Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Summer is one of my favorite times of year.  I love being able to sleep in and stay up late.  I LOVE traveling and exploring new places (or revisiting old, favorite places for the 20th time hee hee).  Most of all, I love the time to be able to read, write, learn and really digest new things that I don’t have time to attend to during the busyness of the school year.  I thought I’d share some of that learning I’ve been doing.  First up–math! You probably don’t know about this fabulous place in NYC called Mathematics in the City.  And if that is true, then you also don’t know about the amazing teacher leader/trainer/consultant/math guru named Kara Imm.  Man, I’m sorry for you, and want you to book a flight right now.  Seriously it’s worth every penny.  It’s ok.  I’ll wait. :) So, anyway, my experiences with Kara go back to a couple of years ago when she first came to Kirkwood to help us learn more about fractions.  Yes, I survived.  I learned alot and I even had some fun along the way.  I definitely began to understand fractions in a way that I know I didn’t when I was in school.  That new understanding really helped me as I then taught my 5th graders (at the time) to truly understand fractions and what they mean, not just how to do an algorithm or figure out a formula.  She then came back a year or so later and helped us through a lesson study–again with fractions–and we learned a little more. Well, fast-forward to today (a couple of years later), and we were lucky to have Kara back AGAIN.  This time she worked with our whole staff, around many math topics, and helped us all bond as we figured out how to best help kids understand mathematics.  One thing I love about the way Kara presents is that there is ALWAYS some teacher-doing-math time.  I never did that kind of thing until I went to a writer’s workshop presentation many years ago and they had me write (which I thought was totally weird).  From that first moment, I totally got how important it is, though, for teachers to feel the same struggles and frustrations as their students go through.  We got to work through many hard investigations and work through them the way our kids would.  It was really interesting that for many of us, these problems were made harder than they needed to be, though, because of the way WE learned fractions.  Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t taught the WHY but just the HOW, which in many ways is not the easiest or most efficient/effective way to solve the problem.  So, giving this same investigation to 5th graders who don’t have a UNLEARN many inefficient strategies isn’t really that bad.  Our kids are not so confused and frustrated as we are. We did two big problems: one called Muffles’ Truffles (which involved early multiplication) and another with a scenario about Frank, a farmer, and how far he drives.  It’s a problem that involves a gas tank and figuring out (with fractions) if Frank has enough to get him where he’s supposed to go.  While there’s not really any way to truly understand the scale of our conversations and they work we did without being there, here are some notes that my partner and I used to draft our thinking.  There’s also a picture of the chart we made for our Math Congress (which is a topic I haven’t written much about but TOTALLY should!), which was a way to consolidate and present our final draft to the other mathematicians. IMG_489911694842_10204737906631950_6188272882800941260_n

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 We talked multiplication and we talked fractions, we talked Math Congress (nope, haven’t written about it yet…), and we also discussed the topic of basic facts.  This is a hot topic in math these days (and for a while, really), and for many years we’ve responded with daily kill-and-drill activities, timed “mad minutes,” and crazy stressing out on memorizing lots and lots of facts.  Kara brought some info related to how important it is to respond in a different way.

For many people (including teachers, parents and students), being QUICK is best.  But we were reminded that being quick doesn’t equal being mathematically PROFICIENT, which should really be our goal.  She gave us information on how facts DEVELOP, they don’t come first.  She also helped us see that the facts (in this case we focused on multiplication tables) are not random (which is how many kiddos see them, saying “there must be 100s and 100s to learn!”), but are connected.   Seeing those connections and building on the RELATIONSHIPS between facts is how to both LEARN them and UNDERSTAND them rather than just MEMORIZE them.  For many this was mind-blowing, and for others it was validation of what we already knew to be true.  For sure, though, it was nice to be “allowed” to deal with learning facts in a different way going forward.

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My notes from Day 1 of our Math Institute.

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More notes from Day 1. It seems I was so busy DOING math on Day 2 that I didn’t write anything down!

