Home Visits!

I am sure by now you know that I am returning to first grade, where I began my teaching journey so many years ago (wow–I was just a kid then…), and am super excited about it.  I am excited to return to many things that are the same, but am also excited about some “firsts” that will happen in this move back to first.  There are several, but first up (hee, hee) it’s home visits.

When Riley was in kindergarten (which is somehow 2 YEARS ago now–how did this happen??), I was excited when we got an email from his teacher about coming for a home visit.  I hadn’t heard of our teachers doing them before, and in fact I think that was the first year they started.   I remember Ms. Dale showing up at our door (which was awesome in itself because we don’t actually live in the district and she had to drive extra far to see us) with a big smile and a game of Candyland.

Now, for me as a parent, the experience was probably different than most when initially meeting their child’s first teacher; I have worked with Ms. Dale for 14 years and so have a relationship and already knew she’d be an amazing match to my kiddo.  We were already comfortable with each other.  But for my kiddo, this visit was priceless.  HIS teacher was coming to HIS house to meet HIM!!  While he was at first really apprehensive (and actually ran away from the door to hide when she knocked!), once I left them alone and they started playing the game, he quickly warmed up to her and they had a great time.  The visit was short and sweet, but I know for sure that it set a very positive tone for the rest of their year together.  There was much less “worried” talk about school after this and more excited banter about when he’d get to see his teacher again and when he could go to kindergarten.  And we had a really cute picture of our little man with one of his new favorite people:

Ok, so that's not the actual picture we took at our home visit, but I couldn't NOT include that very special lady--Ms. Dale--in this post.  :)

Ok, so that’s not the actual picture we took at our home visit, but I couldn’t NOT include that very special lady–Ms. Dale–in this post. 🙂

So…as a start to kindergarten, this seemed like a fabulous way to begin to connect our family with our new family at Robinson.  For both my kiddo and myself, it took away nerves and gave us an opportunity to see his teacher as a person, not just a teacher.  But on the other side, I know that it also gave her a chance to connect with Riley on “his turf”–to see where he plays, where he eats, where he sits and reads a book on the couch with his mom.  And if we had a dog, I know she’d have met our dog so that when he wrote story after story about that dog Ms. Dale would know who he meant.  Instead, she met his little sister. 🙂

As we started planning for our first grade year this fall, I remembered back to this special day with my kiddo and suggested that maybe we try this with our new friends.  There is research to show that there are benefits for teachers and families in every grade level and it was exciting to try it with another grade of little ones in our school.  The team and our principal thought it was a great idea!

So here we are and I’ve just begun my home visits for this year.  I have only gone to a few, but so far I have met 5 kiddos, 3 older brothers, 1 older sister, 2 little sisters, 1 little brother, 3 dogs, countless dolls and horses; played several games of War and Go Fish, read almost 10 books and of course become acquainted with the fabulous parents that are so kindly sharing these lovely children with me this year (hopefully I didn’t forget anyone in this list!).  It’s been great to see how comfortable they all have been, and how proud they seem to be that THEIR teacher is in THEIR house sitting on THEIR couch.  I love how I’m already able to picture these little learners in my classroom, too; I know this will add another important level to the way I put our classroom together this year since it will be for kids I actually know–not just faceless names on a classlist.  And as I was telling one of those kiddos as I sat on her green couch the other day, I am excited for how this will alleviate some of my first day jitters (yes, even teachers get those!) because instead of wondering who will walk in my door, I’ll be ready to welcome old friends to our new home.  I’m pretty jazzed about that part.

So I have to say a HUGE thank you to those of you who have already welcomed me into your homes, and to those of you I haven’t met yet—I’m coming!  And I’m excited!  See you soon! 🙂

 

EdcampSTL-take 3!

I went to my first EdcampSTL two years ago.  At that point I was a newbie on Twitter, and although I was excited about learning something new, I let my discomfort of going there by myself get in the way of having a great day.  I didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t make any connections, and can’t even remember walking away with anything.

Then there was last year.  EdcampSTL #2 was about 3000% better than the first go-round.  I know that some of it was because I went with friends–my best friend, my hubby, actually :)–and since I had been on Twitter a year longer, I had some familiar faces I’d “met” online to connect with, as well.  Plus, I guess like with most things, the second time you do something it’s always easier.  I met a great new friend, as well, and have been able to learn and share much with her since then, too.  Much better experience.

This year was the 3rd EdcampSTL, and it had the largest enrollment yet.  We were actually hoping for a record, but I think the weather kept some away from the fun. 😦 For those of us who were there, though, it was a great day!  I have to give a shoutout to by little bro, Chuck Baker, who is a fabulous teacher/father/tech guru/blogger, who came today for his first time!  He even got in on the fun and presented a session.  Gotta love the initiative there–I haven’t had the courage yet. 🙂  And then, yep, my more-than-fabulous hubby (who is also an amazing teacher, father and blogger in his own right!)  Grant was in on the fun again, too; I love that we can do this whole teaching thing (as well as our Masters’ program) together.   Adds a different level of help, support and even collaboration when he “gets” what I do.  LOVE YOU, honey!!

