Second Grade Math Warm-Ups: Week of February 8-11, 2016

This was another of those weird weeks in the Winter where we have less than a full week of school.  Oh, yeah, and we celebrated Valentine’s Day today which made for a funny schedule.  AND then you add in ridiculous Missouri weather and an accident (oh, no, not mine–just one that added an hour to my commute!) and this week has already been the longest in ages.  What? It’s only Thursday? Well here’s to a professional development day tomorrow, then. 🙂

So…a short week and a crazy day today means I have only three warm-ups to share.  I think they’re pretty good ones, though.  Made for great conversations.  Enjoy!  Oh, yeah, they’re all about money again.


This was the first time I’d asked a money question written in equation form.  Many were confused by seeing cents written as dollars (they kept saying “Why did you put a dollar sign there?”), and so we had to clarify that during our debrief.



This was a challenge to think of amounts in more than one way.  They did pretty well with it, though.




When we talked about this one, we had some great conversations about efficiency when counting coins, and how making piles of dollars (starting with the biggest coins) is a quick way to figure out the total.  We also practiced making $.25 in multiple ways (not just a quarter).  We called it “Mickey Mouse” when we found 2 dimes and a nickel, so 2 Mickeys and a 2 quarters makes a dollar, as does 2 Mickeys and a half dollar.  Just so you know. 🙂


Writing About Reading

I figured out today why I have such a hard time deciding what to write on this blog: I like for things to fit nicely into categories/tags/subjects/projects, and so often, the things we do around Rm. 202 are not that way.  I find that maybe I’ve gotten to that place where many of our subjects overlap–just like I’ve always hoped they would!  I know, that sounds like I’m not doing it on purpose (which of course I am, as I carefully plan how and when and why), but I think sometimes when you’re in the middle of something you can’t really see the big picture (isn’t there some quote about forests and trees that would fit here? LOL).

So as I think about how to describe what we’ve been doing in Writing lately, it’s hard to explain just the writing part, because it includes reading (which is perfect, as those two subjects go hand-in-hand anyway, right?).  We have been working on writing opinion letters, with most of our topics being about the series books we’re reading in our book clubs.  Luckily, though, there are lots of other things to have opinions about, so we’ve been trying out that structure with other topics, too.

We’ve gone through many versions, with me teaching mini-lessons and kiddos then trying out the big ideas.  We’ve talking about format of a letter; stating opinions; adding reasons as well as details and support for those reasons; using transition words like one reason is, another reason is, last but not least (which many kiddos were doing already just based on learning them last year!); as well as just using interesting words and making our letter match our audience.  The procedure became that they would write a letter, but then rather than actually delivering it to that person, they’d give it to me, and I’d note what they did right and what they could work on for next time.

We wrote about books, 100th Day of school suggestions, ideas about why their weekends were good, as well as many other things about which you could have an opinion.  I was noticing, though, that over the last few weeks our letters had been getting shorter and less detailed (which was obviously not the goal!).  We had a class meeting and Millie suggested that the reason this was happening was because they had written so many letters that actually they were getting really sick of it and weren’t trying their best anymore.  While this was sad, I totally saw how that could be, and as impressed by her insight.  Others agreed and so I made a plan that we would work our hardest to create our best final letters (to Mrs. Meihaus, our librarian, about our vote for the Show-Me Reader Award) over the next 3 days and then be done.

So as I thought about what we would do for those next 3 days, I knew I needed to give another model to my writers about what that letter should look and sound like.  And since I wanted them to write about books, I did, too.  My letter was about my favorite read-aloud choice, Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher.  It looked like this:


I had hung the letter up there before the day started, and it was one of the first things (thankfully) that kiddos noticed when they came in.  Yeah, the first response was “Wow, that’s long!”  Later on, I had them look at it, studying it to answer this question: How do I write a STRONG Show-Me letter?  Not surprisingly, they were able to notice a whole page full of things that I had in my letter that they needed to put in theirs.


As they made their list, I marked their ideas on the actual letter (notice the different colors and the things we boxed in) so we could reference it later.  I was impressed to see that they had been paying attention, and that they could come up with that all on their own!

After this, I gave kiddos a graphic organizer to use to plan their letter and we got busy.  We’re almost done, so I’ll share our progress in the next few days.  It’s pretty good stuff!

