Planning for Pixel Art and Fact Fluency

I need to share this experience with anyone who will listen (read). I’m an active member of the #GAfE4Littles and #InnovatingPlay online communities and they recently merged. Chirstine Pinto just released her first book, Google Apps for LittlesJessica Twomey challenges the community with regular invitations to play. The March invitation was to choose an activity from Christine’s book to complete in your classroom. Christine and Jessica created questions for participants to respond to around that challenge on Flipgrid. The questions took participants through the planning process and challenged our thinking as well as encouraging us to take the activity we chose even further. I have only used Google Apps with my littles a tiny bit. And when I say tiny, I mean twice. I am not one to turn down a challenge so I ordered my book and selected and activity!

Question 1 – Choose an activity and share why it is meaningful.

I wanted to pick something that I could implement in my classroom right away. I started flipping through the book but I almost immediately turned to the Pixel Art page. It jumped out at me because we just started our unit on addition and subtraction fluency (#math1OA6). The group I have this year needs me to keep things fresh. I knew I couldn’t teach this unit the regular way because they would get bored. The Pixel Art page gave a suggestion for taking the activity further by turning the Pixel Art into a puzzle by inputting equations. This was exactly what I needed for my kids. They can solve an equation quickly, but can they create the equations fluently with the total or difference in mind.

Question 2 – Anticipate challenges.

(Nevermind my struggle with stickers)
I was concerned about device availability because right now we have mostly iPads. I was able to totally avoid this problem because I signed out laptops from our computer lab. I also wanted to be able to format the cells to have a color assigned to the 2 digit number 10 but Alice Keeler‘s blog post on starting from scratch went totally over my head. I am a spreadsheet newbie. So, I stuck with the original preformatted sheet she shared. This worked out great because the colors on there matched the colors of snap cubes I have.

Question 3 – Personalize and Extend the Learning.
In creating Pixel Art, students have the choice to create anything they want. This activity has built-in personalization. We will continue to extend the activity through adding equations that will turn the art into a puzzle for a friend to solve. I plan to change one of my literacy centers and one of my math stations toa Google Assignment on Google Classroom and recreating Pixel Art will be one of them. Students will be able to play both with the snap cubes and the spreadsheet prior to the creation of their Pixel Art

I bet you are ready to see how it went….

Pixel Art in Action

I introduced my students to the activity by showing them some examples of Pixel Art like this tweet from Ryan Read who is doing Pixel Art with is high school students

I didn’t even finish my first sentence when one student shouted out, “It’s like Minecraft!” I had them hooked! I grabbed the snap cube tubs and dumped them and they got started right away.

They created everything from footballs to Pokemon, cats to Steve from Minecraft, and college logos to flowers. They spend nearly an hour creating their Pixel Art models. My students are so used to grabbing cubes to count and not worrying about the colors that I did have to help them think about the colors they wanted to use because in this activity, color is important. They also struggled with the idea of making their Pixel Art “flat” and not 3 dimensional.

Day 2 was our “play with the spreadsheet” day. I modeled the process of getting to the spreadsheet through our Google Classroom and then typing single digit numbers and using the arrow keys to navigate around. I showed them how to delete if they didn’t want that color and made a color key on the left side of my spreadsheet. They actually didn’t play around like I expected. They went right to work making their own key and then inputting the numbers to create a digital model of their Pixel Art. We duplicated the sheet to be ready for equations the next day. This saves a Pixel Art sheet as the “answer key” and allows for one to be the puzzle.

Day 3 we talked about fast fact fluency and why learning to add and subtract quickly is important in life. We talked about some strategies we have always used to solve equations and how to use those strategies mentally. They practiced those strategies through a game.

On day 4, I modeled making a list of equations for each total they needed based on the colors in our math notebooks. Then how to use that list to type equations in each cell turning the Pixel Art into a puzzle. We had some questions and concerns about the entire equation not showing up in the cell (because it is small) and how to see it all so you know it’s there, moving to other cells, and how to get a plus sign. One student picked it up quickly and rushed to help anyone who needed it. He was like our own IT department. By the time I got to students who had raised their hand for help, either they problem solved and figured it out or the IT department showed them what to do. I was blown away by their independence and ability to complete their pixel art. I still have a few who need to complete theirs this week.

One thing I love about my class and this activity is they/it differentiate on their own. This friend struggles to write his thinking so he used the cubes to model the equations before typing them into his spreadsheet. He moved one cube at a time to make sure he got all of the equations for a given number and was able to record both the addition and subtraction equation that goes with the number he wanted (#math1OA5).

Up next, is sharing the Pixel Art with a friend to see if they can solve the Puzzle. I ran into a roadblock here. In our district, students can’t share a document with another student. But, since I have access to their finished Pixel Art Puzzles, I think I can share it for them. We’ll duplicate the sheet again to keep the originals intact. I also plan on showing them how to rename the sheets so its easier to identify which tab is which. Watch me on Twitter for this next stage. I’ll also update here once we’re finished.