While I attended several great sessions this time around, I think I am most excited about the one where I learned more about Makerspaces.  I’ve been looking into Genius Hour for a little while now, and am also interested in problem/project based learning, and this was exciting to hear; two middle school science teachers shared real-life examples from their classrooms.  While it won’t look exactly the same in my situation, I’m interested in getting it all figured out.  I’m thinking about doing a really basic, Valentine’s version of a makerspace this week for Valentine’s boxes.  Not exactly how it’s supposed to work, but I think it could be a good way to introduce it.  Guess we’ll see!

I know to some it seems weird to go to school on a Saturday, to make a choice to get up early to learn on your day off.  Believe me, I wouldn’t do it for everything, but for EdcampSTL, it’s totally worth it!  Join me next year, will ya? 🙂

 

I Speak Greek When I Teach Math–PART 2

Wow–I’ve been doing a horrible job with updates lately!  I’ve left this one hanging for over a week, and I’m sure you were waiting on the edge of your seat to hear the rest of the story, right?  Well, thanks for being patient. 🙂   The “rest of the story” will actually end up being told in two more parts.

Remember how we were working with a problem about ranch dip and I was baffled by what was going so wrong?

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Ranch dip problem, part 1

Part 2

Part 2

Well, what I don’t think I told you last time was that I had a conversation with a colleague of mine, who happens to be a fabulous math teacher, too, and we agreed there could have been many reasons why this was trickier than I had intended.  I decided to tackle these issues one at a time.  The first one we thought of was related to the context.

I think I may have taken for granted the fact that my kids would know about teaspoons, tablespoons and just the whole act of mixing it all together.  There were actually several kiddos who could not relate to what I was talking about with making the dip, so I decided to fix that problem.  I hoped that using the recipe would help them better understand what I was asking them to figure out.  So we got cooking!

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First, we reviewed the recipe and talked ingredients so we made sure we knew what to do. See how handy our iPads are for jobs like this? 🙂

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Sorry, this ones a little blurry, but we’re smelling the spices the recipe called for: onion powder, garlic powder, parsley and dill. Many hadn’t ever seen these before!

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Oh, and there’s basil in it, too! Smells yummy already!

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The recipe calls for sour cream, but I decided to use plain yogurt instead. Man, I must have been stirring fast!

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We discovered another part that was important (and in many cases missing) knowledge–knowing the difference between the sizes of teaspoons and tablespoons. Knowing that there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon was necessary for use in the final answer, but this was hard for some kids to image without seeing it.

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Spice mix ready to be stirred!

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We needed a 1/2 cup of yogurt for every tablespoon of spices.

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Looking good!

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I forgot a knife. 😦 Cutting a cucumber with the back of a fork is harder than it looks! Eventually I made it happen, though. 🙂

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Yum! Ranch dip with cucumbers and Triscuits for our morning Math snack!

So while my cooking class didn’t solve every problem we were having (which I’ll tell you about in Part 3), I do think it gave many of them the ability to make connections they were unable to make before.  And there is so much math (and science) in cooking and baking, I don’t know why we don’t do more of it.  TOTALLY wish my classroom had a kitchen!  It has also made me and my team think about how we want to purposefully involve more of these types of activities into our classes for next year.  We’re thinking it would be a great addition and preparation for next year’s Feast Week, too.

How do you use cooking in your classroom?  What connections do you make for your kiddos to math and science?  Or maybe even reading and writing? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions as we make plans for next year. 🙂

New Friends in New Jersey

Yes, we did it again.  Third Skype in three weeks!  This one was a little different from the first Mystery Skype and the second one we did last week.  This time the location wasn’t a mystery; 4th graders from Lakehurst, NJ wanted to connect with students in the Midwest since their class was studying our region, so we just chatted.  SO many thanks to Mr. Bedell (@jasontbedell) for setting it up and Ms. Lambusta for being game to try Skype for the first time with her class!

The structure was similar to what we’ve done before, but since we knew that our new “friends” were going to ask us a whole slew of questions, we decided to find a way to give everyone more “screen time” during our Skype session.  I paired everyone up and they had two jobs: answer a question and ask a question.  We went through the first round and they asked us, then we asked them some questions.

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We were really interested to find out that one of the “specials” classes the 4th graders went to was Spanish.  There were lots of ooohs and ahhhs when they shared that nugget; kids in our school district don’t have an option for a foreign language until middle school.  We learned that Minecraft is a big deal both in NJ and MO, that they lived close to the ocean and were affected by Hurricane Sandy, and that their school is near a naval base.  Pizza was a popular school lunch (as are chicken nuggets!), and kids from both classes like to play sports games on their game systems.

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We had a great conversation with our new friends in New Jersey and then began thinking and talking.  We talked about whether we liked Mystery Skype or this type of chat better.  It was pretty much 50/50; many liked the “guessing” part of a Mystery Skype because it was a challenge to their brains, and many others liked the “regular” Skype because they liked the opportunity to ask and answer questions more related to them than geography.