A Little Further Into the Woods

Since we’ve begun our Little Red Riding Hood culture study, some exciting things have happened!  Let me tell you about what’s going on!

Alongside the LRRH books that we shared was another book, full of all sorts of organizers, charts, and a map.  This would be where we’d record our thinking and learning throughout the study.

Screenshot 2016-02-07 15.22.10LRRH_culture

As we read a book, kiddos would fill in a chart that marked certain features of each story, which we would later use to compare stories and use the information to learn more about each culture represented.

Additionally, we kept track of where our countries are in the world, by adding a star on the map for every one we read.  Later on, we added a US map to our book (which I don’t have a picture of yet) as we learned about regions.


As we read different versions, we also compared how certain books were alike and different…


…as well as finding other things that we needed to add into our book (note to Mrs. Bearden to make sure to put this in there next year!):


Once we got the background of the stories, talked about characters, compared and contrasted and decided on our favorites, we were ready for the really fun part–researching more about the cultures from our books.

Each kiddo chose their top 3, then randomly came and declared which culture group they wanted to be in.  I wanted it to be about the country/region/culture, not the people in the group, so this part was all done first, then I shared their groupings.  Each group has 3 people, which is kind of ideal.  I could hardly get the directions out before they were ready to get going (kind of like with our spelling investigations this week–they were eager!).  I had found books for each group to start their research, but groups had to go book shopping to find the right ones.  Once they had books, they were busy digging in, collecting information about land (not culture, but related to the geography focus), language, holidays, food, games, religion, school, music, art and then a topic of their choice.

After our initial book search, kiddos were allowed to use website that I had found, as well as World Book Online and Kid Info Bits, which we have subscriptions to from our library.

Screenshot 2016-02-07 17.09.06

We even had an opportunity to learn about German culture from someone in Germany! I sent out a request on Twitter for friends from our countries/regions of choice, but was unable to work out any Skyping situations.  Then I remembered that Mrs. Appelbaum’s daughter is studying German in GERMANY and that she might be available to help us out!  She was more than willing and so we worked out a FaceTime call for last Thursday afternoon.  Those girls were so excited (and so was I!)!

We are just about done with research and are excited to start writing–we’re going to take all of our information and make books to share with other Robinson kiddos!  Stay tuned for updates on that part of our work!



More on Spelling Investigations: Kids at Work

I was excited and inspired by the conversation I had last week with my teammate about spelling.  To share with each other this week as we’ve put the investigations into practice has been even better.  Similarly to the punctuation studies I’ve done over the years, kiddos figure out all sorts of amazing things when you get out of the way and let them discover!

We began with a story about names.  As I had talked with Mitzi, my teammate, she started telling me about how they had decided to spelled her new grandson’s name, explaining the rationale behind the combination of letters and connections between his first/last name.  It made me remember doing the same thing when we chose how to spell my daughter, Allison’s name (Allison, Alison, Allyson; should it be Allie, Ally, Ali for a nickname–it was hard work!), and it became clear that this would be how we could introduce the investigation to our kiddos, too.

After I told Allison’s story, I showed them that thinking with my name…


…and then we tried it together with Grant’s:


By this point I think they knew what I was going to say was next (and they were excited to do so), and so I gave them the invitation to try their own name.  We talked about how it was easy to see the different sounds/chunks/letters when we did it in different colors, and we talked about the kind of paper to use, but beyond that, they had free reign to find whatever they could.  Before releasing them, though, I made sure to help them see our purpose as I asked this question:  How does knowing about our names help us become better readers and writers? Some kids worked alone, and some talked to their friends while they worked.  Whatever they chose to do, everyone investigated their names. 🙂

The room was abuzz with conversation and electricity as they worked, asking questions, making suggestions and trying things out with their names or their friends’.  By the end of the first day, everyone had found some pretty interesting things about how their names work.

On Day 2, we went a little deeper, and our job was to take the chunks/sounds/letter combinations we’d found the day before and do something with them.  I showed them an example with the -er in my name:


Together we made a list of as many words as we could think of (or find) that had that -er chunk.  Along the way a couple of suggestions were made that I knew had /er/ spelled with -ir, -ur and -or, and we saved those for later (that’s more for Days 3 and 4!).

