Sep 9, 2018

Starting With the Why

Did I tell you?  I have a new math teammate this year.  It has been a lot of fun to share ideas, listen to ideas, and learn about new resources.  I can be awfully opinionated when it comes to math because for so long I had no knowledge, no deep understanding, and no confidence.  Because it took me until my adulthood to have a foundational understanding in basic math, I now have opinions.  Our students deserve the best math instruction.

And when there is a new teammate on board, I have to be sure to listen.  Then share my thoughts.  But listening is key because I have more to learn.

This year Ryan started off his year like we have done in first grade previously, but with some added twists!

But let's back up, just a bit.

Many times at parent teacher conferences we hear, "they don't have a math brain."  Or, "I wasn't good at math, so they are not either."  Basically, there are already preconceived notions about math.  Very often we have found that young children do not understand why math is important in everyday life.  So we have to take time at the beginning of the year to start with the why.

Ryan did just that this year.  He started with a simple web.  It posed the question, "Why do we need math?"  There may have been some cricket noises, but a couple of reasons were given.  This is to be expected and perfectly okay.  Because now the brainstorming can begin!

why do we need math powerpoint

This Powerpoint has slides within it from around my neighborhood. Phone numbers, speed limits, gas prices, and addresses are some of the images included.  Once you display a slide, just ask the students to talk about it.  Share their thoughts about how it relates to math and why it is so important to us. Just click on the image to grab it for free.

Ryan also used a video this year.

why is math important
 As the powerpoint focuses on signs and symbols around the community, this video focuses on professions and actions you take to utilize math skills.  Sports, construction, shopping, and driving are all included.

So what did the kids come up with?  Remember that web that Ryan started with the students?  They came back to that and added to their thinking.  This picture speaks louder than my words.  The blue is before the Powerpoint and video.  The purple is after.

Conversation in the classroom is so powerful.  Just look at what it did!

Aug 20, 2018

Classroom Spaces

The space we inhabit on a day to day basis is important.  We all have our own styles, comfort levels, and quirks.  It can make sharing a space with little ones easy or hard.  It can make sharing a space with other adults easy or hard.  Regardless of all of this, one thing is pretty clear...starting the year off with a fresh start is essential.

This does not mean you buy all new things or you have a new "look" to your room each year.  Nope.  It just means that you feel fresh, organized (whatever that means for you), and ready to welcome a new batch of faces.

I no longer have a room since I teach in a smaller group format.  But my little corner is an important one to me.  So it is clean and ready to be added to by the readers and writers that I will work with.  As I walked around my building today, everyone was working so hard to make our students feel welcome.  And I found that there were special parts to each room that I walked into.

When I walked into both of these second grade classrooms, there was an inviting feel. The soft greens and browns of this room felt calming.  The cute cacti hanging out around the room give it some fun pops of color! I loved her empty boards around the room that were ready to be filled up by students.

The other room is splashed with pinks, yellows, and greens.  The colors are fun and engaging.  This small centerpiece hangs over a round table, giving it a feel of importance and excitement.

Our third second grade teacher has been working to integrate flexible seating into her classroom.  When I walked into her room this year, I found a small picnic table.  I was drawn to it immediately.  The students are surrounded by many different seating options to fit their diverse needs!

As I moved into the first grade classrooms, I found different parts of each room that I gravitated towards.  Our newest first grade team member, had freshly painted boards eagerly awaiting to be filled by students and a ready to use calming corner.  This little area has books, a stuffed buddy, and a cozy chair.
One of my favorite spots in Maria's room is her golden frames!  These quickly get filled up by "golden" work completed by students.  It may be a well constructed hook or an illustrated picture that is showcased within the frame. But it means so much to a firstie to be "shown-off" in one of these frames.

In our third first grade classroom, I seek out all of the stations.  Each one is filled with a variety of books to be explored.  This is the listening station.  But as you can see, there are baskets and baskets to be rooted through once the listening is through.  There is no place in these classroom walls that is not within arms length of a basket of books.

In each of our kindergarten classrooms, my eyes immediately darted to certain parts of their rooms.  Each classroom offers places for these new little learners to explore.  I could not stop checking out all the books on display in this bookcase.  I love to see books out in the open and ready to be looked at and read over and over again.  It is especially important for the children that may be receiving their first experiences with books.
Along with all the books, I found more play in each of the kindergarten classrooms.  Yay!!  It was so exciting to see a kitchen set, grill, doll house, tool set.  For so many teachers, this type of play had to be removed from the classroom for more "academic" purposes.  But we know so much learning is acquired through play.   It is back!  And I am so happy to see it.

