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!

Purposeful Play – how the book changed my teaching

Purposeful Play – BUY IT! READ IT! LIVE IT!

Yesterday I saw this Facebook post in a group I’m in – Simply Kinder– about Common Core and Play based learning.:

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This got me thinking: Are CCSS and Play mutually exclusive? Does it have to be either or or can it be a yes and? My opinion – NO! They go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong!

Purposeful Play is a game changing book by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler. I have been  big on incorporating play and being developmentally appropriate since college (Thanks Dr. Mira Berkley and SUNY Fredionia). Play based learning is my passion. But little did I know, I’ve been doing it all wrong! I was on the right track but there’s a better way. Here’s my reflection using a Visible Thinking routine I love –  I used to think… But now I know… after reading Purposeful Play:

I used to think…

Play is centers, free choice time, and recess. Lots of learning happens during play. Play is good for all ages. Play is a safe time for children to take risks. Play can support all subject areas. Direct instruction happens during subject area blocks. Students can take what they learn during direct instruction and try it out during play.

But now I know…

Play is centers, free choice time, and recess. Lots of learning happens during play. Play is good for all ages. Play is a safe time for children to take risks. Play can support all subject areas. Direct instruction happens during subject area blocks. Students can take what they learn during direct instruction and try it out during play.  Play is the glue that holds it all together. Play is a mindset and a method. Play should not be separate from my standards and objectives.

It’s not like me to read something mind-blowing and take no action. Here’s how I changed my teaching after reading Purposeful Play:

  1. Transition time now includes more singing or movement themes (hop like a kangaroo, crawl like an inchworm, etc.)
  2. During reading, writing, and math mini lessons children act like a spy to watch what I’m doing. “Put on your spy goggles!”
  3. I do collaborative activities and tasks every chance I get!
  4. Cleaning up the room is a game called treasure trash- Who ever can find the secret piece of trash I’m thinking of wins! (hint: the treasure trash is usually the last thing I see)
  5. I got puppets for literacy centers for children to act out stories!
  6. Inquiry focus – I have a Wonder Wall in my classroom (no not the Oasis song, photo below), I’m incorporating PBLs (another great book – Hacking PBL)

I still have a lot of work to become better and be more Play Based. Here are my action steps:

  1. Teach mini lessons before choice time and recess to help children collaborate, communicate, and problem solve. The book has some great ideas to use as a starting point and some amazing examples of anchor charts.
  2. Add more share time with my class. I’m really bad about this. We need to be sharing after independent and partner reading, after writing, after math stations, after choice time, and at the end of the day. Kids can learn from each other as much as they can learn from me.

Biggest take away = be playful through instruction and everyday tasks. While choice time is important you can incorporate play in other ways.

Hook, Line, and Sinker

It’s Tuesday before I track back in. My teacher work days start on Thursday and I’m getting myself in the mindset to begin fresh in my classroom in 2017.

When I began this blog a month ago my plan was to review the NC teacher evaluation standards to try to better understand how I’m evaluated as an educator. Some of my posts have gone on small tangents but I think that’s ok because telling my stories shows how I meet each standard. After this, I’ll be telling more stories


(because stories are what’s important) about my classroom and reflecting on some professional books I’m reading. Today I’m exploring:

Standard 5: Teachers Reflect on their Practice – Teachers analyze student learning, Teachers link professional growth to professional goals, Teachers function effectively in a complex, dynamic environment.

The whole purpose of this blog for me is to reflect on my practice.

I’m sure I don’t need to say it out loud because every teacher does this but for the record – I look at what my students already know and analyze it to figure out what I need to teach them. I do this through formative assessments, observation, and conversations with my students.

I’m going to tell you a secret: at some point in the last 2 years I lost some of my passion and my “why” of teaching. Seriously! I lost it. I couldn’t find it anywhere… I tried looking. I’ll admit to you why – I didn’t have professional goals.  This year I got myself back into my professional learning and trying new things and even reading (professional and personal reading). Guess what… my passion is back! My “why” came back! I’m more amped and ready to get to school this year! My goal this year is to make learning more playful for my students. I started this year reading Purposeful Play by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler. I’ll admit, I’m a slow reader so I only just finished it last week. But it’s a great book and I highly recommend it (even for upper grades teachers)! All kids like to play. This book isn’t just about choice time and centers. It’s about making all learning all day more playful. I’ll post about this book after I finish the NC teacher standards. The other thing that changed for me is Twitter (give me a follow if you don’t already)! Once I joined twitter and began hanging out there and connecting with educators from all over and hearing their excitement, my “why” came back to me. I’m a teacher for my students. They’re obviously my why and always have been. But this year, I’m into them more. I want to build relationships and get to know their interests more. I’ve enjoyed twitter chats. I’m still slow at it and not consistently participating in any. I’m looking to grow my PLN so please comment some people I should follow, hashtags to check, and your favorite twitter chat (with the day and time)!

Our world is complex and dynamic and therefore our classrooms must be as well. It is our task as teachers to help prepare students for the fast paced world they will be entering. As teachers we need to embrace the complex and dynamic world and make our classrooms that way but first we need to be able to function in it. I’m flexible and I embrace change. It might take me a while to embrace it because I like to understand it but once I do, LOOK OUT! I’m a jump in the deep end kind of person! I will take new initiatives hook, line, and sinker (when I’m ready)! I’ve heard of teacher blogs. I’ve read a few but not consistently. I wanted to start one but never did until last month because I didn’t think mine would be any good and I wouldn’t have any readers. But I’ve grown. My blog is not for you #sorrynotsorry it’s for me. My next goal for blogging is to become an avid reader of other’s blogs. Right now I follow Kim Collins, Bill Ferriter, and George Couros. So, if your reading this… give me some ideas of who else to read and follow them.