Nov 19, 2015

Oh So Thankful

I am sure this is a tradition for many.  But each year my family states what they are thankful for before we eat our Thanksgiving meal.  I tend to always say the same thing.  "I am thankful for my family and my health."
And it is the truth.  I am thankful for those things.  100%.

After I saw this link up this morning, I thought about it all day.

Last Thanksgiving my grandma passed away.  She lived next door to me.  I was sad when she died, of course, but I was grateful that I had spent time with her.  I had 35 years of shopping, sleepovers, vacations, and conversation.  I had memories.  As I grieved and reflected on the time that I spent with her, I realized that this was something to be truly grateful for.

What am I thankful for this year?


Time to spend with my two little girls cuddled up on couch reading together, snuggling together watching a movie, or running around in the yard.

Time with my Ben to talk and continue to grow the relationship that we have together.

Time to visit the library and then gather with my family at Dewey's for pizza every Wednesday night.

Time to go to the Art Museum on a Saturday afternoon, take a weekend to hike, swim each Tuesday during the summer with friends, or impromptu roller coaster riding.

Time to nurture friendships with blogging buddies that mean so much to me but live afar.

Time with friends to chat, shop, or eat without children.

Time to spend with my teammates because they inspire, support, and energize my teaching heart.

Time at school to breathe a little and share the duties and responsibilities that I have always liked to put on only myself.

Time that I have allowed for myself to read, puzzle, or just sit.

And finally...time to provide a wide variety of experiences to my girls. 

Although I am 100% grateful for the health and family that I have had this year, I am especially thankful for the time that I get with them.  Because this is what I have right now and I want to do my best to make the most of it.

What are you most grateful for this year?  Please comment or link up with Jennifer!

Nov 15, 2015

Challenges with Time

Most of year thus far in math class has been spent on number sense.  Tens frames, dot cards, strategies, and anchor charts have been our lives! Now that the foundation has been laid, it is time to move on (for a little bit, at least).

Time is our next stop in mathland.

These are the two standards that we need to meet.  The first one is Social Studies and the second is Math.

* Time can be divided into categories (e.g., months of the year, past, present and future).

* Tell and write time in hours and half-hours using analog and digital clocks.
  Our reading and writing classes are working hard on analyzing stories and artifacts from the past.  (You can check out more about that over at Adventures in Literacy Land, if you would like.)  But we really feel that our students do not have a good understanding of a day, week, month, and year.  This is so abstract for our little learners.  They are all about the here and now.

To kick off this study, we used an old receipt paper roll.

We wanted them to visually SEE the difference between a day, week, and month.  This allowed us to discuss the number of days in a week versus a month.  And then came the year...


It wraps around half the room, which is just amazing to them!  They can't get over how long a year is when compared to a week, month, and day.

To introduce the clock, we explained that 24 hours make up one day.  Then came the cutting!

Allowing them to see that our day is cut into 24 pieces that we call hours, was a great introduction to the clock.

This lesson is not the end of our discussion on categorizing time.  We will continue to explore the different things that we measure in years, months, weeks, or days.

Any suggestions??  This is difficult for some students and if you have any tricks we would love to hear them.

Nov 6, 2015

A New Classroom Tool: Kwik Stix

My teacher eye and brain is always on the lookout for new ways to engage my students.  Even if it is an old tool that I can repurpose.  Some brains are better at this than others.  For example, my teammate shared an idea today to turn the bottom of a plant pot into a clock.  What!!??  Why doesn't my brain work like that?
That's okay.  I'll keep working at it :)

Last week, The Pencil Grip company asked if they could send me their Kwik Stix to try out.  They are tempera paint sticks (they work like a glue sticks) that dry in 90 seconds (I found it takes less than 60 seconds).  So basically, you uncap it, twist up, and paint.

I was really on the fence about accepting this product because I do not paint.  My instruction is all small group intervention instruction.  The lessons do not lend themselves to painting, coloring, or other types of crafts.


These do not have to be used for painting.  I decided this would be a great tool to use during my sight word intervention or during the phonics portion of my guided reading groups.  So...yes!  I accepted the invitation to try them out.

My students use a variety of methods to work on sight words.  We write on top of bumpy placemats, they trace on top of paint bags, rice trays have been used, and a variety of writing utensils.  The paint sticks offer, yet, another avenue to engage the students in writing the words or phonics sounds that they need to know automatically.  And from what I learned during my brain research PD, handwriting is going to help their brain to automatically recall what is being written.

Once I pulled out the paint sticks, they were very eager to try out the new tool.  (Possibly too eager because I know I did not ask them to write the word that many times.)  But they wrote the word, said the word, and the paint did not rub off on them at all!  I found that it dried in only a few seconds.

The more that I observed them using the paint sticks to write sight words, I noticed that it did not work well for them unless they used a fluid movement.  I do not mean that there is a defect in the Kwik Stix.  What I mean is that the sticks are thick and if they do not write their letters with the correct motions, they end up with letter like this...

