Meet Mrs. Cohen!

We have been lucky to have Mrs. Cohen at our school for many, many years.  I have actually been lucky enough to work with her when she was a teacher’s assistant in my 4th grade classroom, then I worked with her as a parent (I had her daughter in 5th grade!), she was most recently an administrative assistant in our office, and now we’ve the most blessed that she’s moved up to be our school counselor!!  What great fun to experience so many dimensions of a person and be so encouraged by their work in so many ways.

Well…since my first grade friends were in our school last year, most of them already know Mrs. Cohen.  But since they know her from the office, it was really important for them to be reintroduced to her in her new role.  In order to do that, she spent the last week or so visiting each classroom, bringing with her a really great lesson (differentiated perfectly for each level of kiddos) about what they can expect from her this year.

Our lesson involved a magic bag.  Kiddos got to pull things out of her bag and we’d guess (then she’d tell us) what each represented about her job, or how she’d use them throughout the day.

It’s a little hard to see all the things being pulled out of her bag, so I’ll tell you about them…

  1. Tissues–because some times you might have emotions that make you cry, happy or sad!
  2. Book–often reading a book with a kiddo is a great way to work through things
  3. Foosball–Can you believe Mrs. Cohen has a FOOSBALL table in her office??  Need I say more?
  4. Lunch boxes–sometimes Mrs. Cohen has lunch with friends; I want to be so lucky!
  5. Bouncy ball–sometimes Mrs. Cohen spends time at recess with Robinson kiddos!
  6. Ear–a great counselor like Mrs. Cohen has super listening ears and wants to hear what Robinson kids have to say (she brought that ear from her Mrs. Potato Head, which is how she introduced herself to our kindergarten friends)
  7. Heart–she’s got a big one with lots of love to share!
  8. Smile–who doesn’t love someone smiling at them and sharing a kind word?
  9. Hand–she gives GREAT high-fives!
  10. Feet (not pictured)–sometimes a kiddo might just need to take a walk, to burn off some steam, to calm down, to think through things, or just to talk.  Mrs. Cohen is available for those kinds of times. 🙂

WOW–what lucky Roadrunners we are to be able to have such a caring, thoughtful, resourceful, creative and FUN counselor to take care of us. 🙂  I’m glad I get to spend everyday at Robinson with my friend, Mrs. Cohen! How about you??


If you’ve been around here for a while, you probably know that I like a challenge.  I’ve written about a 40 Book Challenge, a blogging challenge, kid’s cup stackingmarshmallow and design challenges, and I’m not sure if I wrote about it, but I took on a half-marathon training program as a personal challenge last fall.  And so when another book challenge presented itself recently, of course I was game.  It’s just kind of how I roll. 🙂

The #classroombookaday hashtag is one I’ve seen before, and have thought about trying out, but most of the time I’ve caught it too late in the game to get started (I’m kind of an all-or-nothing person, so unless it’s the beginning of the year/month/quarter, etc., it’s hard for me to do).  This time around I had already been thinking about it before school anyway, and had been informally keeping track of our read alouds as we got into the first days of first grade.  Then, my friend Ms. Turken (@im4students@im4students) and our principal, Mrs. Sisul (@GRRprincipal), both got involved and I knew it was on.  There are bulletin boards and tons of books being read and lots of fabulous stories being shared and laughs being laughed.  I am pretty sure, too, that it’s a friendly challenge, with each of us cheering the other one on, rather than declaring a winner or counting who’s got the most (right, friends??).  I’m super excited about how it’s going already, and am interested to see what kinds of conversations come out of this kind of data collection.  I can already see TONS of math in the images I have of our door (which is where we’re tracking our books), and there are many discussions about predictions in our future, too.

Here’s our #classroombookaday data up to this afternoon; we’ve been reading since August 16, so today was day 11.


