Diverse Texts

It’s nothing new that including diverse texts in our classroom libraries and read alouds is incredibly beneficial to all students. Yes, all students. Not just students of color. Diverse texts allow students to see characters who look like them so they can see themselves in the world of literature. Diverse texts also allow students to see characters who are different from them so they can make connections across those differences and build their empathy.

When I use the term “diverse” I’m referring to all people of color, differing abilities, religions, sexual orientation, genders, family make up, etc.

I’ve noticed that many curriculums that include read aloud texts, aren’t very diverse so it is up to me as the teacher to intentionally select diverse texts that fit the same standards as the texts. It’s an important, time consuming, and expensive process to find and select texts for this purpose. I have built a decent collection of diverse texts for my classroom that I’m quite proud of. My Amazon Wish List is full of more texts I want to purchase.

One morning in the shower (because that’s where all the best ideas hit me) I realized it would be amazing to have some sort of searchable database of diverse texts linked to both curriculum standards and the Teaching Tolerance social justice standards. This curated list would connect curriculum to intentional text content highlighting diverse characters.

I created this form for people to input their favorite diverse character texts by answering simple questions about the book. I would love for you to add your own favorite texts to the form. This isn’t just for me, we are better together and we can build an amazing resource together too!

The spreadsheet this form populates is searchable using the control + f keyboard shortcut.

You can also follow my twitter and instagram for weekly posts of the books I’m using with my students!

Flipping for Substitutes

Flipping the classroom is a teaching practice in which a teacher videos themselves teaching and send it to students to watch at home. The idea is that teachers can lecture for students to take notes outside of class time. Students then come to class prepared with knowledge and questions. Class is then interactive and hands on because students already had direct instruction.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think teachers should be flipping their classrooms. We can’t expect students to watch videos at home and learn from them. It is inequitable. Not all students have access to devices and internet at home, some students work, some play sports, some help out with other siblings.

A few years ago I taught a multi track first grade. In our year round schools, we run on 4 different tracks or calendars. At any time there are 3 tracks in and 1 track out. Each track is in for 9 weeks and out for 3 weeks. In my multi track class, the students tracked in and out every 3 weeks and I was an 11 month teacher and tracked out less frequently. During my track outs, I had a substitute so instruction could continue. This is the year I started videoing my teaching and leaving those videos for substitutes because I needed to teach at 2 different paces depending on the instructional day for the tracks that were in at the time. This made sub plans………. challenging.

I began doing flipped videos in math for substitutes so I could ensure the strategies my students needed would be taught correctly. The video served twofold – it taught the strategy to my students and the substitute. In my sub plans, I left directions to assist with students as they watched the video and practiced. My videos followed the same structure of my typical lessons with dry erase board practice while I modeled. At the end of my videos, I gave directions for independent practice.

This seemed to work well and I got good feedback from substitutes because the knew exactly how to help students. My students like to see my face or hear my voice even when I wasn’t with them.

Later that year, I realized I could get more bang for my buck with these videos. I started to upload them to google classroom so my students could access them at any time they needed a reminder. After a parent conference in which a parent asked for a how to on math strategies, I stared uploading them to Seesaw as well so families could see me model a strategy. Please note – though I shared the videos with families, I never required students to watch the instruction at home.

I still flip my classroom for substitutes. I’ve even started making videos for literacy instruction. This year I plan to incorporate science or social studies videos into sub plans as well. This method works best when you can plan ahead for a substitute because it can be time consuming to make the videos. I don’t flip my classroom for substitutes when I am out sick because my plans are usually a little more hurried.

Here’s one example of a video I made for a substitute:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XWHz6KIVl9XCyqo3e5NhqNwtBtLgfFXjab7LBNlKDKA/edit?usp=sharing

Do you flip your classroom? Does it work for you? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

How Letting Them Choose Teaches More Than Reading

How I Helped One Child Build Perseverance Through Reading

My school is Positivity Project school. We teach each of the 24 character strengths for a week at a time. Staff takes the character strength quiz to identify their top strengths. Perseverance has shown up in my top 3 strengths for 3 years in a row!

1: Love of Learning, 2: Creativity, 3: Perseverance, 4: Perspective, 5: Fairness, 6: Kindness, 7: Honesty

Part of my why is helping kids to build a sense of perseverance in their lives. Being that this is one of my top 3 character strengths, I’m not surprised that it is a huge part of my why!

