Design Challenge: Bodies of Water

We have been studying Earth and how it changes.  We’ve talked about slow changes like weathering and erosion; fast changes like earthquakes, volcanoes and floods; landforms  like plateaus, mountains, plains, barrier islands (which I have to admit I didn’t really know about!); and about bodies of water.  Because we needed to breathe a little bit of life into our work after having been discussing and watching videos for a few days, and because I know my kiddos are builders and creators at heart, I tried to figure out a design challenge of sorts that we could try.  There were many options I could have employed (and still might), but I thought that bodies of water would be a nice place to start.

So kiddos chose groups (in 4s) and then I explained their job: Create a representation of the body of water they get (I passed out cards to each group) so that everyone else can guess what it is.  They had options for research before they got started if they needed clarification on the characteristics of their body of water, and they could use whatever supplies in our room that they wanted.  There was a 30 minute time limit.

So do you think you can guess what each one is?  Try it out.  Here is body of water #1, a picture and a video (oh, and the video might have a spoiler, so guess before you watch it!):


Ok, here’s #2:


Try it with group #3:


Group #4 made this:


Check out #5, made with Legos:

FullSizeRender 45-min

Ok, and now that you’re done, check your answers.  Promise that you’ve tried it?

#1–ocean    #2–creek    #3–lake     #4–river       #5–bay

The best part?  We had fun, we learned alot and the only thing I’ve heard since we finished is “When are we going to do this again??” 🙂

Pictures of the Day: May 1, 2015

I am really starting to love this whole picture-of-the-day thing.  Some days’ pics are better than others, but as a whole, I think it’s encouraged me to think about the day as a whole in a new way.  Eventually (or maybe next year!), I would love to have kids in charge of what our POD is each day.  🙂

Engagement is a GREAT thing, and you can see it all over these faces! Don’t you just love that little smile on Emily’s face? We thoroughly enjoyed the stories we heard as part of the Storytelling Festival today!

Look at those proud smiles! 🙂 You did it!

Then there’s the Science Fair. 🙂  Lauren and Millie worked together (with Millie’s little sister) to create a SUPER project for the Robinson STEMfest, which then went on to the Greater StL Science Fair and got a RED RIBBON!  WOOHOO!!  Like Lauren’s mom said, “Red means ROCK’N!!”  Way to go, girls!

Pictures of the Day: April 21, 2015

Have you seen this feature yet?  I was TOTALLY into last week, but so far this week I keep forgetting I am supposed to post a picture.  That’s what I get for trying to go all in.  Oh well, here are a couple of pictures that tell today’s story:


This pic kind of tells it all about what happened today: we worked for a long time on a design challenge, which started with solving a problem about how to organize the materials. We solve lots of problems together in Rm. 202, and often it happens on that red rug. 🙂


More of our wonderful mess! And I wasn’t going to post this HORRIBLE picture of me, but it tells one more part of today’s story: I ran 5 laps for Rm. 202 in Walker’s Club today (hence my rolled up jeans because I was so hot!). Everyone did a CRAZY GOOD job today with racking up lots of miles for our team. 🙂


One more: I couldn’t NOT share this pic of C.J.’s huge smile as he got started on designing something to help take care of his baby meerkat. Love it!

Science Meets Writing Meets Popplet

We were in a little bit of an “in-between” time in writing last week and so I took advantage by doing something new.  I can thank my friend and neighbor in Rm. 201, Mrs. Appelbaum (isn’t the the BEST name for a first grade teacher??), for the idea for how to connect our writing with science.

Ok, a little background…we have just started a unit on animals in science, and so were eager to do some reading and learning.  I got a big ‘ole pile books from the library about all kinds of interesting animals and we got to work.  First we just read, but then we got to thinking about how we could record the things we were finding out as we read.  We had already done some work with Popplet (remember how Diego so ingeniously figured out how to make the camera work?), so I thought they could easily transfer that thinking to new info on animals.  Well, it didn’t go quite that easily, and I decided we needed to do backtrack a little bit.  That meant (by suggestion of Mrs. Appelbaum) that we do some webs on paper (together first, then on their own) first.  So that’s just what we did.

