# Math Play Day

After the success of Global School Play Day, my first grade team was ALL IN on how to give our kiddos more opportunities to play.  In all the subjects.  On any given day.

And it was incredibly convenient that at the end of Global School Play Day, we had team time to discuss just that topic! #luckyus #firstgradedoubleplanforthewin

After we tossed around several ideas, we landed on trying something in math first.  And we also decided that using The Periodic Table of Play as our resource for ideas would be the best place to start.  Our district has done work with Laura Seargeant Richardson, and has committed to putting play up at the top of a list of priorities for all kids and adults in our district.  We have a deck of Play Possible Schools cards in our library, and they were the perfect place to dig in. 🙂

While the conversation was long and detailed, the short story is that we decided to take one concept (fractions) and each choose a different way to “play” with that idea.  We chose an element of play and then figured out a way to apply that to fractions.

There are only five of us, and eleven elements, so we tried to have a variety of options.

We decided on:

Before the chosen date of our Play Day, we planned what part of our element we could focus on, and got ready for our activity.  In order for kiddos to be able to choose their play place (which was another crucial part of our plan–kid choice!!), we put together a Google Slides presentation to invite them to come play with us!

No one knew which teacher they would end up with or really what they would be working on until they showed up–which added to the excitement and motivation!

Here’s what kiddos chose to do.  Check out how much fun they had!!

This group observed a science experiment that included using different parts of an Alka-Seltzer and predicting/watching what happened.  Kiddos recorded their thinking with words and pictures.

Lucy had some words to explain her math time today:

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Friends in this group worked with Legos to represent different unit fractions in a variety of ways.  What a fun way to use a typical first grade classroom tool!

Mathematicians in this group worked in a pizza restaurant!  They got to take turns being a chef (and making fraction pizzas), taking orders and also making a menu.  What an authentic and FUN way to apply fraction knowledge!

Check out Ali’s explanation of what she did!

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Friends that worked in the “feeling” group used their senses of touch and smell to explore fractions.  Listen to Riley explain what she did and why she liked it! Spoiler alert: This was the BEST DAY of math, EVER!

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This was my group. 🙂 . In this one, mathematicians were invited to plan, create and then play (well we didn’t get to this part, but will do it later!) a game about fractions.  Kiddos chose to work alone, in partnerships and also in groups of 3.

And check out what Hailey had to say about what she did and why she liked math today. 🙂

So…can you tell that this first ever First Grade Math Play Day was a roaring success??  Everyone involved had fun and we even noticed that there were not any behavior issues during our play time, either. 🙂 . I mean not surprising, though, right–when everyone is having so much fun learning??

After reflecting on the day, we noticed that a large number of our kiddos chose the groups that played with Legos and made games.  And many of the ones who didn’t get to do that today said that they would choose it if they had a chance again.

And now we’re left with some questions to chew on.  When will we do this again?  Will we try math again?  Same topic or another one?  Should we try another subject?  How can we use what we learned about how our kids like to CREATE and MANIPULATE to better meet their needs at mathematicians (even on regular math days)?  We’re excited to think through the answers (and possibilities) and get another play day on the calendar!

Oh goodness.  Reading.  It’s one of the most important (and one of my favorite!) things that happens in first grade. Ok, well, in any grade, but the beginning of the life long journey often starts in first grade, and I want to make sure it starts out in a positive way. 🙂

We do that in a number of ways, and one of those is by starting the #classroombookaday challenge.  Listening to, talking about and enjoying LOADS OF BOOKS is such an important piece of the literacy puzzle.  Reading (and lots of choice inside that reading) is another one.  And so we begin to read, read, read early in the year, and provide many positive experiences around books.

Almost on the first day of school, we have a conversation about how our classroom library is organized, and what they notice about how it looks, as well as how we will use it.  We talk about the kinds of things we like to read, and begin to fill our book boxes early on.  I always enjoy putting the library together when I’m setting up the room…

…but there’s nothing better than when there are actually READERS in it!