I’d like to tell a story about a little girl from my class last year that was able to build and exhibit perseverance. She struggled with reading. She purposely selected leveled readers only from the A-C bins because she felt confident about those books. Even though I allow all students to choose books from any bin, she stuck to these bins. She stuck to those bins until I read Personal Space Camp by Julia Cooke as a read aloud. She did not struggle with respecting others’ personal space but she did LOVE this book.

At the time, I was teaching identifying lessons learned and central message of a story (NC.1.RL.2). I had created a bin of books that I had used to read aloud and model identifying the lesson learned and placed it in our classroom library. I wanted my students to have access to these high quality, diverse texts while book shopping because I know that access to complex texts helps to build students’ text comprehension. I also know that multiple readings of a text helps students become more fluent readers and helps them feel more confident in their reading abilities.

I’m sure it comes to no surprise to you that she took that book and put it in her book bin to continue reading. I allow students to always choose their books in their book bins and give them the autonomy to decide to keep books they love rather than swapping them all out each week. I believe that students self selecting a variety of texts is important to their growth and success as readers. She kept this book in her book bin almost the entire school year!

At the start of the school year after she initially placed it in her book box after I had used it as a read aloud only once, she could read about 10% of the words on the first page, most of which were sight words. I conferenced with her regularly and each time she wanted to read this book even though she struggled with it every time. One day, I asked her why she kept reading this book even though the words were difficult. She answered (paraphrasing since it was a while ago), I love the story and I want to read the story.

For her, this book symbolized her reading goal for first grade. This book is measured at about 600 lexile and the typical first grade range is 190-530. For her, reading this book meat that she was a good reader. For her, reading this book independently meant that she learned everything she needed to be a successful first grader.

This was the first time she selected a text other than from the level A-C bins so I decided to encourage her and coach her. Each time we conferenced, we read a different section of the book. We discussed how she felt as a reader each time. And we talked about what was happening in the story. The progress was slow. Very slow. But she read this book every day.

By spring, she was able to read the entire book cover to cover. She could retell that story like she lived it herself. She used it as an anchor text when comparing (NC.1.RL.9) the adventures and experiences of characters in stories. She even asked to read the book aloud to the class by her self during snack one day and of course I said YES!

Pictured above is a different student reading a different text with a similar story. I managed to not get a photo of the child this story is about reading her favorite story.

I made some really important choices that impacted this student’s growth in both reading and perseverance. I choose to allow all my students to use my read aloud texts for independent reading. I choose to let her read a book we both knew was very challenging for her. I choose to focus on her connection with that text over her current reading abilities. I chose to encourage her and coach her as a reader. I chose to build her confidence. Because of these choices, she grew as a reader from reading level B books at the start of first grade to reading level J books at the end of the year. Because of these choices, she learned that if she sets her mind to something and doesn’t give up, she can do amazing things!

Student Choice and Reading

I believe that student choice is important for lots of reasons. Student choice helps build relationships and trust. Students take ownership over their learning when they know they get a say. Students can make personal connections to the content through choices. Learning is “sticky” and memorable when students have voice and choice. Kids like having a choice. But, today I want to focus on student choice during reading instruction.

I teach reading in a workshop model with a mini lesson, call to action, conferencing, and small group instruction. Conferencing with students and small group instruction happen while students are independently reading. My mini lesson and call to action are whole group instruction. At this time, I make a connection, state a strategy, model the strategy, then ask students to try it when they get to their book boxes.

I give students full agency over the books they have in their book box. I have 2 rules: Students should have 10 books. They should have a variety of books. Students are assigned a day of the week for their independent book shopping. When students go book shopping, they have the choice to keep as many books as they want and trade as many books as they want as long as they keep 10 books. I teach several lessons about selecting a good variety of books ranging from: fiction vs nonfiction, finding books on similar topics (all books have bears but are different types of books), choosing books on topics they don’t think they like, making book recommendations and using them to choose books, leveled vs. non-leveled books, etc.

