Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snow Kids, Guided Writing, and a Few Lessons Learned

When you live in Alabama, whenever you see the teeniest, tiniest little snowflake--it's kind of a BIG DEAL.  For real.  ONE snowflake, and people are like, "Stop the world."  So if there is EVER any chance of the stuff, I get my tail to that grocery store to stock up on ALL the milk and bread in the world.  That is, if there's any left by the time I get there--but I believe I could live just fine off of cookies and coffee and that is all.  Anyone with me?  ANYWAY....flashback to a few weeks ago, when we woke up to a blanket of thick snow, and the flakes were still coming down hard.  Hands down, one of the most amazing snow days I have experienced here!  It was magical and surprising, and it was something my own kids took full advantage of, even though they had NO snow boots or snow suits.  Because of the whole "not prepared for this kind of weather clothing deal"-- they ended up changing out of wet clothes about a million times.  But they didn't care, and I didn't care, because...SNOW!!!!

Check this out.  Emma's jacket is two sizes too small--but we hadn't bought her a winter coat yet this year, so thankfully we had a jacket from our ski trip a few years ago to get her through! Bless.  Yes, Greyson is wearing fuzzy PJ pants.  It was the warmest he had.  I mean, gracious.  Luckily his coat fit.  Praise the Lord for an elf who had the idea to leave some gloves and earmuffs for these Southern children! 

Usually at this time of year, when I teach a science unit about snow, or read snow books, or we do snow themed writing, it can difficult to get kids to relate--because in their 6 or 7 years--living here in the South--they haven't had much experience with snow.

This year, all of that is very different.  Because of that one magical snow day, the kids are more engaged and curious and able to contribute ideas during our snow and winter unit than I have seen in other years when we didn't get snow at all.  I think it just proves that personal life experiences are integral in building interest and creating background knowledge for learning.

Today we did  a precious directed drawing with a cute snow kid.  Then we wrote about our magical snow day from a few weeks ago.  Truth be told, when the kids first got started, they struggled with details.  It was a lot of... "One day, it snowed.  I was happy.  I made a snowman."  I mean.  I know these kids woke up and were about to burst like a confetti cannon from excitement.  They probably did little happy dances.  Some probably laughed and clapped, and grinned from ear to ear.  I know it, because I did almost ALL those things, and I'm old, so....

I had to stop them where they were.  I said, "Guys, let's think back to our snow day.  Let's try to relive that day a little.  Starting with when you woke up.  Can you describe exactly what your eyes saw?"  So we walked through trying to "paint a picture with our words".   I explained that the words we use have the power to paint pictures inside a reader's head.  Sometimes in reading, I like to call their mental pictures their "Brain TV".   After sharing a few examples with them, we practiced sharing  descriptive words and figurative language to tell about the snow.  Some kids said it looked like vanilla ice cream all over the ground.  One said it looked like a white paintbrush had painted the ground and trees.  UM, that's what I'm talking about!  YES!

After they focused on writing only what their eyes saw, we worked on explaining how they felt.  (In case you didn't know, according to first graders, there are only three emotions--happy, sad, mad.  Ha!  But really...anyone else see this besides me?)  So we had to talk about what they truly had going on those heads when they woke up to see all of this magical, glorious snow.  One friend shared that he felt all of this blood rushing around--that he was so excited he felt he just HAD to get out in the snow right then!  Another one said she was so surprised and couldn't believe her eyes.  And another friend just wanted to stare at it.  She felt calm.

Finally, I guided them to explain the adventures they had in the snow.  We shared out the different things they did, and I explained that even the littlest details in writing make it more interesting to read.  I loved that instead of seeing, "I made a snowman"--a friend revised his work to say, "I worked with my brother to roll snowballs for a snowman.  We gave him a warm scarf and a blackberry nose."  So. Much. Better.

(Our directed drawing is inspired from johnpost.us)

So, I learned a few things today as a teacher.

1.  Personal, real life experiences make learning about certain subjects more accessible for students.
2.  Guiding writing with a explicit examples can make all the difference in the details and effort they put into their writing.
3.  Break down writing projects--focus on ONE thing at a time. Even if it takes a few days to complete.  Ideally, this writing piece would have taken three days.  I couldn't wait.  So we did it all today, because I HAD to see the finished products.  Mean old Mrs. Cooley.  Hands were hurting a little today from all that writing.
4.  Teaching writing makes me tired.  But it's rewarding to see results.
5.  Coffee and cookies are always necessary and always yummy--whether they are for a snow day, or used just as a reward for getting through the writing lesson that day.  :)

Can someone please invent time travel and take me back to this day?  Nothing better than a Snow Day.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Meaningful Morning Tubs

I started morning tubs this past year as an alternative to traditional morning work/worksheets.  I have loved being able to integrate STEM concepts and purposeful play into our daily routine.  I have also enjoyed seeing the classroom community and relationships that are built by allowing students to have the first minutes of the morning to socialize, problem solve, share ideas, and work cooperatively.  

