Mystery Skype–April 13 (#2)

Remember our Mystery Skype last week?  Well after that AMAZING experience, the first things that came out of my kiddos’ mouths were “When are we doing this again?”  That meant that I had to get busy because I needed to schedule another one for them! I tweeted out a request and quickly I got many requests.  One of them was today.  Here’s the story. 🙂

We are all about learning in Rm. 2o2 and so the first thing we did was reflect on the experience from last week and talk about what had happened.  I showed them the blog post I had written and asked them to think about what they saw.  We analyzed the photos and talked about what we would do the same and what we would change.  Some noticed that there were not pictures of everyone, and we agreed that the next photographers would make sure to get images of each job that we had on our list.

Next I showed them the video from our first try.  We did the same analysis and noticed somethings we could change.  Many of the “issues” just came from the fact that this was the first try at something like this for our videographer.  We talked about some technical things like shooting at people’s faces (and not their legs and feet), not moving the camera too fast (because it makes the watcher d-i-z-z-y!), not talking over the recording  and making sure–just like the photographer–to get the WHOLE room in the video.  We made sure everyone knew that we were only working on how to make our next try even better, not saying that anybody did anything wrong.

It was time to pick jobs and so we sat down to decide what each person would do.  After our debrief from last time, we had decided to add in Tweeters (check out the AMAZING job Mrs. Sisul, Ja’Mia and Makayla did today!) and Closers, so that made just two people doing each job.  Rather than the chart we made the first time around, I thought I’d try to start digitizing some things, so I made our job list in a Google Doc like Mr. Solarz’s example.   I just made a doc that we can add pages to for each MS (at least that’s my plan for now) so we can keep track of who’s done what during each session.

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I hope to start using a Google Doc for questions next time, too.  For today we hand wrote them and I entered it into the table:

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We had to go to PE right after this, but before we left, we agreed we should get everything set up, since we only had 10 minutes from when we got back until we got started.  I was SUPER pleased that this was what I saw them do:

The Data Enterers had their area ready, the maps for the Researchers were laid out, the chairs for the Questioners, Greeters and Closers were in place and the Photographers and Videographers had their iPads raring to go!  Isn’t it amazing what 7-8YOs can do when they are motivated and have a purpose? LOVE!

Here are the photos we collected from our session today:

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And the video.  Don’t worry–this one’s a bit shorter than the one from last time.  And you should get sick and dizzy either.  At least I hope not. 🙂

Then, when we were finished we sat down to debrief.  We said many of the same positive comments as last time, but I noticed many kiddos were a little unhappy about their jobs this time around.  Well, some of them were.  When we went through the assigning of jobs, obviously some kiddos got the one they wanted, and the others didn’t.  We talked about what to do about it, and we were divided about how to fix the problem.  We suggested that we could stay with our original jobs, since we felt that we had done a great job of finding the right person for each one (which we had agreed upon after we finished the first time around).  Not surprisingly, not everyone liked this idea.  We also considered just staying with the new ones we made today, since we didn’t really have time to reassign before our next scheduled Skype tomorrow morning.  Again, not everyone agreed this was the best.  Then, someone quietly suggested that we could trade.  He said, “What if I want a new job and so does someone else. Can we trade jobs?  That might work.”  BINGO!  Everyone loved this idea and so we quickly had the “traders” meet on the rug and most got a satisfying trade out of the deal and walked away happy.  Unfortunately, since there was an odd number, one person did have to stay with a job they don’t really like, but I’m sure it will all work out and next time she’ll be able to try something new.  Oh, and I had forgotten until now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the reasons someone gave for trying new jobs every time was “I like to make mistakes so I can learn something.  That happens when you try new things.”  HA!  Pretty amazing, right?

And you know, as fun as this is, and as much as it reinforces geography and inquiry and does loads for engagement and motivation, I just love watching what happens when you get out of the way, let kids do their thing and they run the show in ways that are far beyond what you’d think the realm of 2nd graders would be.  But then again, I continue to see it over and over, so I should stop being so surprised, right? 🙂

Mystery Skype–For Real!

