Wednesday, April 2, 2014

 Wordless Wednesday

In anticipation of our trip to the zoo ~

The Value of Indoor Recess ...
What do you see as the value of recess?
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

 Habitat Sensory Bins

I can't remember the last time I was this excited about something I did at school. Yesterday for the first time I introduced sensory bins to my first graders. Too some they might look like fluff or a waste of time. No, no, no! My children were engaged, they were learning, they were talking, they were experimenting, they were acting out field trips and things they've learned this year. They were exploring, sharing, cooperating and collaborating. The room was a buzz with activity. Even if you feel you can't take away from your teaching time, I encourage you try them as an indoor recess activity - something we are having way too much of this year.

Speaking of indoor recess. It is snowing and sleeting again in PA. So once again we have a snow/ice day. I guess our dear groundhog was right this year. It sure is looking like six more weeks of winter. We have used all our snow days and makeup days - so beginning today all future days will be added onto the end of the year :( It has made getting up and running after Christmas break hard, but it has also given me time to explore and prepare some new things for my classroom.

Sensory bins are something I've been wanting to try for quite some time. I have read about them on Sandi's blog rubber boots and elf shoes. She has created some really amazing bins. On her sidebar she has a link to the bins she's made for her class. I also have to thank Sandi for answering all my questions and providing me with good suggestions as I was making my first bins.

I wanted my bins to fit in with our classroom studies of animals and their habitats. Last week (when we were lucky enough to have school) we learned all about the groundhog. This week (well we had off Monday for snow, yesterday was a late start, and today we are off again, and its only Wednesday) we will dig deep into our study of Australian habitats and animals. The plan was to begin with one bin - but Mother Nature has given me extra time - so I created two bins.

Introducing the Groundhog Bin and The Australian Bin
Here is some rice I colored blue, with shells and some stuffed animals.
These are all things I found laying around my house, except for the map of Australia I printed and laminated. When two grown daughters leave the house, they leave you with some awesome treasures.
At first the students were very tentative and unsure of what to do, but then they dug right in.
Many of my students have never held a real shell.This little guy discovered it makes noise when you hold it to your ear.
Every child approached the bin in a different way. This guy went right for the map. As he pulled it out, he said, "I've got to see this!"
The guy in the red shirt was fascinated by the sea star. He studied it for a very long time. Then he had questions -"Where are its eyes? How does it eat? What are these lines for?" 
This is the groundhog bin. Some shiny, smooth rocks, fluff, flowers, sun/flashlight, clouds and of course some groundhogs.
Love the cooperation and working together!

Most children experimented with the flashlight. I overheard, "Oh, little groundhog you saw your shadow, back into your burrow you go. Six more weeks of winter."
Interesting experiment happening here.
Some imaginative play, feeding the groundhog. I love the garden of flowers she created.
This was our first day with the bins. Everyone wanted a turn, so I set out 6 stations and put the kids in groups of 2 or 3, they rotated through each station and spent about 10 minutes.
These guys were building the farm show - our last field trip.
Smiles and friendships were the order of the day!
The children were excited about school!
Here are some of my thoughts and observations after our first day of using sensory bins:
* the children practiced what they had learned without being told to, this was especially true when they were in the groundhog bin. Second language learners need to practice academic talk and here it happened naturally.
* excitement is now very high to learn about Australia. The children asked many good questions as they were exploring that bin, things I would have never thought to cover.
* it is important to be present and listen closely as children explore the bins, it is also important to stay quiet. Let them talk and listen to one another.
* upon finishing using the bins allow children to share what they discovered or did in their bin. I know next time the Australia bin is out ALL my children will be placing the big shell on their ear and listening.
* if we give children time and materials after a field trip or learning experience they will talk and act it out, thus making the learning more permanent.
* the bins appealed to all my students, but they were especially good for my movers and shakers. 
I LOVE sensory bins. There will always be at least one in my classroom from now on. As I reflect on them, the possibilities are endless.

Is this something you'd like to try in your room??????????
What kind of bin will you make? 
               animal? holiday? arctic? math? beach? birthday?
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Saturday, February 1, 2014

 Dipping into Math Tubs

Well who am I kidding? I don't dip into anything. This is how I operate: read about something I find interesting, mule it over in my mind, research everything I can about it, gather materials, and then dive full in and go for it.