I challenge you to get the book and use some of the activities in your class. Or use this one by using the template on Alice Keeler’s blog I shared above. One third grade teacher at my school plans to use this with her class and division.

I also challenge you to think through the planning process using the method laid out by Jessica and Christine. I know I plan to use it again!

  1. identify the standard, activity, and technology (if needed)
  2. anticipate challenges
  3. personalize and extend the learning
  4. embed play
  5. SHARE

Gently Down the STREAM (soft starts in K and 1st)

Seriously! I love these additions to STEM! Reading and art are also important to 21st Century learning and broadening students’ experiences. I plan fo regular STEM challenges with my students but STREAM is my way to make sure my students are getting daily doses. I shifted to soft starts about a year ago when I was teaching kindergarten. I read Purposeful Play (read my reading reflection) and decided to include soft starts as a way to have more opportunities for play for my students. This decision was affirmed after reading The Curious Classroom which dedicates an entire chapter to soft starts.

Soft starts are a way to begin your day. Rather than assigning morning work for students to complete as soon as they walk into the room, they engage in playful, open-ended activities. I decided on incorporating soft starts because morning work seemed like busy work. Because the students who really NEEDED that extra practice rode the bus that was last to arrive at school and went directly to breakfast. Then they walked in the room with minutes to spare before the late bell rang and began their day already behind their peers.  I empathized with them. How stressful for a 5-6 year-old to begin their day at school already rushing to catch up and more likely to miss some fun thing because they needed to complete some worksheet left by the teacher. I no longer saw any benefits to the extra practice I was giving in the morning.

My first go at soft starts, I allowed students to choose right from the start. I know that student choice is huge in their feeling important and successful. I wanted them to spend their time doing something they wanted to do. We already had daily free-choice play in the afternoon so it was easy to open those centers first thing in the morning and allow the same choices. I noticed quickly that many of my students wanted to work on technology (iPads, computers, or BYOD). I wanted them to use this time more for collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking which they were not doing on technology individually so I closed that for morning play centers. I was honest with my students, this morning playtime was good for them, but in order for them to keep it going, they would need to be respectful of their time and stay engaged and clean up quickly when it was time. I didn’t want this to run into the other work I had planned for the day. There were a few times where something didn’t get cleaned up correctly or quickly enough and the consequence was that center got closed for a period of time. I was still concerned that my students who needed this the most were the students on the last bus and eating breakfast in the cafeteria. I still don’t know what to do about that, but at least they weren’t starting their day already lagging behind their peers.

This year, I’m teaching first grade and don’t have access to all the play materials that were in my kindergarten classroom. 😔 I had to change the way I did soft starts to work with what I have. I saw someone on Twitter sharing about STREAM (which was the first time I had seen reading and art added to STEM) and realized this was where I needed to take my soft starts. I made a STREAM to put in my students’ cubbies so they could keep track of which choices they were making. These are laminated and student cross off each one with a dry erase marker after they complete it. Then once they have spent time at each one they can erase and start over.


I chose to make open-ended materials available to my students rather than specific STEM tasks because I give them specific challenges at other times. I was hoping they would take those experiences and extend them during their STREAM time. I store most of our materials on a shelf in my room we call the “Innovation Station.” Materials are marked with the letters of STREAM that I think it fits, but I’ve had students tell me they think something matches one or more than one of the areas, I will label it for them. I want them to know they have input in our classroom too. Below I’ll go through some of the materials we have in our STREAM centers.


  • magnets
  • shells
  • magnifying glasses
  • kinetic sand


  • iPads
  • computers
  • ozobots


  • classroom library
  • read aloud bin
  • Student book boxes
  • big books
  • Students also use this as an opportunity to change the books in their book bins



  • construction paper
  • crayons and makers
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • clay
  • playdough
  • legos (because)


  • math manipulatives
  • worksheets that come pre-copied from my district (I was recycling ones we didn’t use and they were pulling them out of the recycle bin to complete for fun. So, I added a bin for worksheets they could choose from.)
  • tangrams

Let me know your thoughts on STREAM centers or soft starts in the comments below!

#ncties18 reflections

It’s the Sunday after 3 full days of learning at NCTIES. I went to so many great sessions and had so many great conversations. I missed out on the vendors and I wore the wrong shoes (my feet are still sore). In my opinion, the best part about being at a conference is adult conversations and meeting new people. I attended this conference with my friend Caitlin McCommons. It was my first time going to NCTIES and we presented together. (#Innovate4Littles – Tech tools for Inquiry Learning)

I was thrilled to meet Kristin Ziemke on Wednesday afternoon. Our teacher nerd was in full effect and we got a photo with her and asked her to sign our Amplify books. If you haven’t read Amplify, you should.


