Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Number Sense Routines

I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but the State Board of Education really did something right.  You know how it is.  The motives are good, but sometimes we teachers are asked to do things that don't necessarily push us in the right pedagogical direction or make a substantial difference in teaching and learning.  Did I say that nicely enough?  So, what did they do?  They're requiring all math teachers to take a class called MTI - Mathematical Thinking for Instruction.  Brilliant move.  I can't say enough about the benefits of this class.  I've still got a lot to learn about being an effective math teacher, but in one fell swoop, that class shifted my thinking about 180 degrees.  

One of the big ideas I came away with is the absolute necessity of teaching number sense better.  Cool, but how exactly do I do that?  Well, I just finished reading Number Sense Routines by Jessica F. Shumway, and it answered many of my questions. 

This is what Jessica Shumway says about number sense. "It is the key to understanding all math.  Students who struggle in math often lack number sense."  Kind of sounds important.  According to the book, number sense is many things:

  • a sense of what numbers mean
  • an ability to look at the world in terms of quantity and numbers
  • an ability to make comparisons among quantities
  • flexibility, automaticity, and fluidity with numbers
  • an ability to perform mental math
  • flexibility with numbers
  • automatic use of math information
  • an ability to determine reasonableness of an answer
  • an ability to decide on a strategy based on the numbers in a problem
Oh, is that all?  Makes me feel like I've got my work cut out for me.  Fortunately, Jessica's book is full of daily routines or warm-ups for building number sense that are specifically designed for K-3.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who, like me, has had some questions about how to implement the MTI philosophy into their classroom more efficiently and completely.  (My principal just purchased this book for each grade level at my school.  Maybe yours will do the same.  Hint.  Hint.)  
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Sing Along!

I spotted a great idea years ago for helping kids learn the names of important people in the building (me, principal, secretary, music teacher, PE teacher, librarian, etc.), which I think is an important part of building a community.  We sing about them to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus."  (Music is such a great tool for learning, and we sing a lot in our room.)  Their pictures and the words to the song then go into a book.  Over the years, the book has evolved into much more than that.  Now we also sing about the name of our school, town, capital, state, country, and president.  It's a great social studies tool.  Here are just a few pictures.  You know the tune.  Sing along.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Inspired to RACK!

Read no further until you've clicked on this link and have read "Let's go RACKing!"  Seriously.  Play along.  You'll be glad you did.  Okay, you read it, right?  Aren't you glad you did?  The author of that post thoroughly inspired me, and gave me hope that I could do something similar with my kids.  Compassion, unselfishness, respect, heroism, and all the many honorable traits that I wish to sink into the core of each of my first graders are things we read about, discuss, and practice almost daily, but will these traits become part of who they are unless they have the opportunity to use them outside the four walls of our classroom?

I've got my kids for 12 days during December, and I'm making plans to RACK each of those days.  I want to keep it fairly simple but very meaningful.  There are some things that I'll have to orchestrate, preparing treats for example, but as much as possible, I want the kids to take ownership.  I want them to know how it feels to show kindness without being acknowledged or expecting anything in return. We'll remain anonymous, but when possible, we'll leave notes similar to the one in the inspirational post.  Here's my tentative plan.  

Day 1: Leave treats on each car in our school parking lot.

Day 2:  Take a quick walk to the Kuna Library and leave a collection of bookworms for the librarians to pass out.  

Day 3:  Leave treats for the lunch ladies.

Day 4:  Take hot chocolate out to duties at recess.

Day 5:  Clean the school grounds.

Day 6:  Leave a treat in the school mailbox for the postman.

Day 7:  Donate food to our school's food drive.

Day 8:  Donate a book to Operation Wish Book.

Day 9:  Leave a treat for our custodian and leave our classroom and hallway in better shape than normal.

Day 10:  Leave treats in the office for parents who sign in.

Day 11:  Head outside early before the dismissal bell rings and sing Christmas carols to the bus drivers while they wait.

Day 12:  Write Christmas cards for the senior center.

I'd love to hear back from anyone who has similar plans or who has ideas for me.  I've never done this before, so I welcome any and all thoughts.  There's still time to make changes.  I can't wait to RACK!
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crossing My Fingers

I've got this mental list of projects that must be done over Thanksgiving break growing in my head right now.  Towards the top of my list: wrap 26 of my Christmas picture books.  All 26 of my kids will get to open one during December.  Bummer they don't get to keep the books, but at least they'll get to enjoy them.  Every time one is being opened, with fingers crossed, I make quite a show about hoping and praying and wishing that it's a book because books are about the best gifts a person could ever get.  The kids get to hear this spiel 26 times, and it doesn't take long before they're crossing their fingers too.  Brainwashing does come in handy sometimes.  I'm crossing my fingers the love of books sticks with them forever!

