Aug 13, 2016

Make Math Real!

math quote
graphics: red pepper and madscrapper teaches
 Isn't this quote so true.  If you really think about it, math is part of almost everything that we do and any career that we choose.  But as a teacher of young little learners, it has been ingrained in me to focus on literacy.  And while, students must learn to read and it has the utmost importance, we can't put our math instruction on the back burner.

I know that I did.

I always felt like I was not "good" at math.  It did not make sense to me.  I have heard this same statement year after year at conferences with parents.  Because math did not make sense to me, I did not place as much importance and value on it during the first few years of my teaching life. And I think this can happen not only in the classrooms, but in the homes, as well.   Reflecting back now, I was just not taught math in a way that made sense to me and I am sure many parents are in that same boat.

So when it comes to educating our students in math, sometimes we have to re-educate ourselves, as well.

This past week my teammate and I presented at a local conference about the importance of making math REAL to students.  What I mean by this is connecting math to the everyday life around them.  When Jess and I sit down to plan we always start a lesson that will connect them to the Now and make it relevant to them.

When we presented, we decided to take each Common Core domain and share ways that we try to make it "Real."  Then we had the audience share out ways that they do this in their own classrooms.  We listed them on big sheets of paper.

Our hope is that everyone would come away with ideas to make math meaningful to our young students.  So much about our math instruction can easily sway towards abstract.  But if we can make it as concrete as possible, our students will have a better understanding, appreciation, and attitude in the end.

One thing we offered our audience was a graphic organizer with PreK-2 standards listed by domain.  Then there was a section to write down ideas to make each standard concrete and "real."  One more column was added for notes.  This may be where you write down what bombed, went well, or ideas you have for the next year.

 It is a simple tool, but an important one, that can help us to think about our little learners and their need to make connections to the world around them.  If you can use this, please just click on the image above and it is yours :)

Aug 5, 2016

Family Involvment: Game Nights

How does family involvement work at your school?  Every school is so different.  It has been interesting to watch the evolution of events since I moved to the Title I position at my school.  Reaching out to families is a component to Title I funding.  My first year as a Title I teacher, my team hosted a family night.  We had 1 attendant.
Flash forward to my 6th year in this position (is that right?)...

It was not the fault of the families that no one came to my first family event.  It was my fault for not being engaging.  I want families in our schools.  I want them to participate, talk, see what we are doing, and help me to be the best educator I can be for their kids.

So this past school year, we did things a bit differently.  First of all, we had the Readbox.  I know I have talked about it a million times.  But it was a great way to be outside every day, talk to families, and get books into the hands of their kids.

But...We also added a Monthly Game Night.

Honestly, we were not sure how this was going to work out.  But we knew that we wanted our students to have more opportunities to problem solve, be critical thinkers, and play.  We thought a Game Night would be a good idea because with the influx of video games, iPhones, etc. Board games just aren't pulled out as often.

But where to start?  What did we want it to look like each month?  How would we get the families to come?

The Games
We started with a schedule.  All the dates were picked and we decided to have a monthly theme.  One month was all about checkers...another month was centered around Pictionary...while another was classic board games.  Here is what our months look like:
September--Puzzles       October--Pictionary    December--Checkers    January--Board Games    March --Math games     April --Create a Game    
May --All games
The Food
But games were not the only thing we added to these nights.  We also included food.  Because food always makes things better. :)  Since we are a primary building, we added some alliteration to the food that we served.  Some months it was a full meal and other months it was just a snack.  A few examples: puzzles and pizza; hot chocolate and checkers; pictionary and popcorn; spaghetti and subitizing!

examples of food to be served

 The Decor
Typically when we have big school events, I love to dress the part and decorate the school.  But our game nights were happening every month.  I could not possibly keep up with all that decorating and planning.  So we didn't.  The game nights were simple, to the point.  We had the games and the food.  And you know what...that was just enough!