Besides being able to read during choice time and actual reader’s workshop, we’ve also begun our year with some necessary “quiet time” after lunch and recess.  During this time, kiddos can make a choice to read/write/draw or rest quietly.  Really it’s a chance for kids to be alone (which is hard but also necessary for many–me included!), as well as wind down a little after a busy morning.  It’s a time of day that many kiddos have a chance to finish up work or a project (usually of their choice) that they started earlier in the day.  Eventually this time will fade away, as we get more into our “real” schedule, but for now it’s a nice brain break before we get into hard thinking again with math.

One more exciting place first grade readers got to visit was the ROBINSON LIBRARY!!  We have library in our specials rotation now, so it took until we got to an “E” day before it was our turn.  Kiddos only go for 25 minutes and normally wouldn’t have been able to check out until the 2nd visit, but GOODNESS that would not have been fair so we stayed a little later so we get our hands on some new books!!  Kiddos got to meet our new Library Media Specialist, Mrs. Davis, and also hear a good story.  Before we went, I also read a library themed book. 🙂

It was SUPER fun to watch the kiddos work their way through the library and see what treasures they would find.  Finding out what kids like to read is just one more way of building community and getting to know them as readers and as little people. 🙂

Looking forward to TONS more fun and learning happening in the library this year!

# Rm. 202 Kids Take Over!

This will be the first of several posts that document some changes that have been taking place in Rm. 202’s neck of the woods over the last two weeks.  We’ve been dealing with some struggles and are working on working through them.  Kind of like in the beginning of the year when we were working on working together.  Remember?  And in true Rm. 202 and Robinson form, we’re problem solving as a class to figure out what to do.  LOVE THAT!  It hasn’t been easy, but with so many great brains working on the solutions, it’s coming along.

Here’s the beginning of the story…

We had had many days where our class was struggling to follow directions, listen to each other (including me!) and struggled with working well as a group.  Of course I was frustrated, and knew that it meant something had to change.  Luckily, because I know that these choices mean they’re telling me something (rather than just that they’re bad kids, or trying to make me crazy, or that there is no hope! LOL), I choose to try to figure out how to help them change those choices, by teaching or reteaching behavior, or by restructuring some other part of what we do everyday.

And because I work in the best school in the best school district anywhere, I am lucky to know about using a problem-solving model with most every classroom bump in the road.  I learned years ago about how to use the ICEL protocol for this problem-solving and it came in SO handy to us lately.  Basically it helps you problem-solve through a variety of items, starting NOT with the kids in your class, but with how you are teaching them.

So as I worked through how to best respond to the struggles we were having, I logically started with the I in ICEL, which has to do with HOW we’re learning and HOW I’m choosing to present things.  Sometimes an easy tweak in this area can provide the response you were looking for.  And also luckily (wow–do you get how blessed I am? LOL), I have a super supportive group of coworkers who are ALWAYS willing and able to help.  We happen to have a place to post questions and ideas so I wrote this, looking for some suggestions:

And like I said, there ended up being LOADS of friends who gave their support and ideas for how we could respond, and even better than just helping me, anyone who read the thread could benefit. #collaborationforthewin

This response was what got us to this blog post today:

And since I cannot step away from a double dog dare, but more because I knew she had a point with her suggestion and was thinking we’d get some good results from it, I started our next day with this as our easel question:

Apparently I haven’t asked a question like this in a while, or they are programmed to answer this “learner” question in a certain way, because on our first draft thinking, their responses were “be quiet” or “listen to the teacher” or “be a good friend.”  Of course those are all good things, but what I was asking was more like the answers on this second draft are responses I as expecting.  The notes are grouped by type and the big pile at the bottom (not surprisingly) say PLAY.  The rest say things like READ, WRITE, CODE, and DRAW.  And yes, there were at least two that said they’d enjoy doing anything.  Yes, girls, you’re my favorite students.  LOL  Just kidding!

We gathered for morning meeting and got busy building our schedule for the day.  Again, this surprised my students MUCH more than I thought it would; I think I give them choice ALL THE TIME and work to be really responsive to what they need and want.  Funny that this seemed so crazy to them.  Anyway, we decided that they could choose to do something from the list of blocks/cars, art, Legos, or iPads.  We also reviewed how, since this was normally the time when we did writing and sci/ss, they had to figure out a way to include those things in their work.  I also gave the offer to let some friends help me start a bulletin board that first grade was in charge of making–4 friends took me up on this offer.  The rest made their choice and got busy with their learning plan for the day.  They had to start in their area by talking with the others kids there about how they’d use the tools they had available to them.  As we got busy, I shared with them that we would stop to share our work after a chunk of time (I think I gave them about 40 minutes).

