Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Properties of Solids

We've been working in our new science unit for the past few weeks.  First graders in our district study from the FOSS kit on Solids and Liquids.  We've started by exploring matter and properties.
Everything in our world is made of matter.  All matter takes up space and has mass.  Matter can exist in 3 states - solid, liquid, and gas.  We have learned that each state of matter exhibits its own properties.  Properties are those characteristics of matter that can be used to describe it.
So far, this is the list of properties that we have come up with to describe solids.

Most recently, we have explored hardness of solids.  Hardness refers to the capability of a solid to resist being scratched or dented. In the beginning of this lesson, kids were asked to talk with a partner about what they thought the word hardness meant.  Then, they were given 20 different objects that they had explored before.  Their job was to set them out in order of hardness.  Coincidentally, we had also studied ordinal numbers in math that same day.  I heard kids using the the language of ordinal numbers- first, second, third, and so on. 

After kids had the chance to work with their partner and determine hardness, we came back together as a group.  Kids shared their thinking, talked about how they tested their idea, and even politely disagreed with their friends at times.  In the end, we decided that sometimes scientists might not be able to come up with the exact-perfect-correct answer.  Sometimes, scientists just need to take what they have learned, hold those ideas in their mind, and refer back to it when they try something new. 
Oh, how we love science in first grade!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Properties of Shapes

In the math unit that we just finished up, we explored properties of shapes, combined different shapes to make new shapes, and discussed what would happen if we rotate shapes.
We used our workbooks to explore our pattern blocks, making hexagons with the various blocks.

Then we explored how shapes can fit together.

Some kids were able to "see" how the shapes fit together, while others really struggled.  A little one on one help was needed in the situation below.

The work we did with shapes and their properties was not a big part of the unit, but the kids really enjoyed it and I'm sure we will revisit it during the next few months.

The unit we have recently started includes work in fractions, circle graphs, symmetry, and clocks.  Wow!  Those are some big concepts for First Graders!
Enjoy Spring Break!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Comparing and Contrasting in First Grade

It all started with a reading lesson in Compare and Contrast today. When authors compare, they show how things are alike.  When authors contrast, they show how things are different. We read about butterflies and moths, and then did some comparing and contrasting.

It just happened (almost like I planned it this way) that we began a new science unit today.  Wouldn't you know it, the lesson was about comparing and contrasting two solid objects.  We took our new-found vocabulary words and put them to good use in our science chart and Venn diagram..

The kids also worked in their science journals.  Here is one of our works-in-progress.  This little scientist was so proud that she used one of our clue words that we had talked about in our reading lesson.  The word 'but' can signal that we are contrasting items.  (By the way, she told me that she couldn't color the spoon white because white doesn't show up on white paper.  So she colored the white spoon blue and labeled it white.  I guess that's one way to do it!)

I love the way our reading and science units just blended seamlessly today.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Writing in Early Childhood, with David Matteson

A few weeks ago, I spent my Saturday at a workshop where we studied the developmental stages of writing in early childhood.  David Matteson was our presenter.  I have enjoyed reading his books, watching his videos and studying his work for the past year or so, and I was thrilled to actually be learning from him.  When you wake up on a Saturday morning and you're REALLY excited to spend the day working, instead of lounging with your family, you know it's going to be worth the time.  David didn't disappoint.

It was a full day of learning, so I won't be able to sum up the entire day in one single blog post.  I'll have to settle with sharing a few of my take-aways from the day.

As a teacher, I'm constantly reading about how to improve the quality of education I provide in my classroom. I enjoy reading "teacher books" and spend more time than I'd like to admit with these books.  My favorite authors include Katie Wood Ray, Reggie Routman, Matt Glover, and now I'll add David Matteson to the list.  One of the things I keep coming back to in my reading is my renewed focus in how children learn.  Over the past few years there has been a big push in our district, and in education in general, to increase student learning, streamline our practices, provide rigorous classroom environments, increase communication with parents, and have a deeper understanding of what kids need to learn and know in their grade levels.  The area that is always on the forefront of my mind in our professional development and personal learning is, "How does this relate to what we know about how kids learn best?"

David did a great job of bringing our professional development back down to this basic question.  We also focused our learning on what it means to be teaching to a child's development and how we systematically move kids through developmental stages.  This area is HUGE, even for one child, so you can image how overwhelming it feels when you have 25 kids in a classroom!


1. It all comes back to how kids learn. Ex: I become a better teacher when I know how a child's visual perception relates to their writing development.

2. We are helping kids move through developmental stages.  They might not meet the same milestones at the same time, and that's ok.  My job, as a teacher, is to always be aware of where they are and where they are going.