We attended her workshop: Read the World Now. It was a great conversation about the evolution of literacy and best practices for capitalizing on all the new literacies in our digital age. It was a huge affirmation to hear the science behind using images and videos regularly in the classroom. Images increase memory and are processed faster by our brains. I use the “I see, I think, I wonder” protocol often with my students. She shared some great nonfiction text and image resources with us that I can’t wait to dig into: Wonderopolis, What’s going on in this picture, Wordless News, The Kid Should See This. I loved her talk about modeling and a gradual release of responsibility.

Kristin was also the opening keynote speaker. I was moved by her talk about leveraging technology tools to teach students to not only tell their stories but to really listen to other’s stories. She said, “These [technology] tools are about people.” It is so important not to disconnect from the people when connecting through technology. Don’t forget to cover what is missing from the common core:

I went to another of Kristin’s sessions on microwriting. We used Today’s Meet as a form of microwriting while analyzing a video. I’m so excited to use Today’s Meet with my students!

I attended a session with Kathy Schrock on finding your ed tech passion. Her website is JAMPACKED with amazing resources I need to dig into! My passion for technology is providing access points for littles to use technology. There are so many great things out there and I want teachers to appropriately leverage technology for early childhood education. I’m hoping to find some good information on her website on where to take my ed tech passion.

My favorite session was with Jennifer Lagarde I have a huge list of books in my Amazon cart to diversify my classroom library! Her live bibliography has resources for prek-12! I could spend millions of dollars a year on books for my classroom and still want more! I will definitely keep checking back to this resource because she adds to it as new amazing books come out!

I also went to a session on creating with Chromebooks. I was drawn to this session because I just got a new Chromebook and because my district is pushing Chromebooks into the schools this year. The session shared some great digital resources. I’m most excited about using Google Drawing and templates, pear deck, and book creator with my students.

The closing keynote – Kevin Carroll was AMAZING! He definitely spoke my language about the importance of play. He was such a motivating and inspirational speaker. I could have listened to his stories for hours.

Caitlin and I presented in #Innovate4Littles – technology tools for inquiry-based learning. We had an amazing group of teachers in our session that were interested, engaged, and full of great questions. We were so nervous! I am proud of both of us for stepping out of our comfort zones and sharing our knowledge with other teachers. Check out our presentation!

Let me know if you were at NCTIES and which sessions were your favorite!

3 Act Math Tasks with Littles

act 1

I heard about 3 act math on Twitter (where else?) I didn’t understand it but I also knew that some of my coworkers were using this method with their students. This fall, I attended the High 5 Math Summit at NC State. When I saw a 3 Act Math session on the schedule, I made sure I was first in line for that session. In this session, the presenter took us through a 3 Act Math Task as if we were students. She stopped along the way to comment on how she, as a teacher, pushes her students thinking and provides assistance as students work. At the end, she shared with us resources to find already created 3 Act Math Tasks. I was interested in trying 3 Act Math with my students but until I lived it as a student, I couldn’t wrap my brain around how this would work with littles. I finally decided to give it a try. I decided to have all of my students attempt the task. I disagree with only giving these types of tasks to high performing students because I believe that all students should have access to challenge in a real-world context.

act 2

After the Math Summit, I brought many great things back to my classroom to try with my littles. 3 Act Math is one they LOVED from the first moment we tried. As a teacher, I thought the first 3 Act Math Task I gave to my students was a huge failure, but in their eyes it was amazing. I used one of the resources she shared with us, Graham Fletcher, as my first 3 Act Task. Graham publishes 3 Act Tasks he creates on his website. They are ordered by grade level and the common core standard is listed beside the task. I love that he puts the standards out there so the curriculum connection is clear. 

We tried the Cookie Monster task. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. By the end of the 3 Acts, only 2 or 3 of my students reached the correct answer. I was intentional about not jumping in to save the day and lead them in the correct direction because I wanted to see how they reacted to the struggle and their incorrect answers. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. They handled it well.

I had some students share their strategies with the class (this was something they hadn’t done before and I had to do a lot of prompting). I only had the few students who were successful at the task share. Some students quickly found their mistake while their friends shared and fixed their work. I celebrated their mistakes. For the few students who were still very confused by this task, I pulled them in a small group and walked through all 3 Acts with them again and helped them through the problem-solving process. Since the fall, I have completed 3 more of the tasks on Graham’s website and have even attempted creating 3 of my own tasks.

This tweet was during another Graham Fletcher 3 Act Task – The Juggler.

act 3

Each 3 Act Task I give my students, I have learned something different. I always give my students the opportunity to try the problem on their own and wait until the end to provide supports. Because I don’t jump in to save them, my students have become skilled at failing and finding their mistakes. They have become better at these 3 Act Tasks and are able to use the problem-solving strategies I have taught them in real-world applications.

Sharing has changed in a big way after the 3 Act Task. As I observe my students solving the problem, I mark their dry erase board with a dot to let them know they will be sharing. I strategically choose who will share based on the strategies they chose or the mistakes that they made. Yes, you read that right. I have students share even if they made a mistake or didn’t reach the correct answer at the end. We can all learn from each other’s mistakes.