Once they had time to work on their creation, we gathered in each area so groups could report to us on how they spent their time.

When we returned later in the day, we got busy writing a report on how we had spent our morning.  More on that later!

Oh, and I know you want to know how it went….this was one of the most pleasant mornings we’ve had together in a while. 🙂  They had choice, they were engaged, they managed their bodies and were in charge of their learning.  And I went to lunch with a smile on my face (for whatever that’s worth. 🙂 ).

Please be sure to come back for the next chapters of the story–it’s a great one!  Rm. 202 kiddos have GREAT ideas! Can’t wait to tell you about it.

# Recipe For a Good Book

Are you back?  Well, like I said before, this issue seems to come up every year and now that I think about it, maybe that speaks to the lessons I teach at the beginning of the year on how to choose books.  I wonder why they aren’t “sticking” and why kiddos eventually need this secondary explanation of “good book” recipes.  I wonder if it has to do with the fact that they change so much as readers over a given school year (especially if they are younger readers, or struggling readers making big gains) and so the books that were just-right or “good” for them in August are certainly not the same for them in March.  I guess like anything else, as well, just telling them once probably isn’t enough.  Perhaps I should find a way to incorporate book choice lessons into every unit that I teach.  In many ways choosing a just-right fiction book is very different from choosing a just-right non-fiction book anyway.  Oh, and I feel like I should mention that my definition of “just-right” book doesn’t have so much to do with a level as it does with student interest, motivation and desire.  All of that other stuff can be worked on once you help them find THE book for them.  Many times the kiddos who first need my recipe lesson are ones who don’t really see themselves as readers yet.  They don’t really know what to do when they’re standing in the aisles of the school library or looking at the buckets in our classroom library and need a hook to get them started.  That’s really what I’m thinking about when I help guide them here.

Ok, well, just like it happened in that example from 5th grade many years ago, I had a conference with a kiddo the other day who needed some guidance to find his version of a good book.  We talked about books he has read that he really liked and what it was about them specifically that he liked.  We used those things as our “recipe” and wrote them down:

This now becomes a shopping list when he’s in our classroom, the school library, the bookstore, the book fair, the county library, etc.  The big idea is that if he knows what he likes he knows when he’s found it.  This is a HUGE idea that kids often miss.  They so often just wander through the shelves not really knowing what they’re looking for, expecting that they will just know what it is when they find it.  It’s like traveling to a new place without a map AND without really knowing your destination.  You will NEVER get there.

Well, after this first conference, I ran into two other friends in the same day that needed the same lesson and so it quickly got moved to my “everybody-needs-this-as-a-mini-lesson” list.  I then showed everyone in Rm. 202 the plan the next day by sharing my own example:

Not everyone is necessarily ready for this right now, but everyone had a go at trying their own list and we will tweak over the coming days as they practice using it for book shopping.  The great part is that it is customizable, personal, and specific to each reader.  And it can be easily changed as they change as readers.  LOVE!

# 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.

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!!

# Let Creativity Rule!

I am often inspired by things I see.  It goes with the kind of learner I tend to be, too, as things make more sense when I see them in addition to hearing them.  So let’s start with a picture.  It’s what inspired this post:

If you have been around here for a while, you know that I am a thinker.  Sometimes I think too much.  Like I-can’t-get-to-sleep-for-a-long-time-at-night-because-my-brain-won’t-turn-off kind of thinking.  Most often, though, I can use my overactive brain for good things.

I discovered this bracelet the other night in my jewelry box, after not having worn it for a while.  I actually forgot I had it.  It was a gift from a fabulous family I’ve had the pleasure of working with at school.  I was lucky enough to have taught two of their children–one of them twice!  As I looked down at the charm, I thought of how “Let Creativity Rule” could really be one of the phrases for my life.  It seems to come up in so many places for me.