After this inspiration, kiddos did the same thing with whatever part of their name they wanted to work on.  Again, some worked alone and some worked with partners, some just wrote words they knew, and some used other resources.  It was great to watch how differently each kiddo approached the challenge.  As I looked around the room, I saw iPads, dictionaries, and kiddos using classroom text (including the word wall!) to find words that matched their patterns.  Students had even more energy and excitement about this job today and spent more time digging in and investigating.

As with our punctuation studies, the focus is not on the activity itself, but on how the learning that comes from it will help us in future situations.  Even though we’re only 2 days into this official investigation, there are already glimpses of how kiddos are using this knowledge in other places.  In almost every reading group I worked with this week, someone’s name was used to help us figure out other words.  We kept adding to a big ‘ole list of words where the letter a sounds like a u (like almost half of kiddos in our class!).

I’m excited to see what happens this week as we continue to use our names to connect to new things!

Jumbled Thoughts

One of the things that happens to over-thinkers thinkers like me is that there are often loads and loads of jumbled thoughts all up there in my head at the same time.  I find it a very rare occurrence that I am only thinking about or planning thing at a time (is this called multi-tasking or just crazy?!).  Today is one of those days when there are many things filling the space between my ears, and so as a means to think some of it through, I’m writing about it.

This weekend means that yes, I’m “off” because it’s not a school day, but when you’re a teacher you’re never really not not thinking about school or how to make your classroom a better place for the learners you spend every day with. Today this thinking was magnified as I was attending #edcampStl (Ed Camp St. Louis), learning and growing with other fabulous educators.

As with every EdCamp experience, I left with my head spinning because of all of the inspiring conversations.  Along with the general planning I’m thinking about for next week and the coming month, I’ve got some other things on my mind after today:

  1. Teaching Artistic Behaviors–100% Choice Learning:  Today I went to a really great EdCamp session with Kelly Lee (@yogagirly).  I wasn’t really sure what I was in for (but thought maybe it was how to add more art/design into regular subjects), and then I found out it was by an art teacher and I was really more unsure (I have a good record of picking badly by the title of the session…).  It ended up being something really inspirational, and now I’m trying ot figure out how to use her ideas in my own classroom with 2nd grade.  The basic premise is that in her art class, Ms. Lee has her room broken into “studios” based on mediums (collage, drawing, fiber, digital and painting).  Each day, artists listen to SHORT lesson or inspiration (based on a concept, artist, etc.) and then choose which studio in which to work for the day.  In their plan book, students make a goal and plan for the class time, and then spend time in that studio working to achieve their personal goal.  At the end of the class time, 5 minutes is provided for reflection on the day’s work.  As I sat and listened, I tried to imagine how I could tweak this idea to include all the subjects I teach, perhaps with just 5 studios (or decks since we’re working on being pirates!) that would work for everything we do.  Right now I’m trying to decide if something based around the multiple intelligences would work….
  2. Biography as Narrative Non-Fiction:  I am not sure if I’ve mentioned here before that my team does a really cool thing with planning, and each person (there are 5 of us) is responsible for creating the plan for everyone for one subject.  I’m in charge of writing, and so I’ve had the opportunity to share some exciting things with my teammates (and therefore their students!) this year, like blogging, a new way to think about Writer’s Notebooks, and a punctuation study.  Right now we’re about to start a new unit–biography per the curriculum calendar–and I’m having a hard time getting started.  I remember teaching that unit with 4th and 5th graders and it was BRUTAL!  I’m really not so excited about 1) trying to write that genre with little kids, and 2) planning a non-fiction unit right after we did one (we’re all working on creating picture books about the cultures we’re researching in Social Studies).  So…I’ve been on the search for some fresh ideas of how to teach biography to young writers and help them be able to successfully write about inspirational characters–most of whom are probably from long ago and hard to understand.  I know that I want to include lessons on important vs. interesting information, as well as investigations into the elements of a biography as well as the definition of a paragraph, but beyond that I am dreading the whole thing! I ran across a unit online the other day, though, that explains how to write biography as a form of narrative non-fiction, rather than expository or descriptive non-fiction (which is what we’ve been doing anyway).  I like the idea of trying something new, as well as thinking about how this could be a good transition between NF writing and the narrative fiction that we’re doing next.  This could be the bridge.  Most of the texts we share with students are written in this genre anyway, so it might not be as hard as maybe I first thought…..
  3. Valentine’s Day Questions (yep, I question a lot of things….): ‘Tis the season to celebrate.  Two weeks ago it was the 100th Day of School–which I think we ended up with a great plan for–and now this week has Valentines’ Day (ok, well, V Day is not until Sunday, but we will celebrate it on Thursday).  Again, I feel pulled to do a litany of “cute” things that kids will enjoy, full of glitter and glue and hearts and fun (here’s how we decided to spend the day last year).  I’m not at all opposed to having fun (we’ve talked before about how we have fun every day in Rm. 202!), but to put aside our learning to….wow–even as I just typed that I had an epiphany….(weird, right?)…