We started with a text about sharks:

CAM01856and then we worked together to write things we learned in our book about sharks:

CAM01849We talked about how to write just blurbs or words, not whole sentences, as well as how to add details.  After I was pretty sure they understood what to do, I set them free to try it out for themselves.  It was our first try, but still, I’d say they did a pretty great job!


Sara uses her smart reading strategies to learn about ladybugs.


Makayla, Kylie and Lauren all hard at work on their animal webs.


Landen made a web about gorillas, and even used more than one book on the topic to collect his information. Then, he turned his paper over and did another web about moths. 🙂


Jacob read about leopards. His web ended up filling up almost the whole page!


Amelia and Millie working hard on their webs. Millie, who learned about hummingbirds, ended up reading at least 4 different books about her topic and adding loads and loads of facts. Amelia was researching stingrays.


Nate is getting ready to add his topic to the middle of his web.


Evan recorded facts about red foxes.


Ella Marie was super excited about learning more about bees!


Thomas found a book about bearded dragons for his work.


Ava found a book on frogs to use for her web.


Charlie was checking out a book on zebra sharks.


Diego’s learning about tiger sharks!


Peyton’s web showed many things he’d learned about hammerhead sharks! We had many different kinds of shark books on this day and they were all very popular (everyone at his table had a different shark book to read!)!

Oh, and the part about Popplet in the title?  The next day, many kiddos took the information from this draft of their webs and transferred it to Popplets on their iPads.  Some started brand new Popplets using the same process that they’d practiced here.  The best part is that this is something they’ll be able to repeat again and again as they research new topics and organize the information they learn!  SWEET!

Ok, finally, a slideshow of our work from this day:

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Halloween on Thanksgiving

Ok, so I feel like this post comes with many apologies.  Yes, I know that Halloween was 3 weeks ago, and I know that Thanksgiving is this week and I know that the best blog posts are not just boatloads of pictures thrown at you, but I could not let first grade Halloween be forgotten–even if it is a little late.  So here you go with lots of Halloween cuteness, and even some Halloween learning, too.  Hope you enjoy! (And that you forgive me for my tardiness! 🙂 )

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First Grade to the Zoo!

This is the first year I’ve taken kids to the zoo in the fall.  And you know, I wonder why we’ve never done it before!?  Who needs to be there in May when it’s hot and ALL of the other teachers around town also have the idea of going to the zoo during their animal unit?  We had the idea to go now, when we thought we’d have a chance for good weather as well as a chance to front-load our kiddos with information for when we do study animals later this year.  We tried it last year in 5th grade for our study on the Cahokians (went to Cahokia Mounds BEFORE the unit instead of after!) and it was great!  Once we got into the unit, there were so many times where we could tie our conversations to specific experiences we knew that all of our learners had been a part of.  This made the connections they created even more powerful!

That being said, we knew it this would be a great idea, and THANKFULLY we got one of those sunny, crisp and cool kind of all days instead of one of those St. Louis fall days that are cold, rainy and dreary!  Our kids were excited, we had loads of helpful parents and we were on our way!

Our kiddos went with a job–to take the temperature of certain places in the zoo and record the time as well as the temperature.  This would tie to the work in our Matter & Energy unit where they are expected to know how to do just this thing.  They decided on the places we’d record, as well, which made this an even more meaningful task.

Thanks to Mrs. Ross, Ms. Branco and Mrs. Buesching (plus a few of my own!) I have LOADS of pictures to share with you.  While I should probably caption every last one of them, I am just going to show them all to you here in a fabulous slide show.  It’s really hard not to smile when you see how stinking cute all the kids–and the animals–are!

