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)

Whyyyyyy Flex Seating

I’ve been using flexible seating in my classroom for several years now. At the beginning, flexible seating was an administration requirement. Now it is a choice. An intentional choice that I have made because I believe that it is best for my students.

I fully believe in flexible seating because it allows for student agency over their learning. In my classroom, students are free to choose any table or space in the room where they would like to work. They are free to move the different types of seating around to suit their needs.

I use flexible seating because it creates the space for both collaboration and independent work. I believe that flexible seating works great for both extroverted students and introverted students. The spaces I plan for in my room are purposeful. I have both large group gathering areas, small group gathering areas, and independent spaces. I encourage students to choose they type of work environment that works for them. But I also challenge them to try collaboration when they typically work alone or to work alone when they are typically working with a partner. I also tell students that if they are not focused on the task at hand, the adults can move them to try a different space that may fit their needs.

In my classroom, the seating isn’t the only thing that is flexible. The tables and shelves are also flexible. We move the furniture in our classrooms as our needs or activities. We’ve pushed tables to the edges to open up the whole room, we’ve put tables together to make bigger tables, we’ve moved tables to provide spaces to store projects, and turn tables into stages. Our room isn’t static. It changes based on what we are doing.

None of this happens by accident. It requires training, practice, clear expectations, more training and practice, and consistency. It requires feedback from educators and peers for seats and spaces that work best for each individual student. Flexible seating requires student reflection.

Do you use flexible seating? What keeps you using it? Why do you choose flexible seating?

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!

#Culturize #CYS Book Study

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is thinking about their school culture and ways to make positive changes. Even if you already have a positive school climate that puts kids first, this book has some great community builders and the stories really help you to see how to reach “Every student. Every day. Whatever it takes.”

Why I chose this book

This book was the second digital book club I facilitated with a small group of teachers from my school and one other school across the district. We chose this book because it has a focus on reaching EVERY student in a school building especially those who can be difficult. I loved the personal stories Jimmy Casas shared throughout the book.

Major takeaways

Jimmy Casas shares the importance of relationship building conversations in the first chapter and the importance of kid-centered conversations. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the video “Every Opportunity.”

He talks a lot about disrupting average and going above and beyond for our students. I constantly reflected on my “why:” To cultivate lifelong learning through perseverance and personal interests. My why has a lot to do with going above and beyond for my students and I try to create the best learning experiences for them. To me, this is their only time in first grade and it should be the BEST first-grade experience ever!

On page 38, Casas talks about ensuring every student gets the necessary support they need to grow at their personal pace based on their needs but that students also need to be exposed to grade level content because if they aren’t exposed to it they will never reach that level. This hit home for me. I’ve always thought my one-on-one instruction for intervention was more important than the core instruction for struggling learners. Now I know that if I want kids to fill their gaps and reach grade level mastery, they need time with both personal level and grade level content. That is true individualized learning. “What is important to remember is that working with all students, regardless of their level, takes time, patience, a positive attitude, and a certain level of persistence to inspire our children to believe they can do anything.” (page 40)

The section about being a leader struck me as well. You don’t need a title to be a leader. You just need to passion and mindset to make positive impacts in your school culture.

Core Principle 3 might have been the chapter that spoke to me the most. It talked a lot about taking chare of sharing the story of your school. Filling the community with positivity when talking about your school. I really liked the section about being life-fit over balance. I struggle with balance because I tend to focus on what I think is the most important at the moment. Being life-fit allows me to choose depending on the ebbs and flows of life and what I can ACTUALLY accomplish.

 

Making it accessible for Littles

This book was mostly about creating a school culture in which kids feel “safe, connected, and valued” (page 26) and that starts in elementary school. We need to create relationships with our students that help us understand who they are, where they come from, their interests, and how they learn so we can reach them. I don’t have specifics about how to make this accessible to littles because the book does a great job of showing how this is important in every school, every day, at every age.

The book study PLN

Having conversations about my reading with others reading the same text has pushed my thinking and allowed me to see different perspectives and perceptions. I truly enjoyed our talks on Culturize as we connected 2 schools on different sides of my district and helped to create a more positive school culture at both our school sites. View the conversation on Twitter and Flipgrid

Learn Like a Pirate

Why I chose this book

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

Major takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

       

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

Making it accessible for Littles

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

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

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

The book study PLN

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

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

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

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

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?