Learn Like a Pirate

Why I chose this book

I chose this book because I was interested in shifting from a student-centered classroom to a student-led classroom.

Major takeaways

First off, I loved the Easter eggs in this book! The author, Paul Solarz, included additional content throughout the book using QR codes to his blog posts and documents he created that support the chapter. I felt like I hit the jackpot each time I scanned one of those things! I couldn’t get enough!

I am laying off the jobs and turning up classroom responsibilities. After reading this book, my class was charged with the responsibility of answering the phone and relaying messages, running morning meeting, running math routines, and changing the calendar and schedule. I wanted to get rid of classroom jobs altogether, but my firsties were up in arms and did not want those assigned jobs to go away. Instead, I let kids choose their jobs each week.

We had major conversations about growing as leaders in our classroom. When the kids were in charge, I would sit and wait for them to move things along rather than moving it along myself. This was awkward and uncomfortable at times because I would just sit and wait. Once they realized what needed to be done, 4-19 kids would jump up at once to do it. We had to talk about the difference between active leadership and passive leadership. I needed to explain that if someone gets up to do something, let them be the leader. You can be a passive leader by allowing them their turn.

Chapter 3 was all about collaboration. He talked about setting up your space to encourage collaboration which includes flexibility with furniture. This section challenged my thinking about flexible seating. The chairs and seating options shouldn’t be the only thing that’s flexible in your classrooms. Tables can move too. Kids should have the agency to decide when and where furniture needs to move to support their learning. This paradigm shift inspired me to write the post From Makerspace to Maker-Classroom.

After reading chapter 5, I tried my first literature circle with the support of our literacy coach Jessica VonDerHeide. We chose a book and introduced roles to a reading group and used the roles to help focus conversations about the book. Then, I decided to try this with the whole class and let them choose their books. The boys in the first group became the leaders and help to teach the roles. I made sure they were all in different groups so they could help to train the others. This worked so well, we did it twice before the end of the school year!

       

The 34 skills listed on page 180-191 are the skills I am now using to set goals for my students, PBLs, and other learning experiences.

Making it accessible for Littles

“Start small. Give your students simple jobs.” – Paul Solarz, page 20. This right here makes everything in this book accessible to littles. Pick one or 2 things then gradually release more and more as they are ready for it.

Paul talks about giving students the power of “Give me 5.” This is something I am going to do with my students this new school year. So many times littles come up to the teacher to ask a simple question that other kids might know the answer to. I would love my firsties to say, “Give me 5” then ask their question to seek clarification or get help. Teachers don’t always need to be the one with all the information or the one to jump in and save the day.

Littles naturally look for ways to improve. In chapter 4, Paul talks about portfolios and feedback. My students use Seesaw as a digital portfolio to collect their work. They leave each other comments on work as feedback. I ask them to focus their comments to glows and grows, say something kind, say something helpful, or ask a question. Focusing their thoughts and giving them sentence starters can really support littles in providing peer feedback.

The book study PLN

Caitlin McCommons and I wanted to lead a book study because we both love to read professional books but we’re both social and like to bounce our learning off of others. So we decided to launch our first digital book study using this book. We reached out to our PTA who was able to help supply some books to 6 lucky teachers! We gathered staff from our school and a school across our district who were interested in learning and growing with us. We decided to use Flipgrid as a platform for discussion because it simulates a face to face discussion but is much more flexible! You can check out our learning here: Also, feel free to add to it! We’ll never close it!

https://flipgrid.com/b39zdb?embed=true

We’ll also be launching a new book study in September so watch Twitter for the announcement!

If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways! Please share in the comments below!

Stop Teaching Digital Citizenship!

I’d like to challenge the common conversation around Digital Citizenship. Typically we teach students specific guidelines for how to act when they are online:

  • Your information is private
  • Be kind
  • Things you put online are permanent
  • Copyright

All of these and more are good topics to cover with students. These conversations SHOULD be happening in schools and at home.

I challenge the idea that these are digital guidelines. Students should be respecting privacy, being kind, being original, and acting in ways that make them proud both on and offline. These conversations shouldn’t be labeled as digital citizenship, they are simply citizenship. The two don’t need to be separate.

My crazy idea?

Teach citizenship. Teach humanity. Teach kindness. Teach kids how to communicate and collaborate in the real world. Teach them how to transfer those skills to all aspects of their lives. In the world we live in today, being online and active in social media spaces is as commonplace as talking to the clerk at the grocery store or having a conversation with friends. You wouldn’t tell the clerk your life story and you wouldn’t (shouldn’t) talk bad about people who aren’t in your friend group. We don’t copy people out in public, we think about those around us and behave and speak in appropriate ways. When you’re online, the same rules apply.

We don’t need to teach digital citizenship. We need to teach kids to be good people.

**end rant**

 

Beginning of the Year Must-Dos to Set up for Success with #innovate4littles

I don’t know about you but my first week of school plans look more like a to-do list than actual lessons. I find it really important to set the stage for the year with strong routines and procedures (obviously). My first week of school tends to give students a little taste of some of the big things will do throughout the year but also needs to be very strict with high expectations.

I teach at a year-round school in North Carolina so we just finished our third week of school. While others are just starting to wind down their summer breaks, we are in full gear! I thought this might be great timing to share how I like to begin my school year. Some of the activities below are completed during the first week and some within the first month.

