My Teacher Heart is so Full

There are days the teaching is incredibly difficult. It’s not an easy job. There are days that teaching is incredibly rewarding. We have the ability to impact so many lives. There are days that teaching is incredibly draining.  We are given other people’s children to love and nurture daily. There are days that teaching is incredibly energizing. It can be a lonely job but, if we are intentional we can make some amazing connections!

Today is a day that I feel rewarded and energized. Today is a good day.

Yesterday was #EdCampWake. Yesterday was #TheEdCollabGathering. Yesterday was a day for learning, growing, and connecting. Were you at (physically or digitally) one of these events? I would love to continue connecting with you.

I went to my third #EdCampWake yesterday and presented at my first #TheEdCollabGathering. I love EdCamps because it is conversation based. Teachers show up on a Saturday morning, write down topics they would like to discuss, choose a session, and have conversations around the topics. There is no presenter. People just share and ask questions. Sometimes you are the expert and sometimes you know nothing! I attended sessions on Digital Portfolios, Equity, and PBL. In each session, I was able to both share and ask questions. I made some connections with educators I know and ones I don’t. I’m super excited for #EdCampBeach next weekend! Let me know if you are going. I would love to connect.

My buddy, Caitlin McCommons and I presented at a digital conference called The Education Collaborative yesterday. We shared tips and tools for Inquiry and Technology with Littles (#innovate4littles). We were so nervous because we couldn’t see the audience and how our message was received. We were so energized after the presentation! I’m so excited to go through their archives to see all the other presenters!

But that’s not all! This week was another Slow Flip Chat with #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles. I absolutely love this community! This week’s topic, Play through Nature, really stretched my thinking! I love the style of this chat because we participated on both Twitter and Flipgrid. It is slow and runs through a whole week with a different question each day.  It’s flexible and I can participate whenever I can fit it in. Jessica and Christine always manage to stretch my thinking through their questioning. I love connecting with educators through the reply videos on Flipgrid. I encourage YOU to check out this community and participate in the next chat! Reach out to me and I’ll make sure to share it with you!

How is your teacher heart this weekend? Are you feeling challenged? Rewarded? Drained? Energized? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! But most importantly, be mindful of it and take the time for YOU!

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

Technology

  • iPads
  • computers
  • ozobots

Reading

  • classroom library
  • read aloud bin
  • Student book boxes
  • big books
  • 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

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.

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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!

#IMMOOC I’m a risk taker.

I’m a risk taker. I love to learn new things from twitter, podcasts, books, friends, and even billboards! I enjoy trying new things with my students and helping them find enjoyment in learning. I truly believe that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life! I see it as my mission to help children find a love of learning that will last them their lifetime. My purpose is to help them find their passion and explore it. I teach first grade and I constantly think about my students as adults. What I design for them in first grade will help them in their future.

I #innovate4littles in my classroom because they CAN ! The first time I tried Genius Hour, I did it because I just knew it couldn’t be done with littles and boy was I wrong! At the time I taught kindergarten and they ran with it. Littles are natural risk takers because no one has told them they can’t yet and so they believe they can! That year, my littles inspired me to be a risk taker through their hard work, learning, and application of standards and content though self guided experiences in Genius Hour.

I am a risk taker for my littles because they take risks everyday. I empathize with them because it must be so scary! So, I join in and model taking risks, failing, trying again, and hopefully succeeding. I hope that my risk taking inspires them to love learning for the rest of their lives and become innovators of whatever they choose to have a passion for. I hope that my littles never work a day in their lives!

Why I choose to #Innovate4Littles #IMMOOC

I decided to join the #IMMOOC a massive open online course (MOOC) for educators focusing on the book Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. I saw this hastag flying around twitter and had no idea what it was until recently. I decided to join because it seems to be a transformative PLN. I am super excited to join this community of inspirational and innovative educators.

In January 2017 I started thinking about my teaching and why I make the instructional choices I make. There is a lot of energy right now around being innovative. I worry that this will become a buzz word and lose it’s power. I also worry because there are many who believe young children cannot handle innovative instruction. They are just too little. I had the idea while talking to my bestie, Caitlin McCommons, about this because we believe that littles are capable and #innovate4littles was born! We believe that littles (K-2 students) can participate in the exciting, challenging, fun, innovative learning experiences that big kids get. We also know that these experiences need to be scaled to be developmentally appropriate for our littles. We created #innovate4littles as a way to share and curate innovative practices we use in our classrooms.

As part of the #IMMOOC we were tasked to answer the following question:

Why is innovation in education so crucial today?

I believe that as this world changes, children need to learn to be brave and flexible. There are problems that need to be solved and we need to grow learners who are creative problem solvers. We need to teach children to be brave in the face of a problem and flexible enough to try multiple solutions. We need children to be brave enough to collaborate with people near and far and flexible enough to listen to different perspectives. We need children to be brave enough to take on careers that don’t yet exist and flexible enough to change the careers of the future. In order to teach children to be brave and flexible, I need to be brave and flexible with them. That is why I choose to #Innovate4Littles.

#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)

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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.