In my classroom, I try to be the kind of teacher who is a facilitator and a designer, rather than a dictator or an information-dumper (yeah, I just made that up, I think).  I believe that knowledge is most powerful when you create it for yourself, and that connections kids make on their own mean much more than ones I make for them.  I see my role as an educator as the one who helps create opportunities for my learners to figure things out, to put things together, to wonder and then discover answers for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong–there are times when you have to lay it all out there, because yes, there are some things that kiddos would never just find out without guidance.  But for the most part, I want my students to be in charge of their learning.

Alongside the opportunities, comes the freedom to make choices about how that learning will happen.  There are very few things in my classroom that I have to have happen a certain way; labeling is one of the things I care deeply about, as well as coloring-coding certain things we use all the time, as a means of helping to keep things organized.  Oh, and fonts.  I love them.  I collect them in fact, and usually have one as my “go-to” font for the year.  And yes, I have been known to recreate forms and sheets that people share with me because I have to make them look a certain way.  Hey–everyone has something like that right? But outside of those couple of things, my children are free to make decisions about what and how they learn things, as well as how they demonstrate that learning.  I want my kiddos to have a variety of ways to show what they know; not everyone can best do this with pencil and paper as is typical in many classrooms.  It is common for my students to show their understanding of a concept by building with Legos, using big wooden blocks, drawing a picture, acting it out, recording themselves talking about it, writing a story (or some other kind of explanation) and yes, sometimes by taking a test.  The possibilities are endless, and one of the things I like the best is that sometimes kids come up with ideas that are even better than an option I could have given them.  The point is showing me–as well as their classmates–that they understand what they’re learning.

I appreciate creativity in my life outside of school, as well.  Part of what balances me in my work life is taking the time to “play” and do things that bring out my crafty side.  I like to sew, to design, and to build things.  While I would not say I am particularly gifted in any of those areas, it’s another way to use my brain, and I enjoy seeing the products of my handiwork (and just in case you’re interested, I think I even wrote about it a few years ago on this blog…)

The other thing I was thinking as I was looking at my hand (that sounds really funny, doesn’t it?) is how important my family is to me.  My wedding rings remind me of my fabulous hubby and our amazing kids, and how lucky I am to have them.  I don’t think I would be the teacher I am, actually, without them.  I take so much of them to school with me, and they often help me think through struggles I’m having and help me solve problems (my son is really helping me this year since he was in 1st grade last year, I run a lot of ideas by him before I try them with my Rm. 202 kiddos!).  My husband is a teacher, as well, and I know that while there is a LOT of shop talk at our house, I am so grateful to have a spouse who “gets” what I do.  We have even taught the same grade levels at times, which makes for another layer of fun as we brainstorm classroom ideas together.  I have been thinking lately how much being a mom helps me as a teacher, too.  Don’t get me wrong, you can be a GREAT teacher without being a parent, but for me, there has been another level of understanding since I’ve had kids of my own.  Oh, and now that my kids are in school, I have a much better understanding of what it means to give your baby over to the care of someone else.  I am so blessed that the families I work with let me do that every day.  Believe me–I do my best to do them proud and take good care of their little ones, as I would hope would happen for mine!

It’s funny how just seeing something can spark so many things in your brain.  What image or picture have you been inspired by lately?  What phrase would you say defines your life?  How do you let your creativity rule?  I’d love to hear from you!  Feel free to leave a comment and tell me all about it! 🙂

# The End of Literature

Literature Circles, that is. 🙂

We have spent the last few weeks meeting in Literature Circles to read and discuss a book together.  The kids have done an amazing job of thinking deeply and talking openly.

At the beginning of our study, we read several texts together, learning the roles that they would later use in their groups independently.  They learned–and then practiced–the roles of Discussion Director, Character Creator and Literary Luminary.

After we worked together, each student was given the choice of which Literature Circle they’d like to join.  Each kiddo gave their first, second and third choices for which group they’d like to join, then were put into groups of 4-6.  For the next three weeks students read and wrote questions about the book they chose.  Their lit group met three different times, and students had different roles each time.

The themes of the unit were responsibility and choice, as students focused on taking turns, making sure their voices were heard, and using the text to support their thinking.

My students did an amazing job with these groups!  They’re excited to try it again later in the spring with different book choices.  What great experiences we had together.

What experiences have you had with literature circles or book clubs?  Do you have any advice for us for the next time we meet? What book would you choose to read?