In our third kindergarten classroom, I found a rather inviting circle.  This is the whole group area.  But I really liked the way it was set up.  It felt inclusive.  There was no open sides to the area.  But rather, the circle had seating, an easel, and a wall surrounding it.  To me, it felt like a place where everyone would fit, everyone would belong.

Each classroom has such different things to offer because each classroom is constructed by a teacher alongside their students.  Our teachers and students hold the heart to the classroom and the environment within it.
I am excited for a new year.  And we are ready for our students.

Aug 15, 2018

Organizing...Many Pieces!

As we head back into our classrooms (or spaces), we clean, purge, organize and prepare the best we can for the little humans that will be with us for the next 10 months.  It is a fresh time.

Puzzles have been a staple in our first grade classrooms the past couple years when we realized that it was becoming a lost art.  It provides great critical thinking, problem solving, and organizational skills for out students.  But many did not know how to complete one.  So we worked on this.
This year my teammate has added memory games.  These help to support student concentration and visual memory. Not to mention, it is a way for students to ease into their days calmly.

organizing many pieces

One problem...both games require many pieces.  And we are talking about little kids-pieces get dropped, lost, misplaced. (Okay-let's be honest-I'm an adult and do the exact same thing to small pieces).

My teammate has put each of the memory games and puzzles into small plastic containers.  They are clearly labeled with the picture of the game/puzzle on them.  Students know exactly what they are working on because they are so clearly marked.

organizing many pieces

She also added a number to each piece and container.  This means when a piece does end up on the floor, a table, or another box--it can easily be placed back into the correct plastic box.

organizing many pieces

Sometimes it can be these small changes that add calmness to a classroom.  And that calmness might be just what a student needs.

Jul 31, 2018

Let's Encourage...With Books

As each new year begins, I look forward to what I will teach my students.  My vision has always been relatively the same, but as I grow and change, my lessons for my students do too.  For the past few years, we have taken the first one and a half to two weeks to focus on explicitly teaching students the meaning of curiosity, bravery, trustworthiness, strategic thinking, responsibility, respect, and persistence.  This may sound like a big task.  It is not expected for a first grader to master these skills (I'm still working on them as an adult!).  But working on them throughout the year is important.  And (of course) there is a book for that!


Being brave is all about taking risks.  This looks different for each one of our students and they need to be explicitly taught this fact.  For one student, bravery may be in the form of raising their hand to answer a question.  For another student, it may be taking risk to try a new food they have never heard of before.

Courage by Bernard Waber illustrates some everyday risks that can pop up in our lives.  While Jabari Jumps does the same, it focus on just one child and one risk...jumping off the diving board!  Girl Running by Annette Pimentel illustrates the risk Bobbi Gibb took to run a marathon at a time when women were not welcome.
One more great book to mention is Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon.  This young girl stands up for who she is and that takes guts.


We know that it takes a lot of love, consistency, and time to build trust.  In order to build independent students, we do need to maintain a level of trust.  Trust to use the restroom, walk the halls, or to work at a station.  Plus, we need to ensure that our students trust us to teach them, love them, and to create a safe environment.

The Big Fat Enormous Lie does a great job of illustrating what it looks like and feels like to be sitting with a lie all day.  This book can lead to a lot of great conversation.  The Empty Pot by Demi really shows the importance of honesty, even when you think you may not benefit.  The classic, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, really does demonstrate what can happen when you are dishonest over and over again.

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is a powerful skill to possess.  We must tap into this skill when any problem arises in our lives.  It allows children to be problem solvers and fosters independence.  One important thing to note is that our students need to also acknowledge that there can be multiple ways to solve a problem.  Discuss what other ways the problems could have been solved.

Here are just a few fiction titles that spotlight characters that needed to think strategically in order to solve a problem.  Picnic with Oliver by Mika Song is a story about two friends on a quest to have a picnic together.  Unfortunately a storm pops up, leaving one friend stranded in the middle of a pond.  Quick thinking and problem solving must take place to save the little mouse!  Two Problems for Sophia by Jim Averbeck is a sweet story about a girl that is determined to keep her pet but to do so, she must solve a few complications.  There's An Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer is another creative story about problem solving and creative thinking!