Getting Started

At the beginning of the year, I used items from around my room to fill the bins.  Legos, pattern blocks, wooden blocks, geoboards, puzzles, snap cubes, play doh, etc.  These materials encourage building and design, but don't require much explanation.  After reading The Most Magnificent Thing (a precious book that encourages creativity, critical thinking, perseverance, and engineering) I go over my expectations for morning tubs--which is to use materials to build and create, work nicely with others, share materials, and clean up.    For the first day of morning tubs, student tables (numbered 1-5) are assigned to the tub that matches their table number.  Table 1 gets tub 1, Table 2 gets tub 2, etc.  They will go to one tub each day, working only at the assigned tub.  The next day, whoever arrives first for the group will grab the next number tub (if they had 1 yesterday, they will get 2 today).  I use a cube organizer and tiffany blue tubs from Wal-Mart to hold our activities.  

Themed STEM

This month, I posted a few pictures on my Instagram account sharing what I planned to do during January with the morning tubs!  I literally bought NOTHING for these tubs.  I found all items inside my classroom or at home.  I wanted to make all tubs snow themed, and came up with a few simple ideas that the kids will rotate through for the month of January.  I love watching my students work together to think creatively about the items. They come in each morning so excited to see which tub they will get, and from the moment they get started, they are engaged in play based WORK.  They love beginning the day this way, and I love it too--because I am able to complete all morning tasks for our classroom while my students busily work on their own.  Is our room a little noisy in the morning?  Yes.  Students are talking, planning, laughing, thinking out loud, sharing, and having a blast.  I had a lot of questions about the tubs and how they work, so I created labels and listed ideas for materials in a resource that you can find here.   I plan to create themed morning tubs like this for each school month.

Here are some photos of the snow themed morning tubs:

This snowman, though.  He looks a lot like Olaf!  I love this Build a Snowman tub--I added mini cupcake liners for hats, cut little pieces of orange pipe cleaner, added buttons, googly eyes, and scraps of fabric for scarves.

Mitten clothesline.  Dry out those mittens that get wet in the snow!  

Leave me a comment sharing STEM concepts you would like to see in future tubs!  My goal is to create a set of these for each month of the school year!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dot Day

One of my favorite books to read at the beginning of the school year is The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.  It is such a sweet story about a little girl who thinks she can't draw, but with encouragement from a teacher, she makes a mark on a sheet of paper.  When her teacher frames her small dot, she realizes that she can do even better, and begins creating dots of all colors, shapes, and sizes.  By the end she is an artist, and realizes she can do anything she puts her mind to!  I use this story to talk with my students about how they too, can do ANYTHING if they just TRY.  We all can make our "mark" in first grade by bringing our different talents, and encouraging each other to try and do our best each day!

I love making the very first week of school extra special and exciting for my students.  The first few days we spend building community, but I also make sure to do activities that will spark their curiosity, and leave them wanting to come back for more the next day.   I thought since I always read The Dot, why not have a whole Dot Day?

We started the day by coloring coffee filter "dots" with markers.  We put the colored coffee filters under some water to let the colors bleed together, and set it out to dry.  One of the finished dots is in the picture below.  I also served candy spree as a little dot snack!

After the coffee filter dots were drying, the kids rotated through different "dot" activity stations.  They kept their activity pages to compile into their Dot Day activity book.  One station was cutting out dots using magazines.  Another station was to practice "Just a Dot, not a lot" with liquid glue.  After they did their glue dots, I came by with glitter to add to their page--anything with glitter is a BIG DEAL for a first grader! Ha!  A third station was dot stickers that the kids had to transform into something else.  The sentence stem at the top of the page says, "It looked like a dot, but it was really a _______".  Another station was to create their own names using dot markers, and the last station was to paint watercolor dots.  It was such an artsy day, and the kids were able to be artists for the day while also getting to know their new friends in their class.  
You can download a free copy of the Dot Day book by clicking HERE.