Team Building

During the first week of school, I find it really necessary to complete some challenging or nearly impossible team building activity. You want the kids to work together to complete something that is really hard. This year we did a cup stacking activity. I started out simple and then added constraints to make it more and more difficult until I found their breaking point. I split my class into groups of 4. First, they were allowed to all stack the cups together however they wanted. The teams did great but all the stacks looked the same.

So I added constraints. I watched the groups closely during their first stacking experience. I identified that one kid who was not participating in each group. They were now the group leaders. Only the group leader was allowed to touch the cups the other group members could help by giving ideas and talking to them, but they could NOT touch the cups. Once they got started there was a chorus of, “this isn’t fair!” And then came the cacophony! Everyone and I mean EVERYONE, started shouting directions at the same time. I stopped the stack and had them come to the carpet to discuss what just happened. We talked about fairness and including every person in a group to work together. We talked about how in a group sometimes everyone has a different role or job. Then we stacked again. This time, everyone was allowed to touch the cups but no one was allowed to talk. They quickly realized they couldn’t collaborate without communicating. For the last stack, students weren’t allowed to touch the cups with their hands but they could use pipe cleaners and rubber bands to help. I showed a video of how some kids used these tools to help stack the cups. One group asked if they had to do it that way or if they could try another way. Of course, they could try whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t use their hands. The only group to successfully stack all of their cups was the group who tried something different. They begged to do this activity again, so I added it to our math stations for the next 2 weeks. They got quite good at it after some practice!

Flexible Seating

I’ve written about my flexible seating journey before. It is so very necessary to teach flexible seating explicitly. State your expectations. Ask volunteers to model the correct way and incorrect way. Explain these rules are for safety and fairness. And let them know that if they don’t make smart seating choices, I make the choice for them. Then we play a game. We play musical chairs with the flexible seating to get students a chance to practice and MOVE!

Roll out the Technology

We have a hodge-podge mix of technology at my school. We finally got rid of all of our desktop computers but we still have some old laptops, new laptops, older iPads and newer iPads, and BRAND SPAKING NEW CHROMEBOOKS! Kids need to grow their flexibility with devices. I introduce devices with a mixture of small group and whole group depending on the number of devices I can get my hands on. We do a number of independent and collaborative grouping activities on devices during the first weeks of school to allow practice and peer coaching. We also use BYOD at my school and I try to roll that out ASAP! With chromebooks, I’m only able to get a group of 6 kids on at once so that’s what I did. I had them practice logging in and logging out and that is all on the VERY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!

I can teach iPads with 1:1 devices. I like to start with chatterpix because it is intuitive and easy to use. Plus, its super cute and parents love it! I model using chatterpix to make a David craft talk and then how to save and upload it to seesaw. (AppSmashing the first week of school!) Then I allow them time to practice with 4 more crafts and chatterpix/seesaw activities. We also do a quick partner kahoot to help kids get used to sharing a device. I usually choose a math kahoot to start with.

Bucket Lists

It is so important to let kids know their ideas and opinions are important to the way my classroom runs. I try to get quick feedback daily with thumbs up thumbs down to see if they like or don’t like something we did. The first day of school, I give out a bucket list where I like to collect ideas about what my group likes to do and wants to try or learn. I make my own bucket list to pique their interest. My bucket list includes 3 act math, break out boxes and rooms (we’ll do our first one in week 4), badges, technology, PBL, coding, makerspaceSTREAM, room transformations, genius hour, and more. I like to try to list things they don’t know so they get excited and ask questions. I also collect lists of books they love and things they want to read about. This helps me plan my classroom library (I don’t put out all of my books at once. I put out my favorites to start then change them out. I try to always have at least 1 bin of their favorites and 1 that might be brand new).

Along the same line, I teach the morning routine without our STREAM centers. I try to get them very independent with taking out their folder, hanging up their bookbag and signing in before they can make STREAM choices. If this isn’t strong, they will forget to do these important procedures so they can go play.

Active Listening

Last year I taught active listening skills in the third quarter. This year, I taught them the second week. We talk about and make an anchor chart for what active listening looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Then I watch for signs of active listening and take pictures. These pictures go on the anchor chart. Now, rather than telling kids to stop talking, I ask them if they are actively listening.

Growth Mindset

We talk about the importance of making learning mistakes, the powerful word YET, and growing our brain muscles. I love using the books Ish and Giraffes Can’t Dance to teach growth mindset. We also watch the big ideas on Growth Mindset in Class Dojo. I over celebrate mistakes to help kids feel safe taking risks and getting things wrong the first try.

Up Next…

This upcoming week we will do our first Google Classroom activity (google draw the setting of a favorite book), introduce BYOD, dive deep into independent centers and choices (most of which are tied to literacy standards), have a break out room (math- counting efficiently), and try our first reader’s theater (social studies- rules and citizenship) (hopefully with a Facebook live event).

Now that we are past the beginning of the year “stuff,” things become more closely tied to standards. A lot of my to-do list for the beginning of the year is not all standards-based but it does help us build a strong classroom community and set us up for trying new things throughout the year. What are your must-dos to start the year?

A Community Planning PBL

I designed this PBL after a middle of the night idea. It took me just a few hours on a Saturday to sit down and get the bones of the project laid out. I like to use the Project Design Template from the Buck Institute for Education. I modified it a little to make it work better for me. This blog post will be the narrative version of the plan I wrote including my reflections. Some of what I planned, didn’t happen and some things we did, were not on the plan. I like to take the lead from my students during a project like this which changes the plan sometimes!