Just a little over a year ago I found this amazing land of teacher blogs. They have opened my world and renewed my love for teaching. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to write posts and develop teaching materials.

The idea of using math tubs to gain time for guided math and small group teaching has been nudging at me for some time. I've been doing guided reading for years in order to teach reading in small groups - why wouldn't teaching math that way work? So I read EVERY blog post I could find on math tubs/stations/bins/centers. I even purchased Debbie Diller's book Math Work Stations. I will be honest here, I haven't finished reading it yet.

Then I gathered. Oh ~ that Teachers Pay Teachers is an addiction ~ I'll tell you. I bought some Winter Math Packs and filled in the gaps with some wonderful freebies. Next, I drug my poor husband to Walmart and we bought 10 of those beautiful bins below.

The following weekend was spent printing, laminating, cutting, and loading up the bins. Finally, I was all ready to go.

These awesome editable tags are free here. Made by Play, Learn and Grow in Kindergarden. To get them small enough to fit on the bins I just printed several pages on one page.
This is the chart I use to rotate the children through the centers. Some days we do one rotation, other days we do more than one. It uses the same labels above just printed full size. There are also cards for bins nine, ten, and meet with the teacher. The names stay put and I simply move the bin numbers.
This Snowman Place Value game was made by Primary Palace and is available here.
These make 10 cards come from Linda Martin's Winter Math Tubs Pack available here.
These penguin cards also are part of the Winter Math Tubs Pack.
So how did it go you might ask? Each bin was introduced and taught over several days. Then we jumped in. During the first two weeks I did not meet with any groups, but rather helped the students with their bin activities. I was amazed at how well they worked with just one partner. When a partner is absent the child works independently. The children were ALL so engaged with math. Once they had the hang of it I began working with small groups. Wow! Just Wow! Time to help those who needed it, time to nudge those who needed it, and time to enrich! I can tell you I will always have math bins in my classroom. No looking back.

I do not use paper recording sheets, but rather laminated them so the children can use dry erase markers. Before clean up I do a quick walk around and look at their work before its erased, making notes of who understands and who needs more help. Such joy - less papers to copy and grade.

The math bins fit into my day nicely. Math starts with calendar activities, a large group lesson on the current topic, and then math bin/small group time.
I've also found that early finishers love to dip into a bin.

After I dive in and swim around for awhile. I stop and think very carefully about how things went. Here are my next steps:

Plan more carefully for exactly what I want in each bin. I must be careful that it is something I want my children to practice, but they can do it with little or no help. Now I know why teachers create their own materials - so they can get exactly what their students need. My computer skills aren't quite there yet. Maybe this summer I'll dapple with some creating. For now its off to careful searching on TPT.

I'd like to add a computer center to the rotation. I have 4 laptops in my room and have just begun using computer sheets for my animal themes. Sharing Kindergarden makes and sells these on TPT. If you have never heard of these go to her blog and read about them. I promise you won't be sorry.

Next up, I'd like to add a sensory bin. Nobody makes these better than Sandi at Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes. These bins give children a sensory experience while sorting, patterning, counting, and speaking. If you read through Sandi's blog you will find she's created a huge variety of these bins.

Last, I would like to include a habitat bin. This bin would be along the lines of Sandi's sensory bins, but would include items that pertain to the habitat and animals we are currently studying in class. It would also include a list of rigorous questions to consider while using the bin. This idea comes from Miss Trayers at Not Just Child's Play. She finds the most amazing ways to add rigor to her kindergardeners' learning daily! Be sure to read her post on Groundhog Rigor.

There you have it a new way - for me - to teach math. Thank you one and all for leading me down this path.

Last, but not least HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my dear granddaughter ~ Roo, who has just turned one!

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

 PA Farm Show

A week ago we were lucky to be able to venture off to the PA Farm Show. We left early in the morning and rode about two hours on a school bus. The children were very excited and could not wait to enter the large building when we arrived. This week some of the children chose to write about the animals they saw and were given the opportunity to touch. Living in poverty, in the city, farm animals are just characters in books. Here they came alive!
The children were amazed at all the different cows, but most of all by their huge size. At first many of the children thought the cows were moose.