One thing I am going to try next is to have those fast finishes not only show multiple strategies but to then write about their problem-solving process. Writing about math will help to deepen their understanding of the task they completed. I would also like to have students create a video that will teach others how to solve a problem like this. Their instructional video will not only help them fully comprehend the problem and strategies but also benefit students who struggle with this problem type or strategy. I really want my students to learn from each other and not just me.

Have you tried 3 Act Math? What are your experiences? What are your favorite resources? How have you made this accessible to littles and struggling students?

Learning through Genius Hour

Full Disclosure:

I tried Genius Hour in an effort to prove it couldn’t be done in kindergarten. That was 2 and a half years ago. I was wrong.

How I got into Genius Hour

I first heard about Genius Hour from my former principal, Dr. Sandy Chambers. She encouraged teachers to be innovative and to try Genius Hour in their classrooms. No strings attached. No expectations. No pressure. No risk. No reward. I did very little research on Genius Hour prior to my first attempt. All I knew is what Sandy told us – students choose their topics, they spend time researching their topic, they create something to share what they learned. So, I went with it so I could prove that it couldn’t be done in kindergarten.

My First Genius Hour

My first Genius Hour was chaotic. It was loud. It was confusing. The kids froze. I froze. But we didn’t stop. It was such a mess that I really don’t remember details. I just remember how excited they were each week and how proud they were of their final project. I couldn’t even tell you what their topics of choice were and I can guarantee that multiple kids changed topics every week. The process was there. The kids picked a topic. I taught them how to use Wonderopolis and Brain Pop Jr. to research. I got books from the library on their topics. The students spent some time with each resource and then they had the option to share their learning through a video on Seesaw or making a poster to share. Then they shared with the class. Start to finish the whole thing took about 3 weeks and we spent a few days each week working. Some days we worked for a half hour and somedays we worked for nearly 2 hours. As messy as it was, it was fun. I felt energized. But, I knew there had to be a better way. I also knew I was wrong. Genius Hour CAN be done in kindergarten.

Genius Hour Pase 2

The following year, we did 2 rounds of Genius Hour. One during the third quarter and one during the fourth quarter of the school year. I was more intentional about planning some mini-lessons prior to Genius Hour sessions. We had Genius Hour about once every 6 days because of our rotating schedule. I launched each round of Genius Hour with a mini-lesson about asking and writing questions. We identified the difference between right there questions and questions that lead to learning. Then students wrote a question on a sticky note and posted it on our wonder wall. The next session, we revisited those questions and students selected their topics and got into groups based on their topic. For the next few sessions, students used library books, Wonderopolis, Brain Pop Jr., Pebble Go, and Youtube Kids to complete their research. Then they made a video or poster to share their learning.

I was not intentional about taking notes as I worked with students. I did not teach them how to document their learning through research. And, I did not give them many choices for sharing. I did do more research on Genius Hour. I read blog posts, I participated in Twitter Chats, and I attended EdCamps. I spent time connecting with other teachers who used Genius Hour in their classroom. I also knew I had a lot of room for growth and could make this even better for my students.

First Grade Genius Hour

This is my third year exploring Genius Hour. I’m not an expert and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Each round of Genius Hour, I pick 1 think I want to improve on for myself as a facilitator and I focus my own research and work with students on that. The first round of Genius Hour this year, I was intentional about my mini-lessons and the order in which I taught tools, documenting, and sharing. The second round of Genius Hour, I focused on my own note-taking. I wrote anecdotal notes as I worked with students and groups. I looked for evidence of growth, standards they were hitting, and misunderstandings I could address. I’m in my third round of Genius Hour right now and I’m working on clearly connecting my students’ work and research to the curriculum and telling them how this big work is important to the work they must do at school. My next round of Genius Hour this year, I plan to focus on better ways for my students to share their work with the world and not just our classmates.

Why I’ll Always Set Aside Time for Student Interest Inquiries

I’m pretty sure the joy on their faces is all I need to remind me why I need to always have interest based inquiry in my classroom. These girls researched different slime recipes and created their own. It didn’t work, but one of them took it home and figured out how to fix it so it wasn’t so sticky. She’s my chemist.

I will always have interest based inquiry because it helps me build relationships with my students. I get to know them for more than their academic data. We have fun working together. I learn new things as I guide them through their own work. I get to model lifelong learning and curiosity for them and we get to practice learning and curiosity together.

And to throw some teacher jargon in the mix, I’ll always have interest based inquiry because:

  • 4Cs
  • 21st-century learning
  • blended learning
  • life skills
  • problem-solving
  • digital citizenship
  • student voice and choice
  • passion

FAQs on Dropping the Clip Chart

This is my first year without a clip chart of some kind and Life. Is. Grand. I will never go back! I’m going to address some common questions I see float around twitter and some facebook groups I’m in in an effort to reflect on the behavior system shift I made this year.

