I’ve Got Some Questions…

I have been navigating this cyberspace for 7 years now.  I’ve had many great experiences, learned and shared many things, and met many great people.  I’ve changed my view along the way and rethought my audience, but have always tried to write things that were engaging to my readers.  Often I could gauge that engagement by how many people commented on my posts, and/or how often readers connected with me on Twitter or Facebook regarding my writing.

So…while I honestly write as a means of reflection, I also strive to make this blog a conversation around teaching and learning.  And I’ve found that recently I seem to be writing to myself…I figure there are many reasons that might be happening, but am hoping that maybe you’ll help me more specifically with figuring out some of them by answering some questions.  I’d LOVE to learn more about what you, my blog reader, is thinking!

  1. What kinds of blogs do you read and revisit often?
  2. What kinds of blogs do you comment on, and what makes you want to do that?
  3. Do you find yourself reading blogs/posts that are more word-focused, video-focused, photo-focused, or some combination of all of those?
  4. If you write a blog, what do you do to help invite conversations and interactions?
  5. What other suggestions do you have?

PLEASE, please, please take a few minutes to let me know what you’re thinking!  I’m a learner at heart, and this is an important place for that to happen!  Can’t wait to hear from you, friends! 🙂

 

Our First Mystery Number Skype!

I shared our first Mystery Skype experiences with Ms. Turken’s brothers last week and how great the were.  After those two great starts, I hit up my Twitter friends to find our next Skype opportunity.  Instead of a location Skype, though, I had an offer for a Mystery Number Skype.  

We got our day started by answering a easel question that asked: “If you wanted to figure out my mystery number, what questions would you ask?”  We practiced with how to ask things that would put the numbers into groups, or to narrow down the whole 100s chart into smaller pieces, rather than just ask “Is it 47?” or “Is your number 82?”

We had a few practice rounds, using 2-digit numbers less than 50 (because we had agreed upon this with our Skyping friends), and then we were ready to go!

Armed with 100s charts and super math questioning skills, we called our new friends, who were in Kansas.

One of the things I love about doing Mystery Skypes (numbers and locations) is watching how kids step to the plate, so to speak, and try things they are unsure about.  In this situation, kiddos seem to be more willing to take risks and try things that they aren’t sure is totally correct, to throw out ideas that may not work.  Kiddos who may not be first to speak up in class volunteer to ask questions and talk to the other class, and we meet new friends in new places that we can solve problems with–why would you NOT do Mystery Skypes all the time??

I was excited to hear kiddos use the vocabulary we had used on our practice runs, like LESS THAN, GREATER THAN, EVEN, ODD, as well as TENS and ONES.  They worked hard to then mark their 100s chart to match the information they were receiving from their friends, and in the end we figured out their number was 20!!

And, you can see in the picture, that our number was 39, which they guessed correctly, too!! 🙂

Who wants to do a Mystery Number Skype with us?  We’re keen to try again, and soon we’ll be ready for a 3-digit number!!

Second Grade Writing Warm-Ups: Week of April 25-29, 2016

I think I mentioned last week (and probably the week before when we started them), but I am SO happy with how these warm-ups are really giving us a bang for our buck, and helping me get the thinking started BEFORE we sit down for our Writer’s Workshop mini-lesson.  It seems like they have more time for writing and I talk less!–or maybe it’s just at a different time, but still…:)

Here are last week’s warm-ups, a little late:

Monday

We are working on publishing now.  Can you tell?
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Tuesday

I know, this is totally lame, and didn’t really require them to do much thinking, it was just a quick check-in since they were supposed to be finished publishing their stories and I wanted to see how it was going.  Guess I figured that if they had a title, they probably had a story….yeah, not so much.  It was also just a great enticement for them to finish because we heard many intriguing titles and want to read them!!

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Wednesday

We are just between two writing units and this was a preview of the next one.  It was not the first time I’d asked this question, but it was great to see the additional things they could tell me, and even the domain-specific words they could use to talk about it!

Thursday

Ok, so this is not technically a writing warm-up, but it was timely for us and was something we needed to discuss.  You know, sometimes you change the plan. 🙂 And I should mention, they had some great answers and thoughts on what to do next time!

Friday

We have a FABULOUS thing at our school on half-days called Robinson University, which means that my kiddos are not in my room for much of the morning, and so didn’t have time to talk about a writing warm-up.  We just did a math warm-up instead. 🙂

 

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.

Jumbled Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Rethinking the 100th Day: Rm. 202 Weighs In

This whole 100th Day of School thing has got my head spinning.  Last year I thought I had answered the question (at least the 1st grade version of it), but then it came to rear it’s ugly head again this year as last week people starting talking about it and planning again for the “holiday” that falls on Thursday, January 28 in our school.  So I started thinking again.  And you, kind blog readers and Twitter friends, helped my thinking along by asking some really good questions.

For instance, @avivaloca, who was part of the reason I started this whole thing last year, had this simple inquiry:  

Now here’s where I got a little uncomfortable, because I realized my answer wasn’t as nearly as strong as I thought. Well actually, I didn’t even have an answer at that point, because I was asking a different question altogether!

I don’t remember my exact answer (although if you’re curious you can go back to that post and read my response to her comment), but basically it was “Uh….because everybody else is doing it?” “Because I don’t have a really good reason not to?” “Well I don’t know, but let me tell what we’re doing on that day to celebrate! They’re really good ideas…”

Um, yeah. Not my best day. ESPECIALLY as a teacher who likes to pride herself on not just doing things because everyone else is or because they always have been done that way.