"It is your responsibility."  I feel like I say this 100 times a day in my household.  This is one of those skills that we just have to continue to nurture and patiently teach over and over again.  But by fostering it, we are once again adding a layer to the growth of more independent learners.

I love how visual Pigsty is!  Mark Teague does a great job illustrating what it looks like when you are not being responsible for your own space.  Good Dog, Carl is interesting because the mother in the story is not responsible at all!  But Carl is and that can lead to some good conversation. I think The Berenstain Bears' New Pup is a book that many of our students can relate too.  Adding a pet to the household means new responsibilities for everyone.


This word can take on many different meaning in a classroom.  We must have respect for our space, our tools, and the other people in the classroom.  For children, it is important to help them respect the differences and to see value in that.

In The Crayon Box that Talked, the crayons learn that one is not better than another.  But they are stronger when used together.  I'm the Best by Lucy Cousins has a similar message.  Dog is sure that he is the best at everything but learns that each animal has their own strength.  Me and You takes a different approach to respect.  The characters both want to be like their friend.  They discover through this story to respect themselves for who they are.


This is a hard skill, but so important to learn at a young kid (and then continue to work on!)  Things are hard and to learn to persevere will help you throughout life!  We have to provide lots of support, examples, and practice with this skill!  There are so many great biographies that illustrate strong individuals persevering through hard times.  But here are a couple fiction titles:

Let Me Finish! by Minh Le is about a boy that just wants to read!  But some animals are keeping him from enjoying the book.  He does not give up on reading!  More-igami is a new favorite of mine.  A young boy is struggling to learn origami and learns he must be persistent.  Flight School features a strong character that just really wants to fly even though it may seem impossible.


Curiosity and wonder has led our world to so many discoveries and inventions.  But I fear that we have taken much wonder out of our schools.  Promoting creative thinking and questioning can help to nurture this curiosity. 

Dreaming Up by Christy Hale is an interesting book that combines photographs of architecture and illustrations of characters utilizing the photographs for their own creations.  The Cow Who Climbed A Tree shows that their are no boundaries to what we can wonder and explore.  Ada Twist, Scientist explores what can happen when we act on our questions and dive into our wonderment!

Please note that these are only a few books that hit on these topics.  There are 500 million more out there!  Especially since I didn't hit on all the great nonfiction that can also be utilized.  I am always on the lookout for more books to share.  Please let me know if you have titles you can't live without!

Jul 28, 2018

Encourage Book Love

The beginning of the year is a busy time of year.  Setting up routines, procedures, getting to know you activities, organizing supplies, and five million other things that we must balance to have a healthy classroom environment.

Among these first weeks of classroom environment "set-up," we also want to establish the place that books play in the life of our classroom.  Some students come to us with book love already in place and some may not have much experience with books.  So it is important to talk about it and let the students know how you feel about books and the value you place on them.

And there are some great books to help you do this!

I have some favorites that have been used year after year.  But this one is new to me this year!  It is called Look! by Jeff Mack.  In this story, the gorilla is desperately trying to get a boy to pull his eyes away from the television to look at a book!  He goes to great lengths (just as we do) to engage this young child!
I will not spoil the ending for you; although, I am sure you can predict it!  This is a new read that will occur in our classroom this year!

In case you are looking for other books that focus on this same topic, here are some of my favorites:

beginning of the school year books

 If you have some more to recommend, I would LOVE to hear what they are!! Thanks!

The book Look! is linked to an independent book store in South Bend, Indiana.  I am not an affiliate in any way.  Just a girl that tries to support independent book stores!

Jul 20, 2018

Empathy in the Classroom Part 1

 Earlier this week I shared some information I learned about the 7 Essential Skills that our students need to possess once they leave the education system.  Let's take a closer look at empathy.

A list of Six silent videos to work on facial expressions and body language
 This is, for sure, a lifelong skill that we need to work on with our students but continue to work on even as  adults.  It can be difficult to understand the feelings and emotions of another person.  Especially if you come from different backgrounds, life styles, or belief systems.  But this makes empathy even more important.  But how do we help our little kids to understand this skill?

We have to start at the beginning.  Feelings.  Emotions.  Body language.