That picture makes me so happy, and I am interested to see how quickly we fill up the door.  There’s really not that much room left!  At this rate, we’ve only got about another month or so of space!  Then where will we go?? Excited to see. 🙂


What math do you see in our pictures?  Have you ever taken on a challenge?  How did it go?  What book suggestions can you make for us?  Please leave us a comment and let’s chat about it! 🙂

#FDOFG: …yet

I have written before about how important the word YET is in the lives of my students.  Well in my life, too, actually.  Even though it’s only the third week of school, I’ve already found many opportunities to help kids change their words from totally negative grumblings of “I can’t do that” to “I am not great at that….yet!”

And so like I’ve done with previous classes (this is one of those beginning-of-the-year activities I left pretty much the same because it works for almost everyone!), we talked about caterpillars and butterflies in relation to the idea of “yet.”  And then we got busy being creative!

After our butterflies were dry, we worked on adding a goal to them using this stem:


It was interesting to see what kinds of things kiddos wrote; some were related to things in school (like reading, writing or art) and some were about other things like bike riding, cooking, and some were applicable to all parts of life, like waiting or listening.  I’m excited to watch as these caterpillars develop into beautiful butterflies and  they see their “not yet” become NOW!!


Later these will hang in our classroom so we can be inspired by them each day, but for now they are on view in our hallway.  So great and SO PRETTY!!

**On a side note…the pictures from our work time were taken by Ms. Mimlitz (a FABULOUS teacher who works with us in 1st grade!), and may seem different than the ones I usually post.  I asked her to take care of documenting this activity because I was busy helping out as they worked and it was so interesting to see how someone else “sees” what kids do.  The process was so much more beautiful through her eyes; I realized my pictures never have kids faces, just them working.  I had chosen to do that purposefully in order to highlight the thinking, working, creating, PROCESS, etc., instead of interrupting kiddos to cheese at the camera….but as I see that the photos she took are so much more interesting to me, and I can see the JOY of the learners as they are working (I appreciate this as a teacher, but also with the parent hat on–I know I love to see the faces of my own kiddos smiling back at me on the screen!).  Now that I am reflecting on it, it makes me wonder how I’ve never connected the fact that the absence of students’ faces has meant that a HUGE part has been missing!  Seems so simple but such a big deal…I am there for those precious kiddos, and I WANT to see that they are both busy and enjoying themselves!  As I go forward, I will be looking both at what they are doing as well as HOW they are doing it.  Thanks, Ms. Mimlitz for helping to open my eyes to seeing my students and how I share our stories on our blog in a different way! 🙂

What do you see when you watch your kiddos working?  Did you notice the difference in pictures?  How important is it to involve students’ faces/expressions in the storytelling? How do you involve students in the documenting and recording?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

#FDOFG: …and 123s

We worked on letters letters this week, and also got some math into the mix, too!

One way was with one of our first morning math warm-ups (which I will start to share about later).  I asked a short, simple question with infinite answers, allowing every kiddo to share their initial thinking about what math would be this year.

IMG_3517 The variety of answers was great, with no one having to use the prompt I taught them of “I don’t know yet, but here’s what I’m thinking now…”  I love that someone’s answer was “math is fun!”  Many kiddos said “numbers” and many others gave examples of kinds of math like adding/subtracting or wrote equations.  I was impressed that they were not scared by this question, even though we were only on day 9 of 1st grade!

After we discussed this warm-up, I gave everyone an activity that would allow them to show me (and the class) a little bit about themselves as people and themselves as mathematicians.  Now…it is a very infrequent thing for me to ask everyone to do the very same thing at the very same time in the very same way.  But since it is early in the year, and we 1) don’t have our iPads yet (which is how we often differentiate opportunities), and 2) it’s still early in the year and we don’t have all of our routines established yet, this seemed like a time and place to ask the whole class to try something together.