In this PBL, students will design a community that meets the wants and needs of the people who live there. Students will consider the producers and goods and services needed to meet the needs and wants of the consumers. Students will create a blueprint and build a model of their community.

Driving Question

How can you as a community planning committee ensure that the needs and wants of your citizens are met through the goods and services you will provide?

Goals and Standards

Common Core Reading

  • RI1.3 Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
  • RI1.5 Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, table of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts of information in a text.
  • RI1.9 Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).

North Carolina Social Studies Standards

  • E.1 Understand basic economic concepts.
    • E.1.1 Summarize the various ways in which people earn and use the money for goods and services.
    • E.1.2 Identify examples of goods and services in the home, school, and community.
    • E.1.3 Explain how supply and demand affect the choices families and communities make.
  • G.1 Use geographic representations, terms, and technologies to process information from a spatial perspective.
    • G.1.1 Use geographic tools to identify characteristics of various landforms and bodies of water.
    • G.1.2 Give examples showing the location of places (home, classroom, school, and community).
    • G.1.3 Understand the basic elements of geographic representations using maps (cardinal directions and map symbols).

21 Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving – Designing a community with spatial constraints that fits the needs of the people who live there
  • Collaboration – Students will work on teams of 4-5 students to design their community. Each student will have a role.

Hook

For this project, I had students read 3 different books on communities and community helpers from Reading A-Z. We discussed the similarities and differences in the books and added our wonders to the wonder wall.

Student process

After reading and comparing the texts, I split students into groups of 4-5. I revealed the roles for this project:

  • Commissioner- makes decisions on behalf of the community
  • Architect- creates the plan and sees that plan is followed
  • Engineer- Checks for structure safety
  • Economic Development Specialists – Makes sure there is a balance of goods/services and producers/consumers

I knew these terms would be beyond their understanding, so I created a slide deck to explain each one in child friendly language.

Students then had conversations within their groups to select their roles. Groups with 5 students, decided which role they thought deserved 2 people. We have selected roles in my classroom before so students are familiar with the process. Basically, they go around the group and say which role they would like and why. If no one else selects that role, it’s theirs. If more than one student selects the same role (and they can’t both do it) they use one of our protocols to make a decision (rock paper scissors, bubble gum bubble gum, pick a number, group vote, etc.).

Their first collaborative task was to create a list of needs and wants of citizens in a community. Then using those lists, students made a second list of the goods and services that could provide each need and want. The commissioner needed to make sure they could meet all the needs of their citizens.

On chart paper, architects made a map to plan out their community. The engineer needed to make sure the roads were clear for the safety of their citizens. Then they labeled the stores on the map. The economic development specialist made sure that there were goods and services to support the citizens. The commissioner made sure that citizen needs were met before their wants. The planning process took us about 3 days.

The building process took us a while. Students used cardboard and construction paper to build their communities. They needed signs for each structure. The architect was to ensure the build followed the plan they drew on the map. The engineer needed to make ensure the buildings were sturdy and the roads were clear.

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Students shared their projects with the other groups in the classroom and with parents who came in for a genius hour writing celebration.

Mini lessons and how I knew students needed them

Needs and Wants – Even though this is taught in kindergarten, we had conversations that broadened their understanding. First, whole-group we completed a needs and wants sort. Then discussed additional things the people need in their community like doctors, police officers, housing options, etc.

Goods and Services – We completed a sort of goods and services using a smartboard file I have. Then we talked about the businesses they have selected to put in their communities and whether they provided goods or services or both.

Bird’s Eye View – When I asked my students to draw a map of their community, they began drawing a skyline view of it. I had to stop their work right away and talk about drawing from a bird’s eye view. I used google maps to show our community and how the bird’s eye view is different from the street view.

Building Shapes – Students really struggled with cutting down cardboard or using construction paper to build their buildings. Fortunately, we were covering 3D shapes in math and I was able to show them how to construct cubes and rectangular prisms to construct their buildings and tie it to our geometry standards! When sharing their community,  one student said, “we built it this way after Mrs. Diorio showed us how to build 3D shapes with paper.”

Community Helpers – Students did not initially include police stations, fire stations, doctor’s offices/hospitals, etc. in their plans. We talked about the different community helpers that citizens might need for their safety within the community.

Trash and Recycling – Right as we were finishing our build, it was Earth Day. This was the perfect opportunity to talk about how they would plan to keep their community free of pollution. Students added trash cans and recycling centers in their communities.

Mini lessons I had in my back pocket but didn’t need

Zoning – I totally skipped this entire part of the project I designed.

Naming a Business – Students chose to use the names of businesses they knew from in our community or they agreed quickly on other names.

Safety of structures – Engineers seemed to already know that the buildings in their communities shouldn’t wobble when touched and made sure they were secured to the ground.

OOPS!

I planned to focus more on taking anecdotal notes and using a rubric to help me grade students’ communities, but I got so involved in our building process, I completely forgot to carry around my clipboard! I will tell you that every student in my class understood the goals of the project and could explain them to others. I’ll do better next time!

Things I’ll do differently next time

Notes and Rubric – I plan to be more intentional with PBL in taking anecdotal notes and using a rubric to keep track of what and how my students are doing during the process.