3.  I really love early childhood literacy.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Daily 5

At the beginning of the school year we started our work with Daily 3.  It was an adaptation of the work done by The Sisters in their Daily 5 routine.  Our Daily 3 included Read to Self, Listen to Reading, and Partner Reading.  During the past week, we added our last two sections and we are now practicing our own version of Daily 5.  

The kids each have a clip and make their choice for each rotation.  The Listen to Reading chart has several different options.  Kids can listen to reading through Raz-Kids, our LeapFrog tablets, or LeapFrog Tag readers.  

Word work has been a fun addition to our morning.  Kids are enjoying the games and puzzles I have for them to choose from.  The games relate to word building, sight words, creating sentences, and word play through contractions and compound words.

Writer's Workshop has always been a favorite time of the day, so adding this component to our Daily 5 bought cheers from the first grade crowd!

While the kids are working on their Daily 5 rotations, I'm working with small groups in Guided Reading.  This is the time where I work with groups in their instructional reading levels. Instructional reading levels are levels in which kids read at 90%-94% accuracy.  I try to reassess kids as frequently as possible.  They move levels very quickly in first grade, as this is a huge growth time in a child's reading development.

Daily 5 rotations are a happy time in first grade!

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 9, 2014


We read a book last week that was a spin-off of The Little Red Hen.  It's one of my favorite books because it involves cooking, cooperation, and kids are able to make text to text connections with other stories we have read.

The kids in the class asked if we could make this.  Normally, I'd be all over that idea!  This year we have a lot of severe allergies and I'm just not comfortable putting kids at risk.  I promised the kids I'd put it on our blog.  That way parents can decide for themselves if this is something their child can/should have.

I hope you'll give this recipe a try, and maybe even check this book out from your local library! My daughter made this recipe on her own today. We've had it before and it's very good.  I can't wait until after dinner to have some!

Here's the recipe:

2 cups flour, sifted
2 Tbsp sugar
1Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup milk

3-4 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup whippping cream, whipped

Preheat oven to 450.  Sift flour, then sift together dry ingredients.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add egg and milk, stirring by hand until moistened.  Spread dough in a greased 8 inch round pan, building edges up slightly.  Bake for 15-18 minutes.  Remove cake from pan. Cool.  Split into two layers.  Alternate cake, whipped cream, and strawberries, ending with strawberries on top, or whipping cream if that's your favorite!

Happy baking!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Love, Laughter, and Literacy... All in Writer's Workshop

There wasn't always this much joy in Writer's Workshop.  I remember our first team meeting (called MTI), back in September.  We were talking about our classes and I shared that I felt my class was filled with terrific students, but that I hadn't found their passion yet.  During work time, kids just didn't seem excited.

About a month and a half into school we had to skip Writer's Workshop to go to an assembly.  When I told the kids, they kind of made their whiny booing noises and looked very upset.  I thought that maybe they didn't really understand that the assembly was going to be something they would enjoy.  As I was describing the assembly, trying to convince them that it would be fun, one of the boys said, "We know, but we don't want to miss writing!"

I felt like I'd won the lottery!

Well, last week Mr. Snyder was our substitute.  He was in for someone else today, and stopped by to say hello.  While he was here, he said, "I've been in a lot of classrooms, and I've never seen a class as excited to write as yours."  What a compliment!

It's true.  These guys LOVE Writer's Workshop.  The joy really began once they realized that there is really no fear in writing, that it's totally fun to tell your own stories, and that they get to make real books. Yes, there is work involved, but it's rewarding and the process is enjoyable which doesn't feel much like work.

The kids love spreading out though the classroom too.  A few kids will get to work in the Art Center in the hallway and a few more will get to work at the round table in the classroom.

If they need help with something, they ask a friend.  There is lots of chatter, but it's usually related to writing.  I try to meet with individual kids during this time.  My goal is to help move them to the next level, whatever that may be.  Sometimes a student might need help with elaboration, and other times it might be a mini-lesson on where capitals go in our writing.  The kids are all at different stages in their writing development, but they are ALL fabulous writers.

Right now, there is a lot of buddy writing going on.  My boys, especially, love to bounce ideas off of each other.  Star Wars stories have become a hot topic.  In kindergarten, I generally lean toward asking kids to focus on personal narratives in their storytelling.  If first grade, I'm really going with the flow and letting them discover their passion.

If you walk into my classroom during Writer's Workshop you will certainly see three things:

There's love.
There's laughter.
There's literacy.

I'm a happy teacher!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Look Inside LeapFrog

I can't even begin to explain how excited I was to have been invited to visit LeapFrog. It's like a sports fan being invited to meet their favorite players in the Superbowl and then getting a locker room tour.  The LeapFrog headquarters are in Emeryville, California.  It's close to Oakland and San Francisco, when I arrived on Monday I had a little sight seeing to do.  To read about that little adventure, click here.