The general idea was based on a math poster that was shared in our school’s Sharetank on Facebook by Mrs. Hill ((a 5th grade teacher):

Screenshot 2016-08-28 19.00.24

Ms. Turken made the template we used in 1st grade, and it was most of the same questions as this 5th grade version, but you’ll see that our equations were a little different. 🙂

After kiddos were finished with their Math About Me posters, I put them in pairs for them to have their first go at a math game.  We had not had a chance to prep for this, but since it didn’t include a die or an iPad, I was pretty sure they could handle it without much instruction.  Once I explained how to play Turn Over Ten, they got busy and did a pretty great job of quietly playing while the rest of us finished.

Now for whatlearned…

*The idea of using numbers to tell about yourself is a GREAT idea, but I should have done it in a different way.  This was a bit formulaic for 1st graders, had a lot of directions, and they needed a lot more help than I had first anticipated.

*Most kiddos had the same answers for the number, and made the equations in a similar way, too, although they did vary a little in the order their labels and cards went on the paper.

*This was DEFINITELY more of a lesson in following directions than a community building or math task.  We didn’t even have a chance to share our answers when we were finished.

*I did not clearly explain why we were doing this, which made it much less meaningful to my students, and therefore probably was not the best use of our time.

*My class works really well when they are busy with an individual, partner or small group task, and can do a lot of things independently already, even at this point of the year.

*Most kiddos are willing and able to talk to each other to clarify directions, ask for help and encourage each other when they don’t know what to do.

*They were able to transition very easily from a project to a game.  They followed the directions, worked quietly and were focused on doing the right thing with their partner!

*We have a pretty strong foundation on which to build the rest of our mathematical thinking this year, and kiddos are excited to get started on “real” stuff!

And just like them, I am also excited to get into the “real stuff,” too!  Let’s go Rm. 202 mathematicians!




The alphabet is a important feature in any first grade class.  And with every primary class I’ve taught, I’ve had some version of the alphabet hanging in our room, ranging from kid-created with paper, kid-created with markers on card stock, and even back to my first year when I proudly hung the brand spanking new one I bought from Bradburns.  There is also usually a smaller alphabet chart for use at tables when kids are writing on their own; this is usually also just a preprinted sheet that I got years ago from our reading teacher or that I found online.

Screenshot 2016-08-28 17.31.21

As this year has started, though, it seems that I’ve been rethinking many of the things I’m choosing to do as I return to 1st grade again (after a year in 2nd with my looping class last year!).  I am trying to be very mindful of the ways this class is different than my first graders even two years ago, tweaking things to work best for them as learners (instead of doing the same things in the same way as previous years).  The alphabet is included in those things.

I know that there has been a connection to ABC books, or to how writers use letters/sounds or come conversations about the word wall (which also has letters on it), but for some reason I’ve never written about that part of our community building, nor do I remember specifically how I’ve presented it.  Weird, right?  Guess it wasn’t very meaningful or exciting to my kiddos, either.  LOL

Well, luckily, since I was thinking about it differently (and perhaps more deeply), I remember what we did this year (ok, and it helps that we just did this the other day. HA!).

We started with a conversation around our Word Wall, which at this point just has our names on it as the only words.  We met on the blue rug in front of the WW, and discussed the letters, the words they noticed, how they might use the word wall to help them with reading/writing, and then enjoyed some ABC books together:

Both of these texts are poems, and are funny and fun to read.  Doreen Cronin is a favorite author of most kiddos, and Lisa Campbell Ernst is a favorite of mine. 🙂  Our classroom library has author boxes featuring both of these writers, as well, so the choices were meant to lead them to other books they might enjoy, too.

After we read, I explained that our work next would include them getting a letter, and then drawing any corresponding picture that starts with that letter on the bottom.  Differently than usually, I allowed kiddos to check out the books we had read or any other ABC books in our room, as well, if they need inspiration.  I’m not sure whey I’ve never provided that scaffold before; guess something about it seemed like I was stealing a struggle or giving them the answers.  Actually, I think it allowed everyone an entry point into the activity, even those with a less developed knowledge of letters and sounds.