Writing – This project would have been the perfect chance for students to write an all about book on communities. They also could have written opinion/persuasive pieces about the stores they wanted in their communities or to attract citizens to live in their community.

Zones – I initially designed this project to talk about how communities are zoned into housing areas and shopping areas. However, I never ended up doing anything with that. The next time I do this project, I will be sure to talk more about zoning.

History – We didn’t really touch on the change over time standard during this project. Next time, one student will have the role of town historian and will need to take pictures throughout the process so students can mark how their community has changed over the time they spent building it.

Self Reflections – I planned for students to fill out self-reflections during the process so they can see their own impact on the bigger project, but ran out of time every day to do this. Next time, I will have reflection days for students to think about what they are doing and how they are impacting the community.

 

I would love your feedback on this project. Please leave comments below!

Reflections from The Curious Classroom

These are my reflections after reading The Curious Classroom by Havey “Smokey” Daniels.

Why

In full disclosure, I selected this book because Caitlin told me to! There are many other reasons this book was good for me. It is right up my alley. This book is all about embedding inquiry into your everyday classroom. Inquiry-based learning and instruction: “I will implement inquiry-based learning in my classroom through the use of a PBL unit at least once per quarter.” Included in my actions and resources were active research into Project Based Learning and professional development. I selected this book and brought it to the rest of my first-grade team as a possible book study for us all to read and discuss together. My first-grade team along with Caitlin and one other member began reading and learning about inquiry classrooms together.

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Major takeaways

The biggest overarching idea that impacted me while reading is that inquiry doesn’t need to be this giant thing every time. There are small things you can do regularly or routines you can implement that don’t take a lot of time or resources. Some of the small inquiry shifts that I have made are soft starts, collecting questions, modeling my curiosity, and allowing for mini-inquiries.

Beginning my day with soft starts has been the biggest shift I made this school year after reading this book. Chapter 4 is all about soft starts. I stopped giving morning work every day. My students now have the opportunity to make a choice for how they spend their morning. Some students are engaged in open-ended STREAM centers while others may just sit in a quiet spot to gather themselves. I made this decision because play is a very important learning experience for students. I also saw this as an opportunity to level the playing field for each of my students and allow them to begin their day in an equitable way. I noticed that students who come right before the tardy bell would stress about not completing their morning work. They were starting their day already behind. That is not a great way to enter into a busy day of learning.

Chapter 3 is about capturing kids inquiries. We have a wonder wall in our classroom on which students post questions on sticky notes. These questions might come from their fleeting thoughts, a book, or a lesson I’m teaching. Kids are allowed to post a question to the wall at any time during the day. Students use the wall to inspire their genius hour work and in mini inquiries. Next year we will keep a wonder notebook to collect questions too.

Because of chapter 1, Demonstrating Your Own Curiosity, I began sharing my interests and curiosities with my students. I modeled writing and posting questions to the wonder wall and my own research process through looking for answers to my questions. Showing them how I use different resources and synthesize the information into my own understanding and then creating something to share my learning has helped them use that process as well as become more critical of the information they are taking in. I have modeled for my students how to choose a question, looking for similar questions and grouping them into a topic.

One of my goals this year was to try and include inquiry into my curriculum. Chapter 8 was all about ways to do that through mini-inquiries. I have included a few mini-inquiry days into my units. Some have worked and some did not. I have tried mini-inquiries to launch a unit, within, a unit, and after a unit to allow students to find their interests within the curriculum. I found mini-inquiries to be most effective in science units.

Making it accessible for Littles

This book, like a lot of education books, was not written specifically for teachers of littles. Any teacher can pick up this book and use the elements in their classroom. That said, it can be tricky to make things accessible for littles and developmentally appropriate. This book being about curiosity is great for kids because they are so naturally curious. When littles post curiosities to a wonder wall, they can write a sentence, phrase, words, or draw a picture. Allowing a student to communicate in a way they feel successful can make this accessible to them. When modeling inquiries, model ways in which they can access the question and research. I have chosen to write my questions in pictures and labels so my students know this is available for them. We also use a lot of kid-friendly inquiry tools. Modeling through individual steps also makes inquiry learning accessible for littles. Seeing the process in action and then copying it allows students to access information and share their learning.

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The book study PLN

I read this book with my first-grade team, a second-grade teacher, and our instructional resource teacher.  It was so great to meet weekly and discuss each chapter. I loved seeing others’ perspectives as they read through the chapter and shared their major takeaways. We were able to make plans for how we will incorporate our new learning into our everyday classrooms. We had some amazing conversations to step up our inquiry-based learning.

If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

#may16 #itspersonal – Why I Marched

May 16 was a big day in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was designated the day of advocacy by NCAE. What started out as a few hundred people planning to advocate for public schools in NC grew exponentially into tens of thousands of educators and parents marching together 1 mile from the NCAE building to the Legislative building to fight for our kids. 42 school districts canceled school and made it an optional teacher workday to show support for teachers attending.

Of course, the media twisted our narrative. The national news called it a walkout or a strike. It was neither of those things. Every teacher there took leave we earned to be there. For districts that didn’t cancel, teachers PAID $50 to take a personal day. For others, teachers took annual leave or a day without pay. Much of the news coverage also said out focus was to increase our salaries. And yes, that it is part of it but we were there for so much more. Schools across North Carolina need more funding to make learning environments better for students. Buildings are falling apart, don’t have supplies, technology is out of date, lacking in non-teaching staff (counselors, psychologists, nurses, teacher assistants, etc.), school meals are unhealthy, and so many other reasons.