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Takin' the Plunge

For several years I've wanted to try more authentic art with my kids.  We don't have an art teacher at our school, so I'm it and honestly I'm a faker.  I've always done what I called "art," but truthfully I was teaching how to follow directions, cut, and glue.  There's definitely a place for those skills, but never once did I need to talk about shading, warm and cool colors, perspective, etc.  Even though we did some cute and unique projects, my kids didn't really fine tune their artistic talents.  I wanted something different but basically fear of teaching art and a lack of ideas paralyzed me.

Well, this year I decided to take the plunge.  Sometimes that's the only way to make things happen.  I tracked down some works of elementary art on Pinterest.  Here's the link to my Pinterest art board. I got excited about the possibilities and thought that maybe, just maybe, I could pull this off.  I also got lucky.  My amazingly talented artistic niece, Brittney, volunteered to help teach.  So far we've done two lessons, and our final products look very near the examples on Pinterest.  I've included the pinterest links as proof.  There's also a picture of my lovely niece Britt.

I realize that Britt won't be available to teach art in my room forever, but I'm fairly confident that after watching her teach these two lessons, that I could, for the most part, pull it off in the future.  It's really unfortunate that fear got in my way for so long.  How often is that the case?  Whether it's art, writing workshop, MTI math, or some other something that we know will benefit our kids, sometimes the only way to make it happen is to jump right into the deep end and rely on the knowledge of an expert to help us find our way.

I'd love to share a few art teacher blogs that I've stumbled across.  They are full of great projects that are doable and even come with instructions.  Jump on in!

P.S. Even though I love these new artsy pieces, I still have my favorite cutting and glueing projects that I'll probably never let go of!
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Monday, November 14, 2011

It's All About Them

I mentioned in an earlier post that motivating little readers to join the literacy club isn't always easy, but it's made easier when the curriculum is woven into the meaning of their own lives.  What's more meaningful than their own name?  It was probably one of the first words they learned to read and write, and thanks to the ideas of Patricia Cunningham, I get a lot of mileage out of those little names at the beginning of the year.  

Each day a name is drawn out of the hat, and we spend about 15 minutes learning as much as we can about phonemic awareness, reading, and writing from that name.  We clap it, rhyme with it, count the letters, talk about if the letters are tall, short, or low, look for chunks hiding inside of it, cut it apart and put it back together, etc.  We also take time to interview the special person who belongs to the name through a shared writing experience.  The interviewers ask a few questions, and  I write the child's answers in front of everyone, as I focus on certain parts of the writing process that are appropriate at the moment.  When all is said and done, the interviews go up on the wall.  When they come down, I make a book out of them before sending them home.  Here's an example from our book.    By the end of the year, it's obvious from its bumps and bruises that it was a favorite.      

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Math About Me

I'm finding myself thinking once again about motivation.  It's never really very far from a teacher's mind.  "How can I motivate my kids to...?"  Several years ago I came across a homework activity called "Math About Me."  It seemed like a great idea.  I wanted my mathematicians to know that math surrounds them but more importantly that math is all about them and their own lives.  Six-year olds tend to want to learn about things that are about them.  Don't we all?  I'm 40, and it's still true for me 34 years later.  I've tweaked the activity a few times over the years from its original state, but I still send it home and ask kids to fill it out and return it to school.  What do I do with it?  Grade it?  Slap a sticker on it and send it back home?  Nope.  Well, isn't it obvious?  We've got ourselves another classroom book to make.  Check it out.

(Click on the picture for your own copy.)

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Energizers - 88 of them!

Brain Rules says that exercise boosts brain power.  The brain hungers for energy.  It also says that the brain can only attend to instruction for about ten minutes before it needs a break.  (I can testify to this.  Sometimes it feels more like five minutes, especially in September.) Since I hang around six-year olds, movement is part of my life.  We don't stay in one place for very long, and we take little brain breaks throughout the day.  I even write in my lesson plan book the specific brain breaks I want to use each week throughout the year so that I don't bore the kids with the same ones.  

One evening in September after a day of feeling like I worked a whole lot harder to instruct, than my 27 first graders worked to listen, I felt like I needed some fresh ideas for how to help move them along.  I came across this book by Susan Lattanzi Roser and ordered it on the spot, even without an emergency budget committee meeting.  I was desperate.  (Thanks to Dave Ramsey, there's always a cushion in the budget for emergencies like this.)

I also discovered several of the book's energizer demonstrations on youtube.  The very next day I tried out "Shark Attack."  It was a hit, and I knew we were on to something.  We've been trying them out since, and even though some don't go over as well as others, it's nice to have such a large collection of new creative brain breaks to choose from.  