My classroom library is very organized. I have leveled books, theme books, author books, non fiction collections, chapter books, seasonal books, etc. I teach students how to put the books back so they stay organized and one of our classroom jobs is the classroom library helper. Last year, I purchased these dot stickers on amazon and I use them to label my personal books into their theme bins. I do have leveled books that belong to the school and those stay in the labeled leveled bins. I personally like to keep my books completely separate from the school owned books. Students have free choice to choose from leveled bins and theme bins. Choosing some leveled books is part of having a variety of books. However – I. 👏 Never. 👏 Tell. 👏 Students. 👏 Which. 👏 Bins. 👏 To. 👏 Select. 👏 Their. 👏 Books. 👏 From. 🙌

My quick thoughts on leveled books: Books have reading levels and can be categorized in that way. Children are not leveled and should not be categorized in that way. period

I have a flexible classroom and have blogged about it here and here. Flexible seating also applies to independent reading time. Students can read any where they want: under tables, at a table, on a pillow, on any flexible seat, on the floor, in any position they choose. As long as students are spread out, safe, and comfortable. They can be anywhere that works for them. This doesn’t happen by mistake or magic. It takes a lot of teaching, practice, praise, reinforcement, and modeling to make it work.

My students take our reading time seriously. It is important to them that they choose a spot where they can focus on their books and not their friends and they take some serious time selecting books for their book boxes. While I don’t believe that students should be leveled, my reading assessment data has proven that giving students voice and choice is beneficial to their growth as readers. At the end of last school year (2018-19) 100% of my students met proficiency or better. 2 readers even grew from exhibiting reading behaviors to decoding and comprehending a level I and K book.

An amazing thing happened today (7/17/19)

Reflections from #NSTA18 conference

In late November 2018, I attended my second National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference. This year was different from last year because this was a national conference and last year was a state conference. I was fortunate enough to get accepted to co-present with Caitlin McCommons on one of the many topics we are passionate about. We ran a hands-on session for teachers to grow their Professional Learning Network (PLN) through a real-time Twitter chat. This is the second time we have led a similar session and we have gotten good feedback.

I’d like to take some time to digest and synthesize my learning from the other sessions I attended. We attended 2 sessions on integrating trade books with science instruction. My Amazon cart is stuffed with books I want to add to my collection. When integrating literature with science curriculum, it is important to remember that the science content in the book should be accurate. The books shared during science lessons don’t need to be nonfiction all the time. Stories and poems can teach science content in a relatable way. In the second session on trade books in science instruction, we talked about partnering hands-on activities with trade books. One example was reading a book like Red Eyes or Blue Feathers and then having kids play with plastic insects and fabric samples to see if they can find where an insect will camouflage best. It was surprising that not all pairings were what I initially expected. Both sessions touched on including poems with science instruction. That is something I am going to try in the unit I am currently teaching on earth materials. Here is one of the lists of science trade books from one of the sessions (slides at the top and list around page 20).

We attended another session on maximizing your time in science class by streamlining your lessons and experiments. The presenters’ idea was that if you follow the same process for every science lesson, the kids will become fluent and will be able to complete an activity or experiment efficiently. Their framework involved 2 similar experiments one with an expected outcome and one with a different outcome that would inspire a question. Students would then need to come up with a hypothesis, written in an if/then frame. And begin testing their hypothesis. I used a framework similar to this when teaching kids about rock hardness in our scratch test lesson. It went well but I’m not quite sure where I can fit it in again.

By far my favorite session was by my friend Lindsay Rice and her colleague. They presented on the importance of movement within lessons and kinesthetic learning. By adding purposeful movements to instruction, teachers can help kids build their memory of content-specific vocabulary words. Brain research supports movement rich learning because it helps to fire up the neurons and get the blood flowing. They had us up and moving the entire time. It is always such a good reminder that movement shouldn’t be a reward or a break but can increase engagement and solidify learning.

I also really enjoyed the hashtagging with a purpose session by a local colleague, Kyle Hamstra. This idea has me hook, line, and sinker. I am not a fan of teachers pay teachers because I think teachers should be sharing freely with each other (that’s a soapbox for another post). Kyle’s brian child is #Hashtag180 and idea in which teachers add curriculum standard hashtags to their social media sharing of things happening in their classroom. How awesome would it be to search a curriculum hashtag and find tweets from other teachers teaching the same standard to help plan for learning experiences? He also shared his Flipgrid project (#GridSciNC) in which teachers can post videos to share activities and ideas organized by grade and standard. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to check out that resource now and add your own ideas to help it continue to grow! http://flipgrid.com/gridscinc

The last session of the conference was one on Citizen Science. I had no idea what citizen science was until I attended this session. Citizen science is a way for kids to actually do science in their community or on school grounds in a meaningful way that can even add to research happening by real scientists. I love the idea of getting kids involved in real science rather than controlled experiments but I’m still thinking hard about how to fit this into my current curriculum standards.