I was there for the march and the rally. I stayed through the rain. I arrived by bus at 7:45am and left in an uber at 6:30pm.

This is my tenth year teaching in North Carolina. I taught 3 years in Durham County and 7 in Wake County. My experience is diverse.

My first year teaching, our school was in the middle of a major renovation. I moved my classroom 3 times that year as the construction phases moved through our building and new addition.  As they began renovations in each phase, the building needed asbestos abatement. We had to walk past danger signs warning of the asbestos. We marched our kids outside under the fans blowing air out of those rooms. The asbestos abatement was only one of our concerns in the 3 years I taught there. We also had mice, roaches, snakes, and mold all over our school. Our windows had bullet holes. We were warned not to stay past dark working in our classrooms. If the neighborhood wasn’t safe for me after dark, it wasn’t safe for my kids either. My third year teaching there, we went on an hour and a half lockdown because someone stole a car at gunpoint and the police chased them into our parking lot. I went every summer to Staples to purchase their penny deals. I bought paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, folders, and notebooks for my students every year. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have it. Parents couldn’t afford to send in supplies and the school didn’t have enough for every student. I knew I couldn’t’ teach without these basics, so I went to every sale and purchased the maximum amount they would allow.

I left at the end of that year for Wake County. I opened a brand new title 1 school.  I was amazed by the vastly different access to supplies at this new school in a neighboring county. We had new technology. We had crayons and pencils! I was astonished. I shifted to buying extras for my kids: headphones, books, markers, baskets. This was the year I noticed the school meals. Every student in our building received free and reduced breakfast and lunch. But the food served is lacking in nutritional value at best. There were few fresh fruit and vegetable options. Breakfast was sugary option after sugary option. While my students and I were much better off, we still ran out of things like copy paper. We quickly outgrew our brand new building and we had 25 kids in our rooms. We had to hire 3 teachers mid-year in my grade level alone. But we didn’t have classrooms for them. We taught 2 teachers to a room in 2 rooms. They kept 30 kids and the rest of us went down to 18 students. The third mid-year hired teacher pulled out small groups of students from each classroom and taught them in the janitor’s closet.

The school I teach at now wants for nothing. We have a variety of technology at our fingertips, our supply closet is always full, our building is clean and taken care of, and we have manageable class sizes. I know that the story at my school is an exception. And, I know that isn’t fair. Nor is it normal for our PTA to be providing us with technology and supplies. As great as our school is, I know that I need to fight for equity across our state. Every student should have access to what we have. As educators and parents, we need to continue to come together to speak our truths and make our voices heard.

I marched on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 for every student in the state of North Carolina to be treated fairly, equitably, and with respect. What our schools has become is not ok and cannot continue.

Blended Learning with Littles

A blended learning environment is one in which technology and “offline” teaching are seamlessly intertwined throughout the day. Blended learning environments allow for student agency, passions, and mastery to grow.

21st Century Learning

In the 21st Century Framework, students use digital tools, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking (The 4 Cs), and other career readiness skills to curriculum standards. In the 21st Century Framework, teachers design lessons, and experiences that pull in multiple skills listed above. Teachers must model risk-taking and perseverance. Teachers must also look for ways to include a global perspective in their curriculum. A blended learning environment provides teachers with tools to use to teach the skills and perspectives outlined by the 21st Century Framework. In a blended learning environment, students can use devices to share their learning with the world through Twitter, Instagram, a Seesaw blog, or other tools. Students can complete work in a way that makes sense to them. They can use a digital tool like Seesaw, Flipgrid, or Google Classroom to collaborate and communicate with one another. They can use their creativity to respond to assignments or teacher prompts using tools like pic collage, Seesaw, Chatterpix, and more. Students can apply critical thinking by considering their digital footprint prior to sharing with the world, solving problems with a team, or deciding which digital tool works best for them when given a choice.img_0862default

The 4Cs

Blending technology into your lessons allows for opportunities for students to experience the 4Cs. Blended learning can consist of student choices in response to learning. Students need to think Critically (1) about the task at hand and the best way to Communicate (2) their learning with others. I have given students choices for Letterland phonics sorts to use either Seesaw or paper and pencil. My kindergarteners figured out which way worked best for them and stuck with that method. In my kindergarten and first grade classrooms, we use #BookSnaps to reflect on text reading. Students have a choice in how they respond to that text and are very Creative (3) in their text annotating using labels, drawing, and emojis to annotate the text. I encourage students to Collaborate (4) and work together on one device. You know the saying 2 heads are better than one. Well, it still holds true when kids are creating content using technology. They aren’t only sharing their learning but they are learning ways to work on a team. Because a blended learning environment encourages collaboration, we don’t need to be 1:1 with students to devices in order to have a blended environment. There are times in my classroom where we use 1:1 and times where only 4 devices get used and the kids work together.