With all of the other changes/tweaks I’ve made this year, it made sense to me that our alphabet ended up being a little bit different than in previous years.  Some of our letters had “traditional” sound/symbol match ups (like apple for A and ball for B), but some of them are completely unique to our Rm. 202 2016 alphabet, and that is super cool.

Did you check out the Q and Z?  These are Star Wars related letters, because of a special ABC book we have in our box:


so Q and Z may not be something you’ve heard of before.  Let me show you their inspiration pages:

Those made me laugh at first, and I even considered having them rethink them, because of how obscure the references were, but then I realized that this would be a great opportunity to embrace something that could be truly “ours.”  Betcha there isn’t another first grade class around that has Queen Amidala and Zam on their alphabet!!

Then, this time I decided to take this whole “the-alphabet-is-special-to-us” idea one step further–I created our own table-top alphabet chart based on our wall version!  It just made sense that the sound/symbol matches could be consistent and (at least in the beginning) take away confusion some kiddos might have as they try to use the system.  I’m really excited at how it turned out!

Screenshot 2016-08-28 17.58.43


I don’t know yet how this will work with kiddos (I just finished making it!), but I’m excited to see how it goes, and to compare the usefulness of this tool with versions we’ve had in the past.  Crossing my fingers that it works as well for Rm. 202 friends as I hope it will!

Fall Book Fair Preview

We went to the library again today, so that Mrs. Meihaus could give us a preview of the Scholastic Book Fair that’s coming in a couple of weeks.  We watched a video, and talked a a little about what we saw, and then checked out the library commons again in order to check out some new books.

It can sometimes really be annoying  entertaining to watch movies with small children, as they usually say everything that is in their head out loud in the room (this happens in many part of our days right now…).  Well, since the movie they were watching was about books, I listened even closer to what they were saying.

Screenshot 2016-08-26 19.39.21About Dog Man by Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame: “I’m gonna look for that!”

Screenshot 2016-08-26 19.40.28About Magic Puppy: “Aww, that’s so cute!  I’m gonna get that!”

Screenshot 2016-08-26 19.41.21Screenshot 2016-08-26 19.42.01About Lego Dino Safari and Lego Knights and Castles: “YEAH!!!!!!!!!” (yes, they were that excited. 🙂  (On a side note, so was I.  These were kind of a cross between Lego, non-fiction, humor and graphic novel.  I want to read one!)

So no one really said anything about these last few, but I was interested in them for our classroom!


After we finished up with our lesson, and had a reminder about how to use the library respectfully, we were off!  And YES, I got pictures this time.  Please check out Rm. 202 kids at work as well as the new Library Commons layout.  It’s a GREAT place to be. 🙂

I saved these last two pictures because they are definitely where the energy is with reading in our room right now:


I LOVE that Callahan chose this new classroom favorite as his check out today.  I shared it on one of our very first days, and he thought his brother would like it, too!  Great idea, Cal!


I read My New Friend is So Fun! the other day and WE LOVED IT and since there we’ve ready at least 3 or 4 more, and have now made the goal of READING THEM ALL!!  Um, yeah, we’re kind of Elephant and Piggie fans in Rm. 202–but it’s kind of hard not to be, I guess. 🙂

Ok, one more…well, two more.  See what I mean…

I took this picture of our friend Josh today in the library:


Ok, and check this one out from August 26, 2015.  Yep, same day last year:

Screenshot 2016-08-26 20.25.35

WHAT???  It was cute enough that the brothers took the same picture on the same big ‘ole bear, but on the same date???  That’s even better!  Well at least to me.  And to their mom. LOL 🙂

Thanks for reading!  Leave us a note about your thoughts, will ya?  Kids LOVE to know you are reading their stories. 🙂

#FDOFG: First Grade Menagerie

As I look over the pictures I’ve taken the last 8 days, as well as think about what we’ve been doing during our first days, I’ve found some things that don’t really fit into their own blog post, but are all connected because they’re all about the friends in Rm. 202.  Hope you’ll stay to check out the first grade menagerie I have to share. 🙂

First Grade Victory Dances!

