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?

I Have a Fever. Flipgrid Fever!

My mom loves to tell this story from when I was a little girl. I was sleeping over at my Grandparent’s house. I woke up in the middle of the night. Walked down the steep farmhouse stairs and started running around the kitchen island repeating, “I have a fever. I have a fever. I have a fever.” Until everyone in the house was awake and knew I had a fever.

My name is Aubrey DiOrio and I have Flipgrid Fever. This is one fever I hope is contagious.

I use Flipgrid to hear every voice in my class. Realistically, it isn’t possible for me to hear every child’s response to every question I ask. With Flipgrid it is. I use Flipgrid when I want to hear from every student and I want them to hear from every single one of their friends. Fliprid is a student voice machine.

One reason I love Flipgrid is that it has a flow that makes sense. Whether you access through the web or the app, it automatically prompts you to put in a grid code. Once you have accessed the grid there is a HUGE GREEN PLUS SIGN. From there it leads you through a selfie video response and the posting process. There are few options making it intuitive for all students. Once students understand this flow, they need very little support.

Other things I love:

  • I can attach content of my choice to any topic.
  • The directions for the topic show up with the selfie video so you can focus your video as you take it.
  • All the topics I assign to my class are connected to 1 grid and they can get to any of them by backing out of the current one.
  • Emoji reactions. Enough said.
  • Grid/Topic sharing for a global connection
  • Video replies (paid version – makes it SOOOO worth it!)
  • Video length requires students to be concise.
  • Video length is adjustable.
  • The stickers are so fun!

I have used Flipgrid with my class to reflect on a lesson, share their writing, share ideas, as a quick assessment, connect with each other over snow days, discuss books, celebrate holidays, connect on curriculum with other classes across the district and country. My students are learning to communicate clearly through these videos. They are learning to speak so others can hear and understand and truly listen to one another through these videos. Flipgrid takes away any anxiety they may have for speaking in front of the class because they can practice and re-record.

 

I also use Flipgrid professionally. It has amazing potential to connect PLNs on a more personal level. I participate in a twice-monthly slow flip chat in the #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles communities. I’m also co-moderating a book study with Caitlin McCommons using Flipgrid as a flexible connection tool. The ability to see faces and hear voices allows you to make connections that feel deeper than a Twitter connection. I feel like I have a professional relationship with people who live far away because of the conversations we have on Flipgrid.

Have you caught the fever? Share your favorite ways to Flipgrid below. If you are ready to catch Flipgrid Fever, I’d love to help you get started!

Planning for Pixel Art and Fact Fluency

I need to share this experience with anyone who will listen (read). I’m an active member of the #GAfE4Littles and #InnovatingPlay online communities and they recently merged. Chirstine Pinto just released her first book, Google Apps for LittlesJessica Twomey challenges the community with regular invitations to play. The March invitation was to choose an activity from Christine’s book to complete in your classroom. Christine and Jessica created questions for participants to respond to around that challenge on Flipgrid. The questions took participants through the planning process and challenged our thinking as well as encouraging us to take the activity we chose even further. I have only used Google Apps with my littles a tiny bit. And when I say tiny, I mean twice. I am not one to turn down a challenge so I ordered my book and selected and activity!

Question 1 – Choose an activity and share why it is meaningful.
https://flipgrid.com/0100f4?embed=true

I wanted to pick something that I could implement in my classroom right away. I started flipping through the book but I almost immediately turned to the Pixel Art page. It jumped out at me because we just started our unit on addition and subtraction fluency (#math1OA6). The group I have this year needs me to keep things fresh. I knew I couldn’t teach this unit the regular way because they would get bored. The Pixel Art page gave a suggestion for taking the activity further by turning the Pixel Art into a puzzle by inputting equations. This was exactly what I needed for my kids. They can solve an equation quickly, but can they create the equations fluently with the total or difference in mind.

Question 2 – Anticipate challenges.

(Nevermind my struggle with stickers)
https://flipgrid.com/282116?embed=true
I was concerned about device availability because right now we have mostly iPads. I was able to totally avoid this problem because I signed out laptops from our computer lab. I also wanted to be able to format the cells to have a color assigned to the 2 digit number 10 but Alice Keeler‘s blog post on starting from scratch went totally over my head. I am a spreadsheet newbie. So, I stuck with the original preformatted sheet she shared. This worked out great because the colors on there matched the colors of snap cubes I have.

Question 3 – Personalize and Extend the Learning.

https://flipgrid.com/da8fe5?embed=true
In creating Pixel Art, students have the choice to create anything they want. This activity has built-in personalization. We will continue to extend the activity through adding equations that will turn the art into a puzzle for a friend to solve. I plan to change one of my literacy centers and one of my math stations toa Google Assignment on Google Classroom and recreating Pixel Art will be one of them. Students will be able to play both with the snap cubes and the spreadsheet prior to the creation of their Pixel Art

I bet you are ready to see how it went….

Pixel Art in Action

I introduced my students to the activity by showing them some examples of Pixel Art like this tweet from Ryan Read who is doing Pixel Art with is high school students

I didn’t even finish my first sentence when one student shouted out, “It’s like Minecraft!” I had them hooked! I grabbed the snap cube tubs and dumped them and they got started right away.