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Access to multiple types of devices grows flexibility

I’ve heard people say they don’t like technology in the classroom because technology changes frequently and just when you get used to something there is something new out there. I love that technology changes all the time. It forces us to be flexible, a super important executive functioning skill. In my classroom (not by choice) I have 2 desktop computers, one laptop, 5 iPad 2s, 1 newer iPad, my teacher laptop, my old iPhone 6, and 2 of my personal devices I let kids use occasionally (a chromebook and an iPhone 8 plus), and because of BYOD we have various models of iPads and iPand minis. Soon, we are getting new chromebooks from the district. The variety of devices that my students have access too requires them to transfer skills to different types of operating systems and to problem solve when something doesn’t work. I have kids who prefer the desktop computers for one task, an iPad for another, and my old phone for another. We have that flexibility for them to find what works best for them.

Learning first Technology Second

It is important to remember that the learning always needs to come first. Technology should support the learning. It never comes first in my planning process. I start by looking at my standards and unpacking what that means for students. My next step is to decide how we will approach the standard and how it should break down for student learning. Sometimes technology fits in and amplifies the learning, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes my devices sit without being touched all day and sometimes we use them in every block. Sometimes I don’t plan for technology but my students find a way to amplify their own learning and voices during a lesson or learning experience using technology and clearly I have to allow it! Like I said at the top, a blended learning environment includes both technology AND “offline” learning. It is important to know your standards, know your kids, and plan appropriately.

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My Teacher Heart is so Full

There are days the teaching is incredibly difficult. It’s not an easy job. There are days that teaching is incredibly rewarding. We have the ability to impact so many lives. There are days that teaching is incredibly draining.  We are given other people’s children to love and nurture daily. There are days that teaching is incredibly energizing. It can be a lonely job but, if we are intentional we can make some amazing connections!

Today is a day that I feel rewarded and energized. Today is a good day.

Yesterday was #EdCampWake. Yesterday was #TheEdCollabGathering. Yesterday was a day for learning, growing, and connecting. Were you at (physically or digitally) one of these events? I would love to continue connecting with you.

I went to my third #EdCampWake yesterday and presented at my first #TheEdCollabGathering. I love EdCamps because it is conversation based. Teachers show up on a Saturday morning, write down topics they would like to discuss, choose a session, and have conversations around the topics. There is no presenter. People just share and ask questions. Sometimes you are the expert and sometimes you know nothing! I attended sessions on Digital Portfolios, Equity, and PBL. In each session, I was able to both share and ask questions. I made some connections with educators I know and ones I don’t. I’m super excited for #EdCampBeach next weekend! Let me know if you are going. I would love to connect.

My buddy, Caitlin McCommons and I presented at a digital conference called The Education Collaborative yesterday. We shared tips and tools for Inquiry and Technology with Littles (#innovate4littles). We were so nervous because we couldn’t see the audience and how our message was received. We were so energized after the presentation! I’m so excited to go through their archives to see all the other presenters!

But that’s not all! This week was another Slow Flip Chat with #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles. I absolutely love this community! This week’s topic, Play through Nature, really stretched my thinking! I love the style of this chat because we participated on both Twitter and Flipgrid. It is slow and runs through a whole week with a different question each day.  It’s flexible and I can participate whenever I can fit it in. Jessica and Christine always manage to stretch my thinking through their questioning. I love connecting with educators through the reply videos on Flipgrid. I encourage YOU to check out this community and participate in the next chat! Reach out to me and I’ll make sure to share it with you!

How is your teacher heart this weekend? Are you feeling challenged? Rewarded? Drained? Energized? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! But most importantly, be mindful of it and take the time for YOU!

Organisms Launch

I picked up this idea at the Charlotte STEM conferences at UNC Charlotte in January, 2018. This conference was an amazing start to the year! I presented on #innovate4littles and attended some amazing sessions by educators around North Carolina. This activity was shared by presenters from Carolina Wolf Trap. This organization pairs artists and teachers to create integrated experiences for young learners. They moved all the tables out of the way and set up a pond in the middle of the room complete with plants, animals, and water. They played music. We danced, we moved, we did yoga all while learning important vocabulary about a pond. They shared strong texts to pair with this activity because we know that a print-rich environment is best for students. I was inspired by this experience and decided I was going to recreate it for our organisms unit in the Spring. The presenters shared a book with me that would pair well with the organisms I we learn about and make connections to a garden – Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt. I started gathering materials in January and finally was able to complete the experience with my students and some visitors in April!

The Set Up

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It was field day. After the games, I had 1 hour with my students. The day before, we completed our unit on communities. This was the perfect storm for an experience like this. I laid out a piece of brown fabric. On top of that, I placed fabric leaves, plastic insects, seeds, and rocks. Then came the green fabric, more leaves, insects, and rocks. I also added sticks, garden gloves, a spade, a hand rake, a hoe, fringe for tufts of grass, and pictures of flowers. I set up while my students were out of the room because I wanted it to be a surprise for them. I put on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and went to bring my firsties into the room for the big reveal.

The Activity

I invited 2 other teachers to join us for this experience and they joined us! We had 50 first graders in the room! Welcomed everyone and began by asking students to turn and talk with a shoulder buddy about what they could see. I had a few firsties share out what they saw. Then I introduced our first vocabulary word – organisms. I mentioned the items the kids said they saw that were organisms and then examples they shared that were not organisms. I know that providing examples and nonexamples is a great way for students to define words. Then I asked students what they thought organisms are. We defined it as, “living things.” Students then shared some other things they saw that were organisms. We decided the leaves and sticks were part of an organism.