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Just one more thing…I asked everyone what their favorite thing about the trip was and here’s what they said.  Priceless answers 🙂 :

Charlie: “Being in Landen’s group!”

Landen: “The picture I took with the bear!”

Amelia: “When I saw the giraffes…”

Makayla: “The elephants.”

Sara: “Seeing the zebras and being with my friends.”

JKB: “Penguins.”

Lauren: “We joined up with another group and spent time with our friends and took pictures together!”

Ava: “Elephant poop.”

Kylie: “The seal tunnel.”

C.J.: “Seeing the tigers, lions, giraffes, and zebras.”

Emily: “The reptile house.”

Millie: “We saw the seal show before lunch!”

Ella Marie: “The log with snake eggs and the zebras.”

Nate: “When we saw an eagle.”

Jacob: “I ate a second lunch.”

Peyton: “I got to stand by an eagle.”

Thomas: “Lions!”

Diego: “Lions!”

We had a great time and learned a ton!  I’m excited to see how this learning connects with our animal study that comes this Spring. 🙂  THANK YOU to the parents who helped make this happen!  What a fun day at one of the best zoos in the country! 🙂

Cup Stacking Challenge

You may have seen a post floating around Facebook and Pinterest about a STEM Cup Stacking Challenge:

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 8.45.16 PM(photo courtesy of

It’s similar to the Marshmallow Challenge that I’ve done several years with my 5th graders: build something really tall with your supplies and your team, using cooperation and problem-solving.  Great idea for any group of kiddos, but I especially love it for littler ones who are just beginning to learn about what it takes to work together, try something and have it fail, then rework the plan to try again.  This activity fits the focus we have on being gritty, as well as having a growth mindset and trying even when things are hard.  And yes, the first time we did it, it was hard. 🙂

Cup Challenge Take 1:

The first time we did this challenge, kiddos had 30 cups, their small group and 12 minutes.  Most thought they were done in about 2 minutes, and most used the same strategy.  Do you see how all the towers look the same?  One thing that also happened during this is talking.  Loud talking.  And much arguing about what to do next.  So when we were finished with this first try, we sat together to talk about it.  We talked about plusses (things that went well) and deltas (things we could change next time):

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They noticed that our list of things to change was REALLY LONG and go busy thinking of ways to do things differently when we tried it again. (When I mentioned that we could do it again, by the way, there were many cheers from the rug!) Working on the floor instead of tables was suggested, as well as not being able to leave your own team’s spot.  We also agreed that they would get one warning about their voices and then any teams that were still loud would have to work the rest of the time in silence.  Oh, and one more change was more time–they got 18 minutes instead of 12 (which was really the original plan anyway, we just ran out of time).

Cup Challenge Take 2:

Check out our chart the second time around.  They were SO EXCITED about how the columns had changed!

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What a change that happened when kiddos reflected on what worked–and what didn’t–and then planned how to redo the challenge in a different way.  I’m excited to see all of the many things they learned here, and how those lessons touched so many subjects at one time! Way to go, Rm. 202 kids! 🙂

An Uncertain Future

I met with my team today–the fabulous Mrs. Hong and Ms. Turken–to talk about how to integrate reading, writing and sci/ss, as well as to update our curriculum calendar.  We only had 2 hours blocked out on the calendar, and so in some ways those were really big plans.  And we started 45 minutes late.  🙂

So, as we sat down and tried to tackle reworking the curriculum calendar (based on new Common Core standards, district resources and just things we wanted to change), we realized we had lots of work to do BEFORE we could address that problem.  You know how it goes, before you can do the job you actually sat down to do, you have to do this and before that you have to do this….we were in that boat.

We are wanting to reorganize our thinking and our schedule to allow for more integration, working Social Studies and Science topics into everything rather than having things so compartmentalized and isolated from each other.  But we had plans to UbDize (yep, just made up that word) our SS curriculum and organize our units around common EQs for each quarter.  But like I said before, it’s easier said than done.