Well it seemed like everything was huge - even the farm equipment!
Maple syrup is gathered in PA. This stand taught the children a bit about the process and helped them create a craft to remember their day.
There were speakers. This guy was talking about turtles. Shaver's Creek also had snakes to view.
Snakes have something on their stomach that makes them slither on the ground. Some snakes have poison teeth.

We had fun searching for the queen bee and we each took home a sample of PA honey - yum!
Who would ever have imagined there are so many different kinds of ducks, geese, turkeys, and chickens. They sure were noisy.
So soft!
Rabbits they have red eyes and they have fur and he was sad and he was lonely. I like rabbits and brown rabbits and he was nice he didn't bite. I like rabbits were nice all the time.

For some petting the cow was the highlight of their day. This kind girl was very patient while each child visited with her cow.
I see the cow because we get to touch the cow.

For others - the horse was more interesting. This kind farmer brought her horse out of the stall and spent some time with the children.
I saw a horse. They smelled us. We saw horses and we saw a lot of animals.
I saw a horse and he was kind of soft and was kind of lovely and he was kind of white and his nose was black.

On our long bus ride back to school we enjoyed a snack of PA chocolate ice cream. The children enjoyed playing with the animal pencil toppers they were given at the show.
Well you'd have thought that after an early start to the day, and all the excitement at the show some of the children would have laid down and relaxed on the bus like this dear sheep. That was not the case. They talked the entire trip home about all they saw.
This was an amazing trip made possible by Just Born Candies. We look forward to visiting again next year.

The first grade team - three classes - has decided to develop a farm week for our students at the end of the year. Our brainstorming sessions are coming up with so many wonderful ideas, hopefully we can fit them all in. I know the week will begin with a large farm breakfast for all!
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Friday, January 3, 2014

 Lessons Learned

Rather then making resolutions I thought I'd reflect on what I have learned in 2013.
Hopefully I am a bit wiser, I know I'm older.
1 ~ Dream Big Dreams, Make Specific Plans, but be Prepared to Take Baby Steps. This has been the biggest lesson I learned this year. I had/have a vision for a very specific curriculum. I wrote my plan, got it approved, and then began preparing, preparing, preparing. I thought all would be up and running the first day of school. Well it wasn't and this frustrated me to no end. It is coming together, we are learning so much about animals and their habitats, but every day I make notes of how to improve for next year. Lesson learned: Realize the first year is a learning and growing year.
2 ~ Search out funding sources and grants. They are there, but you have to search. Local businesses like to help their local schools! Look locally. Don't expect to receive everything you need right away. Funding takes time to make it to the district, then the principal needs to approve each purchase order, then it gets sent to the district, and finally to the company. I just today received a box of nonfiction books that would have been really helpful in September. Lesson learned: Supplies take time.
3 ~ Local nonprofit organizations and government agencies are just waiting for you to ask. Seek out partnerships, guest speakers and printed material. Lesson learned: Others want to be involved - ask!
4 ~ Taking  field trips with first graders during the first weeks of school is tricky business. Would I do it again - yes, BUT I would take extra help along. Some surprising behaviors may pop up, and extra hands sure would have been great. Our two September field trips to the forest set the stage for our animal/habitat curriculum. They were wonderful learning experiences that the children talk about often. For both trips the adults from the places we were visiting came to our classroom the day before the trip. This proved to be a very wise move. They talked about what the children would see and do, and what the guidelines were for their behaviors. Lesson learned: take extra help on early trips.
5 ~ Don't make plans based on last years' students. Every group is different, what works for one group may not work for the next. I was all set to begin Daily 5 and CAFE the first week of school. I had read the books, read every blog post I could find, made the posters ... but this group was not ready in September. I tried and tried, followed the books, no success. I had to do what was best for this group. We are doing a modified version of Daily 5 now and it is going quite smoothly. Lesson learned: do what is best for the students you currently have.
6 ~ Watch your immune system especially if you are training for a long distance event. My husband and I enjoyed a fabulous year of running. All summer my husband trained for a marathon, he did every work out, didn't get injured and was set to PR. Two weeks prior to the marathon he was feeling a bit extra tired, but attributed this to all his training. Less than one week before the marathon he was SICK. Fever on marathon day - no running. Six weeks out of work and still tired. Doctor said it could be six months before he returns to normal. Lesson learned: sickness can stop you in your tracks.
7 ~ Parents get old. I've never before thought of my parents as old until this Fall. My Dad spent a month in the hospital. It got quite dicey a few times, but he is finally home and on his way to recovery. This illness took a big toll on both of my parents.
8 ~ Grandchildren are the gifts you receive for letting your own children leave the nest!   
... The great horned owl pictured above visited our classroom. He was huge - a six foot wing span! The children got to see him turn his head, and a close up look at talons. Its amazing how live animals can make learning come alive.
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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