I then had students grab an organism from our classroom garden. We watched to make sure what they took was for sure an organism as a quick assessment of their understanding. I turned up the music and asked students to move their hands like an organism while trying to match their movements to the music. We selected a few students to get up and move their whole body like an insect to the music. We defined some ways that insects move as we observed our firstie insects. Some of the plastic organisms were amphibians. I asked if they thought amphibians would move the same of different from the insects then students began moving their hands to the music like an amphibian. A few others had the opportunity to move their whole body like an amphibian while we defined their movements with a vocabulary word.

We then looked at some of the tools in our classroom garden. I first asked students to name them so they could connect their schema to the new vocabulary word. Then, students modeled a safe way to use the tool.

And then it was time to look beneath the surface. We called on some more students to take a piece of the green, plant life, fabric.

 

The slowly lifted and lowered the living layer of the earth. Everyone scooted closer so they could get a good look at what was beneath the surface. 

The surface layer students the lifted the fabric again and we removed it. We were not looking at the organisms and non-living things that live down in the dirt.

I love in this picture how everyone is as close as they can get to the dirt layer and kids are standing behind them so they could get a good look.

We repeated some of what we did with the surface layer with the organisms and nonliving things that are found down in the dirt. In addition, we talked about the seeds and the organism they will grow into.

I then asked students to stand up and plant their feet in the ground. Everyone moved in even closer so they could plant themselves in the dirt layer in the middle of our circle. We imagined our roots reaching deep into the ground and what they are pulling into our plant bodies. Students complained about being squished, a perfect opportunity to discuss that plants also need SPACE to grow. Students immediately spread out around the room so they could grow bigger. I asked for other plant parts and firsties called out, “stem, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers.” Students grew taller and reached their arms into the air. I turned the music up again and had the firstie plants move and sway with the music.

The next day, we talked about our experience and I read the book Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt. They made connections to what they saw the day before and we identified the organisms in the book that were garden friends or garden foe. And I told them that we will be spending time in our school garden as we learn more about organisms and they will see out there.

Standards

North Carolina Science Standards

L1.1 Understand characteristics of various environments and behaviors of humans that enable plants and animals to survive. 

L1.2 Summarize the needs of living organisms for energy and growth.

E1.2 Understand the physical properties of earth materials that make them useful in different ways. We connected back to our work with rocks and identified rocks and soil. Rocks help provide space and air in the soil. Soil is a mixture of rock material and dead organic material. (We need to revisit this as we continue our organisms work.)

Next Generation Science Standards

LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive.

ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals and the places they live.

LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.

LS1-2 Read text and use media to determine patterns in behavior in parents and offspring that help offspring survive.

LS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need water and sunlight to grow.

Common Core Standards

SL1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about topics and tesxts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

SL4 Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.

SL6 Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation.

L4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on content, choosing flexibility from an array of strategies.

Next Time

  • I need plastic worms, fake flowers, and other plants to add to the setup.
  • Begin with the protocol: see, think, wonder not just see.
  • Model a way to not use the tools. (I chose not to this time because there were too many students in the room.)
  • Students should have the opportunity to act out the growth from seed to plant.
  • Close up the experience with this is what you will see in our garden as we work.

Classroom Arcade PBL – all work, more play!

Caine’s Arcade is a Project Based Learning (PBL) unit in which students design and create an arcade game out of reusable materials such as cardboard while thinking about the forces and motion needed to make the game work. This is the first PBL my team planned and implemented this school year. One of my teammates found resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. We used some of the ideas she found and made some of our own. This being our first PBL, we were happy to have a guide as we worked and planned. I will admit that this is much more of a columnating project than a true PBL.

Goals and Standards

  • Understand how forces (pushes or pulls) affect the motion of an object. (In North Carolina this is an  Essential Standard for first grade. In the NGSS this is a standard in kindergarten.)
    • Explain the importance of a push or pull to changing the motion of an object.
    • Explain how some forces (pushes or pulls) can be used to make things move without touching them, such as magnets.
    • Predict the effect of a given force on the motion of an object, including balanced forces.
  • Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some closure. (ELA1.W2)
  • Collaborate with others to plan and build the arcade game and think interdependently toward a common goal.
  • Think creatively to use reusable materials to construct the arcade game.

Hook

We actually used 2 hooks for this PBL. First, we watched the Caine’s Arcade video online. The kids thought it was really cool! We launched this on a Friday and had an optional community outing that weekend. We went to the local arcade and had families meet us there. While students were playing arcade games, we asked them to sketch and label forces and motion they noticed in the games. We brought sketch papers with checklists of different forces and motion. The kids had spent Monday – Thursday that week completing some STEM challenges that would give them an anchor experience for the different types of force and motion. We knew they would need this in order to completely analyze the games.