Let me show you a picture to explain the thought I just had:


This wrapper was funny to me because it came from a friend the day after my coach and friend, Amy, had reminded me of this question when we were talking about 100th Day Questions.  Just now as I was in the middle of saying how I didn’t think it was the right thing to do to just abandon our work and PLAY, I was reminded of what I say I’m about; play and fun and laughter are important parts of the learning we do together.  So….see why the thoughts are all jumbled?  Who knew teaching 2nd grade would be so hard!?  It’s the parties and fun parts that make me crazy, not the curriculum!  (Maybe it’s me who’s the crazy one…).

Have any suggestions?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of my jumbled thinking. 🙂  Remember, it takes a village!



Second Grade Math Warm-Ups: Week of February 1-5, 2016

This was finally a semi-normal week: we had 5 school days and no “extra” stuff to mess with the schedule.  It was also the first week in a long time that we had a math warm-up every morning, which means I have lots of problems to share! I even found a couple of odd ones from last week–which was NOT a normal week because of the 100th Day and a 1/2 day on Friday.

These last few weeks we’ve been working on money, so all of these relate to that topic.  They are progressive, from Monday to Friday, and speak to the new skill/concept I was planning to cover that day; some kiddos really had no idea how to do this when i asked them to think about it in the morning and so had to give-it-a-go, or work with a partner. These were definitely questions where I saw many post-its that said, “I’m not sure yet but what I think is…”  (The extra two I’m sharing this week are related to our muffin challenge from the 100th Day.  Be sure to check out that post for more info!).

Last Week Muffin Problems


This week’s money problems:









Spelling Investigations

I have been doing spelling differently than others for while.  Even when I used to do spelling tests every week, the way the words were chosen was a little different than what is typical (personalized to each kiddo, often from their writing or frequently misspelled words that mattered to them).  We even used an actual week–not a school week–and kiddos studied from Wednesday to Tuesday.  I never quite felt, though, that what we did was effective; either kids were great spellers and they stayed that way, or they had struggles and those remained as well.  Even when they did well on tests, they didn’t do such a great job of bringing that expertise into their work.  Eventually, the last year I taught 5th grade, I abandoned spelling tests altogether.  No one seemed to notice…

When I moved to 1st grade last year, it was an easy decision to tackle spelling inside of all of the other things we were doing with reading and writing, especially during interactive writing and word work during guided reading groups. My kiddos took to this kind of thinking quickly, and used their new skills interchangeably between subjects, which is a true sign of transfer of knowledge.

So, fast forward to thoughts about 2nd grade.  This one was a little bit tricky; all of the other classes in our grade do spelling in a traditional sense of the word–lists of words each week that follow a pattern, with a test on Friday.  I was pretty sure that I was going to opt out of that choice (but for a long time wasn’t sure how to explain why without sounding like I was right and others were wrong.   I’m actually working on how to do that in many areas; my objective is NEVER to judge or sound like a know-it-all–unfortunately my passion often super cedes and that happens–but instead my goal is to share info I have, offer concerns or questions that arise, or bring up other considerations on the topic that might not have been mentioned.  Believe me, I am FAR from knowing it all!).

I found my “out” when I thought more about interactive writing this summer with my previous 1st grade team and Mrs. Ford, our Director of Professional Learning (and my longtime friend!).  As the rest of the table planned how they’d begin the structure with their 1st graders in the fall, I considered how I might build on the foundation we’d set last year and continue the same kind of thinking, pushed to a new level.  When my friend, Katie, suggested the idea of spelling investigations, I knew they were a good fit with my learners.