Why did you drop it?

I dropped it:
because it focused too much on negative behavior
because it’s a public display
because everyone has a bad day
because using it as a consequence doesn’t fit any offense
because it is not how the real world works.

Now, I know what you will say because I said it too:
“Kids can move up or down.”
“They aren’t stuck at the bottom, their choices can move them back up.”
“It’s in the back of the room where no one can see it.”
“My kids like it.”
“The parents like the feedback.”
“It works for me.”

Mainly I dropped it because my kids fixated on it. In their 5-year-old brains, the color they were on at the end of the day mattered way more than something they learned, something that was fun, something new, the friend they played with, or anything else that happened at school. The color they were on defined them.  I realized that school should be full of positive experiences and memorable moments. And a behavior chart is neither a positive experience nor a memorable moment. I realized that the color of their day should not be their identity. I started to care more about their interests and obsessions and started to pick my battles.

What have you tried?

This year is my first year kicking the habit. One thing I know is I’m not turning back. Another thing I know, I have a lot of learning to do. I started the year with brag tags. I passed out laminated cards to my students for their positive choices. I tied it to our school PBIS – SOAR (Self-control, Own a positive attitude, Act responsibly, Respect myself others and the community). I passed out brag tags rapid fire to students who were SOARing and used them to mark the positive behaviors I was looking for. I never took the brag tags away for undesirable behavior. But then it hit me… how are these really different than a clip chart? They’re just as public. The kids know who has hundreds and who has 2. It is not how the real world works. I haven’t stopped using them because my kids really like collecting them all. (Yes I know I sound a little contradictory.)

I’ve tried (what I think are) restorative justice circles (I need to do more research). When something happens that warrants a consequence, we meet either as a whole class or small group depending on the action. We discuss what the problem was, what may have caused those choices, and how it makes others feel. Then we talk about what consequences would make sense and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again. All parties involved make a promise to be kind and helpful to each other to become better. I have noticed that these conversations have helped my students be more honest about their behavior choices and admit when they did something wrong. They seem to be less worried about getting into trouble because they know the consequence will be fair and from a place of love.

What are you doing differently?

Behavior skills need to be taught just like reading, writing, and math skills. This year I have been more intentional about teaching expectations with clear modeling and students explaining and acting out examples and non-examples so we can label specific behaviors. We make a plan together for our behavior goals and practice how to respond to someone who is not making the right choices. It requires a lot of patience and practice. I have found myself doing a lot less assuming and a lot more question asking. This year, my school adopted a Social Emotional program called Positivity Project. It focuses on teaching students about the 23 character strengths, noticing them in others, and making a plan for how to apply them to their everyday choices. I have found this language so helpful not only during our morning meeting but also in literature discussions and our discussions about behavior.

What mistakes have you made?

It’s easy to fall back into old habits. At first, I caught myself just before telling a student to clip down. I had to learn a new replacement behavior for my responses to student behavior.

I’m loud by nature. I have to be very careful when speaking with a student about their behavior. I don’t want to embarrass them. I have to consciously make the decision to use a soft and even tone when speaking with my students about behavior. I need to model this for them if I expect them to do it for each other.

What are your next steps?

Next, I’m going to research Social Emotional Learning programs. I want to know more about restorative justice and the responsive classroom. If you have resources you love or ideas about these in an early childhood setting, I would LOVE to hear about it!

Making Family Connections – mulitple methods

In early education, it is important to make connections and build relationships early. It’s obvious to any teacher that we should be doing this in our classrooms with our students but we also need to make these connections and relationships with our students’ families. This is an area where I am still growing.

This isn’t always easy. Some caregivers didn’t have strong or positive school experiences and tend to shy away from involvement opportunities. Some families don’t have access to transportation and need other access points into the school world. Some families may not be “traditional” and may not feel included in school life. I recently discussed this topic with my PLN in the #NCSnowChat

The general consensus was that we should use inclusive language, ask questions, and listen to understand. During this conversation, a few different methods for making those family connections came up frequently. The rest of this blog post will explore my thoughts on using different “tools” for making connections with families. Please chime in with your ideas and opinions in the comments below!

Seesaw/Dojo/Remind (fill in the blank tech tool)

I love Love LOVE Seesaw! It is my go-to for student choice. I love connecting with families on Seesaw and my students enjoy interacting with their families in real time. This year, Seesaw changed from a parent app to a family app and this subtle shift in name, with more inclusive language, makes their product more accessible to more families. Now, 10 family members can connect to a student’s journal and interact digitally. I encourage families to leave comments on their student’s work. The best comments are questions that students need to respond to. I partnered with Caitlin McCommons to give a Seesaw training to parents at our school. One of the resources we shared was a comment list. This gives parents ideas for leaving feedback to their student that helps continue the learning.