You might remember that last year we prepared for a Mystery Skype by Skyping with Ms. Turken’s class INSIDE of our school.  We were ready and had a plan, but then our Skype that we had scheduled fell through.  Somehow we didn’t get another on the books until this year.  So a week or so ago we did a Mystery NUMBER Skype with Ms. Bartin’s class at Keysor–the next step above someone in our school is in our school district. hee hee

Then, when I tweeted about how much fun we’d had, I asked for any takers on another Mystery Skype.  We quickly got a bite from Mrs. LaRose’s 2nd graders!  We quickly put a day and time on the schedule and I got busy getting my class ready for the big time.

Since a few years ago when I did this with 5th graders, I have made some new “friends” on Twitter and knew that they would be the right ones to go to for help.  Paul Solarz, 5th grade teacher extraordinaire and author of Learn Like a Pirate has some GREAT Mystery Skype resources, and I used many of them to get us prepared for our conversation.

It started with determining our jobs.  While Mr. Solarz has 5th graders and does most of his Mystery Skype work online, we were still able to use many of their listed jobs, modified a little to fit our needs.

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While I think that Mr. Solarz assigns jobs, we had a meeting before we got started and I explained each job, then we decided who should do each one.  If more than the allotted number wanted a specific job, kiddos had to find a way to decide who should do it (many of them played rock-paper-scissors to get to a decision).  In the end, we agreed that the right people were in the right jobs, based on their strengths and personalities.

I was excited (as were they) and even though I had done this many times before, I really didn’t know what to expect because I hadn’t done it with this format in any other session previously.  Because we were ready a little early (ok, I did that on purpose), we were able to practice.  We were able to run through the whole deal twice, with me pretending to be the other class and them trying out their assigned jobs (thanks, Mr. Solarz for that idea–it was SUPER helpful!).  First I was in Illinois (Chicago, actually) and then I was in Florida (ok, fine–Orlando).  If you know me at all, you could probably guess those would have been my choices.  Ok, fine, they probably had a little head start on that, too.  Anyway…

While we were working, I was surprised with how busy everyone was, how well they worked together and how quiet but bustling the room was!  We were even able to host a few teachers who wanted to see what this whole Mystery Skype thing was about without any real trouble.  Thanks for Ja’Mia and Landen for submitting the pictures for this post, and for Khalani for taking the video.

Check out our archives from our first-ever REAL Mystery Skype!

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After we were finished, we sat down to debrief and it was great how excited they all still were–I had them turn and talk so everyone could get all their thoughts out, then they shared some with me.  Here is a little of what kiddos said, some positive and some things we might change:

I liked holding up the “Good job” sign, it made me feel great to see everyone focusing, learning and doing the right thing! -Sara

I thought it was fun and I really wanted to do a good job to help out our class! -Thomas

I liked that I helped find Vermont! -Amber

I didn’t like walking around the whole time. -Landen

I liked my job because I got to remind people. -Ella Marie

I thought it was tricky trying to find a question.  -Emily

I liked it when Nate and Charlie asked about the time zone. -Lawrence

I like that my behavior was good.  I got a “good job” card and I really wanted to do my very best for our class! -Jacob

I liked being a greeter.  I was good at that job because I am friendly. -Joshua

I liked learning things that I didn’t know about our state. -Ava

I liked learning about maps. -Evan

We also debriefed on jobs.  The consensus was that there were too many researchers, and that we needed to add a couple of new ones: Tweeters and Closers.  Mrs. Sisul, our principal, texted me during our session and asked that I make sure to Tweet since she couldn’t make it and I could not believe that I hadn’t even thought about it!  We will definitely find some friends to do that next time, as well as choose two friendly kiddos to close the call and say thanks and good bye.  🙂

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One more thing…it’s very long and it’s kind of shaky–it’s our first time, after all–but I think it gives a great example of all the hustle, bustle and hard work that was happening during our Mystery Skype.  We’d love to hear what you think, especially if you notice anything or have any questions.