We also couldn't pass up doing some "dot" science, well, it was actually more sphere science.  We practiced observation skills by looking closely at the small beads, drawing pictures in our science journals and describing the beads before adding water.  They also practiced making predictions about what was going to happen to the beads when we added water and color fizzy tablets!  After leaving them to soak up water overnight, the kids were so excited to see how much the beads had grown and changed from the day before!  I found the jelly bead kit on Amazon:

I hope you can use some of these ideas for your own Dot Day in your classroom!  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Snow Sensory Tub

I am so excited to be typing this blog post from my couch in front of the cozy fire--it's an Alabama SNOW DAY!  Which basically means, they shut the whole state down and you can't find bread or milk in ANY store, anywhere.  P.S. It's around 10 a.m. and I still haven't seen a snowflake.  (I'm not complaining.  Although this Southern girl sure would love to see a little bit of snow!)

Well, since we hardly ever get real snow here, I wanted to bring a little bit of "snow" into the classroom in a creative way--by using a sensory tub!  I added a sensory tub to my classroom last year, and the kids LOVE it.  I bought my tub at Target (just a large storage bin with a snap on lid)--and I added two bags of cotton balls, some snowman erasers, and a few clear pebbles for the "ice".  

I created 5 literacy and 5 math activities that can be used with the snow tub, or even WITHOUT the tub!  You can check it out by clicking the picture below--it will be on SALE today to celebrate my little snow day away from school!  :)

I added the snow sensory tub to our "Reading Restaurant" station.   This past week, my students worked on rhyming skills with the rhyming snowballs, and next week they will work on sight words by playing a game using the animal and snowman cards inside the tub.   

For math, I plan on using the activities in my Snow Sensory Tub packet without the tub--I wanted to place them in separate bins, so they can rotate through the activities:  

Sort & Tally

We are working on tallying, so I made a mini snow tub using a small shoebox bin.  I added craft sticks, ribbon, cotton balls, buttons, and paper carrots.  

Chilly Cover Up

This is a basic addition dice game.  I added itty bitty dice to make it a little more special!  You could play with cotton balls, but I used snowman erasers.  I may also change this game up a little bit by playing with snap cubes for a game of "bump".  

Even and Odd Snowballs

Players choose whether they will be the even bucket or the odd.  They flip a card to reveal a number, and if the number is one that goes with their bucket choice (they are the odd bucket and flip a 1) then they get to grab a snowball to add to their bucket.  The first player to fill their bucket first is the winner.

Snowball Measurement

We are beginning our nonstandard measurement unit next week!  This is a fun little activity to measure with "snowballs" (or cotton balls).  

Hoping for snow real snow today! Wait, I think it might actually be sleeting right now.  I gotta go--I have two excited little kiddos here!  :)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Magic Bracelets--a Magical First Day Activity!

One of my absolute FAVORITE activities for the first day of school is making MAGIC bracelets. The kids faces are always PRICELESS when they discover what these bracelets can do!  I give everyone a bag of clear beads and a pipe cleaner, and tell them that even though the bracelets look a little plain, they are actually magical.  Immediately they get to talking with their table friends about what they think will happen... this year, some thought they might glow in the dark.  Others thought they might be able to make them fly!  Some wondered if they might change color.  One friend hoped it would grant wishes.  I loved seeing that spark of curiosity on the first day–and it is my hope to keep the kids curiosity for learning all year long!  I told them we would be taking a walk outside, and by the time our walk was finished, they would know why those bracelets are special.  You see, if you are going to have an amazing first grade year, something will happen to that clear, plain looking bracelet….

The kids were absolutely amazed when they stepped outside–those plain, clear beads became bright & multi-colored!  I was so impressed, because they immediately started questioning why it happened.  Which became a lesson about scientific thinking–because scientists do exactly what they just did–predict, question, and wonder!  The kids shared so many smart ideas–a few kids wondered if the bracelet changed color because of the change in temperature–going from the cold air conditioning to the heat outside.  Some kids wondered if it had to do with LIGHT.  (*YES!  These are UV beads, and they change colors in the sunlight.*)  The link to the ones I used are below:

I absolutely love this new tradition with my classes.  
The bracelets always make it a super exciting first day!  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Why I am Bringing the Play Kitchen Back to First Grade!

This is my 9th year teaching first grade.  When I went to school to become a teacher, I had a certain picture in my mind of what my classroom would look like.   In my mind, I saw a little kitchen, an art center, a block area, sand and water table, and a light table.  I saw a cozy library,  soft lighting, and a busy hum of children engaged in learning.   I also remember having to write my own personal philosophy of education, and I made sure that it was based heavily on the importance of play in the classroom.  

There are times when I see the classroom I pictured—sure, I have a cozy room with a library of wonderful books and fun furnishings, but none of those centers I imagined are actually in the picture.  No art easel, sand table, block center, or light table.   I have literacy and math stations, but I struggle with the pressure of meeting standards, while also wanting the classroom I pictured so long ago.  Why does it have to be  like this?  How can I find balance?