That being said, I think teachers need to be careful relying on these tools as a method of communication. I say this as a teacher who used Remind to communicate with families on a daily basis! Using technology tools creates stronger connections with SOME families but is not always accessible to ALL families. Think about it, does every family have a computer (no), does every family have a smartphone (most likely), does every family have internet access (no), does every family have data cell plans (no). You can argue that they can go to the library or so many places have free wifi. Go for it. BUT, would YOU go to the library or to a free public wifi location every time YOU wanted to get online for something? If you did would an app like these be your top priority or would you be paying your bills? I challenge relying on these tech tools for family connections. It is one way but should not be your only way.


I communicate through email like 90% of the time and I know that not all my families have regular access to email, not all families read the emails I sent and might prefer a different method of communication. I choose email because it is convenient and comfortable for me. I’ve come to this realization:


And I need to change the way I do things to make better connections with students and families. I’m working on building relationships with better face to face interactions and more phone calls

Phone Calls

Real talk – I hate talking on the phone. I don’t like talking on the phone to my own friends and family much less calling the families of my students! I know there are people out there who like it and can spend hours on the phone but I just get … bored? awkward? I would rather type something through a text, email, or social media or hang out with someone face to face than talk on the phone. I took a step outside my comfort zone and called all of my families two weeks ago. It took a lot out of me. However, the families really appreciated it! I didn’t even call for a specific reason. I just called to check in. The conversations I had ranged from questions about lunch to assessments, something their child said that confused them to their last/upcoming family trip, new dance classes to current class size legislation. I have to say, as much as I dislike talking on the phone, I enjoyed these conversations and I feel like I built relationships. I’m going to continue these types check-in calls every 3-4 weeks. (If you’re reading this, ask me about it to keep me accountable ok?)

Face to Face

To me, these are the best connections. I enjoy spending time with people. I think that tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures help people communicate. I like parent-teacher conferences. I like to sit down and talk, share work, and celebrate growth with families. I have done traditional parent-teacher conferences and student-led conferences in the past. (How I run student-led conferences is another post for another day.) I like both methods for littles. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to have a student or other families present for a conversation. And, I don’t like to rely on one method. This year I’m going to try goal setting conferences (coming up in the next few weeks) with families before our student-led conferences. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. I also try to be flexible with my conference times. I know that families have different routines and need options. Ideally, I like to offer morning, during the day, and evening time slots. Some families can’t leave work early for a conference and need other options. I pick 1 evening where I stay at school late to accommodate them. This year, I’m going to offer some weekend time slots as well.

In the Community

Making connections with families in the community can be fun! I used to avoid running into families at the grocery store or Target. But now that I don’t live in my school community, these chance encounters are special. It is so fun to see a family out in the world interacting and the students are always surprised to see their teacher, not at school. They treat you like a celebrity! Our school PTA plans family nights out to local businesses as fundraisers or to support our sponsors. I love going to these events to see current and former families. The conversations are so natural and not just about school life and academics. I feel like I create genuine connections. This year, with my team, we planned a weekend outing to the arcade. We planned to be there during a certain time and invited families to come and play with us. We used it to launch our arcade building PBL for our force and motion science standard (Sci1P1). It was so much fun to play games with my kids and have meaningful conversations using vocabulary we were using at school while making a real-world connection to the content we were learning. I enjoyed this so much, I would like to plan other community outings for my families!

I have in the past and will continue to use a combination of all of these methods and tools for family connections because developing a strong, collaborative relationship with my students and their families is important to me.

After starting this blog post and outlining it, I participated in a #SlowFlipChat with Jessica Twomey and Christine Pinto in the #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles community using Flipgrid as a tool for communication. The topic was *drum roll please*

Making Connections!

And that chat inspired me to finish writing this post. You should totally go check it out. I’ll make it easy for you, click here.

I Dove Into PBL & You Should Too!

I’m a north personality meaning I dive in head first and I’m not afraid to take risks. I jumped into PBL after reading only 1 chapter of Hacking Project Based Learning and finished that PBL, #PBLclouds, before finishing the book. I skimmed the book but didn’t read it. I learn best through trial and error and  I don’t need to all the details before buying into a new concept or method.

In addition to #PBL clouds, I now have done PBLs focusing on Sun, moon, and stars (planned as I went),

force and motion through the building of arcade games (I didn’t have a great guiding question)

and one on solving 2 major problems at recess through designing something to add to our playground spaces (more of a Problem Based Learning than Project and feedback was not intentional).

