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!

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.

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!

The 5 W’s of Breakout Edu with Littles

I see it as my mission to take all the innovative pracitces popular in education and make them accessible to littles. Breakout Edu was a tough one for me. I played around with it in my head for a long time before actually trying it. I’ve still only done it a handful of times and I love it. I’m interested in creating my own breakout puzzles.

Why I like breakout boxes…

Breakout boxes provide students with the opportunity to practice problem solving strategies. They encourage students to persevere and show some grit. They allow students to collaborate toward a common goal. Breakout boxes can hit so many standards and hit every one of the 4Cs all at once! And, they are SO FUN!

What I’ve tried…

I’ve chosen breakout boxes that focus on solving different types of story problems (OA.1.1, OA.1.3, OA.1.5) and ones that focus on answering questions about a story (RL.1.1). I found these breakout boxes on I printed all the materials and followed the instructions to assemble my box and set up the puzzles around the room.

I introduced the problem and their goal to unlock the box. The math breakout we did had a football story (it was the beginning of the season and I have students super into sports). We had to unlock the footballs for the team. In the literacy box, the mouse locked up our markers and we needed to break them free or lose them forever! I broke my class into groups (one for each puzzle), set the timer, and set them free. We rotated around to all the puzzles until everyone had a chance to solve them all.

Who are the Breakout boxes for and how I made them more accessible for littles…

I planned my first breakout box for my whole class to do at the same time. I split them into small groups so they had to work on 1 puzzle at a time and I rotated them around as they seemed to reach a solution. The second time, we partnered with a second grade class and they had free range to solve the puzzles around the room with their second grade buddy or a group of their choosing. Both of these methods worked well with my students however, they made a lot of mistakes when I turned on the timer. My advice for making breakout boxes more accessible for littles…


Woah! My kids got so obsessed about how much time was left they made silly mistakes on problems I KNEW they could solve otherwise. As soon as I turned off the timer and they felt safe to take their time and solve the puzzles, they were much more successful and were able to breakout. I tried twice thinking the first time it was just the newness. But, they had the same reaction to the timer both times. I will no longer use the timer with my littles.

When I do a breakout box…

I tried a breakout box with my class as a culminating event for our math unit right before an assessment and they did well. However, it took nearly 3 hours to do. I pretty much lost the rest of my day.

About once a month my district has early release days where the students go home early but the teachers stay normal hours for professional development. I’ve found that these early release days are the best for breakout boxes because they fill up our day, they’re fun, students are engaged in rigorous work focused on multiple standards.

The next one I did was on one of these early release days and in the middle of our study on making predictions. The breakout box went with If You Take A Mouse To School. Students were familiar with this book since we had already read it and made predictions throughout. When we returned from specials, the room was a mess and the mouse left us a message about our missing markers. This worked great and really piqued their imaginations. No one predicted the mouse would come to OUR school!

Where I’m going…

My next plan is to try to start creating my own breakout boxes for my students. This way I can decide on specific curriculum points to hit and include my students’ interests.


Coding Unplugged – A number sorting computer

I learned an amazing coding activity at the #NCSTA17 conference in Greensboro, NC in October. The activity is from The mat works like a computer. It has rules and paths the information must follow. I was mind blown the first time we did it as adults at the conference and I immediately had the idea to use this as one of my comparing numbers introductions. #math1NBT3

The first time I did this, I taped the pattern out on the floor copying it from the photo I took at the conference. I didn’t want to spend the money making the cloth if it didn’t work. I was worried that my firsties wouldn’t get it since they would need to know right from left in order for the computer to be successful. I was so surprised! They did not want the computer to “break” and were very careful to chose the correct direction and help each other figure out where to go on the coding mat.

I bought this drop cloth at Lowes. I painted the pattern with tempra paint from my classroom. I copied it from the photo I took at the conference. It was pretty easy except I didn’t eyeball the paths correctly and ended up with 2 curved ones when they should all be straight. I also had a few cat prints from my dear sweet 15 year old torti cat, Calypso, being nosy and walking across the mat.

The kids DID NOT MIND! They love hearing all the crazy stories about my pets!

The first time we did this, I gave the kids single digit numbers 1-6 that I knew they would be able to compare and put in order easily. I had them line up out of order at the starting end of the mat. I asked the kids who were not on the computer to tell me what they noticed:

  • “They are 1 digit numbers.”
  • “They are out of order.”

So far so good! I explained the rules and paths on the computer and gave reminders for right and left so the knew which direction to move. At each step forward I had them stop and the observers to notice any changes (Nothing changed except the order of the numbers. And they were still out of order.) I slowed this WAY down. One step at a time asking them to compare and decide: right or left? By the time they go to the other end of the computer they were just as amazed as I was at the conference that this unplugged computer WORKED!!!

The next time we did this, I gave them teen numbers which I knew they were familiar with from kindergarten and had 1 or 2 numbers missing (i.e. 11, 13, 16, 17, 18 19). I kept it at a slow pace. Taking 1 step at a time and comparing and following paths and asking the observers to notice any changes. They were less surprised that the numbers ended up in order and more concerned that some numbers were missing in the order. This led to a great conversation about comparing numbers and the numbers that come between other numbers.