Anyone who might be interested should check out youtube.  The link for "Shark Attack" is below.  If you like what you see, watch the other clips that are lined up on the right side of the page and imagine your own class finding moments to not only increase movement but to give their brains a break.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Our Halloween Book Collection

Halloween has come and gone, but it's left its mark on our collection of classroom books.  Here's a glimpse of four books that my trick-or-treaters will enjoy all year long.

This first book was inspired by a big book we read during shared reading called Jack-O-Faces.  One of the pages says, "This is Jack-o-happy."  That became the inspiration for each page of our book, but we inserted our names instead of Jack's.

This next book is fairly simple, but it has moving parts so the kids enjoy it.  When you lift up the ghost costume, a first grader is underneath.

We learn a poem every week in our room.  "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" is one of them, although it's not the traditional one that we all know so well.  Since the spider in the poem crawls up on heads, I put each child's name into the poem and took a picture of a spider on their head.  (Fake of course but rather real looking.)  I told them to tell a story with their face.  Too bad I can't show their full facial expressions here on the Internet.  They're hilarious.  Oh, and I made the book by taping the pages together accordion style.  Just mixing things up.

Lastly, I took pictures of them in their Halloween costumes and created this next book.  It's just like Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin, Jr.  I asked them to pose like their costume's character.  I sure got some creative pics.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Book Making Factory

These books of ours just keep coming.  This is our busiest time of the year for making books.  It does tend to slow down after a bit.  Here are a few more that we've created.

"Who Let the Letters Out" is a song that we sing while reviewing the alphabet during the first weeks of school.  I believe I borrowed the idea from Dr. Jean.  After finally finishing our review and arriving at Z, we created this book.  There's a page for each letter of the alphabet.  The kids love to sing the whole book.

This next book is inspired by The Okay Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  It's a great story about accepting the things that we're just okay at, knowing that the more things we try, the more likely we are to find that something we excel at.  The person's body in the story is actually made with the letters OK, so we made our bodies like that too.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud is a wonderful book that I borrowed from my first grade teacher friend Mandy from across the hall.  I definitely have her to thank for the inspiration behind the book we created.  Basically, the story says that everyone walks around with an imaginary bucket.  People either fill it or dip into it.  I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this concept.  I hear these comments often from my kids:  "So and so just filled my bucket," or  "So and so just dipped into my bucket."  I asked each of my kids how they fill other's buckets and wrote this book.  Mandy painted the bucket you see in the picture.  It's the cutest thing and reminds all our first graders to fill those buckets!

I found the inspiration for this last book on another first grade teacher blog:  Melissa posted a picture of one of her kids holding a large talking bubble that said, "I'm a first grader!"  The instant I saw it I thought, "That needs to be a book."  Here's what I came up with.  By the way, I convinced several adult readers in our school to pose for the book as well.  I want my kids to see that their heros are readers too.


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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shared Reading Creations

There's something about creating a classroom book that invites kids to read.  I can't make them want to learn their sight words, decode, comprehend, read with fluency, etc.  So how can I open the literacy club door wide open and make it irresistible for them to walk through?  Stamp their name, their picture, their illustrations, their life right onto what we're doing.  As much as possible, make it all about them.  That's the ticket.  I've found that making classroom books does just that.  They want to read these books.  If someone wrote a book about me, I'd sure want to read it.  It's no different for them.  

I believe in the power of shared reading.  We read a big book every week of the school year, many by one of our favorite authors, Joy Cowley.  The text in these books is often repetitive and anchored with solid sight words.  They inspire great classroom books.  I simply borrow the basic repetitive pattern, and a book is born.

Yuck Soup by Joy Cowley is a beginning of the year favorite.  Each page says, "In go some _____."  Here are a few pages from our version.  By the way, cut-up sentences are great tools to use with classroom books.  They help with one-to-one match, sight words, spacing, etc.

Joy Cowley's I Can Jump has a nice repetitive pattern as well.  Our book uses the same pattern, and each child wrote about what they can do, specifically what they're an expert at.  (Yes, you're only in first grade, but you are an expert in something already.)

Let's Have a Swim is another good example of the use of repetition.  Thanks again to Joy Cowley.

Finally there's Look by Jillian Cutting.  Often times kids will draw their own illustrations, but I do enjoy mixing it up with photographs.  I also enjoy changing the sizes of books.  It spices things up.  This book is pretty small.  Each page is identical except for the child's name and picture.

So, the moral of this tale is that shared reading is a great avenue for the creation of classroom books, even without access to these particular ones.  There's often something that can be pulled out of a big book or shared reading experience that can turn into a book kids will love to read because it's all about them.

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