Mystery NUMBER Skype

This year we finally did a Mystery Skype with someone that wasn’t inside our school.  Remember that from last year?  It really was pretty cool anyway.

I have a friend, Jen Bartin, who teaches 2nd grade at another school in our district, who was looking to do her first Mystery Skype as well, and we decided a good first try would be with a mystery number rather than location.  Nope, that wouldn’t be very hard to figure out.

Unlike a typical Mystery Skype, we needed a hundreds chart instead of a map.  We got ourselves into pairs and brainstormed what kinds of questions we could ask to narrow down the number.  We had done this kind of thing before as our Math Warm-Up, as well as a game we play during Math Workshop.  The part that we hadn’t done was talk to another class over our computer while also answering questions about our own mystery number.  But we were excited and prepared.

While we chatted, kids took turns at the computer asking and answering a question.  Ja’Mia and Ella Marie were in charge of writing down the questions each class asked, and Landen and Amelia had the important task of marking the 100s chart to narrow down the choices as we got information from our answers.

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It didn’t take us long, but it took them even less time to figure out our number was 62.  We did a great job of asking broad enough questions that we crossed of lots of numbers, but specific enough ones that we finally got it right.  This was fun and we were ready to do another one!!

 

Top 5 Reasons Why Twitter Makes Me a Better Teacher

I have been on Twitter for almost 5 years now (started in July 2011), and I can honestly say that it has been a great decision since day one.  Probably there are lots of people who haven’t evaluated their Twitter decision, but I wonder if the reason I did is because I use it solely for my professional life (where I am often evaluating the effectiveness of decisions I make).  Nope, no celebrities or sports figures on my “following” list; I follow other educators (of all levels, not just the one I teach), authors, librarians, principals, consultants, instructional coaches and other related to education.  I do also have a few family members (although they don’t really tweet), and also news organizations because even thought they are not teachers, they inform my teaching and keep me informed as a person.  I decided that meant they fit the criteria.

I went back to look at if I had already written this post (sometimes I have the same thoughts over and over LOL), and realized I haven’t really ever done that.  I did write about the fact that I use Twitter in a reflection I wrote for grad school a few years ago, and I wrote a post called Why I Blog, inspired by educator and author David Warlick (@dwarlick).  I realized I mentioned Twitter in that post, but only the fact that I’m on it–not why.

So I guess in some ways this post is five years in the making–hopefully that doesn’t mean it will be five-years long!  Here we go!