If you’ve been here since the beginning of our first grade journey, you’ll remembering reading the welcome post I put up for my new friends.  Well, I got two fabulous videos from two very brave first graders that I keep forgetting to share.  So forget now I no more!



Who’s That Smiley 1st Grader?

I had a picture posted on our welcome screen for a couple of days, with a question of who they thought the smiling face might be.  Strangely (at least I thought!), not many figured out that it was me.  None of them thought it looked like me.  Well, I guess when you add 30 years and change the hair it messes people up. LOL


My favorite part of this picture? It was the year I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up!  My first grade teacher Mrs. LeGrand was pretty much the most amazing lady I had ever met and I wanted to become her some day.  I am not sure I did that–but I think (hope) I have become my own version of a great teacher! 🙂

Day 2 Plusses/Deltas Reflection

We don’t have the opportunity to sit down to “officially” reflect (although we almost always talk about how things went), but this was a fun one to talk about.  After we worked super hard on our 2nd day together, we sat down to practice more with “plusses and deltas” and we were SO EXCITED to see the things we were able to write down.  We also talked about how easily we could work the next day to solve the struggles we had on Day 2. To be able to see brand new first graders doing such fabulous things so early in the year together was so commendable.  Way to go, Rm. 202 friends!


Grit and Growth Mindset  AT RECESS!!

The other day at recess, Cal came running to me to show me something he can do now that he couldn’t do before.  He told me he’s been working for a really long time and now he can do it!  Way to keep trying, friend!

Ok…there are other things I could add, but really–what could follow that awesome video?  🙂

#FDOFG–Guided Discovery: Pattern Blocks

The last time I was in first grade, I followed suggestions I found in The First Six Weeks of School, and many of the first days started with guided discoveries of materials in the classroom.  I shared the discovery we did with Play-Doh the other day, and this one was very similar, but with pattern blocks and Power Polygons.

We started by talking about what they might be for, as well as why the pattern blocks, Power Polygons and other items on the shelf  (dice, counters, clocks, square tiles) had in common.  We figured out they were all about math, and that later in the year we would be using them as we learned more about geometry, but for our first “visit” kiddos were supposed to make something, and then write what they made on a card so we would all know what it was.  As with all open-ended activities like this, I was amazed at how each kiddo attacked the assignment–how they started, what they made, how they figured out what to call it, how many different pictures they were able to make (based on the complexity of their design or the speed at which they worked).  If we had already gotten our iPads, we could have practiced taking our own pictures, then uploading them into something and writing about them (or using the recorder and telling about them), but instead we just talked.  And smiled because we were so proud of our creations.  It was easy to tell that kiddos were learning and having fun at the same time!

Check out our creations below!

Students: What did you create with your blocks?  How did you decide what you would make?  What would you do if you were given the assignment again?  What was easy and what was hard?

Parents: What did your kiddo tell you about this experience?  What questions do you have?

Teachers: What explorations/discoveries do you have with pattern blocks?  Other manipulatives? What suggestions do you have?

Please leave us a comment!  We love to be connected! 🙂


#FDOFG–Favorite Book Museum!

For many years, I’ve been celebrating reading and helping readers get to know each other better–and therefore build our classroom community–by using a Reading Museum.  While the difficulty and actual procedures are different depending on what grade I’m teaching (I’ve tried this protocol with 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th graders), the purpose is the same: help kids see themselves and their classmates as readers and make connections between interests and books!