Tuesday morning started in the United States Conference Room.  There were five of us, who were flown in from different parts of the country (although Anna is local).  Here's a look at my new friends:

The walls were lined with pictures of their products and a few of their older toys.

So many of the toys brought back memories of playing with my kids.

I loved seeing the progression of toys over time.

Right off the bat we were introduced to the CEO, John Barbour.  He introduced himself as J.B.  Meeting him and hearing about his passion for education was a huge honor.  He spoke for about an hour about how LeapFrog began, the philosophy of Pure Learning Fun, helping children achieve their potential, and about the passionate people he works with every day.  

I was struck by the passion in J.B.'s voice and the excitement he shared about seeing children learn.  He talked about how learning can't always be about what adults think kids should know and how they should get to the end result.  It's about knowing what kids need, but developing products that kids want and are excited about. He talked about how adults learn best when they are excited about a topic or excited to learn a new hobby.  If there is no joy in the process, then there won't be much learning.  Learning happens when kids are excited and having fun.  

At one point, as he was speaking, I found myself getting a little choked up.  Anyone who knows me, knows I'm passionate about early childhood education. The idea that kids' interests can and should drive their learning is something we strive to implement in the classroom, but with current class sizes, it can be hard to achieve. Listening to J.B. speak reminded me of the importance of capturing a child's passion and steering them in the direction of Pure Learning Fun.  He spoke about the people who work at LeapFrog, and how they are not just doing a job.  The people who work there have passion for what they do.  He said they are walking around each day searching for gems to help children achieve their potential. If that doesn't get a teacher choked up, I don't know what does! 

After meeting JB, we learned from some fabulous designers.  They shared the progression of new toy development, and showed us what goes into creating their amazing educational products.  The guys who spoke were truly inspiring.

At one point, one of my blogging friends asked about the designers' educational backgrounds, which I was dying to know.  We were told that their focus in school was math, science, industrial design, and art. 

As they walked us through the design process, they also showed us examples of works-in-progress from past toys.  Here's a foam core model of a learning barn that one of the designers created.  All of the part are movable in this model.  You can certainly see how a designer's educational background comes into play with something like this.

I was so pleased to have met the man in the next picture, because I had a message for him.  One of my students had given me orders to find the person who invented the Tablets and let them know that it was the COOLEST thing ever invented.  We have two LeapFrog Tablets in my classroom and they are a favorite activity for the Listen To Reading component of our Reader's Workshop.

Message delivered.  Mission accomplished.

During our tour of the building, we were able to sit in on a toy testing session.  

We were able to ask, later in the day, about what they were looking for as they were observing this little guy playing with some toys.

Doesn't this look like a happy place to work?  It was a really cool, industrial looking, building with open pod-type areas for people to meet in teams.

The recording studio was a pretty cool stop on our tour. We did a little recording as a surprise for our kids.  There were two books in which we became the voice for the characters.  We personalized it for our kids. They will be in the mail to us shortly, and I can't wait to hear how they turned out.

I can't show you pictures of the new video we watched... It's top secret.  The video will be released in March and I know the kids are going to love it.  

Another favorite part of my day was picking the brains of the Learning Experts. One of the designers talked about how she decided to go back to school to work specifically on figuring out how kids learn.  I really connected with this because it's the part of education that means the most to me.  I've always said that it's my dream to visit Reggio Emilia, Italy, to learn more about their philosophy of education.  It's very much a child centered approach to learning, where the curriculum is driven by how kids learn and their own interests and passions. Doesn't that sound fabulous!  

Back to those learning experts... 
They know their stuff!  They are up to date in the most current trends and practices and are able to get these concepts into the newest learning toys within about 6 months.  The same ideas might take years to catch on with curriculum designers in the traditional classroom settings, and quite a while after that until a concept will appear in our everyday material.  These Learning Experts are my idols!  I would love to spend my days researching current educational trends and making sure they are front and center when developing educational toys.  Doesn't that sound fabulous?

I was also very interested in hearing about Learning Path and the parents' page discussion.  Last November, there was a relaunch of Learning Path and I'm predicting this will become a fantastic resource for parents, teachers, and caregivers.  Learning Path is a place to develop deep relationships, have authentic conversations, and learn more about early childhood education. 

On a scale from 1-10, my time at LeapFrog was off the charts!  I have a deeper appreciation for the amount of work that goes into making these products.  When a parent asks me why they would want to buy $25 game cartridge versus a $4.99 app on itunes, I will be able to tell them about all of the research, product testing, curriculum design, and multi-level instruction that goes into a game. It's truly an amazing process!