That got us thinking about other ways we could use Skype.  Ames suggested that there were probably lots of other things that could be a mystery when we Skype besides location.  That comment made me think of a list I read from Krissy Venosdale (@ktvee) where she shared ideas for just that!  We also thought we could combine them both and first figure out the location, then get to know them better like we did this time.  Both great ideas!

I am so excited with how excited my students are during these types of activities.  They thirst for new ideas and enjoy trying new things, especially when they involve technology.  I LOVE that they trust me when I say, “Hey, I heard about this–how about we try it?!”  They are game for ANYTHING!

Besides being excited to try this again, we’re excited to invite other classes to join us!  One of our 5th grade neighbors is going to sit in on our next Mystery Skype so they can learn more about it.  Maybe we could even start marking our Skypes on our map of connections and try to get every state!  Wouldn’t that be cool?!

So…do YOU want to Skype with us?  Comment here or contact me on Twitter (@jenbearden).  We’d love to meet you!

 

We’re Connecting with the World. Again. :)

If you’ve been here for a while, then you know about the map that hangs in our classroom.  And then how it changed after some really good suggestions from some really smart 5th graders. If you’re new here, or you haven’t read those past posts, then let me tell you about it.
Blogging is a great activity for so many reasons.  I read blog post from fellow teacher and blogger Pernille Ripp the other day that really summed up everything I wanted to say about the “why” of blogging.  One of the really important benefits, which goes along with Common Core beautifully, is the global connection that blogging brings with it.  Children have the opportunity to reach outside themselves, sometimes to “talk” to people from places they’ve never heard of or don’t know much about.

 

In our classroom, we have this map.  Right now it looks really sad and empty:

But it doesn’t have to stay like that, and that’s where you come in.  On this map, we’re going to keep track of the places from where all of our comments come.   As readers leave comments–and tell us where they live–we’ll put in pins to show us all the places where we’ve made a connection.  We’re hoping to be able to reach as many countries and continents as we can!  So far, we actually have had comments from several places in Missouri, Alabama (thanks Mrs. Clark!), Kentucky (thanks Mr. Browning!), Argentina (courtesy of @gret in Buenos Aires!), Alaska (thanks Ms. Girard), and Australia (from Mr. Mannell, who is a regular visitor to our blog!)!  I’m a little late in getting those in, but partly because I was hoping that after this post, we’d have tons more to add!
So…if you are willing, after you read this blog, or our kid blogs, leave a comment and tell us what you think (and maybe if you’ve already commented, but didn’t tell us your location, come back again)!  Please tell us where in the world you live, so we can add you to our global connections!  We’re excited to see how our knowledge of the world grows as our pins are added and we continue on this journey!  Thanks in advance for your help!  We’re excited to meet you. 🙂

Reading Museum

All during the first week of school, we spent our time in activities to get to know each other better.  During our second week, we continued, but with the focus of getting to know each other better as learners.

So on Friday during Reader’s Workshop, we held a Reading Museum.

The idea was simple, really.  Each reader in our room–including me!–set up an “exhibit” that told something about themselves as readers.  Then we went around to each exhibit (after having a quick conversation about expectations–you have to act a certain way in a museum, after all) to see what each person laid out.  We made connections to other readers’ books and asked questions we had, too.

Once we were finished, we debriefed on what we had learned during this activity and how it would help us in the future.   What a fun way to spend a Friday afternoon!

Check out some pictures from our museum:

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Have you ever been a part of a Reading Museum?  What books would you put in your exhibit?  We chose books that we liked, that we’ve read over and over, that someone read to us when we were little, etc.  We’d love to hear about your selections!  Leave us a comment, please! 🙂

An Environment of Numeracy

I just started a book study, led by Mrs. Bell and Mrs. LeSeure, on the book Guided Math by Laney Sammons.  I have only read the first few chapters so far, but am really loving it already.  The book is based on the idea of using the strategies that kiddos already know as readers (visualizing, connecting, questioning, rereading, summarizing, etc) in relation to math; the same things that we do to understand what we read can help us understand math (or any other subject, for that matter!).

So, like I said, we’re just at the beginning, but have learned the overview of the big ideas in Guided Math.  Then we were supposed to choose one that we were going to commit to change or add to our math class as we work through the book together.  My goal was to add to the environment of numeracy in my classroom: to find new and innovative ways to add math to parts of our day outside of “math time.”  The goal is to get kids thinking like mathematicians in all parts of their life at school.

One way to do this, even from the minute they walk into the room in the morning is with warm-ups.  These are quick, math-focused questions that kids answer on a chart for everyone to learn from together.  This was our warm-up from this morning:

It wasn’t a ground-breaking question, nor is it the most deeply I’ll ever ask my kids to think, but it got us focused on math right from the beginning.  I loved it when someone said they had no idea what to write and with just one question from a friend, were able to add “I used math when I had to figure out how long I had until I had to leave to go to my dad’s house” to the chart.  That’s what it’s all about really, supporting each other in our learning.

So what math did you use this weekend?  How do you involve your kids in mathematical thinking outside of “math time?”  What suggestions do you have for math questions we can use for a warm-up?  We’ve love to hear your thinking and add to ours!