Before I even get to the “how-we-did-this” part, I HAVE to share this amazing picture from just before we started.  It’s super cute because it has a carpetful of first graders and gives me chills and makes me want to squeal (yes, actually!) because of all the books!  Just indulge me for a moment then we’ll move on…

IMG_3235See?  What did I tell you??  TOO. MUCH.  Ok, let’s get to the other good stuff. 🙂

As a “homework” assignment over the weekend kiddos were asked to find their favorite book and bring it to school with them on Monday.  After we collected them and took this AMAZING picture, we talked about the purpose of our Reading Museum–as well as what in the world a museum even is (for those that might night have ever visited one).  We discussed museum etiquette and then they got busy putting together their “exhibits” (the idea for which came from my friend and teaching partner Ms. Turken who does so many fabulous things in Rm. 203 next door–thanks for sharing your smart thinking friend!), so we could learn from each other.

Kiddos were given a “placemat” and then added their book, their name, and some sort of response to their book: a picture of their favorite character, their favorite part, the reason why they liked it, a picture of the cover, etc.

So I do have to admit…the actual museum visit part was much shorter than I thought that it would have been, but I actually think part of it was my directions (I talked too much and too long so they were confused about what to do), and also because they were so interested in actually READING the books with their friends that they weren’t so much interested in just walking around and just looking at the covers.  #ohwell #lessonslearned #rememberinghowfirstgraderswork #betterlucknexttimemrsbearden #lol

Still, it was a pretty successful time, as books were shared, connections were made and BOOKS WERE READ!!

And since I know you can’t see what we actually shared in those teeny pictures, here are all of our exhibits.  Enjoy the slideshow!

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Ok…one more bunch of pictures, based on another super smart Ms. Turken idea: we took a picture with each kiddo and their book and they now adorn our book boxes! GENIUS!  And nope, no pics of that yet, but here’s what they look like in color on the blog (rather than in black-and-white in our room):

Wow!  That was a lot.  Thanks for hanging in there!  Kiddos were so excited and so cute–they will be so excited I shared this and SO EXCITED that you read about their smart book thinking. 🙂

#FDOFG–Library Learning Commons

Ok, so this post feels a little like a tease, but I wanted to at least share the story (so I don’t forget and therefore never post it because I don’t have the right pictures.  I’ve made that mistake before. 🙂 ).

This year, our librarian, Mrs. Meihaus, made the jump to turn our library in a learning commons, taking time and care to recreate the space by moving furniture, adding “soft things” like more stuffed animals, bean bags and pillows, and rethinking how we’ll use the communal space for learning.  Kiddos were SO excited when we finally got a chance to visit and see the new space for ourselves last week.

First graders got to spend the first few minutes exploring the new space on their own, and then we met Mrs. Meihaus in the storytelling area for some fun, a story (of course!) and conversation.

Mrs. Meihaus shared Kate Messner’s How to Read a Story, which is a great tool for any aged reader on what readers really do with a book.  I love that Mrs. Meihaus even said it should be a manual that all teachers should read for how to do ELA (she probably said it way more eloquently than that, but I concur. It was pretty great!).

After we read, we played a game to help remind us of “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” things to do in the library or with books…

…and then we had time to check out….the rest of the library AND new books!!  BUT…that’s the part I don’t have pictures of.  As you can imagine, first graders need lots of support as they navigate a giant library and figure out what to read.  I don’t have pictures of the great new layout, or the cozy soft stuff where kiddos snuggled in to read, or the ZERO ZONE, a new space where kids can go if they need absolute silence to work/read, but believe me: it’s awesome!  We’re going back again to visit on Friday, so maybe I’ll have time to snap some then.

I do actually have some pictures of us reading our new books, though….just not in what would be considered a typical place.  We took a bathroom break after our library visit and took full advantage of the time to sit and enjoy our new gems!  It was such a great sight–had to share!  It was so great to watch them dig in and get busy with a book!

Students: What was your favorite part of our new Learning Commons?  What was different from last year?  What was still the same?  What books did you check out?

Parents:  What did your kiddos tell you about their visit?  What do you know about a Learning Commons v. a “regular” library?  What questions do you have?

Teachers:  What does the Library Learning Commons look like in your school?  How is it utilized by students? by teachers? by administration? by families?  What advice do you have as we transition to a new learning space?