Much like we are already in the habit of doing with math, investigations would be centered around conjectures that students brought up about words/letters/sounds/patterns that they notice.  Kiddos were already familiar with this idea as mathematicians, and so it seemed like a natural connection.  We had worked through our first one last year as 1st graders, anyway, and it is a permanent (and well-utilized–we even used it today during a reading group!) fixture on our word wall:


So far in 2nd grade (before we started this study), we’ve added a could of other ideas to our investigations.  They are still in an informal form, as we add to them frequently:

Sometimes small groups investigate them specifically, sometimes we talk about them as a whole group when we’re reading together, and sometimes kiddos just notice things about them as they are reading in their own independent work.

So why am I writing about this now, you ask?  Well, last Friday I was at a staff in-service with the rest of my district 2nd grade cohort.  We broke into smaller groups to discuss a topic we’d been working on throughout the year, and my teammate and I realized we were the only ones there!  So much for a district cohort. LOL  It worked out really great, though, because despite the fact that we work together on a regular basis, we don’t often have time to sit for a long period of time discussing one specific topic.  This day, of course,  it was spelling. ❤

As we talked about what we were doing in spelling (which is completely different for her than it is for me), questions came up about how, why and what results we were looking for, how we knew if what we were doing was working.  We agreed transfer was the goal.

I shared details about the way we had tackled spelling through our word study and investigations, and she began to wonder about how she could try something like that with her learners.  She came up with the idea of doing an investigation with students’ names.  She had experience with a similar procedure from 1st grade, but had yet to get her kiddos thinking about words/names/sounds/ that way as 2nd graders.

She put together a plan for how to start–with kiddos looking for patterns/sounds that they’ve studied (during their traditional spelling work and tests) that occur in their names.  They’d move on to making more words with those patterns/chunks, try to figure out how/why those sounds work that way, and also try to brainstorm other ways their names could be spelled using what they know about sounds.  For me, the best part of the conversation wasn’t even the plan or the ideas we shared, it was how excited she was about trying it!  There was a new energy in her related to spelling, which would of course be spread to her students when they started their own investigations.

Well, as I was also inspired by both her energy and the noticings I had made about our own classroom names, I resolved to do the same studies in my classroom as she would be doing.  We agreed to check in along the way to see what each group of students was doing; my class had already had experienced with this kind of thinking, so we hypothesized that there would be differences in what we noticed and discovered.

More on the details of Rm. 202 spelling investigations soon! (Yep, this post has gotten way too long to keep going! hee hee).  Please check back and see what we’re doing with spelling and words and what we’re discovering about sounds that can help us be better readers and writers. 🙂


Goodbye, Mr. Lacy! 

One thing I mentioned that made our 100th Day both fun and busy was that we celebrated our custodian of 9 years, Mr. Lacy. He has been such a happy addition to our school, and it’s already weird to not see him pushing his tennis-ball-stick down the hall fixing the smudges off the tiles.

Since he was such an important fixture in our school, we had to figure out a meaningful way to send him off in style (I know I say “we” like I had something to do with it–I did not; my amazing students and their specials teachers did all the work and I just went to enjoy the assembly).

Ok, wait, I guess I did do something, but it was teeny–like suggest to my students what we should do as our part of the goodbye scrapbook. Then they got busy and did all the creative stuff with making their body and a speech bubble with wishes for him for retirement. Apparently it’s no secret that he used to be a boxer; many kiddos wished him time to do that again. 😊  Sorry–didn’t end up with a picture of the final product.  Oops.  Forgot to take one until after it was delivered.  Imagine pages and pages of those cute little 2nd grade bodies.

Aside from that part, Mrs. Kesler worked with everyone in music to learn a song to sing to him.

The staff collected to treat him with something to do, too–a big ole smoker along with the supplies you need to make a barbecue feast. The PTO gave him a gift of a certificate for meat from his favorite butcher; he will be happy and well fed!

It’s funny how big a difference little things like a kind smile, a jolly laugh and a clean school can make.  Lacy definitely showed he loved us in everything he did, and we will miss him!