The Logistics
Invitations were sent home a few times before the night of the event.  For every family that RSVP'd, we put a bracelet reminder on the child the day of the event.  Once the families arrived, they signed in and grabbed the game, and started playing. 15 minutes into the event, my teammate and I would make a quick announcement about what we do as Title I teachers, why we picked the game of the night (strategic thinking, problem solving, etc), and how it connected to classroom learning. Food would be served, once the games were well underway or winding down.  Each game night lasted for one hour and we asked them to fill out a quick evaluation on their way out.  And many time we had something for them to take home with them: pad of paper to play pictionary at home, copy of a checker board, or subitizing card game.
Hitting the standards in a fun way

We also advertised a bit for the event by wearing our "Game On" shirts.  The kids would comment all day long..."Oh! Game night is tonight!"

The Impact
What we found is that families came!  Families had fun!  We had fun!  It was a great way to get to know families, interact with our students in a fun way, and share our learning standards in a creative, engaging way.  It did take me away one night a month from my family.  So they came to me and played along.

The Cost
Honestly, the cost was not bad at all.  For the games, we asked for donations from staff.  Old puzzles, board games, or large pads of paper for Pictionary were all donated.  We also found some at garage sales.  The checkers boards were just printed off on cardstock with two colored counters. And the math games were just the games we were already using in the classrooms.
Most of our cost came from the food.  So we got very creative.  I watched for sales on pasta, macaroni and cheese, or bags of pretzels.  We picked foods that would serve many.  Because of this, we were able to feed a lot of people for a very small price.

Game Nights are going to occur again this year.  My teammate and I loved them!  We looked forward to them every month because they were just a lot of fun.  I have created a small pack for you, in case you would like to host one game night or many!  It includes the invitation, bracelets, and raffle tickets.

Are there any ways that you engage families that you really enjoy?  I would love to add them to my toolbox!

Jul 31, 2016

Back to School Giveaway

Yep...It is almost August and time for my brain to start thinking about back to school and what I need to get done.  The TPT sale is upon us tomorrow and I know I have some purchases to make.  Here are some amazing teacher-bloggers pulling together to get you started with a $40 giveaway!

What is on my wish list?  My girls have really enjoyed playing "Spot It."  Have you tried that game?  I've heard some good things about the phonics and sight word versions from OCD in First.  I'm also interested in the "I Read, You Read" series from Aylin Claahsen.

What is it that you are looking to bring into your classroom this upcoming year?  Here are just a couple of ideas?  Perhaps more Scoot Games?  Or ways to look at number differently?

You could even need family event ideas?  What if you needed more differentiated phonics practice?

Whatever it is that you need for your classroom this year, I hope that all the Back to School sales are helpful! Just click on the link below to enter the giveaway to help you gather some of your TPT materials!

Jul 29, 2016

Reading Rituals

It is rounding the corner to the end of July.  How did that happen?

My goal this summer was one word: Inspiration.  I wanted to be inspired by the PD that I took, the books that I read, and the things that I did.  In turn, I was not online as much, blogged even less, and created nothing.  But life ebbs and flows.  And so it is okay.

Last night I met with my teammate and we discussed some of the learning that came out of my different PD events this summer.  Looking at it collectively and being reflected.  Inspiration occurred.  And most of it can fall into one category: Reading Rituals.

I went to a session this summer at Nerd Camp titled "Motivating Readers without Incentives" by two ladies from  The book that started reading rituals for them was "Reconsidering Read Aloud" by Mary Lee Hahn.  The presenters explained that rituals bring people together and connect people to a larger community.  Reading rituals.

So by looking back at my notes I came up with a list of reading rituals that I would like to try to incorporate this year into my school/guided reading groups.  You may do many of these or this list may help you to rethink something you are currently doing.  Some of the ideas I have gone back and pinned.

