Beginning of the Year Must-Dos to Set up for Success with #innovate4littles

I don’t know about you but my first week of school plans look more like a to-do list than actual lessons. I find it really important to set the stage for the year with strong routines and procedures (obviously). My first week of school tends to give students a little taste of some of the big things will do throughout the year but also needs to be very strict with high expectations.

I teach at a year-round school in North Carolina so we just finished our third week of school. While others are just starting to wind down their summer breaks, we are in full gear! I thought this might be great timing to share how I like to begin my school year. Some of the activities below are completed during the first week and some within the first month.

Team Building

During the first week of school, I find it really necessary to complete some challenging or nearly impossible team building activity. You want the kids to work together to complete something that is really hard. This year we did a cup stacking activity. I started out simple and then added constraints to make it more and more difficult until I found their breaking point. I split my class into groups of 4. First, they were allowed to all stack the cups together however they wanted. The teams did great but all the stacks looked the same.

So I added constraints. I watched the groups closely during their first stacking experience. I identified that one kid who was not participating in each group. They were now the group leaders. Only the group leader was allowed to touch the cups the other group members could help by giving ideas and talking to them, but they could NOT touch the cups. Once they got started there was a chorus of, “this isn’t fair!” And then came the cacophony! Everyone and I mean EVERYONE, started shouting directions at the same time. I stopped the stack and had them come to the carpet to discuss what just happened. We talked about fairness and including every person in a group to work together. We talked about how in a group sometimes everyone has a different role or job. Then we stacked again. This time, everyone was allowed to touch the cups but no one was allowed to talk. They quickly realized they couldn’t collaborate without communicating. For the last stack, students weren’t allowed to touch the cups with their hands but they could use pipe cleaners and rubber bands to help. I showed a video of how some kids used these tools to help stack the cups. One group asked if they had to do it that way or if they could try another way. Of course, they could try whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t use their hands. The only group to successfully stack all of their cups was the group who tried something different. They begged to do this activity again, so I added it to our math stations for the next 2 weeks. They got quite good at it after some practice!

Flexible Seating

I’ve written about my flexible seating journey before. It is so very necessary to teach flexible seating explicitly. State your expectations. Ask volunteers to model the correct way and incorrect way. Explain these rules are for safety and fairness. And let them know that if they don’t make smart seating choices, I make the choice for them. Then we play a game. We play musical chairs with the flexible seating to get students a chance to practice and MOVE!

Roll out the Technology

We have a hodge-podge mix of technology at my school. We finally got rid of all of our desktop computers but we still have some old laptops, new laptops, older iPads and newer iPads, and BRAND SPAKING NEW CHROMEBOOKS! Kids need to grow their flexibility with devices. I introduce devices with a mixture of small group and whole group depending on the number of devices I can get my hands on. We do a number of independent and collaborative grouping activities on devices during the first weeks of school to allow practice and peer coaching. We also use BYOD at my school and I try to roll that out ASAP! With chromebooks, I’m only able to get a group of 6 kids on at once so that’s what I did. I had them practice logging in and logging out and that is all on the VERY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!

I can teach iPads with 1:1 devices. I like to start with chatterpix because it is intuitive and easy to use. Plus, its super cute and parents love it! I model using chatterpix to make a David craft talk and then how to save and upload it to seesaw. (AppSmashing the first week of school!) Then I allow them time to practice with 4 more crafts and chatterpix/seesaw activities. We also do a quick partner kahoot to help kids get used to sharing a device. I usually choose a math kahoot to start with.

Bucket Lists

It is so important to let kids know their ideas and opinions are important to the way my classroom runs. I try to get quick feedback daily with thumbs up thumbs down to see if they like or don’t like something we did. The first day of school, I give out a bucket list where I like to collect ideas about what my group likes to do and wants to try or learn. I make my own bucket list to pique their interest. My bucket list includes 3 act math, break out boxes and rooms (we’ll do our first one in week 4), badges, technology, PBL, coding, makerspaceSTREAM, room transformations, genius hour, and more. I like to try to list things they don’t know so they get excited and ask questions. I also collect lists of books they love and things they want to read about. This helps me plan my classroom library (I don’t put out all of my books at once. I put out my favorites to start then change them out. I try to always have at least 1 bin of their favorites and 1 that might be brand new).

Along the same line, I teach the morning routine without our STREAM centers. I try to get them very independent with taking out their folder, hanging up their bookbag and signing in before they can make STREAM choices. If this isn’t strong, they will forget to do these important procedures so they can go play.

Active Listening

Last year I taught active listening skills in the third quarter. This year, I taught them the second week. We talk about and make an anchor chart for what active listening looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Then I watch for signs of active listening and take pictures. These pictures go on the anchor chart. Now, rather than telling kids to stop talking, I ask them if they are actively listening.