And then there’s my crazy brain that isn’t just quite ready to think about these things.  For one thing, I have to have my space all done before I can planning for what we will do in that space.  Since it’s not even August, I do not have my classroom put together yet.  Granted, I do have all of my furniture where it will go and have big ideas for where things will go and what it will look like, but it’s not done yet.  And I have plans for how I want to redo parts of my classroom library.  And I haven’t met my class yet.

That last part is really the biggest piece of the puzzle that makes it hard for me to complete the calendar.  So in the mean time, I feel like I am facing an

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I know–you’re thinking, “Well, duh, Mrs. Bearden.  Isn’t the beginning of the year always uncertain?  You never really know what the school year will bring or what every detail of every day will look like.”  And no, I don’t have a crystal ball or any tarot cards, and so I guess in a way I always face an uncertain future at this point in the year.

But the reason why it so affects me is because I have such a hard time making decisions about things I’ll do and ways to go without actually knowing my students.  So much of where we go and how we get there depends on what my students need, and where they are when we start.  I have information and data about these things on paperwork (transition reports, testing scores, Lexile levels, etc.) from previous teachers, but until I really see what it looks like for actual kids in my actual space, I can’t really get a feel for it.  (My family has always said that I don’t have much of an imagination–maybe this is proof of that! 🙂 )

But obviously I can’t just not make plans.  I can’t not work with my team.  I can’t not try to figure it out now, because I owe it to these new students of mine to have at least an idea of where we will go, and how we might get there.  If not, then we’ll never get there.  And that’s definitely not an option.

Along the way I’ll tweak the plans–adjusting and reworking based on personalities, learning styles, academic and social needs, interests–and I’ll be totally ok with that.  And then, at the end of the year, I’ll look back at the plans we made around the table today in the summer and laugh, because of how different they are.  But I gotta start somewhere.

How does your “summer brain” work?  In what order do you do your work–space first or plans first? How does your team work before school starts to map our curriculum/unit plans?  I’d love your thoughts and/or advice! 🙂

Dichotomous Keys, WebQuests and the Zoo–Part 1

We have been busy scientists lately in Rm. 202.  Let me tell you about it! (And also let me apologize for not writing about Science very often.  This may be one of the first posts I’ve ever included about our lives as scientists…boo. 😦 )

During 3rd quarter we were busy learning about many things.  The latest science unit we ventured through was one on Living Systems, specifically animal classification.

One thing we focused on was dichotomous keys.  What?  You’ve never heard of them?  Well before I started teaching about them in 4th grade several years ago, I hadn’t either!  Well at least I didn’t know that’s what they were called.  Let me show you what I mean:

Dichotomous key to determine Silly Scientist names of common items

Dichotomous key to determine Silly Scientist names of common items

The goal is for students to be able to use keys like this to identify animals, but we started somewhere else.  With shoes.  We worked first to CREATE a dichotomous key, so we’d know how it works, and then we practiced using it.

We began by putting everyone’s shoes in a big pile on the floor.  Then, we had to decide two groups that we could classify all those shoes into (see, the dichotomy part–two groups).  Here’s how we started:

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Shoes were put into one of two groups: boots or not boots.

Then, with two groups, we tackled the “boots” pile first.  Again, we asked ourselves what two groups we could make.  This was pretty easy, and so we decided on:

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Only two choices with this one! There were two boots, one was brown and the other was not. We could quickly label those as Natalie and ZB202’s shoes.

Next we had a big ‘ole pile of everyone else’ shoes to classify.  We started like this:

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We looked at shoelaces on all those “not boots.” They all happened to be tennis shoes, by the way.

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Two more: this time looking at the inside of the shoes

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The last step here was pretty easy: only two shoes left, one was a Nike and the other was not. So we could then label one of them as Anna’s and the other as Damonte’s.

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The other side (colored insides) was a little bigger, so needed more groups: tab/no tab, then Nike/not Nike, and pink/not pink and blue/not blue.