I am so interested in including inquiry-based approaches in my classroom, it is one of my Professional Development goals this school year and I am participating in a book study on The Curious Classroom. 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It is not hard
  • It is time-consuming
  • You must plan ahead
  • You must be flexible

Here’s what I’m working on:

  • I need to improve at intentionally planning my PBLs. By that mean I am going to more fully dissect my standards searching for the High Impact Takeaways (HIT). Each learning experience within the PBL will then more clearly align to standard and lead toward an answer to the umbrella question. Planning this way will also help me see the cross-curricular connections. Once these are clear, I can use the PBL to reach more than one standard strand in more than one subject area.
  • I need to shift assessment responsibility to the students. For starters, assessments need to be more authentic and measured throughout the PBL. Currently, my assessments are based on observations and conversations with students about their work. I’m not 100% sure how this will look but I’ll figure it out! I’m thinking a documentation system that lays out my HITs and allows for comments and photos of evidence of student progress or mastery. If you have any suggestions, please reach out or leave a comment below!
  • Feedback needs to be a bigger focus in my PBLs. I want students to give me feedback, I want to be better about giving feedback to my students, and I want them to give feedback to each other. Focusing on feedback will ensure students have a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards within the PBL.

Here’s what’s next:

  • I’m working on a PBL share with my friend, Kara Damico. Together we planned and implemented a vertically aligned PBL on community impact through solving recess problems. We will be sharing, along with students about the impact this PBL had on student learning. We will also be working on writing this PBL up for possible publication within our district.
  • Part of my PD goal this year was to implement 1 PBL each quarter. I’m beginning the work on planning a community and map PBL to hit both the 1.E.1 and 1.G.1 NCSCOS Social Studies Units. Thoughts? Ideas? Resources?

I am by no means an expert on PBL but I do think I am slowly moving forward and growing in this area. I highly recommend the 2 books mentioned in this post and you’re welcome to borrow my copies if you want!

Protols for Learning with Littles

A big part of teaching littles is having clear and consistent routines. A big part of teaching in the 21st century is deep thinking. Combining these 2 can be tricky for an early childhood educator. Littles need direct instruction and modeling in clarity to be successful in deep thinking. Setting clear and consistent thinking routines have gotten my students to think more deeply across the curriculum. And be able to share those thoughts with one another.

Thinking routines and protocols ensure equity in your classroom by structuring they way students respond to prompts. Protocols and routines allow for every child to think and respond. Not just those who raise their hands. It’s also provides access to deeper thinking through clear steps and predictable routines.

Turn and talks are great and all but sometimes littles need more to get going. After reading the book Making Thinking Visible, I added some new routines to my classroom. Then I was inspired to seek more protocols to add to our tool belt of routines.

I see, I think, I wonder

In this protocol, students look at an image or the cover of a book and complete each of the statements. Students can respond to the sentence stems orally or through writing (teacher’s choice). I like this protocol because it is predictable and focuses littles on what we want them to notice through observations. It also allows them an outlet for their natural curiosity. I have used this protocol to introduce a new book, launch a science unit, and as a close reading activity. I have also extended this protocol with a digital image displayed on my smart board. I began with the image zoomed way in and asked students to complete the statements with a partner. Then, I zoomed out a little and asked them to make their statements again. We repeated this a few times until the image was whole. This protocol has become so routine in our classroom that I hear students using it during partner reading!

What makes you say that?

This one has become second nature to me. I respond to my students frequently with this little line. I like it because it is a subtle shift from asking, “why?” and doesn’t sound accusatory. When I responded with,”why?” students automatically thought they were wrong and changed their answer. When I respond with this question, they explain their thinking and reasoning that led them to their conclusion. It even pushes them toward finding and sharing the evidence they used to answer the question. Add this one to your back pocket now!

I used to think… Now I think…

This one is so easy to add to any nonfiction read aloud or unit!  Students start by activating their prior knowledge (I used to think…) and then focusing on finding something new in a text or video (But, now I think…). I have used this as a conversation starter, turn and talk, and response in a notebook. I have included this protocol in reading nonfiction, a math video on a new strategy, and split up as part of a launch to a science or social studies unit. I like this protocol because it sets a purpose for reading or viewing. Even for students who may be dinosaur experts, they are focused on finding that one new bit of information they didn’t already know while you read that nonfiction book.

I’ve also added some routines from other sources.

Chalk Talk (not sure where this one came from)

This is a fabulous and tricky protocol for littles! During Chalk Talk, students write their thoughts, ideas, or what they know about a topic on a large chart paper. When I do this, I give every student a different color marker so I can tell who’s is who’s. After completing their response on the chart paper, students then read what their classmates wrote and respond to others. During a Chalk Talk, students are not supposed to talk to each other, their marker is supposed to do the talking for them. This is where it gets tricky for littles. Littles need to stretch their words out loud so they can hear the sounds. Littles need to orally rehearse their writing prior to recording it. Littles struggle to write words and sentences others can read. I love this protocol because it challenges littles to focus on the reader when they write. I find my students are more concerned about recording exact sounds and writing neatly when we do a Chalk Talk than when they write a during writer’s workshop. I provide access to this protocol for my littles by allowing them to use their voices to help them write but encourage them not to talk to their friend and by allowing them to choose between sketching or writing. And they CAN do it, with practice and gentle reminders. I have used this protocol with students as a number splash (where they have to show a number in multiple ways – a math routine in my district), classroom rules, problems and solutions that might occur at school, relationship building activity for morning meeting, recording ideas for personal narratives, and responding to a read aloud. Sometimes I do 1 chalk talk and focus on responding to others, sometimes I have multiple chalk talk charts at once and focus on sharing ideas and debrief later.

