rely on those all-important social skills. It's difficult to successfully pull off free exploration without cooperation and the ability to share.  

Whether at the beginning of the year or at the start of a new unit with new tools, free exploration is a great strategy. 

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Bell Rings...Where's the Teacher?

I'm feeling opinionated this morning. That's not an unusual feeling for me when it comes to teaching though. Those of you who visit often know that all too well. Here's my thought for the day. 

One of my consistent practices is that I'm out the door the second the bell rings. I drop whatever I'm doing and away I go. I rarely see evidence that other teachers think this is important, so I'd like to share why I do.

* I don't believe in leaving children unattended. (It's kind of illegal.)

* Things happen when children are in line. (And they're not usually good.)

* I can hopefully prevent potential problems. (It's called proximity.)

* I can begin to prepare them for inside behaviors. (Some classes sure need this more than others.)

* I can use learning time more wisely. (I get my kids inside fairly quickly, because they're never waiting on me. A few years ago, a brand new teacher spent a day in my classroom. At the end of the day, she shared some numbers with me regarding how many minutes I had saved by the efficient way I got my kids inside from recess. It was something like 20 minutes. She acted like she hadn't ever seen this before, while it just seemed normal to me.)

That about sums it up. Thanks for listening to my opinionated post today and all the other days included.  :)

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