One more important topic of discussion (and of course we experienced them, too!) was number strings.  In short, these are a related set of problems that kiddos use mental math to solve.  Practice is done regularly (maybe even every day), and these help mathematicians become more flexible as well as see the relationships and connections mentioned earlier.  I’ll write more about this next part later (yeah, like I said I would with Math Congresses), but one way we learned to assess newly gained knowledge is to use a two-pen test.  Yep, it’s just what it sounds like: a test you take with two different pens.  The first one is a timed portion to see what kiddos know how to do quickly, and then the second pen is used to finish the rest of the page, with whatever time frame is needed.  Teachers can get all kinds of useful information about what facts kids know and which ones they still need to work on.  Genius.  We will definitely be trying these out in 2nd grade this year!

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Whew.  That was a lot.  I know I tend to be long-winded, so if you hung in this long I TOTALLY appreciate you.  :)

Now I ask you–what did you learn on your summer vacation?

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See? Minds blowing!

Together Again!

I’ll start with the only picture I took today:

cropped-img_4894.jpgYep–it’s the same as the header on the blog now.  It’s the snack we shared at our Back-To-School Park Party today.  Looks yummy, right?  And weird, I know, that I only took this one picture.  And before I was even at the park!  Goodness, Mrs. Bearden, you call yourself a blogger? They were just so busy running all around everywhere getting all hot and sweaty and having fun that I couldn’t get them all in the same frame for a pic.  I know, I know, my sincerest apologies.  :)

Today’s get-together was a little bittersweet, as we were not able to visit with everyone of our Rm. 202 friends.   What a great opportunity, though, for those that were able to attend, to reconnect and remember how amazing is our community of learners!  Oh, and to think about how LUCKY we are to be able to stay together for another year!  We’ll be missing a few good friends, but have a few new ones joining us, and for sure we’re set for a FABULOUS year.

One thing I love about family reunions like these is the ease everyone feels as they come and can just hang out with old friends!  It’s so different from how we all remember feeling last summer—how when I came to do home visits and our kiddos were waiting patiently (and nervously), looking out the window to meet their new teacher?  Even with the most confident kiddos there was still some uncertainty–will I like my teacher?; Will I have friends? What will 1st grade be like?  This year? SO DIFFERENT IN SO MANY GOOD WAYS!

Here’s what I love about looping (for those of you who were looking for a list. :) ):

1) Like I mentioned before, the beginning of the year has a familiarity that is different than with a new class.   Looping brings a chance to reconnect with “old” friends and pick up where you left off.  All that “getting-to-know-you” that we did last year will come in so handy now as we look back on fond memories and look forward to making new ones.

2) We can jump right back in where we left off!  Instead of spending the first 6 weeks of school learning about new procedures, routines and friends, we can get started with learning about new curriculum, sharing new books and making new connections!  Think of all the extra time we will have!

3) Like the last one, we can jump right back in on class projects and activities we left in May.  Since I knew that we would be together again, there were several things we left “undone” on purpose, knowing that we’d be able to come right back to them in August.  What a gift–wish every year could be like that!

4) Everyone already knows and trusts each other!  Yes, we are different people than when we left for the summer (some of us are OLD and 8 now!), but we all have a base and strong foundation from which to continue building as we get to know our friends (and even me!) better.  We can build on what we know about each other from last year and add to it!  There will even be ways to get to know some friends in ways that weren’t possible last year for whatever reason; another year gives us more time and space to really “get” each other as learners and as people!

5) We get to build on common experiences.  I always love how many times in the 2nd year of a looping situation you hear me (or a friend) saying, “Remember when we….?”  I can’t promise that I will keep track of that tally, but it will happen, and I will probably find a way to document it.  I might have to say I’m most excited about breaking our own record for number of Read Alouds that we added to the timeline.  I think we added 20, which beat my class from 2012-2013, which read 17 together.  So here’s your challenge, Rm. 202–21 or more!

6) I know I already mentioned time in #2, but there is SO MUCH TIME that I can save as a teacher with trying to figure out where everybody is as a learner.  Again, some things will have changed and kiddos will have grown over the summer, but it’s so great to walk in on Day 1 and KNOW the readers in my class (I’m excited to fill book boxes and get readers ready for another great year!), to KNOW what they can do as writers (and then plan for how we’ll do even more AMAZING things), to KNOW the mathematicians in my room and be able to listen as I attend trainings with a little bit different angle than some others (I can already plan specifically for what I know my kiddos can do and what they might need more time on), to KNOW how adept they are with using technology and how willing they will be to continue to go with me and try new things.  I know what they know about science and social studies, as well as what we’re interested in knowing more about–I can use this as I plan our year!  It’s so simple, but is such a WEALTH of knowledge that most teachers (including me last year) don’t get for many more months down the road.  I can tweak things that didn’t quite work and continue those that did.  See?  The gift of time came up again!