Somewhere along the way, play has been banished from classrooms and replaced with worksheets, teaching to the test, and continually moving forward with instruction whether the kids understand or not.  Education, along with society, is fast-paced. It gives students little time for play, little time to socialize, and to resolve conflict.  Maybe behavior referrals would be reduced if we had the time to allow our students to explore these essential skills again.
This year, I am ready, and desperately hoping for, a change.  I brought in a play kitchen for the first time EVER.  And when I did, I worried about it.  What would people say?  Do I need permission? Is it taboo to have a play kitchen in a first grade classroom?  Should I be giving this play kitchen to a Kindergarten teacher instead?  I actually felt a little guilty, and felt the need to justify my decision to people who came in and saw it sitting in the corner.  BUT WHY!?  My students are SIX YEARS OLD!  Yes, of course they still want to play!  It’s what they do, and I am going to allow them to do it!

So, here are some reasons I am bringing the play kitchen to first grade!

1.  Play is Age Appropriate
BECAUSE THEY ARE SIX!!!  They are little!  Let’s let them be little again!   Kids are forced to grow up so quickly.  When they step into my classroom, I want time to slow down just a bit. For centuries, scholars like Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Montessori, and Hill have promoted the value of play for early childhood development—including children in primary grades.  See?  SCHOLARS have said that play is OKAY. 

2.  Literacy and Writing (even math!) Integration
I have big plans for this kitchen.  I can’t wait to change it up based on classroom themes-- allowing my students to create signs, lists, recipes, and shops.  I plan to use literature to integrate author studies, phonics, and science and social studies topics.  During math, students can become shop keepers, setting prices for items and exchanging play money.  Since learning will be student directed, I know students will be engaged.

3.  Social Skill & Language Development
I have noticed that as the years go by, many of my students have difficulties interacting with new friends.  There are times when I feel that I am so bound by standards, that I have to continually move forward with instruction, and I have NO time to let students interact unless it involves a math game or buddy reading.  This is hindering them from developing relationships, empathy, and resolving conflict.  They simply need time to talk—after all, communicating feelings and ideas is essential in everyday life.  That is why “Speaking and Listening” is an ENTIRE Common Core standard strand, right?

4.  Imagination and Creativity
Let’s face it.  Technology has taken over, and while technology is amazing-- gone are the days when videos, iPad's, Kindles, and such weren’t at our fingertips every given minute. The play kitchen will allow my students  the opportunity to pretend again.  How many memories do we have with our friends playing in the home living center at school?  Dressing up and playing with baby dolls?   Developing imagination will inspire them to become creative writers and thinkers.  I think I will see a dramatic change in the writing my students produce because of the play kitchen. 

So, I am giving it a try--beginning next week.  I am so excited about it too!  If introducing a play kitchen into our learning stations goes well, then I am definitely saving my money for a light table next. :)  If you have any tips and management tricks for play kitchens in a first grade classroom (or any grade for that matter), I would LOVE to hear them!  Leave me a comment below!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Back to School Bash Giveaway Time!

Well, friends, the time has come!  It's time to HOP HOP HOP around to 24 blogs for your chance to win some major giveaways!!!  We've teamed up to bring a little fun and excitement to this crazy time of year for teachers.  Our bash baskets are sure to bring some style to your wardrobe, materials to your classroom, and a smile to your face!

Here's how it works...  You'll have a couple of days to hop around blogs and enter the giveaways using a Rafflecopter.  At the bottom of each post there will be a button that will lead you to the next giveaway!  The more blogs you enter on, the better your chances are of winning.

My bash basket is a $100 Etsy gift card!!!  If you are anything like me, you may have an Etsy wish list a mile long, because you just want ALL THE THINGS.  Jewelry, home decor, classroom decor, handmade art and signs, banners, clothing...Etsy has it all!  

To enter, use the Rafflecopter below!  You have until Tuesday!

Hop to the next bash basket at Crazy for First Grade by clicking the image below!  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Back to School Bash!

Hello friends!!  It's that time of year again...time for our BACK TO SCHOOL BASH 2016!!!  This year we have teamed up with even more bloggers so that we can bring prizes-a-plenty to you!!!  Mark your calendars for August 7th because you will NOT want to miss out!!!

Each blogger will host a Bash Basket that contains a prize valued at $100 or more!  Make sure to follow the blogs below so you don't miss a single thing!  Check back in on August 7th so you can get your hop on!

See you August 7th!


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