  • Personalized Professional Learning–in my pjs!:  Because I have been particular with who I follow, I am pretty certain that every time I log on to Twitter I will read a tweet that includes something I didn’t know.  Whether it’s someone who’s tweeting from a conference they’re attending, someone tweeting an article they’re reading (or have written!), a blogger publicizing their latest post, someone tweet a meanginful quote, a chat in which I’m participating about a specific topic or just a statement about the day, I feel smarter for having spent that time there reading.  Sometimes I am able to read the whole thing right then, but often I will retweet or save the tweet for later so I can find it when I have more time.  Either way, I am able to cater the learning I am doing to my needs, on my time, and like I mentioned before, to where I am (and what I’m wearing!).
  • Publicizing: While it’s certainly not the only thing, having someone to read the blog you’re writing is kind of an essential thing to keeping a blog going and having a conversation.  I use Twitter as a place to publicize my blogs, as well as the ones that my students write.   I use hashtags to add to the readership, and cater them to the topic of the post I wrote.  For my students’ writing there is always #comments4kids, and some typical hashtags I add are #2ndchat (2nd grade teachers), #1stchat (because I taught 1st grade last year and many things I write about could apply to that grade as well), #moedchat (MO educators), #ksdpd (my school district), #803learns (my school’s new hashtag), #tlap (Teaching Like a Pirate), #LearnLap (Learn Like a Pirate), #elemmathchat (elementary math educators) and #miched (Michigan educators–just met many of them in a chat last week!).  Often I add in ones specific to ELA (#rwworkshop, #tcrwp, #kidlitchat), science (#elemscichat) or social studies #elemsschat).  I could really go on forever with hashtags because they are kind of endless, but adding them can maximize the number of people who see my posts as they far outreach the number of followers I have.
  • Quick Sharing: Sometimes I do have time to write a blog (at least not at that moment), so I use my Twitter feed (@jenbearden) or our class Twitter feed (@jbeardensclass) to share what we’re doing through out the day.
  • Collaboration: One of the BEST things about Twitter (maybe I should have put these in order!) is that it has allowed me the opportunity to connect and collaborate with classes and teachers from all over the world–something I would not have been able to do otherwise.  I forged a relationship with a fabulous educator in Australia early on (Hi, Tam!) and even 5 years and a couple of grade-level changes later, we’re still working together because of our connection on Twitter. I have found many connections on Twitter that allow me to bounce ideas off of others (even if I don’t really know them I know that they’ll respond).  One of the best layers of collaboration that I’ve found lately is the ability to reach out to authors.  It really is mind-blowing to 2nd graders (ok, sometimes to me, too!) that the REAL author of the book they just read would take time to talk to them and answer their questions.  We’ve been able to connect with many fabulous writers this year and I LOVE LOVE LOVE that my kiddos are now the ones who suggest that we tweet at them our thoughts.  Some of our favorites are Ralph Fletcher (he might be our bestie by now; we LOVE his books and he has become a mentor to my students as he has been to me for years and years; Betty Birney (she came to our school so we reached out to her before she came and told her how excited we were); Mary Casanova (also visited our school and we shared our favorite parts of her books); Kate Klise (we had a super author visit with her and have since asked her some writing questions), Marla Frazee and Maribeth Boelts (used their books for a craft study last year and still tweet to them when we find new books by them this year), and Charles R. Smith, Jr. who wrote an important text we used in Social Studies recently.  Lastly, my kiddos have been able to connect with other classes from around the world simply via tweets on our class feed or even better with Mystery Skype–which are set up through teachers on Twitter.
  • Validation:  Sometimes you just need to hear someone else say you’re doing a good job, you know?  While I by no means do what I do for a pat on the back, or to toot my horn, but it does feel really nice when someone else agrees that what you’re doing is a good idea.  Having someone retweet your idea or respond to you and tell you they agree with your thought feels good.  Often it doesn’t even take anything on the other end, but just for me to see that someone is doing something similar based on their tweets or retweets.  This often happens during chats (which could fit into the collaboration section, too), as you can talk to other educators about a common topic, learning and growing together, as you share ideas.

I’m not even sure that this covers all the bases (I’m sure that as soon as I hit PUBLISH I’ll think of something else I’ll want to go back and add), and in some ways it’s hard to even put it into words how much I feel like Twitter is an important resource for me.   I’m hoping that this list at least gives some small idea of it’s great possibilities for helping both me and my students explore and connect with the world!

Why do you use Twitter?  What would you add to my list?  Leave a comment and tell us what you think!!  🙂

 

 

 

Lego Challenges With Mrs. Sisul

We had an amazing 1st-day-back-from-Spring-Break today!  Our principal, Mrs. Sisul, has been learning about engineering and STEM with Legos, and volunteered to come set us up with some Lego challenges if we were interested.  Well, yes, of course, Rm. 202 friends were interested!  Luckily she was free this afternoon and came on up with her big ‘ole box of Legos!  Check out what happened! 🙂

She started with a quick reminder of what STEM means (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and then introduced what we would be doing: every kid would get a card with a challenge and they would work to do that challenge with Legos.  Pretty straightforward, right?  Well, they she led us through a great line of thinking about how we work best, and how kiddos would have the choice of how they tackled the challenge: alone, with a partner, a group of 3, a group of 4–whatever worked for each kiddo.  She shared her example that she knows that as a learner she likes to be able to bounce ideas off of another learner, and so she’d focus on finding another person to work with.  She asked me to share my strategy, and I talked about how I knew that that plan would DEFINITELY not work for me.  I am the kind of learner who needs to process and plan by myself first, and then I might want to work with someone else to blend ideas, get a critique or ask a question.  I know that if I went with a partner right off the bat, I wouldn’t have anything to share with them–so if I was Mrs. Sisul’s partner, I wouldn’t be a very helpful partner!  Right off the top I could tell that Rm. 202 kiddos were thinking about what would work for them, and they knew what would be best.  We had all sorts of groups–singles, partners and groups of 3.  Some kiddos worked alone, but right next to another friend so they could get feedback that way.