Growth Mindset

We talk about the importance of making learning mistakes, the powerful word YET, and growing our brain muscles. I love using the books Ish and Giraffes Can’t Dance to teach growth mindset. We also watch the big ideas on Growth Mindset in Class Dojo. I over celebrate mistakes to help kids feel safe taking risks and getting things wrong the first try.

Up Next…

This upcoming week we will do our first Google Classroom activity (google draw the setting of a favorite book), introduce BYOD, dive deep into independent centers and choices (most of which are tied to literacy standards), have a break out room (math- counting efficiently), and try our first reader’s theater (social studies- rules and citizenship) (hopefully with a Facebook live event).

Now that we are past the beginning of the year “stuff,” things become more closely tied to standards. A lot of my to-do list for the beginning of the year is not all standards-based but it does help us build a strong classroom community and set us up for trying new things throughout the year. What are your must-dos to start the year?

My Flexible Classroom Journey

About 2 years ago I moved from a traditional classroom set up to a flexible classroom. I’ve learned some things along the way and made some adjustments. I noticed that different groups access flexibility differently. I’m going to share with you my growth process for flexible seating. For reference, Year 1 and Year 2 are years that I taught kindergarten. Year 3 is the current school year and I am teaching first grade. Year 1 was the year I began BYOD as well. You can read about that here.

Year 1:

My school purchased hokki stools for each grade level. They were evenly split between the classrooms. If you’re not familiar with these, they have a rounded bottom and when you sit on them you have to use your core to balance. I got 3 hokki stools and spread them around the room for my kinders to sit in. At this point, all I had were 3 hokki stools and chairs. I made a plan for students to take turns sitting in the hokki stools. My kinders had assigned seats so I had to move the hokki stool to a different kinder’s assigned spot each day.

Once I saw the benefits of the hokki stools for some kinders, I was interested to try other things. Our school had a staff PD about flexible seating and we talked about ways we can add things to our rooms with out spending money and then we were challenged to write a grant for the PTA to fund more flexible seating options.

Free options: raise tables for students to stand at, lower tables so students have to sit on floors, old crates turned upside down are strong enough to hold littles. I had pillows and cushions in my room already so I moved them to the floor tables and put them on top of the crates so they were more comfortable. My kinders also asked if they could go under tables to work and… YES! why not?!

Things our PTA funded for us: scoop chairs, more crates, seat cushions, tall stools, and yoga balls. These were spread around the room at different tables.

I transitioned from assigned seats to home bases. My students had placemats with their name tags on them and every week, they would choose a new table spot for their home base.

I made my own basket seats with my husband with plywood, cushion, and fabric. I followed a DIY I found online. I used these instead of upside down crates with cushions. Cassidy helped! 😜

Year 2:

I had all the same furniture in my room. My big shift year 2 was to move to daily home bases. Kinders chose a new seat every day. This would be the spot they go back to for independent work time. It worked great until a kinder went home sad because he didn’t get to school early enough to have lots of choices in his seat. Mom emailed me to let me know and I developed a plan to make sure each kinder got a turn in each flexible seat type. I had a chart with each seat type across the top and all the students names listed under. Once kinders chose a spot for the day, they had to cross off their name. They couldn’t choose that seat type again until everyone had a turn. This worked fabulously!

Year 2 I also made the decision to explicitly teach each seat choice. I made an anchor chart with diagrams and labels to show how I expected my kinders to sit or stand. I also had kinders model the right way and the wrong way to use the flexible seats. This was great because the had the chance to play with the seat choices. I revisited the chart and modeling as I observed patterns of kinders using seats in unexpected ways.

Year 3:

This year I made my expectations chart with the class and had them act out the right and wrong ways to use the seat choices. I love how the anchor chart serves as a daily reminder. I no longer use name tags as home bases. I have moved to a completely flexible option. Firsties can choose a different spot each time they need to go to the tables to work. I find a lot of my firsties like to lay on a pillow with a clipboard. My centers don’t have assigned areas, firsties bring the materials they need to whichever table or seating area they want. This year I plan on using some of my morning meeting time to talk about why we have each type of seating and the type of learner it supports. “If you ___ the ___ would be a great choice for you!”

I have come to the realization that there is a difference between having flexible seating and having a flexible classroom. Flexible seating refers to the furniture in your classroom and students get to choose where they sit (daily or weekly). To me, a flexible classroom includes student choice in more than just their seat location. It includes, their choice in how to complete work (digitally or paper), what they are learning (interest driven or options), books they read (shout out to my PLN buddy Allie Bond for inspiring me to move away from leveled readers!), and more! What do you do that makes your classroom flexible ?