Over all, this was another great conference filled with meaningful connections with science teachers from my local district to Kalamazoo! While my post here focused on the content of the sessions I attended, it is important to state that the personal connections I made with people I knew, didn’t know, or recognized from twitter was by far the best part of the conference. I can’t wait to attend another NSTA conference next 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!

The Playground Problem PBL

This Project Based Learning unit was developed by Kara Damico and myself. We participated in a year long professional development on Project Based Learning including business immersions called Summer STEM. This plan was developed based on our learning experiences during training and time at Plexus and The Frontier Building

Goals and Standards (21st century skills)

Social Studies

  • Explain ways people change the environment.

Math

  • Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another.
  • Understand that the 2 digits of a 2 digit number represent amounts of tens and ones.

ELA

  • Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion and provide some sense of closure.

4 Cs

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Students design structures to address the problem statements after reviewing the data collected.
  • Creativity: Student designs should have unique features that are not already represented in your recess spaces. These designs may draw on creative efforts they find in their research.
  • Collaboration: Students work together to share ideas and receive feedback from peers throughout this project. Students may choose to work independently, in partners, or in small groups depending on the similarity of ideas to design and build their structures. Classes collaborate with business experts when available.
  • Communication: Students work together to share ideas and receive feedback from peers throughout this project. Students will give a 30 second pitch explaining their structures to PTA members, playground safety inspectors, facility planner, or other community members with a connection to playground construction.

Hook

We began by having students draw their dream playground without any constraints. To get kids thinking out of the box, we played a slideshow of photos of some unique playground structures from around the United States.

After drawing, students did a gallery walk to see their friends’ ideas. We then created a chart to list similar ideas and unique ideas. We collected ideas on a Padlet.

Student process

After the hook, we went to observe our playground space and completed a padlet to list things we liked and didn’t like about our current recess spaces. We were able to decide upon 3 main recess spaces – hard top, playground, field. Students reflected on our spaces by listing likes and dislikes of our current set up and structures. We collected these on a Padlet.

We then needed data to see which areas of the playground were the most popular. We gave a bag of pompoms to every teacher in the school and set up big jars by the recess doors. Each jar was labeled with a recess area. Students placed their pompom in the jar for their favorite recess space. Students then analyzed the data from the jars. We discovered that the most popular spaces were the playground structures.

In order for students to find the problem, we interviewed our assistant principal and receptionist (who doubles as our nurse) about problems that occur during recess. They reported that we have frequent injuries and fighting incidents. Students were able to think about our popular spaces survey and connect that the overcrowding of the playground structures likely causes both injuries and incidents.

Students were then challenged to think about the ideal structures they drew and the recess problems we identified and create a solution. Students designed structures to add to our recess spaces such as zip lines, obstacle courses, sports fields, talk-it-out structures for problem solving, and more. Students then used makerspace materials to build prototypes of the structures they designed. Students collected feedback from each other and made improvements to their structures. Students researched materials they could use to build their structures on the Home Depot or Lowe’s websites. They used tens and ones to figure out an estimated cost. Students then wrote a pitch for their structure including it’s purpose and safety features. We used this planning sheet:

We invited administration, PTA, a playground planner, and a playground safety inspector to our final event. Students presented their structures to the visitors and collected feedback. We were not able to acually select a structure to build (but that would have been really cool).

Mini lessons and how I knew students needed them

  • Reading a bar graph for most and least.
  • Prototyping and using simple materials.
  • Giving feedback – In my class we use glows for positives and grows for improvements. We needed to talk about specific feedback and always giving a postitive first.
  • Using feedback – After students collected feedback from friends, we talked about how to decided if it was right to make changes to structures based on the feedback given.
  • Drawing ten sticks and ones to represent the cost of materials and counting it all up.
  • Writing a convincing pitch.

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

  • Collaboration lessons and conversations – these are always great to have in your back pocket. We do a lot of collaborative activities in my classroom so my students didn’t need any of these this time.

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!

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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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.