Ok, once teams were developed, Mrs. Sisul gave the guidelines for how kiddos would get their Legos.  She walked them through a planning session where they were to really think through what kinds of Legos they’d need.  She would call names of kiddos 3-4 at a time, and they’d have 30 seconds to “block shop” and then get started.  Once everyone had an initial visit to the pile, they were free to come back for more.  And since it would be virtually impossible for me to explain the amazingness with which these kiddos followed this protocol, I had to record it.  Check out what it was like when Mrs. Sisul dumped the Legos:

Once we got started, I roamed around and got some footage of them working. I know, kiddos wanted me to do the challenges, too–but I couldn’t document it to share with you if I did that!  Maybe next time. 🙂

Here are some videos that share more of their thinking while they got started:

This one has some great thinking about what happens when things are hard (which this was for some of us!):

There’s one more, and it’s really the one I’m the most tickled about.  It’s an example of what happened in our room when we put 20 kids and 2000 Legos together.  I want you to think about what you see first, but then I’ll tell you why I liked it:

As I watched this video, I noticed these things:

  • quiet voices
  • pleases and thank yous
  • kiddos finding pieces for others
  • sharing
  • everyone just taking what they needed
  • no one grabbing, hogging or arguing
  • kiddos respectfully letting others into the circle
  • focus
  • engagement
  • motivation
  • laughter
  • encouragement
  • respect for self, learning, others and the environment

What did you see? (Please leave us a comment and let us know–Rm. 202 kiddos would LOVE to hear what you thought and would LOVE to know you watched their super hard working!)

Ok, I know you’re wondering what some of those challenges looked like, and how they tackled them.  Here are some examples.  And yes, they told me I could. 🙂

This was definitely one of those touchstone moments in our classroom that we will return to for many days and weeks to come (darn, I only wish we’d done it earlier in the year!).  I know that we walked away with many things (and I hope to share what those were in THEIR WORDS soon), but one of them definitely was that there is not one way to solve a problem.  We could each access each of these challenges in our own way, and use whatever skills, ideas–and Legos!–that we wanted to in order to achieve our goal.  One friend even decided to do the same challenge twice to make it even harder for himself!  We are builders and thinkers and problem-solvers in Rm. 202 and this was definitely right up our alley!  Come back any time, Mrs. Sisul!

It’s the 100th Day–HOORAY!

In case you’ve missed our 100th Day journey, be sure to catch up on our previous conversations here.  And then stay tuned to read about what actually happened–spoiler alert: it was AMAZING!!

We began the day much like we normally do, with our regular routine of washing our hands and then working on the math apps we use every day: Front Row and Dreambox.  I got together some supplies, Tyrin took our pizza orders for lunch, and then we all got together to start our 100th Day of School.

We had narrowed down our choices to the ones that most closely matched our purpose for the day (reflecting upon or thinking about learning), but still we would not have been able to do all of those things in just the time we’re together on a normal school day, so I had to whittle it down even further.  Also, since we had come up with the SUPER list from our Little Red Riding Hood book as well, we actually had a new (and pretty big) job that we had added.

And since I can’t leave well enough alone, I gave them one more reminder about how this wasn’t truly our “100th” day, so we did a little bit of math: 176 + 176 + 100=452, meaning we were actually celebrating the 452nd day we had been in school!  WOW!  Too bad we couldn’t have had a whole list of activities related to that number!