 I see students write like this over and over again.  They stop the motion, pick up their pencils, and then make the curves of the letters.  With the sticks, they cannot see exactly where to connect the lines.  So they end up with letters like the one above.  I think Kwik Stix could be a great way to practice using a fluid motion when writing letters.  The kindergarten teachers at my school are eager to try this out!

It says that the paint sticks work on paper, canvas, and even wood.  I would like to provide my students with some different textured surfaces to add more multi-sensory techniques to my sight word lessons and the handwriting practice.  Some wood, bumpy surfaces would be an interesting contrast to the smooth paint stick.

I am excited to find more ways to use these paint sticks in my small groups.  But am enjoying their excitement and eagerness to write with them.  Do you have any ideas for me?

You can grab your own set here.  One winner will get a 6 pack of paint sticks!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nov 4, 2015

Activating Our Brains

 Election Day.

This year it meant no school for our students and professional day for the teachers.  My day was split into two categories: brain research that I was super interested in and state requirements for TBT paperwork (I am not even going to comment on this).

Ann Anzalone was our presenter about the "Missing Link: Root Skills of Learning."  I was trying to think about how to describe her presentation.  So I turned to her website for some ideas but loved what it said.  I am quoting it here:  "her presentations are very practical and focus on the development of techniques, strategies and tools to optimize learning and communication skills."  I cannot word it any differently than this.  I left with a LIST of ideas to implement immediately into my life, my children's lives, and my student's learning.

So...the missing link.  What did it boil down to?  Well...a lot.  But if I had to think of one main thing that I got out of my time with Ann it would be movement.  Physical movement, mental exercise, and social interaction are the three things that are going to stimulate their little brains.  And they need more of it.

Based on my learning, I made some small changes today.  As we reviewed our sounds, we touched our shoulders by crossing our arms.  When working with my intervention group, we crossed our arms and touched our knees as we counted.  This cross body movement is nothing new in the learning community...but I need to weave it in throughout my day.

Ann pointed out that as our society has changed and technology has increased, some activities are not as prevalent in the lives of our children.  Some examples that she gave: balance beams in K and 1st grade classrooms, pin the tail on the donkey, handwriting, spinning and rolling.  Each of these activities impact the brain in a different way.  For example, balance activities are important to the cerebellum while rolling impacts the function of the moro reflex.

When our time with Ann was up, we clapped.  We wished for more.  I left motivated.  But maybe too motivated.

After I picked up my two girls, I told them about what I had learned.  We went a little overboard:
-we hula hooped
-we cross arm counted
-we walked on pretend balance beams
-we pinned the tail on some trees
-we drank lots of water (oxygen)
-we ate eggs for breakfast the next morning (protein)
-we changed some food choices (that could be a whole other presentation)
-we rolled down some hills
-we spun around on the driveway

I was so thankful for a day so filled with motivation, good conversation, and excitement.  My team of teachers came in today excited to try out some new techniques.  We were well hydrated and ready to teach!

Oct 21, 2015

Work Zombies

It has been almost a whole month since I last wrote on Curious Firsties.  And that makes me sad.

(Shark girl and me...sad)  :)
Even when life gets busy, I enjoy reflecting here, learning here, and growing here as an educator.  But life has not been too busy.... I have been...hmmm....overwhelmed.

I think that may be the best way to describe it.

Last year we ended our school year with a literacy framework.  It was a way for us to analyze what we were doing currently.  As a building, we looked at our gaps, our inconsistencies, but also our strengths.  And we pooled all of our expertise, the research, and our resources to create a literacy framework.

I learned so much.

Along with the framework came RtI.  This has been in the works for a long time but we are now running at full speed.  We may be way behind some schools out there and far ahead of others, but this is where we are right now and we are diving in.


Although my whole building is pulling together to make our building wide intervention block successful, my Title I teammate (Sarah) and I have been working hard to make the transition smooth, less overwhelming, and as least frustrating as possible.

Hence my absence.

It was decided that we would create binders filled with the research based interventions that would take place in our K-2 building wide intervention block.  We were totally up for the task and excited to learn from it.  And we did.  And the product was our best effort.


I am pretty certain we turned into work-zombies along the way.  Lots of late nights, researching, laminating, reading, typing, laminating, laminating, hole punching, organizing......

Sarah locked her keys in the car while it was still running....twice.  People were having full conversations with me and I had no clue.  We got pretty nutty...pretty crazy.

It has been almost two weeks that our binders have been completed, the RtI data analyzed, groups formed, schedules fully completed.  And most importantly, groups have begun.

And I think Sarah and I may just be coming back to life.

Sep 29, 2015

Readbox: High Interest Reading

After reading Summer Reading and participating in a book study with many of the teachers in my building, we knew something needed to be added.  Our students needed more reading at home.  But how? 