1. Books We've Read Display

My teammate and I will do this with her whole group books.  But I also want to have a running record of our guided reading books.  Because as first graders they really need to see the massive amount of books they really are reading each and every week!  Here are some pins that I found for these ideas (you can click on them for further details from that author):

2. Staff and student book selfies.  I want the students to see that I am always reading too!  And I want them to have their pictures taken with their favorites.  There are so many ways to do this and I foresee myself putting up a plate stand in my guided reading area with my "current read."  Here are few pins:

 3. One goal this year is to make their thinking about books more visible.  During guided reading, I want to have an "exploratory notebook" for me to write down any thinking, wondering, or questions that they have about the book we are currently reading. (Betsy Hubbard has many posts about this concept!)  As first graders, I want to honor their thinking and know that it is important.  Another thought is to have a "glitter board" or frame where we write down favorite quotes from a book we are currently reading.  Here are a few pins that can lead you to more information:

 4. Book Talks.  At the Scholastic Summit, I learned so much about the power of book talks.  I would like to integrate this into an announcement with books from our Readbox.  My hope is that after much modeling, some students may be interested in doing the book talks for me!  Scholastic has some resources on Book Talks and I think I need to watch many YouTube videos to help me out.

5. I love this one: end of the year book signing.  The class picks their favorite book from the year and they all sign their names to the inside cover.  It is a way for you to remember their favorite book and future students!

A few other things that I would like to do is add some student published books into my guided reading lessons somehow and also into the Readbox.  I want to encourage students to look at all parts and angles of a book (spine, cover pages, smell, etc), and Skype.  My students need to meet more authors!

What are some of your reading rituals that you think would benefit my students.  I think all these small rituals are going to add up to something HUGE!!

**All of the pins in this post do link to the original owner.  Please click to learn more about each one of them.

Jul 24, 2016

What is Mazza?

I just spent the last week at Mazza.  Earlier in the year I had made the decision that my summer would be filled with new learning, books, and inspiration.  And this has held true through a large selection of library books checked out, new experiences in the West, through passion and energy at Nerd Camp in Michigan, and by listening and absorbing the power of illustrations at the Mazza.

The Mazza is within Findley University in Ohio.  The walls are filled with original works of art from picture book illustrators.  Their goal is to promote literacy through picture books and they do so through the free museum, tours, conferences, and many other learning opportunities.

To look at the original works of art by my favorite authors and illustrators...speechless.

When I stand in front of the images above...I get chills.

The Mazza Summer conference was filled with authors and illustrators.  Some I knew and some I didn't.  But I gained so much from each one of them.  I learned about their background, process, reasons, path, and future goals.

There are autographing sessions and dinners each night with the artists.  Which provides another way to get to know, learn, and grow from each of them.

But what is my take away for me to bring back to my teaching and students.  Yes.  It was cool to meet authors, hang out with my blogging buddy Jennifer, and see some of my favorite art works.  But how does that impact what I do in the classroom?

This was an important question for me to ask myself because I was away from my family for 5 days.  I had just returned from Nerd Camp, where I had a fire lit under me for the love and passion of reading that I want for my students and a long list of things that I want to add to my teaching this year.

My answer: Connection.  I don't think I realized how disconnected I had become from my love of picture books.  When I read a book, I am always looking for its teaching value in the classroom.  What can I use this for?  Will it teach inferring, predicting, or author's purpose?

By listening to each author/illustrator, I felt connected to why they wrote the text.  I was reminded to look at the color, the line, and empty space.  I was reminded to pay attention to the words that were chosen and not chosen to be used.

By listening to each author/illustrator, I was reminded how powerful it is to feel connected.  That I can take this back to my classroom.  When we feel connected to the books we are reading, our love and passion grows. Our students love and passion grows.

I am thankful to Jennifer, the Mazza, and the authors/illustrators for reminding me of what it means to be connected.

(This post was purely from my love of Mazza.  There was no other reason that I wrote this post.)

