Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bunk Beds - Early Number Sense

What a great day back at work. We lost most of our February break due to Hurricane Sandy - amazing how 4 months later we are still feeling the effects of that super storm. (Not to mention how my family and friends are still without homes and other necessities.... but that's a story for another time!)

Anyway, we had a lovely 4 day weekend and I SO needed it. I really needed to recharge my batteries and reset myself and the 4 days off did the trick. I loved spending my free time with my little peanut, I cannot believe how big she is getting. We went on play-dates, dinner dates and even on a ride on a 100 year old carousel that I used to ride as a kid. It was an amazing long weekend and I am very grateful for the extra two days off.

Since it was only 2 extra days off my kiddies did a pretty good job transitioning back into the swing of things and we really had a great day. One of my current favorite parts of my day is our math period. We are approaching the 100th day of school and my kids are so excited about it. We have spent the whole year building our hundreds chart and showing the number of days in school in various ways. The anticipation of what the 100th day will bring is exciting to them, I just hope I can live up to their expectations.

Aside from looking forward to the 100th day of school we started a new math unit last week. On average we are using Investigations in Number, Data, and Space ©2012 published by Pearson. I find it to be a very intriguing program. It's a center based hands on approach to math that I find both challenging and rewarding all in one. To help keep the kids engaged we spend two weeks in the middle of the year doing a Math in the City unit called Bunk Beds and Apple Boxes. Why do I love this unit so much? Because it's all about exploration. I am a firm believer that young children do the best learning when they are left to explore, experiment, and figure things out on their own - of course all of this is happening with a watchful eye from a teacher who is there to guide and nurture them.

So let me tell you what we have done so far:

Day 1 - I read the provided book which sets the stage for the first few Bunk Beds lessons. Through this story and an arithmetic rack the children are introduced to the idea of equivalent facts. Children get to go to their seats and explore this idea with manipulatives. Now the program suggests that the kids use math racks with partners but I have found it much more useful for the kids to use counting bears.

Day 2 - The children continue to explore the idea of how to make equivalent number sentences all equaling a special number. After this lesson we had a math congress to discuss our thinking. The kids explained and shared what they learned and we charted all the ways to make equivalent number sentences for our special number.

Day 3 (today) - I introduced the idea of a number story. Since we had an extended weekend I reviewed what we did last week and then introduced the idea of number stories. The kids had a blast using counting bears and trying to write their own stories. Typically we don't script for our kids and encourage them to write the best they could but I was curious what they could do and knew that many of my kids could verbalize their stories better than writing them so I did script a few of them.

I remembered to take some pictures today (YAY!) so here is what my kids did today:

 This student has a great understanding of making a number sentence and picture to match but the idea of a number story was very difficult to her. Even when I scripted for her she struggled to understand that she had to write a story to match her picture.

Here you can see how this student is using the counting bears to help her understand the concept.

This student was also able to use the counting bears correctly to make a number sentence.

This is one of my more advanced students. When I saw that she too struggled with the idea of writing a number story I realized I did not do a good job explaining how to write a number story. I think I was so excited to get the kids working and to see what they could come up with that I didn't spend enough to explaining and giving directions with examples. 

So I took a step back and explained a number story in more simpler terms:
How many bears on the top? How many bears on the bottom? How many all together?

This is what my students came up with after a better explanation:

I have to say I was super proud of my kids (and myself for realizing my "failure" and going back and fixing it ASAP!). ALL of my kids were able to write a number sentence correctly and used only 8 bears. They really did a great job with that. The majority of my kids were also able to write a word problem (once I explained it better). 

I really have to say this unit is one of my favorite units to teach and I'm so excited to see how my kids do with the next few lessons. Have you ever used this math unit? What do you think about it?

*Please note - all of the opinions in this post are my own. I was not asked to write about this program by anyone, I just HAD to share how much I LOVE this program! !

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kindness Counts

We have a wonderful parent support system in place in our school. They recently approached me about this wonderful idea about starting a kindness initiative in our school. I thought it was a marvelous idea and couldn't wait to get on board. It's slow going and we haven't gotten the program going like we planned but slowly we are trying.

Last month we sold spirit t-shirts and at the end of the month there was an assembly where students from each grade received kindness certificates. It's hard to pick just two students each month who deserve to be awarded. Some teachers feel that it is not the teachers job to pick the students but rather their classmates should vote.

I've been playing around with different ideas and ways of showing what kindness means in the classroom and how we can honor each child in the room for being kind. I recently saw this post from Jodi at Fun in First Grade all about black history month and it got me thinking.... our initiative has a tree as a symbol and I just so happen to have tree in my classroom (what are the odds!) So I was thinking... if I make foldable leaves similar to Jodi's hearts and put a students name on the outside of each leaf. Then the kids can write one kind thing that a friend did and we can put it inside their leaves.

What do you guys do for kindness in your school? What about in your classroom? Any thoughts or suggestions on how I can incorporate kindness into a bulletin board? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine's Day

Happy President's Day everyone! I hope you are enjoying your long weekend... I know I am! I wanted to share with you all the fun we had on Valentine's Day this year.

First up - our morning read aloud. I read the book The Valentine Bear by Eve Bunting. What a cute tale about Mrs. Bear who wants to celebrate Valentine's Day so she sets her alarm clock to wake her up before winter is over. My kiddies had a great time making predictions and trying to guess what Mrs. Bear was going to do next.