Language is a key component to this. Busy schedules and technology have put a strain on the language children hear and the facial expressions that they see.  As teachers of the younger grades, we need to make sure they have a good grasp on the variety of feelings/emotions that are out there (not just happy, bad, and sad).  We also need to ensure they understand and can read the body language associated with these emotions.

One suggestion that was given during my session at Nerd Camp was silent films.  With a silent film, you must pay attention the body language, not the words.  The way that I envision using these in the classroom is to stop and really look at the facial expressions on the characters.  How are they feeling?  How do you know?  Why are they feeling that way?

Each of the videos listed below come from Youtube.  You can click on the image to watch the video but I also included the title and author in case you want to find the video on your own.  I picked these silent films because each one focuses in on the character's face.  You can read the emotions through the face and body.

 Mouse for Sale by Wouter Bongaerts

Embarked by Mikel Mugica, Adele Hawkings, and Soo Kyung Kang

Bridge by Ting Chian Tey
Good one to also discuss how animals are not being empathetic

For the Birds by Pixar

Broken Wand by Anne Yang and Michael Altman

Runaway by Susan Yung, Esther Parobek, and Emily Buchanan

I hope you can use one or two of these to build empathy in your classroom.  Do you have any other silent videos that work well for this skill?

Jul 19, 2018

7 Essential Skills for Students

As teachers, I fully believe we need time.
Time to allow experiences to "fill us up" so that we can be prepared and mentally/emotionally healthy for the new little beings that will enter into  our lives.
Time to form relationships with our peers, our professional community.  Without that, it can be easy to feel alone and isolated.  And that just won't get you far enough in this job.
Time to process how we can grow and change.

Without this time...I am not sure how we could make it through this journey.  Because it is not about a product for is about the process.  We are adding one layer to the lives we impact.  And it needs to be a good layer.

This was my third Nerd Camp this  year. 

It completely fills me.  I come away with ideas for the year, words of wisdom, and closer relationships with my professional community!  This was not always the case in my career.  I had to seek this out because I was not being "filled up" for the year.  Do you have anything in your life that does this for you?  A great conference you attend, book studies you enjoy, or even just dinners with your colleagues?

This year I will be trying out some of the ideas that I learned from the conference (as I always do) but I wanted to share just one or two today that I am thinking about.

The very first session I attended was with Maria Dismondy.  She is the author of Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun.  Have you seen that one?  Her session was all about the 7 Essential Skills that children need.  When I got home, I started to research this a bit more.  I believe some of the findings come from the book Mind in the Making.  Here are the 7 skills that we discussed:
  • * Empathy
  • * Communication
  • * Decision Making
  • * Self Motivation
  • * Problem Solving
  • * Time Management
  • * Creativity
For each of these skills, Maria shared ideas that can be added into our daily school routines and home/school connections.  Empathy really stuck out to me because there are several ideas that I want to implement this year.  But that is going to be its own post (leaving you in suspense!).  But here were a few of my take-aways from the other essential skills.

Communication: journaling
Has anyone done this with their students?  I have not wrapped my head around it, yet.  But I would love to write back and forth with my students more.  But I cannot see how to manage it...yet.

Decision Making: Self-talk
I share my thinking process during reading lessons, math lessons, etc.  But I do not talk during my simple decision making times.  Students need a model on how to think through decisions and that there is not always one answer.  I need to do more of this.

Self Motivation: Goal Setting-then check in
Goal setting with students is not a strength of mine and it needs to be.  They need to take ownership of their own learning; therefore, I have to provide that space and time for them to do so.  Goal setting but then checking-in on how they are doing to achieve that goal is important.

Problem Solving: Body Alarms
My building has been working to improve our teaching of feelings through discussion and morning meetings.  But teaching body alarms is also important because they come right along with feelings.  Discussing an increase in heart beat, starting to sweat or getting hot all need to be recognized so that students learn how to handle those feelings.

Time Management: Shared Calendar
Most of us have calendars but just having one that is written all over can help students look ahead to what is going to happen or what did happen.  This is simple but effective!

Creativity: Unstructured Play
Students need more time to play.  So much learning occurs and creativity comes about when they are left to their own imaginations.  Maria also mentioned have a craft closet in her home.  One thing I would like to try to do is create some "craft bags" for students to take home and create with!  I wonder what ideas can come to life!

Are there any activities or routines that you do that help to really hit one of these essential skills?  I would love to hear about it!