Jul 5, 2016

Big Rocks

As our school book study of "Creating a Culture of Thinking" by Ron Ritchhart came to a close in June, I was reflecting on my big "take-aways."  And what I decided was that I need to...
  • add more collaborative learning into my small group instruction
  • pay attention to the my language and ensure that it promotes thinking
  • my time needs to reflect what I value
  • analyze thinking routines to determine what I can utilize consistently in small groups
  • use language that provides feedback rather than just praise
Time seems to be a big focus for me these past few years because it is a tricky thing.  Balance is challenging.

One story that Ron Ritchhart shared was about a professor that used big rocks, pebbles, and sand to demonstrate the usage of time and values. (Click here for a short video explaining this.  Or click here for a short story about it.) Now, I have heard this story before.  But sometimes when we hear things at different points in our lives, we have different reactions.  This story really struck me at this point in my life.

And so I thought about it.
And thought about it.

Finally, I came with my "big rocks" or the things that I value the most and want to spend the majority of my time on.  I tried to word things in a way that would reflect my personal and professional life.

Rock 1: Varied Experiences
One thing I focus on with my own children and in my life is trying out new things, going to new places, or traveling (even if it is just to a different road I have not been on in my town).  These experiences can happen within the walls of our home or outside them.  But I want the same for my students.  It just looks a little different.  These experiences come through books, experiments, or games.  But for both my personal and professional life, I want to experience what is around me.

Rock 2: Love for Learning
This encompasses my hopes for my two girls, all my students I have taught and will teach, and myself. I want this to drive my instruction.

Rock 3: Professional Development
This may seem like an unusual rock.  But when I blog, read blogs, attend workshops, and read...I am growing.  And I want to keep growing throughout my career and life. The growth that I make in the professional sense, impacts me personally and vice versa.  So this rock is important to me.

Rock 4: Mental Healthiness
Mental health can encompass a lot. I want to help others (including myself) to believe in themselves and to be kind.  This is going to help their inward and outward health.

I want to be sure that I focus on these values as I schedule my time. Below is a link to a graphic that I will be using to help me display these "rocks."

Big Rock Graphic by Emily Marko

What are your big rocks?


Jun 6, 2016

Connecting Time to Values

Last summer my building did a book study today with Reading Reflex by McGuinness.  It was a lot of fun to get together each week throughout the month of June and talk about school but also work to build a better understanding for what we each do in our classrooms.  It turned out that we utilized a lot of the information that we gathered from the book study during our school year.  I saw little pieces of the book throughout the different classrooms that I work in.

This year we decided to hold another book study as a building.  We decided on "Creating Cultures of Thinking" by Ron Ritchhart.

 I know that several bloggers read this book last year and posted about it.  And I did start to read it last year but felt the impact of the book would be stronger if it was read as a school group.  It is one thing for me to tell my teammates what I read, it is another thing for them to read it themselves, but it is awfully powerful for us to read it together and discuss its impact.

One of the chapters that I needed to read this week is titled "Time."  Yes, Mr. Ritchhart, please help me with this!!  There was a paragraph within this chapter that I keep coming back to in my head again and again.  I wanted to share it with you..
He starts off the paragraph by listing some of the pressures that we have as teachers such as tests, curriculum, number of students, etc.  Then he says,
"These pressures are real.  Furthermore, it is certainly reasonable that an individual might not be happy with the way he or she is allocating time.  The key takeaway here is that our choices, even if we aren't happy with them, are sending messages to our students about what is deemed important and worthwhile in the classroom.  That allocation, even if it isn't what we want, is nonetheless shaping the culture of the classroom." (p.98)
Later in the chapter he asks two questions that connect really well to this paragraph and they say a lot about our values and priorities: "How am I spending my energy now?  How should I be spending my energy so that it is consistent with my deepest held values?" (p.108)

This speaks volumes to me not only in my teaching but in my home life.  What messages am I sending to my students, my two girls, my husband, my friends, my family.  I know there are moments when I allocate time for something that I do not value.  It is time for me to take a look at this and make some changes.