First, I gave them a framework for book that we had decided to write together about our 100 days of 2nd grade and how much we had learned.  There were stems on each page that kiddos were supposed to fill in, and since we were doing it on our iPads, they could use pictures from their camera roll, drawings (that would then be added by taking a picture), typing or writing on the pages.  We use a Learning Management System called eBackpack to give and receive work, so they were to work on their pages (each kiddo was given 5) and then send them back to me.

Once they got started working, I began to call small groups over to start making muffins (based on our super smart ideas from Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst) to share with our 2nd grade friends.  There are conveniently (if you’re connecting to the number 100) 101 kiddos in our grade, so we had a lot of baking to do; we had figured out through some HARD work the day before that we needed to make 9 batches in order to have enough.  Wow.

Well, thankfully, my friend (who typically comes to help us during Math on Thursdays anyway) was free in the morning today, because looking back now there is NO WAY we could have made 100 muffins with 21 kiddos with just me.  Thanks, Mary Beth!  She took one table and I manned another one and we measured and poured, stirred and scooped and ultimately took all of our muffin tins to the Robinson kitchen to be baked.  Again, if not for Ms. Denise in the kitchen who took charge of the ovens, we wouldn’t have had any muffins.  She was a lifesaver today.

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Although I would have love to add pictures of the many trips we took to the kitchen and back, and share a picture of Ms. Denise, as well as how beautiful our muffins were while they were baking, I was carrying muffin tins and opening doors and having to be a teacher (hee hee), so you’ll just have to imagine that part.  I also wish there was smell-o-vision so I could share how wonderful our muffins smelled while they were baking (believe me, I was told my multiple people that they could smell them all over the school!), but alas, not this time.  Just imagine the most amazing aroma ever and that’s what it was like. 🙂  Ultimately we only ended up making 8 dozen (not sure what happened there), so we had to do some quick math about our shortage (which was a great lesson in scarcity!) and figure out how we could best share with our friends as well as have some muffins for ourselves.

After we figured out how many muffins we had:

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we made some plans for how we’d get them to our friends.  We agreed (ok, well they did after I convinced them) that it was the right thing to do to give muffins to the other 2nd graders before we served ourselves and so we go together in groups and created little pitches to share with them about what we did and how we wanted to give so to them.

We had a little bit of time after both muffins and our book (but more about that in another post–we have some revising and editing to do there before we’re ready to share), so kiddos had a choice of a board game, reading, or writing.  I always love to see what they do when they are in charge:

Because our day was filled with two other special events (roller skating in PE and a farewell assembly for a beloved custodian), we only had time for one more thing, and we decided it should be puzzles.  After that conversation the other day and the question from Ja’Mia, we knew it would be fun, hard work and would definitely allow us to use all of the grit, patience and teamwork we’ve been building lately.  Look at what we were able to do!

For all the thought (perhaps OVER-thought) that I put into this day, I am pleased with what happened.  It was all that we wanted it to be (which was to focus on learning and growing) and we had fun along the way.  I think that they things we chose to participate in match up with what we are about everyday (engagement, choice, thinking, teamwork).  I enjoyed the day, and I’m pretty sure they did, too.  The last thing I heard before we left for the day was “This was the best 100th Day EVER!”  I agree, friend, I agree! 🙂

 

 

Global Read Aloud 2015

If you’ve been here for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out my love of all things online–collaborating with other classes through things like Mystery Skype, Edmodo, Twitter, World Read Aloud Day, Dot Day, blogs, etc.  I hope that you’ve also seen how I am willing to try new things, not necessarily knowing how they will work out in the end.  I consider myself to be a risk-taker with technology and with new learning ideas.  I guess I trust that worst that will happen is that whatever it is won’t work and then we’ll try somethign else. 🙂

So, when my friend Tam Scharf, from Yr5sK in Queensland, Australia, invited me to join the Global Read Aloud this year, I knew I had to do it!  I have read about it for a couple years (during my time on Twitter!), but wasn’t really sure what to do to get involved.  Well it’s really pretty simple and has already proven to be a great opportunity for Rm. 202 kiddos!

