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.

img_0929.jpg

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!

Protols for Learning with Littles

A big part of teaching littles is having clear and consistent routines. A big part of teaching in the 21st century is deep thinking. Combining these 2 can be tricky for an early childhood educator. Littles need direct instruction and modeling in clarity to be successful in deep thinking. Setting clear and consistent thinking routines have gotten my students to think more deeply across the curriculum. And be able to share those thoughts with one another.

Thinking routines and protocols ensure equity in your classroom by structuring they way students respond to prompts. Protocols and routines allow for every child to think and respond. Not just those who raise their hands. It’s also provides access to deeper thinking through clear steps and predictable routines.

Turn and talks are great and all but sometimes littles need more to get going. After reading the book Making Thinking Visible, I added some new routines to my classroom. Then I was inspired to seek more protocols to add to our tool belt of routines.

I see, I think, I wonder

In this protocol, students look at an image or the cover of a book and complete each of the statements. Students can respond to the sentence stems orally or through writing (teacher’s choice). I like this protocol because it is predictable and focuses littles on what we want them to notice through observations. It also allows them an outlet for their natural curiosity. I have used this protocol to introduce a new book, launch a science unit, and as a close reading activity. I have also extended this protocol with a digital image displayed on my smart board. I began with the image zoomed way in and asked students to complete the statements with a partner. Then, I zoomed out a little and asked them to make their statements again. We repeated this a few times until the image was whole. This protocol has become so routine in our classroom that I hear students using it during partner reading!

What makes you say that?

This one has become second nature to me. I respond to my students frequently with this little line. I like it because it is a subtle shift from asking, “why?” and doesn’t sound accusatory. When I responded with,”why?” students automatically thought they were wrong and changed their answer. When I respond with this question, they explain their thinking and reasoning that led them to their conclusion. It even pushes them toward finding and sharing the evidence they used to answer the question. Add this one to your back pocket now!

I used to think… Now I think…

This one is so easy to add to any nonfiction read aloud or unit!  Students start by activating their prior knowledge (I used to think…) and then focusing on finding something new in a text or video (But, now I think…). I have used this as a conversation starter, turn and talk, and response in a notebook. I have included this protocol in reading nonfiction, a math video on a new strategy, and split up as part of a launch to a science or social studies unit. I like this protocol because it sets a purpose for reading or viewing. Even for students who may be dinosaur experts, they are focused on finding that one new bit of information they didn’t already know while you read that nonfiction book.

I’ve also added some routines from other sources.

Chalk Talk (not sure where this one came from)

This is a fabulous and tricky protocol for littles! During Chalk Talk, students write their thoughts, ideas, or what they know about a topic on a large chart paper. When I do this, I give every student a different color marker so I can tell who’s is who’s. After completing their response on the chart paper, students then read what their classmates wrote and respond to others. During a Chalk Talk, students are not supposed to talk to each other, their marker is supposed to do the talking for them. This is where it gets tricky for littles. Littles need to stretch their words out loud so they can hear the sounds. Littles need to orally rehearse their writing prior to recording it. Littles struggle to write words and sentences others can read. I love this protocol because it challenges littles to focus on the reader when they write. I find my students are more concerned about recording exact sounds and writing neatly when we do a Chalk Talk than when they write a during writer’s workshop. I provide access to this protocol for my littles by allowing them to use their voices to help them write but encourage them not to talk to their friend and by allowing them to choose between sketching or writing. And they CAN do it, with practice and gentle reminders. I have used this protocol with students as a number splash (where they have to show a number in multiple ways – a math routine in my district), classroom rules, problems and solutions that might occur at school, relationship building activity for morning meeting, recording ideas for personal narratives, and responding to a read aloud. Sometimes I do 1 chalk talk and focus on responding to others, sometimes I have multiple chalk talk charts at once and focus on sharing ideas and debrief later.

Snowball Toss (SOS from Discover Education)

This protocol is “snow” much fun! It’s also a great way to use some of that scrap paper that builds up in your room! In this protocol, students respond to a prompt on a piece of scrap paper, then you gather in a circle, ball up the paper and toss it in the middle like a snowball. Students then grab a paper snowball open it up and read then respond to what their classmate wrote or respond to a new prompt and repeat as many times as you want! This one has some of the same challenges as Chalk Talk when it comes to students writing and being able to read each other’s writing. I provide the same choice (sketch or write). I have added my own spin to this protocol by having students respond with “I agree” or “I disagree” statements or if the snowball they picked has a sketch then they have to respond with a sketch. This is a newer protocol for me, but the kids are loving it! We used it to discuss the Eclipse of 2017 and as a response to a character strength we were discussing as part of Positivity Project. I’ll be using it again this week with a lesson on time! Watch for me to tweet it out @AubreyDiOrio.