Student process

    • STEM Challenges:
      • We provided students with a small bucket and some dowels. The challenge was to move the bucket without touching it. This challenge allowed us to define push and pull as a force.
      • We gave students a ball and a pumpkin and asked them to predict and test which would move faster when rolled. This challenge allowed us to define speed as a factor of force and motion. Students then made a video explaining what they did.
      • Movement activity- we had students move in a roll, spin, zigzag, and straight line. Then we gave them playdoh spheres and asked them to change the shape of the playdoh sphere to make it move in those different ways.
      • 3 Little Pigs STEM challenge – Students were asked to build a house the wolf couldn’t blow down. This allowed us to show kids how to build a structure that would stand even when there was force or movement against it.
    • Watch the Caine’s Arcade video and discuss it. We used both chalk talk and back to back/front to front protocols to respond to what we noticed. The chalk talk was focused on I see, I think I wonder statements. I asked comprehension questions, asked students to make connections to their life experiences, and then had them get creative and start planning for the back to back/front to front protocol.
    • We then met at a local arcade for some field research. Families came to the arcade ready to PLAY! We asked students to closely observe at least 3 games. The sketched and labeled the game and made note of the types of force and motion in the game. There were some really great academic conversations happening with parents and students about force and motion.
    • For students who didn’t come to the arcade, I took photos and video for them to view at school the next day. Students then worked with partners to compare Caine’s cardboard arcade from the video to the real arcade we visited.
    • Students spent a few days sketching their arcade games in small groups. I let my students choose their teammates. They worked in groups of 2-3 students. They worked together to decide what type of arcade game they wanted to build and then began sketching how it will look. Then they made a list of materials they thought they would need to create the game.
    • Prior to building, students shared their sketches with another group to collect feedback.
    • Before beginning this PBL, I sent a note to parents asking for reusable things from home. They sent in tape, bottle caps, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, and all kinds of other things. I looked at student’s sketches and sent another request for other materials like different types of balls, string, things we could use for prizes, tickets, and some other things. Students used these makerspace materials to build their arcade games.
    • It took a little over a week for them to completely build their games in 20-30 minute sessions. We had some extra time before game day and students were able to paint their arcade games to make them look nice. (That was a messy day!) While students worked, I observed and jumped in to help where needed. I was surprised at students ability to direct me to help with things they struggled with. I also looked for misunderstandings so that I could stop them to teach a minilesson or plan for a minilesson the next day prior to building.
  • The day before parents came in to play students games, groups wrote directions for how to play and designed a sign that would draw customers to their game.
  • On the day of play, families and other first grade classes came in to play our students games. We planned 2 different arcade days so that kids could play games in other classes. Customers walked around the arcade in our room and another room to play the games, win prizes, and have fun! I asked parents to talk to the students about the forces and motion in their games. I eavesdropped on these conversations to assess my students understanding. Customers read the directions and played the games. I closed 1 game at a time so students could play for a little while. It was a huge success!

Assessment

  • This PBL required a lot of observation for assessment. Next time, I need to plan ahead and have a way to take anecdotal notes so I have clearer evidence of skills and proficiencies.
  • I used their game directions as one of our writing samples in our all about writing unit. This was a fantastic real-world application of that standard!

Minilessons and how I knew students needed them

    • This PBL was front-loaded with a bunch of vocabulary building STEM challenges that cut out the need for a lot of content based minilessons. That is something I would like to change.
    • I taught a minilesson on collaboration in which we discussed how we can tell if a group is working together on the same goal or if they are just going with their own ideas. We had to do this a few times throughout the PBL. I knew I needed to cover this when I noticed groups that were working independently on the same game. One group had all members sketching their game rather than working together on one sketch. I used their pictures for one of the minilessons. We identified things in the sketch that were similar and different and gave suggestions for how they can make it into one sketch. For revisiting this skill, I used a Padlet of videos I’ve collected on collaboration. We watched the video and identified the ways the characters collaborated. I then asked groups to try that as they continued to build. This was pretty much the only minilesson I taught whole group.

https://padlet.com/embed/wxjheok9dr7o

  • It only took about 1 day of building before my claw machine groups realized they needed prizes or it would never work! The next day we had a class meeting to talk about what types of objects could go in the claw machine and how other games should have prizes or tickets for players. They cleared out my treasure box for their prizes.
  • In small groups, I noticed that I needed to revisit some of the vocabulary from the unit and revisit the types of forces and motion they were using. We tried the moving parts in their game with different force to see how the game worked and then I asked them to redefine the forces at work in their games.

Minilessons I had in my back pocket but didn’t need

  • The next time I use this PBL, I won’t do the STEM challenges at the beginning. Instead, I’ll use a video that quickly teaches the vocabulary students will need. Those STEM challenges will become the minilessons I can pull from to teach as groups or the class needs them.

What I’ll change next time

    • I’d like to change the fieldwork note sheet to not be so vocabulary heavy. Rather than students looking for specific examples of force and motion, I would like to have them describe how things are moving in the game. This sheet also needs to make it more clear to families that they are looking for games with actual moving parts and not computer games.
    • While allowing students to decide on their own arcade game to build, next time, we will have a group discussion so groups don’t build the same type of game. I had 2 claw machines and I think we could have had a better variety had we had a class meeting prior to sketching.
    • During the sketch share, I will use this feedback form for students to collect meaningful, focused feedback on their ideas:
  • Next time, I need to have a prepared list of skills and standards so as I’m observing and conferencing with groups I can take notes as I look for growth and understanding in each area.
  • Magnets – this is a part of the standard we didn’t even touch. We didn’t have access to magnets and therefore did use them in games or for minilessons. Next time, I will request parents send in some magnets we can use. I’ll need to develop some minilessons to teach how magnets can change the force and motion at work. Magnets could add a whole new level of gameplay!

This is probably my longest blog post ever! I would love your feedback! I hope this type of break down of one PBL is helpful for you. If I get some positive feedback, I’ll breakdown some of the other PBLs I’ve used or written in other blog posts!