The basic idea is that our class is reading a chapter book along with many other classes and there have been activities planned by a small group of teachers on our team that each class is trying out and then posting to our blog, or to Padlet, or other online venues.  Some classes are tweeting, and there will be Skype sessions planned, as well.

Our class chose to read a great book by a familiar author, Kevin Henkes, called The Year of Billy Miller.  The best part is that I had heard about it and was interested in reading it anyway.  So then when I found out it was a text choice for this project, it seemed like a perfect match.  And it’s about a 2nd grader.  Win/win/win. 🙂

Screenshot 2015-10-15 20.48.04Each week we are reading a different part of the book (it’s broken up into 4 parts that focus on a different relationship), and we do the coordinating activity.

The first week we studied a word cloud about Billy Miller and brainstormed what we thought the book would be about.  We posted our predictions (along with other GRA friends) on a Padlet set up for that activity.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 20.51.41Here’s what we thought about the book:

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It was great to read what other kids thought about the story, and we even revised some of our thinking based on what they shared.  Already a great start and we hadn’t even started reading!

Last week we read the first section (called Teacher) and met Billy and the other main characters in the book.  We are using this book as our study in Readers’ Workshop and it’s matching up perfectly with our work with story elements.  We learned how to use a story map, and recorded the characters, setting adn problem/setting so far in the story.  We’ll keep modifying this organizer as we go on, as well as completing the other planned activities.

We’re excited to join in for this week’s work: a Popplet about what we think about Billy as a character.  We’re not done yet but are excited to share our thinking once we get there.

This story is so fun and kids can easily relate to it; the project is a great motivator for us as readers and citizens of the world!  We found out the other day that there are over 500,000 kiddos signed up doing the same thing as us–WOW!!

I’ll update you with more as we get further into this great collaboration!

What’s On the Agenda?

The beginning of the year brings with it many things: new faces, new clothes, new experiences, new books to read, and assessments.  Lots of assessments.  Luckily for me, I know many of my students really well already, since we were together last year, but even still I need to learn the “2nd grade version” of them.

One particular assessment that I have a love-hate relationship with is the F&P (that’s just what we call it because it’s from Fountas and Pinnell; it’s a reading assessment).  I love it because of the deep, rich information it gives me about my kiddos as readers and how it helps me tailor my instruction to just what they need.  I kind of hate it, though, because it takes FOREVER to administer.  It involves a student reading a book to you aloud and then answering the comprehension questions to demonstrate their understanding of the text (there are both fiction and non-fiction titles included).

Sounds easy, right?  Well it is relatively easy to administer, but when you add in the fact that there are 21 students in my class and sometimes you have to read 2 or 3 stories until you find the student’s instructional level, you can quickly add up to a lot of time necessary to finish the job.

So, that’s where the idea of the agenda comes in.  It’s my attempt at having my students working on meaningful, important learning activities independently so that I can spend time 1-on-1 with students to finish my assessments.  Win-win, right?

We did this kind of thing on a smaller scale last year a couple of times, which gave me the courage to try it again now that we are 2nd graders.  The difference this go-round was that the time frame was longer (two school days instead of a morning) and that the assignments were on a little bit bigger scale (last time it was mostly finish-up work).

Now, before I gave it to my students I ran it by one of my most important helpers–my son, Riley, who was a 2nd grader last year.  Even at 8, he’s really good at looking at things I’m considering and thinking about them in terms of what other students would say.  And he did have some thoughts.  He suggested that there was TOO MUCH on the page and that many kiddos (him included) would be overwhelmed by the number of things they had to do.  I appreciated this insight, and actually had a plan, then, for how to modify the list for those that might need more support.

Wednesday morning came and it was time to share my crazy-cool plan with my students.  I was SUPER excited with how enthusiastic they were about the whole thing.  They were blown away with how they could make so many important choices, with how they got to decide when they would do each thing (meaning we’d have all different subjects and projects happening at the same time!), and with how fun the opportunities sounded!

