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!

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.

Classroom Arcade PBL – all work, more play!

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

Goals and Standards

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

Hook

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

Student process

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

Assessment

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

Minilessons and how I knew students needed them

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

https://padlet.com/embed/wxjheok9dr7o

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

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

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

What I’ll change next time

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

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

From Makerspace to Maker-classroom

My school created a large makerspace in our media center and technology lab 2 years ago. This year I decided to create my own mini makerspace in my classroom. I decided to have a makerspace because this year, I decided to shift my instruction to include more inquiry. We have done multiple PBLs (read more about that here) that include a build and STEM challenges. Our morning work is open-ended and includes our makerspace materials. My students have open access to our makerspace unless it is limited by the PBL build or STEM challenge.

A makerspace doesn’t need to be expensive and can include anything you can get your hands on. Our makerspace includes:

  • cardboard
  • paper towel/toilet paper tubes
  • tape
  • popsicle sticks
  • tooth picks
  • paper
  • tape
  • pipecleaners
  • reusable food containers (boxes, plastic containers, lids, etc)
  • legos
  • tape
  • magnetic connecting toys
  • playdough
  • dowels
  • k’nex
  • tape

A lot of what is in my makerspace was donated by families. At the beginning of the year, I put out a list of items that I wanted and asked for donations. I also mentioned that I would be happy to take some old toys they were ready to part with. One great way to build up your lego collection is to ask each student to bring in 5 bricks each year as part of their school supplies. They won’t miss just 5 bricks and if everyone does it, you easily end up with about 100 bricks a year.

The only thing in my makerspace that I have spent my own money on is playdough. It dries out quickly because we use it a lot. I know I can make my own, but I’m a little lazy. I would love for my students to spend a Genius Hour learning how to make it, but I haven’t had any takers yet.

Below is the makerspace shelf I set up at the beginning of this year. The book collection at the top (which has now grown) is there to inspire making, building, and problem solving. We re-read this books frequently. It is hard to keep this shelf organized and clean. I have some students who are really good at it and I try to remind them to tidy it and train their friends to help keep it clean.

I said at the beginning that I was building a mini makerspace this year. My makerspace has grown a mind of its own and now there are things stashed all over the classroom. I have a cabinet full of materials, a big box full of small boxes, a shelf full of supplies and games, our math manipulatives were added to our makerspace, and kids bring things from home to use for our makerspace. My whole room is now a makerspace. The decision to bring making into my classroom has inspired my students to be creative as they build. They come up with new ways to combine materials and are always asking questions. Which is EXACTLY what I wanted for them.

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Do you have a makerspace in your classroom? How do you organize it? How do you stock it? How has it changed your classroom culture?

#ncties18 reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning through Genius Hour

Full Disclosure:

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

How I got into Genius Hour

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

My First Genius Hour

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

Genius Hour Pase 2

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

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

First Grade Genius Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAQs on Dropping the Clip Chart

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

Why did you drop it?

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

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

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

What have you tried?

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

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

What are you doing differently?

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

What mistakes have you made?

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

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

What are your next steps?

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

Making Family Connections – mulitple methods

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email

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:

IT’S NOT ABOUT ME!

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

Phone Calls

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

Face to Face

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

In the Community

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

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

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

Making Connections!

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

I Dove Into PBL & You Should Too!

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

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

Here’s what I’m working on:

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

Here’s what’s next:

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

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