Back to back/Front to front

I picked this one up from a tweet by my friend Nathalie Ludwig.

We use this one ALL. THE. TIME. In this protocol, students get up, find a partner, and stand back to back. The teacher asks a question and provides think time. Students cannot respond to the question until the teacher says, “Front to front.” Then each time you have a question, say, “back to back” and students find a new partner. This is a great way to change up your turn and talk with some movement and different partners. This protocol adds equity for your students with differences through built-in think time. I have not had an issue this year with students always picking the same few friends or talking at the same time, but you can add some control by assigning kids as either ketchup or mustard. Then littles have to find someone to complete the pair and you can have ketchups talk first, mustards talk second. I use this protocol to respond to a read aloud, as a morning meeting activity to discuss a character strength, to share a math strategy, to compare judy clocks, share a hypothesis, and SO MUCH MORE!

Glows and Grows

Glows and Grows is a protocol for collecting feedback. Glows are something great and Grows are areas for improvement. This one is accessible to students because they grasp on to the word Glow as a positive and Grow as something to get better. It encourages them to take a growth mindset and look for something that could be better. Through this protocol, I’ve noticed students focusing on kindness and helpfulness rather than looking for the work that is the best. I have used this protocol to collect feedback from experts during a PBL, with writing or reading partners, and student-led conferences.

My favorite part of having thinking and learning protocols is that they can be applied to any subject area and once my students get used to them, I don’t have to give a ton of directions. I just say, “we are going to do a Chalk Talk. Please write about ____.”

Have you tried any of these protocols with your littles? Have you used other ones? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

Coding Unplugged – A number sorting computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scooters, Science, Goal Setting

Yesterday as I stood in my driveway waiting for AAA to jump start my husband’s car, I watched as the neighbor boy (5 years old) played on his scooter in his driveway. The street leading into our cul-de-sac is a hill and his driveway is also sloped. Our driveways have a little bump so rain water goes down the storm drains instead of flooding our driveways. He went to the top of his driveway and realized he only needed to push once to make it to his garage. Next he went to the bottom of that bump and got frustrated with the number of pushes he needed to make it over the bump before he could coast to the garage. He went a little ways into the cul-de-sac and pushed off. He had to push again to make it over the bump in the driveway and then coast to the garage. He went farther into the cul-de-sac and pushed off. He made it to the peak of the driveway bump but didn’t make it over it. He went to the top of the cul-de-sac as his sister yelled for him to come back inside. This time he made it all the way down to the driveway, up and over the bump, and all the way into his garage. I could tell by the look on his face as he rode faster and faster down the hill that he was so proud of his accomplishment. He knew before he reached the garage that he was successful.

The whole time I watched as he problem solved, tried multiple strategies, failed, made adjustments, but never gave up until he succeeded my teacher brain was going wild!

  1. Wow! I can use this story to teach forces and motion in science to my firsties!
  2. Woah! This kid has some serious growth mindset and was so determined to race to his garage with only one push. He never once gave up or thought he was a terrible scooter rider.
  3. If kids can use these skills when they play why not for academics? Why aren’t academics at school approached through play?
  4. How can I use this kid’s perseverance and apply it to myself?

Yes, I plan to tell this story to my firsties and see if they can apply it to our science unit as well as pull out the character strengths he used while working to solve this problem.

I believe in play based learning as best practice for littles. Kids learn so much from their play. We as teachers need to pull our curriculum objectives out of children’s natural play. We need to guide and inspire play where children can apply curriculum knowledge to their games. Play allows children to feel safe in order to take risks. Risks allow children to learn and grow in deeper ways.

His perseverance inspires me. I am a goal setter but I often don’t make clear plans to take the necessary steps to meet my goals. I need to be more mindful about making plans and following through on the steps I need to take to meet my goals. I also need to take time to reflect on my progress and make adjustments to my plan in order to meet my goal. I need to go farther up the hill to get over the bumps in the path toward my goals.

What does this story make you think about?