Later in the afternoon during Math my kids had a blast sorting and graphing candy hearts. A shout out has to be made to ABC Schoolhouse. A few years ago I downloaded their February packet which included a great candy sorting activity. Unfortunately I was having way too much fun sorting, counting and graphing with my kiddies to take any pictures. We used the sorting mats but updated the graph to include questions:

  • How many pink hearts?
  • How many green hearts?
  • How many yellow and green hearts?
  • How many hearts all together?
I was so pleasantly surprised by this activity. We have not done any graphing and yet all of my students were able to sort and graph accurately. Only a handful of children struggled to answer the questions correctly... and the smiles on their faces while they were doing this activity was priceless!

We finished the day with a writing mini-lesson on making cards. Because we were doing this at the end of the day I pre-made a lot of the supplies. I'm a big advocate of student made work and feel that children should cut, color, glue and draw to the best of their ability. However, like I said, we were doing this at the end of the day which meant time was limited. I pre-folded construction paper and glued in lined writing paper. I also pre-cut various hearts in different sizes and colors. My kids had a blast coloring, writing and glueing to make Valentine's for the people they loved. The cutest/sweetest was a few of my kids offered to make me a card. While I was touched I encouraged them to make their cards for someone at home.

I think the best part of the day was when I gave my kids my Valentine's gift. Now I cannot take credit for this, I MUST give credit where credit is due because I LOVE this idea. Kathleen over at Growing Kinders posted a super-dee-dooper cute idea on her blog back on February 12th Valentines for the Kiddos. Not only did she post this super-dee-dooper cute idea but she also offered the tag as a freebie! I SOOO appreciate that. So I downloaded her freebie, went on a target shopping spree and made my very own gifts.

Aren't these just the cutest? Well my kids thought they were too... I WISH I had taken a video of their reaction because it was sooo cute and sweet. They cheered and laughed and smiled and fell in love. And the best part? On Friday half my kids came in wearing the socks! I never expected that.

So that was how my Valentine's day went at school. Because of the structure of our day we weren't able to spend all day having Valentine's day fun but I think I did a pretty good job combining Valentine's fun and education!

I'd love to know what you gave your kids (or your kids teachers) for Valentine's day... the wheels are already turning trying to think of more creative gifts for me kids!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Back to the Basics

This year I've been trying to be more involved in my school... I sit on a newly formed learning leaders team and I'm on the ground floor of an iPad initiative in our school. But with all this change and the introduction of technology I've realized how important it is to get back to the basics.

We are almost 90 days into the school year and I still have a few children who know little to no letter sounds. I've been struggling to find ways to meet these students needs and help them learn the letter names and the corresponding sounds... I had tunnel vision... how can technology help these children... and then we had a PD with a literacy coach and it hit me, these kids don't need technology, they need good old fashioned, back to the basics, teaching... and I mean back to the basics, back to when schools had no technology, back to before the demands of the common core, back to when schools first started and children started to learn the ABCs, basic, simple learning.

I'm excited to say that the literacy coach that came to meet with us really light a fire under my behind and the wheels of inspiration have been spinning. So after our meeting here is what my new game plan is...

First I'm going to be working with these children at least twice a week in a small group. My ultimate goal is to work with them in small groups almost every day, but for now I'm going to focus on meeting with these kids twice a week.

  • Warm up: drill up to 5 letters/sounds (3-4 of these will be letters the group as a whole knows and a 1-2 letters they are unfamiliar with)
  • Reading Words: I will create flashcards with C-V-C words on them. These words will be three letter words using only the 5 letters we are working on. I will print these C-V-C words on white card stock. I will also have two or three word wall words printed on colored card stock. There will be no more than 10 flashcards in all. The idea behind the two different colored card stock is to help the students realize which words they should know and which words they can sound out. We will practice reading and tapping these words.
  • Writing Practice: We will end the group session in one of two ways. Option 1: practice identifying beginning sounds (one of the 5 we worked on) and write the corresponding letter on white boards. Option 2: practice writing some of the words or a simple sentence using the flashcards we practiced.
This is my rough outline of what I'm hoping to do with this small group... I'm meeting tomorrow with our curriculum coordinator to help hash out all of the details and make a formal plan for these lessons.

Another inspiration hit when I was working with my daughter on her letter homework. In her nursery school they do one letter for about two weeks. I've noticed that the letters we relate to people and things she loves she is having an easier time remembering. What a great idea! So simple and yet I was so stuck in the idea of incorporating technology into everything that I forgot to think about the basics. I'm going to have these kids bring in pictures of loved ones and things they love for each letter of the alphabet and make an alphabet book for with them. These personal alphabet books, I hope, will help them remember the names of the letters and the sounds of each letter. I'm still working on how I want to format this activity but the wheels are turning.

I have to say this return to the basics is kind of exciting. I'm all for technology in the classroom and I know there are great ways to incorporate technology in our day to day, but this whole back to the basics idea has me very excited... I'm intrigued to see how this all works out and I really hope that I can get my little kiddies to master the alphabet over the next few months! Do you have any tips and tricks for teaching little ones the alphabet when they are struggling?