They created everything from footballs to Pokemon, cats to Steve from Minecraft, and college logos to flowers. They spend nearly an hour creating their Pixel Art models. My students are so used to grabbing cubes to count and not worrying about the colors that I did have to help them think about the colors they wanted to use because in this activity, color is important. They also struggled with the idea of making their Pixel Art “flat” and not 3 dimensional.

Day 2 was our “play with the spreadsheet” day. I modeled the process of getting to the spreadsheet through our Google Classroom and then typing single digit numbers and using the arrow keys to navigate around. I showed them how to delete if they didn’t want that color and made a color key on the left side of my spreadsheet. They actually didn’t play around like I expected. They went right to work making their own key and then inputting the numbers to create a digital model of their Pixel Art. We duplicated the sheet to be ready for equations the next day. This saves a Pixel Art sheet as the “answer key” and allows for one to be the puzzle.

Day 3 we talked about fast fact fluency and why learning to add and subtract quickly is important in life. We talked about some strategies we have always used to solve equations and how to use those strategies mentally. They practiced those strategies through a game.

On day 4, I modeled making a list of equations for each total they needed based on the colors in our math notebooks. Then how to use that list to type equations in each cell turning the Pixel Art into a puzzle. We had some questions and concerns about the entire equation not showing up in the cell (because it is small) and how to see it all so you know it’s there, moving to other cells, and how to get a plus sign. One student picked it up quickly and rushed to help anyone who needed it. He was like our own IT department. By the time I got to students who had raised their hand for help, either they problem solved and figured it out or the IT department showed them what to do. I was blown away by their independence and ability to complete their pixel art. I still have a few who need to complete theirs this week.

One thing I love about my class and this activity is they/it differentiate on their own. This friend struggles to write his thinking so he used the cubes to model the equations before typing them into his spreadsheet. He moved one cube at a time to make sure he got all of the equations for a given number and was able to record both the addition and subtraction equation that goes with the number he wanted (#math1OA5).

Up next, is sharing the Pixel Art with a friend to see if they can solve the Puzzle. I ran into a roadblock here. In our district, students can’t share a document with another student. But, since I have access to their finished Pixel Art Puzzles, I think I can share it for them. We’ll duplicate the sheet again to keep the originals intact. I also plan on showing them how to rename the sheets so its easier to identify which tab is which. Watch me on Twitter for this next stage. I’ll also update here once we’re finished.

I challenge you to get the book and use some of the activities in your class. Or use this one by using the template on Alice Keeler’s blog I shared above. One third grade teacher at my school plans to use this with her class and division.

I also challenge you to think through the planning process using the method laid out by Jessica and Christine. I know I plan to use it again!

  1. identify the standard, activity, and technology (if needed)
  2. anticipate challenges
  3. personalize and extend the learning
  4. embed play
  5. SHARE

Gently Down the STREAM (soft starts in K and 1st)

Seriously! I love these additions to STEM! Reading and art are also important to 21st Century learning and broadening students’ experiences. I plan fo regular STEM challenges with my students but STREAM is my way to make sure my students are getting daily doses. I shifted to soft starts about a year ago when I was teaching kindergarten. I read Purposeful Play (read my reading reflection) and decided to include soft starts as a way to have more opportunities for play for my students. This decision was affirmed after reading The Curious Classroom which dedicates an entire chapter to soft starts.

Soft starts are a way to begin your day. Rather than assigning morning work for students to complete as soon as they walk into the room, they engage in playful, open-ended activities. I decided on incorporating soft starts because morning work seemed like busy work. Because the students who really NEEDED that extra practice rode the bus that was last to arrive at school and went directly to breakfast. Then they walked in the room with minutes to spare before the late bell rang and began their day already behind their peers.  I empathized with them. How stressful for a 5-6 year-old to begin their day at school already rushing to catch up and more likely to miss some fun thing because they needed to complete some worksheet left by the teacher. I no longer saw any benefits to the extra practice I was giving in the morning.

My first go at soft starts, I allowed students to choose right from the start. I know that student choice is huge in their feeling important and successful. I wanted them to spend their time doing something they wanted to do. We already had daily free-choice play in the afternoon so it was easy to open those centers first thing in the morning and allow the same choices. I noticed quickly that many of my students wanted to work on technology (iPads, computers, or BYOD). I wanted them to use this time more for collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking which they were not doing on technology individually so I closed that for morning play centers. I was honest with my students, this morning playtime was good for them, but in order for them to keep it going, they would need to be respectful of their time and stay engaged and clean up quickly when it was time. I didn’t want this to run into the other work I had planned for the day. There were a few times where something didn’t get cleaned up correctly or quickly enough and the consequence was that center got closed for a period of time. I was still concerned that my students who needed this the most were the students on the last bus and eating breakfast in the cafeteria. I still don’t know what to do about that, but at least they weren’t starting their day already lagging behind their peers.