After that pile was classified and labeled, we could tackle the other side of the “not boots” bunch, which was colored shoelaces.

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You can see that we had many more small categories in this group, but went through the same process: what two groups could we break the larger one into?

And so once we were finished, our key looked like a beautiful tree, and ended with everyone’s names.  We could now use that key to determine whose shoe was whose.


Devan uses our dichotomous key to identify Sophia’s shoe.

Here is Natalie in action, proving how she knows who shoe she has in her hand:

After we had practiced with this dichotomous key that we built, kiddos had a go at the one from the top up there, where they had to identify the silly scientific names of these common items:

1. a die

2. a small paperclip

3. a large paperclip

4. a piece of chalk

5. a popsicle stick

6. a colored marble

7. a white marble

8. a sharpened pencil

9. an unsharpened pencil

10. an eraser

Could you do it?  Use this dichotomous key and tell us what you think the names of each of these items are.  Good luck!

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EDUC 573: Week 7–WebQuests, BYOD and Educational Equity

Yes, all those things have something in common.  Mainly that I learned about all of them this week. 🙂

One of the big projects for this class I’m taking is a WebQuest.  While the idea of a WebQuest is not a new one (the concept was created by Bernie Dodge in 1995), it’s a new one to me.  Somehow, I’ve gotten through all of my education thus far–including the teaching part–without having done one, using one or creating one.

One thing I wanted to make sure of was that I made a WebQuest that was actually applicable to my classroom and my students; this is hopefully true of all assignments in grad school, after all!   Eventually I landed on making it applicable to a science unit on animals we were about to begin, since it could be self-paced and open-ended like most of the other projects I assign in science.

Outside of the content piece of the project, there was also the process of using Google Sites to create the website housing the actual WebQuest.  The funny part to me while I was working was how much I had ragged on Google last week, and then how the usefulness of so many Google Apps became clear; if only my students had their Google Drives up and running so that they could download and save their papers to use later, or how they could better collaborate if they could use a Google Doc to record their research–at school or at home.  The whole hangup I had with it last week was that I couldn’t see the necessity of it or how it would work with elementary and all it took was one project where I needed it for it to all make sense!  That was the connection I was looking for, right there in front of me.

Another topic this week was the article Left to Their Own Devices by Jeff Weinstock (2010).  While the article was all about the rationale for BYOD, as well as the difficulties districts face in trying to figure it all out, I was touched by a completely different topic than that of the technology involved.  Rather than focusing on the money, time, or infrastructure involved in having students bring their own devices, I zeroed in on the educational equity piece of it all.

The article began:

At Empire High School in Vail, AZ, every student has a laptop, a fully loaded MacBook supplied free of
charge—to the student, at least—courtesy of the Vail School District. “We provide the entire experience,” says
Vail CIO Matt Federoff.
The 1-to-1 program is a cornerstone of Vail’s Beyond Textbooks
initiative, whose goal is an all-digital curriculum. So facing the decision on whether to expand the program to
another of its high schools, Cienega, the district made the obvious choice: No way.

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but to me it seems that one school got the whole package of a 1:1 roll out and the other got nothing. While I completely agree that the definition of fair is not “same,” the scenario seems a little unfair to me.  What if I can’t bring my own device to school?  What if I don’t have one?  What if my phone only makes phone calls and isn’t “smart?”   Should I not be allowed to access the curriculum?

I agree that the whole topic of technology in schools and BYOD and 1:1 is not that simple, it’s not a black/white thing with easy answers.  Perhaps the school district was making a good decision in going 1:1 in one place and not another, there could be more to the story that I don’t know.  But isn’t one reason for going 1:1 in the first place to level the playing field?  To give all students an equal chance?

Ok, now I’m rambling….so I’ll ask you: what connection to you see between BYOD, 1:1 initiatives and educational equity?  Tell me your stories and share your thoughts. 🙂