How do we help our students WANT to read at home?  How do we get them so excited to read that they can't even WAIT to get home just to read the book?

Through a series of conversations, text messages, and brainstorming, we came up with "Readbox."  The idea was to have a big bookshelf outside during dismissal (we are a walking school).  The "box" would be filled with high, HIGH interest books.  I am talking about princess book, super hero books, comics, lots of Mo Willems, nonfiction, and the list continues.  Families can pick out a book together and check it out from me and my Title I teammate, Sarah.

So that is it.  The idea was formed and then the ball just started rolling.

1. We started buying books.  Garage sales and Half Price Books.  I raided my girls' library for the overabundance of princess books that they have.  Donations started coming in from anyone that heard about the idea.

2. App--Checking out and checking in the books needed to be efficient and easy because dismissal is a quick time period.  Sarah and I decided to go with "Book Retriever."  All the books could be loaded for checkout and checkin.

3. A large bookshelf that was sturdy, cheap, and on wheels was needed.  My teammate found one in a garage sale group!  I bought it the next day.

4. The shelf was perfect but we needed a back.  So I added a peg board--more places to hang book baskets! needed to be RED!

5.  Check-in and Check-out. We had an app to help us with this but what about the details.  For example, where would the students return the books to?  Would it just be another thing on the teachers' plates?  Sarah and I also do breakfast duty.  The kids hand us their books when they walk in the building or they can place them in the red crate on their way to class.

That's it.

We were ready.  The books were all stamped (with a red "Readbox" stamp).  A sign was hanging up outside.  The bookshelf was labeled.  Sarah and I introduced the Readbox during our Open House night before school started.  Our goal was to wheel the bookshelf outside at dismissal twice a week.

But the true test...would they come?  Would they take the time to check out a book?

So here's what happened...

They did come and are coming.  In the month of August (10 days only) we had 145 books returned.  The month of September...380.  That is AMAZING!!  Sarah and I have been creating a graph in the hallway so that students can see all their great reading.  The graph is actually now going across the ceiling because SO many books have been returned!

The books have been such a hit!  Our Mo Willems basket is almost ALWAYS empty!  Kids are seen reading their books as they wait for their siblings.  I see their parents dragging them to their cars because their noses are in a book :)  But here are some of my all time favorites:

*Our goal was to roll out twice a week but we roll out everyday 
because the students get upset when we are not out there!
*They are requesting books from us!
*At breakfast, students initiate book conversations with me and Sarah!

My heart will continue to pour into the Readbox as we add more books to it this year, encourage families to check out books, and help students connect to books that they love.
Thank you so much to everyone that has supported our efforts this year.

Sep 20, 2015

Number Line versus Hunderds Chart

Our guided math groups finally started! 

As we looked back at how we started last year, Jess and I decided upon a couple of goals for our first two weeks of math groups this year:
1. estimation
2. number lines
3. hundreds chart

As our planning unfolded, we also decided that it was very important for our students to understand the connection between a number line and a hundreds chart.  They can seem like such separate tools and resources; however, we really needed our firsties to understand how they connect.

 Our firsties have seen and used a hundreds chart in Kindergarten.  They have also seen them hanging around the room.  They could even tell me that the numbers do "get bigger" as you go down the chart.

Okay...that is completely a start.  But Jess and I wanted to help bring this chart "to life" a bit more for our little learners.

So we cut it up.

 We cut along each horizontal line of the chart and then taped it together.  This left us with one big long number line.  Their mouths dropped open.

I'm not kidding.

They were stunned that this hundreds chart was really just a big number line.

Then we used the big number line to plot some estimation jars that we were also using.  We used it to count.

But there was a problem.  It didn't fit on our table.  It was so....long!
This led us to our next discussion point...the number line is a great tool but a little hard for us to store because it won't fit in the desks or on top of my table.

And this is about where our lesson ended...until the next day.

When our firsties walked in the next day, they quickly remembered what had happened to the hundreds chart.  It was really just a number line.  And we used this tool again to help us with some estimation jars.

 But that number line STILL would not fit on my table :)

So I asked them if it would be okay if I tried to make it into a tool that would be easier to use at our table.  I showed them that I could wrap the number line around a tube.  When I did this it allowed me to fit the whole number line on my table. (The idea came from an image I saw from "What I Have Learned").  It turned out like this:

As a group, we tried out this new resource.  Was it really still a number line?  We counted with it.  Yep.  They numbers still grew as we went down the "tube".  Were the numbers still in the correct order?  Yep.  Then I did something crazy!

I cut it.

When I opened up the tube, their mouths drop wide open!  It was a hundreds chart.

Our lesson had come full circle.  We started with a hundreds chart.  Turned it into a number line.  Took the number line and turned it into a hundreds chart.

They saw the connection.  The number line and the hundreds chart are made up of the same numbers.  They are just laid out a bit differently.

It was a good moment.  Jess and I felt like it kicked off our groups in a positive way.