So as the title suggests, I did just what I told Aviva I was going to do, and asked my class to weigh in on the whole deal. (By the way, as I was telling them this story and was about to say what our next step was, Makayla said that she knew I was going to ask them about it. Love that they know my moves!).

My first question to the to get our conversation going was “What do you know about WHY we celebrate the 100th Day of School? What’s it all about anyway?” Here’s what they said after having a chance to chat it over with a partner first): 

So what I heard them saying was that it wasn’t really about the number 100 at all, but that it was about stopping to reflect on how far we’d come together, how much we’d learned together and where we were going. My next question was “Well that could happen any time, right? Why the 100th day?”

They had some really good ideas, most of which had to do with the fact that that day is nicely right in the middle of the year; long enough in to have something to look back on and be proud of. Sara made a good point: “It couldn’t be on the 1st or 2nd day of school because we wouldn’t have learned anything yet!” I guess you’re right. ❤

We went on to talk about the origin of the 100th day celebration (which I believe is in kindergarten when kids have actually been in school for 100 days, right?), and I wasted Aviva’s question: “Why do we celebrate this day in 2nd grade? Is 100 really a big deal to us now?” They agreed that no, it’s not.  We’re working on time, money, we’re going to be adding to the 1000s, and we can count WAY higher than 100 already.  It WAS a big deal a couple of years ago, but that number is not such a landmark for us anymore.  We decided that our focus would be on looking back at our learning and reflecting on the many things we know how to do now.

With that in mind, we went back to our list to revise; we would only keep things on it that had to do with reflection, not the parts that were just about 100.  Basically the things that were related to the number 100 were crossed off, although we realized that we had a pretty good list of reflection activities already.

FullSizeRender 15-min As we revisited our ideas, we crossed off ones that were “number based,” as well as the blog posts and reading 100 books because those were things we did last year.  We decided 100 math problems was something we always do anyway, and that 100 facts about places was just what we were doing in Social Studies and so we’d wait on that, too.  The writing and notebook entries were also typical to our daily schedule.  The 100 post cards was crossed off because we’ve been working on letters in Writers’ Workshop and that would make more sense that post cards.  Pretty valid support, I’d say.

We did have a question come up related to puzzles.  Ja’Mia wanted to take that off the list, because at first it seemed to be just about the number.  She asked the class “What do puzzles have to do with learning?” (I was glad she was brave enough to bring this up to everyone, and was eager to hear their answers!)

Here’s the (long) list of what kiddos said about how they fit into our theme:

  • You have to work together.
  • You have to use problem-solving to figure it out.
  • You have to be patient.
  • You have to have self-control and keep it together if you get frustrated.
  • You have to use grit.
  • It’s a challenge (especially if there’s a lot of pieces!).
  • It takes a long time so you have to be willing to work hard.

After hearing what others had to say, she was ok with it.  “Well, if you’re working in a group to do it, I guess it makes sense.”  Good girl.  🙂 (By the way, we applied the same logic to board games, including Millie’s point that games like that help us learn how to win and lose graciously.)

So armed with our new list and some renewed excitement and understanding about the reasons behind this day, we’re getting geared up to have a great day of learning, reflection and fun on Thursday.  Can’t wait to share it with you!

 

100th Day Questions (Again)

Last year I made a jump down to primary after teaching “big” kids for the previous 9 years.  When I last taught 1st graders there was no such thing as celebrating the 100th Day of School.  So when that day came near, I began to consider (like I do with everything else that fits into the “it’s-what-we-do” or “it’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done” category) what we should (or shouldn’t) do on this day in Rm. 202.  I asked many of my own questions, as well as having conversations with others who were asking the same things.

We ended up deciding on taking on a pretty big challenge in our classroom to write 100 blog posts, and secondly to try to read 100 books.  It was a great day of fun, learning, stretching our brains, working together, solving problems and really figuring out just how big 100 is!  It took us all day, but we made our goal of all of those blog posts and boy, were we proud!

So…as we near the 100th day again (next Thursday!), I’m asking 100th Day questions again.  If I have certain thoughts and feelings about it in regards to 1st graders, how do those apply when I’m now teaching those friends as 2nd graders?  Unlike last year, I decided to take that question to my kiddos.

I explained my thinking, and we talked about what we should do; probably our challenge should be bigger than the one we took as 1st graders, right?  We decided to brainstorm all of our smart ideas (thanks Landen for volunteering to be our recorder!) and then whittle them down from there.

Here’s our list:

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While it’s true that there are no “bad” ideas when you’re brainstorming, we did agree to only add things that we thought would truly be challenges for us, and not just things that were “fun” or “cute.”  I’d say that they did a pretty good job of coming up with some fun and meaningful choices.  But how would we decide which of those were the ones we end up doing?

We are currently in an opinion writing unit and I took this as a great opportunity to continue to hone our skills of sharing our thoughts, giving strong reasons and relevant evidence.  So, kiddos were asked to write me a letter (which we’ve also been practicing) to tell me their top 3 choices, along with 3 good reasons why they want to do those things on our 100th day.  What a meaningful and engaging way to put all of our new skills to work!

We haven’t made any final decisions for our big day, but the front runners right now seem to be puzzles, the 100 dot design challenge (building), playing the 100 game (which is something we do regularly in math), and playing board games.  Can’t wait to see what we end up choosing, and then documenting what actually happens–stay tuned!

I’d love to hear about your 100th day questions and thoughts!  Leave me a comment and let’s chat about it!