This year, I’m teaching first grade and don’t have access to all the play materials that were in my kindergarten classroom. 😔 I had to change the way I did soft starts to work with what I have. I saw someone on Twitter sharing about STREAM (which was the first time I had seen reading and art added to STEM) and realized this was where I needed to take my soft starts. I made a STREAM to put in my students’ cubbies so they could keep track of which choices they were making. These are laminated and student cross off each one with a dry erase marker after they complete it. Then once they have spent time at each one they can erase and start over.

STREAM

I chose to make open-ended materials available to my students rather than specific STEM tasks because I give them specific challenges at other times. I was hoping they would take those experiences and extend them during their STREAM time. I store most of our materials on a shelf in my room we call the “Innovation Station.” Materials are marked with the letters of STREAM that I think it fits, but I’ve had students tell me they think something matches one or more than one of the areas, I will label it for them. I want them to know they have input in our classroom too. Below I’ll go through some of the materials we have in our STREAM centers.

Science

  • magnets
  • shells
  • magnifying glasses
  • kinetic sand
  • Playdough

Technology

  • iPads
  • computers
  • ozobots
  • Chrome books

Reading

  • classroom library
  • read aloud bin
  • Student book boxes
  • big books
  • Sign language materials
  • Literacy centers (from another part of our day) are also a choice
  • Students also use this as an opportunity to change the books in their book bins

Engineering

Art

  • construction paper
  • crayons and makers
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • clay
  • playdough
  • legos (because)

Math

  • math manipulatives
  • worksheets that come pre-copied from my district (I was recycling ones we didn’t use and they were pulling them out of the recycle bin to complete for fun. So, I added a bin for worksheets they could choose from.)
  • tangrams
  • Math stations (from our math block) are also a choice

Let me know your thoughts on STREAM centers or soft starts in the comments below!

#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!

3 Act Math Tasks with Littles

act 1

I heard about 3 act math on Twitter (where else?) I didn’t understand it but I also knew that some of my coworkers were using this method with their students. This fall, I attended the High 5 Math Summit at NC State. When I saw a 3 Act Math session on the schedule, I made sure I was first in line for that session. In this session, the presenter took us through a 3 Act Math Task as if we were students. She stopped along the way to comment on how she, as a teacher, pushes her students thinking and provides assistance as students work. At the end, she shared with us resources to find already created 3 Act Math Tasks. I was interested in trying 3 Act Math with my students but until I lived it as a student, I couldn’t wrap my brain around how this would work with littles. I finally decided to give it a try. I decided to have all of my students attempt the task. I disagree with only giving these types of tasks to high performing students because I believe that all students should have access to challenge in a real-world context.

act 2

After the Math Summit, I brought many great things back to my classroom to try with my littles. 3 Act Math is one they LOVED from the first moment we tried. As a teacher, I thought the first 3 Act Math Task I gave to my students was a huge failure, but in their eyes it was amazing. I used one of the resources she shared with us, Graham Fletcher, as my first 3 Act Task. Graham publishes 3 Act Tasks he creates on his website. They are ordered by grade level and the common core standard is listed beside the task. I love that he puts the standards out there so the curriculum connection is clear. 

We tried the Cookie Monster task. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. By the end of the 3 Acts, only 2 or 3 of my students reached the correct answer. I was intentional about not jumping in to save the day and lead them in the correct direction because I wanted to see how they reacted to the struggle and their incorrect answers. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. They handled it well.

I had some students share their strategies with the class (this was something they hadn’t done before and I had to do a lot of prompting). I only had the few students who were successful at the task share. Some students quickly found their mistake while their friends shared and fixed their work. I celebrated their mistakes. For the few students who were still very confused by this task, I pulled them in a small group and walked through all 3 Acts with them again and helped them through the problem-solving process. Since the fall, I have completed 3 more of the tasks on Graham’s website and have even attempted creating 3 of my own tasks.

This tweet was during another Graham Fletcher 3 Act Task – The Juggler.

act 3

Each 3 Act Task I give my students, I have learned something different. I always give my students the opportunity to try the problem on their own and wait until the end to provide supports. Because I don’t jump in to save them, my students have become skilled at failing and finding their mistakes. They have become better at these 3 Act Tasks and are able to use the problem-solving strategies I have taught them in real-world applications.

Sharing has changed in a big way after the 3 Act Task. As I observe my students solving the problem, I mark their dry erase board with a dot to let them know they will be sharing. I strategically choose who will share based on the strategies they chose or the mistakes that they made. Yes, you read that right. I have students share even if they made a mistake or didn’t reach the correct answer at the end. We can all learn from each other’s mistakes.

One thing I am going to try next is to have those fast finishes not only show multiple strategies but to then write about their problem-solving process. Writing about math will help to deepen their understanding of the task they completed. I would also like to have students create a video that will teach others how to solve a problem like this. Their instructional video will not only help them fully comprehend the problem and strategies but also benefit students who struggle with this problem type or strategy. I really want my students to learn from each other and not just me.

Have you tried 3 Act Math? What are your experiences? What are your favorite resources? How have you made this accessible to littles and struggling students?

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.