 13 in '13 {linky party}

Well I've fallen a bit behind in my blogging, 2013 sent a few unexpected bumps and even some rough turns in August that continued into December - but the bumps have finally been smoothed out some, and I am looking forward to a wonderful 2014. When I saw this linky hosted by Miss Kindergarten, A Teeny Tiny Teacher, and Dragonflies in First, I thought what a nice way to present the highlights of those tricky months. Here are my 13 for '13 and one looking forward to '14:

My husband and I ran in states #s 16, 17, 18, and 19 ~ getting closer to all 50.
~ a 5K in Hendersonville, Kentucky
~ a Double = 10K followed by a 5K in Indy, Indiana with a trip to the Indiana State Fair
~ a 10K trail in Fall Creek Falls Tennessee (a gorgeous place)
~ a 5K in Lawrenceville, Georgia run with our daughter and 2 grandchildren in the jogger stroller!

My teaching partner made contact with Wildlands Conservancy.
We arranged for a fantastic naturalist to visit our classroom twice a month, she is following closely what we are teaching in the classroom. The first visit was an introduction to bears and deer which live in the forest - the habitat we studied for the first quarter.

We received our classroom mascot from Boyds by Enesco.
He is so soft and lovable!
We took our first field trip to the forest at Wildlands Conservancy. There we spent quite a bit of time exploring a pond. We collected water plants, minnows, tadpoles, and even a frog - which are now living in our classroom until Spring when we will return them to their pond. We also met Harvey the snake, a toad, sat on 'The Spooky Bridge' and tried looking through a microscope for the first time.
These are some of the creatures we collected at Wildlands Conservancy that are now living in an aquarium in our classroom. We can't wait to see the tadpoles change into frogs.
Here is our second field trip to the forest. This time we travelled to Lehigh Gap Nature Center.
There we hiked in the forest along the river and up the mountian. We looked and listened for songbirds, and were very fortunate to have a bald eagle fly right over us as we were hiking. We also explored the tiny things that live in ponds under microscopes and even got to hold a salamander.
Just Born has sponsored our World of Discovery Program (you can read more about this is the two previous posts.) Through their generous donation we have been able to purchase the most amazing classroom rug ever - it has a leaf for each student to sit on, kits for exploring lady bugs & worms, nonfiction books, books, and more books, and they are funding the transportation for our field trips! Thank you Just Born!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
On this visit from Wildlands we learned all about worms. We touched them, looked at them through microscopes and went outside to see where they live.
Nocturnal animals was the theme of this Wildlands visit. Lisa ~ our favorite visitor and naturalist from Wildlands brought with her the book Sassafras by Audrey Penn along with a real live skunk and owl. She read the book to us, signed it, and left it as a wonderful gift for us to enjoy agin and again. 
For this visit we had moved our forest study to the tropical rainforest. You can see our sampling of visiting creatures above.
Our next area of study was the forest in the Tongass of Alaska. We looked closely at bears, salmon, bald eagles and the trees in this temperate rainforest. Our visiting animals included a flying squirrel, a porcupine and a great horned owl.
As it turned colder in our neighborhood we travelled to the northern forests of the Arctic. Here we learned about polar bears, arctic hares & foxes, and the snowy owl. We were able to compare and contrast different types of rabbits after this domestic rabbit visited us.
Our last Wildlands visit of 2013 concentrated on deer, reindeer and caribou - as Christmas was upon us. We even made reindeer ornaments for our Christmas trees.
Looking forward to 2014.
Christmas break was wonderful!
 Both our daughters visited along with our two grandchildren.
Wishing everyone an amazing NEW YEAR!

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