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?

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?

“I failed my way to success” #IMMOOC

I teach little kids. Modeling EVERYTHING is important. I model reading strategies, writing conventions, counting methods, steps in a process. Every. Single. Day. Multiple. Times. A. Day.  Modeling my learning is just as important. I preach growth mindset, the power of yet, and the miracle of mistakes all the time. I try to see into the future and predict the mistakes my littles will make then plan ahead to make those mistakes as I’m teaching my mini-lessons. These moments can be powerful for them. But I’ll tell you what, those kids are smart! They can see right though me! They know I made that mistake on purpose and they know I know better!

It is far more powerful to make natural mistakes in front of students. I don’t play those off as if I meant to. I model the process of how I realized there was a mistake and what I’m going to do to fix it and learn from it! My kids help me realize my mistakes and they cheer me on as they observe my process to improve.

My littles know I’m on twitter, they know I blog, they know I read books about education, they know I go to teacher conferences and workshops both to teach other teachers and to learn from other teachers. My kids know that teaching that their learning is my passion. During our morning meeting time we share what we’re learning, mistakes we made, and our curiosities. It’s important for me to be open and honest with them. I don’t tell them kid friendly things. I share the real things in my life that I’m learning, my actual mistakes, and what I’m actually wondering about. My kids know I just bought a house and I’m struggling to work my front garden to make it look nice and keep the weeds out (they even offered to come help).

When kids see the adults near them learning, making mistakes, and improving they will realize that’s what life is all about. My goal is for my students to learn to enjoy the struggle and lean into it. Our favorite quote is from Thomas Edison, “I failed my way to success.” It’s our mantra.

What are you learning right now?

#FailForward with paper airplanes

Today was a hectic day. Track 2 tracked out and needed a home base for the day so the track 3 teacher could move into her room. So the track 2 teacher and I decided to #innovate4littles! We planned a paper airplane STEM challenge. It was hard. It was fun. It was dramatic. It was challenging. It was busy. It was engaging. It was amazing. It was innovative!

First, we watched this video. (Don’t judge the weird voices. It was the best we could find on short notice.)

And then we challenged them! We asked them to make a paper airplane that could fly far and not catch on fire. 😜 We showed them a paper airplane book (which a friend called out to identify as a how-to book! 🤗#elaKW2 #innovate4littles)

Then we gave them the rules:

  1. make an airplane
  2. write your name on the airplane
  3. the only material you can use for your airplane is paper (no tape, no glue, no scissors, no paperclips.)

We told them they could use youtube kids to search for how to videos, use the how-to books we had or teach each other if they already knew how to make paper airplanes. The kids immediately broke into their own working groups to build some airplanes. We walked around and called out what we saw for some of the lone roamers to find a group. “Chloe is teaching this group how to fold a paper airplane.” “Ian found a video on youtube kids.” “This group is following the how-to book.”


The room was buzzing with students folding paper. I won’t lie, there were tears. A LOT of tears. Teachers sat down with the stressed out kinders to slow down the steps, model, provide extra hands to stabilize paper being folded, and pause videos at the right moment. Coaching, scaffolding, good teaching.


Then they were ready to test their creations. We went outside to fly them. (We didn’t measure distance this time. That will come soon though!) Kinders teamed up to see who could fly theirs farther than the other. They made sure to start at the same standing spot to be fair. They struggled again because the wind blew the airplanes in crazy directions. (#scieKE1 #ssKG21)

​​​
Finally, we brought them together to debrief. We discussed how it was hard for everyone. Almost every kinder had to use more than one sheet of paper to make a successful airplane. One kinder even used 13 sheets of paper before getting a flying airplane! We talked about how you can learn from something not working. How you change to make it work. How struggle makes your brain grow. How even though it was hard everyone who kept trying made it work. How paper airplanes are like reading, writing, and math. Because mistakes are good, not getting it the first time is good, struggle is good. Then we watched a video on Class Dojo about Growth Mindset. And discussed how it connected to the paper airplanes and learning.

Sometimes you need to take a break from your pacing guide and teach life lessons.

Please share a time when you switched gears and tried something like this with your class.