We moved on from there comparing more 2 digit numbers. I gave out another set of cards with 2 digit numbers specifically chosen so that it didn’t matter if they only compared 1 of the digits, it would still work out in order (i.e. 12, 23, 34, 45, 67, 89). I anticipated this would be a common misconception with comparing 2 digit numbers. We talked about always comparing with the tens number firs then the ones if the tens were equal.

The next set of cards had more random 2 digit numbers. I had them draw the base ten picture for this number so they could begin comparing both the number and a picture of that number and visualizing each 2 digit number. The last set of cards had just base ten pictures and they compared the images.

Each time I gave out a new set of cards, I called different students to be in the computer so that everyone could have a chance to observe and notice and participate. Each time we worked the computer, they were able to follow the rules and paths faster. Our observation skills even got keener as they noticed mistakes in the right/left stepping and corrected their friends so we didn’t “break” the computer.

Please share other unplugged computer science or coding activities or ideas you have for this activity in the comments!

Amazon’s Echo Dot in the Classroom

This is not a sponsored post.

I bought an Amazon Echo Dot at the beginning of the school year and have set it up in my classroom as an additional learning tool. The Echo Dot uses an Artificial Intelligence, Alexa, to interact with humans through voice commands. Having an AI in the classroom helps students work on their speaking and listening skills. They have to speak clearly so she can hear them. They have to listen carefully because she sometimes answers quickly.
I have seen a lot of questions around lately about how these are can be used in the classroom. I linked a podcast at the bottom where they talk about the benefits of AI in the classroom. I’m going to share 5 ways I currently use my echo dot and then some of the new skills I just added and look forward to using.

I chose to use AI in my classroom this year because it can help support students with different needs. It takes the pressure off students because they don’t need to read or write in order to interact with the device. I also love that it is a relatively new technology on the market and I love the challenge of making it work in the classroom.

Note – We changed the wake word on our Echo Dot to Echo instead of Alexa since I have a student with that name.

*tips* turn OFF shopping, put it in a spot that doesn’t have a ton of regular activity so she can hear and be heard

1. Muisc

From day 1 I have used my Echo to play music. I have amazon music set up and can ask her to play anything from a specific song to a genre or artist playlist. My kids love to be the DJ for the day as one of our classroom rewards. They get to pick the music for morning arrival, movement breaks, or quiet music when we need to concentrate.

2. Timers and Reminders

I will ask Echo to set a timer for the number of minutes students have to complete a task or remind us of something we need to do that is not part of our regular schedule.

3. Spelling

First graders are really good at phonetic spelling and can stretch and write the sounds for any word they want. However, they start to realize that their spelling doesn’t match conventional spelling and they want to spell words correctly. I let my students use Echo to spell a word for them or check their spelling of a word. At first they needed to ask me before asking Echo to spell a word (I didn’t want them using it for sight words or words we have learned the spelling pattern for). They are good about this now and I’m ready to release control to them (or an Echo Manager – student job).

4. Brain Breaks

Echo can play music, tell a joke, or play quick games to help with brain breaks. We can ask her to play a song for a quick dance break, tell a joke to lighten the mood, or play a quick game. We love to play the Animal Game (one of the skills you can add). It works like 20 questions about animals.

5. Genius Hour

We have an (almost) weekly genius hour in my classroom. When students are ready to choose a topic or question to work on for their genius hour, they need to have their idea approved by Echo first. The purpose of Genius Hour is for students to spend time exploring their own curiosities. Part of this is in coming up with ideas that are not “googleable.” Alexa, being and AI, works like google. My students need to ask her their question and get an, “I don’t know” response from her to know that their question is going to take some time and work to reach an answer.

Skills I like or will be using soon

  • Invisible Dice
  • Ambient Sounds
  • Animal Game
  • Flip a coin
  • Kids Affirmation
  • Kids Mad Libs
  • Laugh Box
  • MathFacts
  • Mother May I
  • Rock Paper Scissors
  • Translated
  • Would You Rather
  • Word Look Up
  • Weather

Do you have and Alexa or another AI in your classroom? How do you use it? Please leave ideas in the comments!

Google Teacher Tribe Episode 31

Building Relationships …a work in progress…

Author’s Note: I’m not proud of the post below. Actually, I’m embarrassed by it. But learning and growth must be shared! This is about to get real………

I started reading The Curious Classroom by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels. And of course it begins talking student relationships. I have good relationships with my kids. They know I love them and they love me. I try to get to know my kids outside of school and academics. I share my life outside our classroom with them.

In the first chapter, Daniels brings up a quote I’ve heard many times before by Donald Graves,

You are not ready to teach a child until you know ten things about her life outside of school.

It got me thinking. I actually went back to that quote 4 times in the time it took me to read the 18 pages of chapter 1. Do I know 10 things about each of my Firsties??? Of course I do! ……… WAIT! Do I REALLY know 10 thing about each of my kids? I decided to make a list.

I left off names and things I know to keep some privacy for my students. Below reflects what I was able to come up with after thinking about my students for a short time. The number on the left represents a student and the number in parenthesis is the amount of things I could come up with.

1.  (5)

2.  (5)

3.  (7)

4. (4)

5. (5)

6. (8)

7.  (4)

8.  (4)

9. (2)

10. (3)

11. (2)

12. (3)

13. (5)

14. (6)

15. (3)

16. (3)

17. (4)

18. (3)

I have a lot of work to do. I’ll update this post as I work toward my goal.