Happy learning, Friends!
(And thank you so much, to my friends at LeapFrog, for inviting me to be part of this learning experience! I will certainly share what I've learned about all of your hard work and dedication!)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Rock Explorations

I've collected rocks for as long as I can remember.  I've always had a rock box at the back of my closet and I could never seem to get rid of it, even when I obviously didn't need to hold onto it.  In college, one of the courses I took was Outdoor Education.  There was a segment on rocks and sand, and suddenly my rock collection had a purpose again. I was glad I'd held onto it for all those years.

My rock collection continued to grow after I became a teacher.  Every time we went on a vacation, I was drawn to the small area at the back of the souvenir shop where they sold different rocks.  Part of the kindergarten curriculum is Pebbles, Sand, and Silt, but since I'm teaching first grade this year, there wasn't any reason to keep my rock collection at school.

 I found a pretty tray and added the rocks.  Just like that, an invitation for exploration was created, right there on my kitchen table.  

Of course, I had to add some books about rocks and a rock identification kit too. (Yes, my hubby gets annoyed that we have to move the rock box and all of the books every time we sit down to eat, but he puts up with me.)

 When I first put out the rocks, my daughter immediately dumped them all out.  Many of the rocks have been picked out and purchased, or sometimes collected, while we're on vacation. (Sadly, many of her favorite rocks have gone into kids' pockets over the years and I have not been able to get them back.)  She still remembers the rocks that were taken, but gets excited when spots some of her favorites that are still there.  She spent a few days looking through the rocks and playing with them, and then lost interest. I'd ask if she wanted to read some of the books and would get the response of, "No thanks."  

Then, over the long weekend, my kids were just picking through the rocks and I sat down with them to look.  I started telling them facts about certain rocks, and pretty soon my daughter started getting curious about them.  She began looking for names of certain rocks in the books and pointing out the rocks that we had that were similar to rocks in the books.  

There were rock observation sheets handy,  (Doesn't everybody keep those nearby?) and the writing and drawing soon followed.  The excitement didn't last more that 30 minutes this time, and my 9 year old was much more interested than my 13 year old, but the rocks are still on the kitchen table when my kids are ready to come back to them.

By the way, the neighbors couldn't resist digging through the rock box when they were over too.  There's just something about rocks and all of their differences that just draws you in.  If you keep books handy, that are ready to answer questions, it's a great way to integrate literacy.  

One of my all-time-favorite movies was Field of Dreams.  Setting out rocks can be just like building a baseball field.  "If you build it, they will come."

Happy rock collecting!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Do you want to build a snowman? (Can you hear Anna, from Frozen, singing this?)

Well, I think the majority of my class saw the movie Frozen over the break.  I have to say, that was the best Disney movie I've seen in years.  The music was great.  It was beautifully done, and I love the characters!  Olaf, the Snowman, absolutely cracked me up!  I think I earned the Teacher of the Year award (in the eyes of my first graders) when we listened to some of the music from the movie during our work time.  (My daughter bought several songs from the movie with her itunes gift card, so we borrowed her music while she was at school. I also told the kids I'm going to start singing as I'm teaching from now on... not just singing once in a while, but singing all of my lessons.)

During the month of January, we'll be doing some fun activities with snow, snowmen, and arctic animals.  Olaf, the snowman, tied in perfectly to our snowy activity today. He sings about how he can't wait to be a snowman in Summer.  He'll rest on the burning sand, spend time in a hot tub, and take a relaxing swim in the pool. 

We read the book Snowmen All Year, which is an old favorite in our class, and talked about what we'd do with our snowmen if they got to stay all year. 

 The kids' answers were pretty clever and tied to their personalities. There were picnics in the park, family dinners, kite flying, sunbathing, and a hot yoga studio for our Snowmen All Year. 

 It was a quick activity at the end of the day, but I loved the kids' ideas, and I can never pass up an opportunity to connect our reading and writing.  

Happy imaginary snowman building!

Monday, November 25, 2013

More On Our Writer's Notebooks

Yesterday, I shared a little about our Writer's Notebooks in first grade.  Here's another little glimpse.

We spent some time browsing through magazines.  The kids cut out pictures of things/people/animals that they might want to use in their future writing. They added labels, helping to remind them of the important aspects from their pictures.

Some kids took their ideas even further and started drafting sentences they'd like to use in their books.

Other kids just collected inspiration.

Even kids who struggle in writing excelled at this activity... and THEY WERE SO EXCITED TO START NEW STORIES!
 Inspiration comes from many places.  Our magazine work was just one of those.  I'll keep sharing our Writer's Notebooks as the days go on!

Happy writing! 
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