So here’s what the agenda looked like:

Students could choose to do them in any order and spend as much time as they needed to on each one, with the goal of being done by the end of the second day.  We had a conversation before we got started about different ways to tackle such a big list, as well as how we would have to work responsibly and respectfully so that everyone could complete the challenge.  At several points throughout the days we stopped for check-ins, to have students share insights they were having, ask questions about things they may have been confused about, or make suggestions for how to make the work more manageable.

Overall, I was SUPER impressed with how things went!  I would have to say that the way they were able to manage their time and materials was even beyond what I expected.  Before we started, we made a big deal about how the important part was that they were able to work independently, freeing me up to finish my reading interviews with everyone.  It was great to hear how they problem-solved together, sometimes asking multiple classmates until they found their answer.  I do have to mention on conversation I overhead that I thought was particularly funny (and helpful!).  Someone was asking what they were supposed to do on a certain assignment, and a friend’s matter-of-fact response was “Well did you read the directions yet?  That’s why she wrote all that on there for you–so you’d know what to do!”  Hee hee.  Yes, I giggled a little at her answer.  But she was right. 🙂  And yes, she did offer help when the kiddo came back because he had a question about those directions. 🙂  Many times I heard friends reminding each other not to bother me or even asking “How can I help you?” when they knew their friend needed something.  Nice!

Having done this once, and getting really positive reviews on it from my students, I will definitely be doing it more regularly this year.  Ideally, I’d have some version of this happening all the time, with me having time to pull small groups and do 1-on-1 teaching as often as I could to help meet individual needs.  I feel like there are structures in place already in our classroom that allow for that focused attention, but anytime I can add more student choice into the mix, I’d say that’s a good thing.

So as I go into it a second time, I’m considering these questions:

  1. Were there too many things on the list?  What students may have been overwhelmed by the sheer length of the list? How can I better modify the agenda to meet the needs of every student?
  2. Were the activities the “right” ones?  What else could we have done (with content or with product) to push thinking and challenge kids to dig deep with their learning?
  3. Is it necessary for students to complete everything on the list?  Would a “must-do” and “can-do” type list be more ideal?  Is there a way for students to be more in charge of what was on the list?  Could they be given a learning target or essential question to investigate and then plan the activity they’d do to address that focus?

Regardless of what we decide to do next time, I’m excited for how this first attempt went.  Kids were focused, they had fun, they got things done, they made decisions, they solved problems, and I got some assessments completed.  And I even had a couple of teachers visiting from another school who happened to pop in while we were doing this and they said it was working.  Gotta love outside eyes to help you make sure it’s not all in your head!  Way to go, Rm. 202 kiddos!!

2nd Day of 2nd Grade Selfies!

Last year we shared our super-sweet pics of ourselves on the 1st Day of 1st Grade.  So what could we do this year but share super-cool pics of ourselves on the 2nd Day of 2nd Grade??

While some of these are silly and some are serious, I think in many ways they show the personalities of the kiddos who took. And if I’m being honest, they weren’t all actually selfies, because I told them where to stand and probably micro-managed the whole thing a little too much.  Boo. 😦  Sorry!

But the whole idea of selfies came from this article posted by my principal in our school’s ShareTank (which is a Facebook group where teachers can share learning and ideas with each other).  It’s all about using selfies and other strategies to give kids more control and voice in the classroom.  It is, after all, OUR classroom not just mine.  And I know from the work I did on my Masters’ project last fall that choice and voice in the classroom increases engagement and perseverance, so why not?!  I feel like I tend toward this direction anyway, but I can always do better at making sure my students are helping to direct their learning, with me alongside helping to facilitate that journey.  I feel honored and humbled to have that opportunity. 🙂  Here’s to a great year of student-centered, student-directed, everyone’s-engaged learning!!

Pictures of the Day: May 19, 2015

I REALLY want to show you the WHOLE thing about this project, but instead I’ll just show you two pictures as a tease for a later story.  They’re the pictures of the day for today, but they’ve been in the works since last week at this time.  And you know, I think I’m just going to let you wonder.  To let the pictures speak for themselves and see what happens….:)