Snowball Toss (SOS from Discover Education)

This protocol is “snow” much fun! It’s also a great way to use some of that scrap paper that builds up in your room! In this protocol, students respond to a prompt on a piece of scrap paper, then you gather in a circle, ball up the paper and toss it in the middle like a snowball. Students then grab a paper snowball open it up and read then respond to what their classmate wrote or respond to a new prompt and repeat as many times as you want! This one has some of the same challenges as Chalk Talk when it comes to students writing and being able to read each other’s writing. I provide the same choice (sketch or write). I have added my own spin to this protocol by having students respond with “I agree” or “I disagree” statements or if the snowball they picked has a sketch then they have to respond with a sketch. This is a newer protocol for me, but the kids are loving it! We used it to discuss the Eclipse of 2017 and as a response to a character strength we were discussing as part of Positivity Project. I’ll be using it again this week with a lesson on time! Watch for me to tweet it out @AubreyDiOrio.

Back to back/Front to front

I picked this one up from a tweet by my friend Nathalie Ludwig.

We use this one ALL. THE. TIME. In this protocol, students get up, find a partner, and stand back to back. The teacher asks a question and provides think time. Students cannot respond to the question until the teacher says, “Front to front.” Then each time you have a question, say, “back to back” and students find a new partner. This is a great way to change up your turn and talk with some movement and different partners. This protocol adds equity for your students with differences through built-in think time. I have not had an issue this year with students always picking the same few friends or talking at the same time, but you can add some control by assigning kids as either ketchup or mustard. Then littles have to find someone to complete the pair and you can have ketchups talk first, mustards talk second. I use this protocol to respond to a read aloud, as a morning meeting activity to discuss a character strength, to share a math strategy, to compare judy clocks, share a hypothesis, and SO MUCH MORE!

Glows and Grows

Glows and Grows is a protocol for collecting feedback. Glows are something great and Grows are areas for improvement. This one is accessible to students because they grasp on to the word Glow as a positive and Grow as something to get better. It encourages them to take a growth mindset and look for something that could be better. Through this protocol, I’ve noticed students focusing on kindness and helpfulness rather than looking for the work that is the best. I have used this protocol to collect feedback from experts during a PBL, with writing or reading partners, and student-led conferences.

My favorite part of having thinking and learning protocols is that they can be applied to any subject area and once my students get used to them, I don’t have to give a ton of directions. I just say, “we are going to do a Chalk Talk. Please write about ____.”

Have you tried any of these protocols with your littles? Have you used other ones? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

Seesaw! My go to for student choice

What is Seesaw

Seesaw is a digital portfolio platform that can be scaled for students pre-k-12. It is simple and intuitive for littles but also provides opportunities for critical thinking, communication, and feedback that can reach students through 12th grade. Seesaw allows students to post to their journal and a class feed with photo, video, text, drawing, or google doc integration responses. Students can scroll through the class feed and like or comment on their peer’s responses. Student responses can be organized in folders for easy searchability. Parents can connect to their child’s Seesaw journal and like and comment their work as well as see progress over time.

Why I Seesaw

I seesaw because it provides students with opportunities to express themselves through multiple methods. I love the choices it provides students as they share their learning and reflections. I love that kids can practice citizenship by commenting on each other’s posts. Seesaw is like social media for kids. It is a great way to model appropriate digital behavior and moderate as they practice.

How I Seesaw

For the last 3 years that I have used Seesaw, my students have quickly become Seesaw experts. They are able to post to their journal quickly and independently. I use Seesaw for a variety of things. The list below includes things my students have posted (both kindergarten and first grade):

  • Math Story Problems
      • Students need to be able to create their own story problems in order to fully understand how they work. Writing their own helps them play with the language used in a story problem and therefore provides them access to better understanding story problems that need solving. After posting a story problem, students then scroll through the feed to solve others’ story problems. They have learned to write better problems that require multiple steps and make sure to include a question at the end and not the answer! This has been one of my math stations for the last 2 years and they LOVE it! I change out the manipulatives for them occasionally to keep things fun and interesting! (#math1OA2)

  • Relationship building
    • Students also share photos on Seesaw at home. I love getting notifications on the weekend of baby brothers and sisters, road trips, a book they’re reading, and songs they made up. I even had a student upload a video to Seesaw in the car as they were moving to another state!

I would love for you to share in the comments why you Seesaw or your favorite things for students to upload on their student Journals!

Not included in this post: encouraging positive interactions through likes and comments and family involvement! Those are blog posts for a different time!