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

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.