7) I hope I don’t speak out of turn when I mention that another thing I love about looping is that trust that is already built with parents.  While I’m sure that not everyone agreed with everything I did or how we did it (thanks for being nice about it, though, friends!), I think I can confidently say that you know that I care about our kids and want just what you want–for your kiddo to feel loved, to belong and to learn something new every day.  I love working on a team with families, and am excited each day to see what new things are brought to the table.  I hope I do you proud as I continue to work to inspire our  learners to find their best selves and work to heights they hadn’t even realized they could reach.  I am so lucky to get to work with this AMAZING group of kiddos every day and SO APPRECIATE that you share your 2nd grader with me.  :)

WOW.  I didn’t know that was going to come out of a picture-of-fruit-and-we-missed-you post, but it did and now I’m feeling even more excited and energized for our year together.  Here’s to making 2015-16 the best yet!

Will you help me out with something, please?  I would love to make this blog a more interactive place this year, and so would you please leave me a reply to this question–What are you most excited about for our year together?  What is your child thinking about getting back to work with their Rm. 202 friends?  What else are you thinking? :)

THANK YOU and HERE WE GO!!

Video of the Day: May 28, 2015–BE THE CHANGE!!

I wasn’t even sure how to title this post, because it’s really not about me or even about the kids in Rm. 202.  It’s from May 28, for sure, but is more focused on the AMAZING work of Mrs. Puzzo and her 4th graders in Rm. 206.  They have worked pretty much the whole year with making a change in our school, our community, our world at large, after learning about social injustice.  The story is much longer than can be told here, but after reading A Friendship for Today (which actually took place in our school!), and learning more about situations closer to home (i.e. Ferguson), Rm. 206 kids wanted to do something.

I’m attaching the video they made (along with help from StLTV), as well as an invitation to you to help these friends be the change–as well as you!

First check out the video:

You can also check out what’s going on with this story on Facebook and Twitter. Get involved and please share this post with others!  Excited to see what happens when we all work together to be the change!

Pictures of the Day: May 27, 2015–FIELD DAY!!

This one is probably best described with a slide show.  The day was so full of fun and activities that I took lots and lots of pictures.  We had a great time moving and grooving with our Learning Buddies.  Even though it was raining, Mrs. Morgan and Mrs. Manees planned an AMAZING indoor field day for us all to enjoy.  THANK YOU!!!

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Pictures of the Day: May 26, 2015 (a little late….)

Yes, I know it is June 22.  Just go with me here, ok? :)

There was only one (ok, well, two) pictures that we could have chosen to celebrate this day.  And they had to involve this handsome fella:

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Our dear friend Diego had been gone from us for a while, and this was his first day back. We were over the moon to see him again before summer break started!!

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See? Us over the moon that our friend came home. :) (And ok, maybe we were a little excited that there were only 3 days left until summer break…)

Pictures (and Video!) of the Day: May 22, 2015–SPRING SING EDITION!

Pics are all related to the Spring Sing today. :)   

Say Cheese!! Just before we went to get into our riser lines. Such a handsome bunch!! :)

C.J. have made selfies a tradition for special events lately. This one was too special not to share. :0

First Grade Selfie on the back to class after a successful Spring Sing!

And here’s the video: I would love to share both of the songs our amazing firsties sang, but I also wanted to enjoy it (rather than just watching through a tiny screen as I recorded it, you know?).  So here’s the first one: Down By the Bay.  And boy is it great!!  These kids are TALENTED!!

Picture of the Day: May 21, 2015

This was another day when I wasn’t at school, so my picture is related to after school instead. Ok, and I guess it’s really a logo, not a picture, but it’s this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 8.35.06 PMLast night was Robinson Night at the Magic House, and it was super fun!  I didn’t see a ton of kids there, but the ones that I did see (including my own!) had a great time!  Ok, and even though this little cutie pie is not a part of Rm. 202 officially, she is a part of me, so indulge me for a minute. Please?  It’s super cute. I promise. :)