Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites {Chapter 16}

Chapter 16 is being hosted by Sarah at A Rocky Top Teacher.  This chapter is about technology.  Do your kiddos love technology as much as mine?  They pick up on technology skills SO quickly; many of them have been exposed to a wild variety of technology for all of their short little lives.  We didn't have a computer in my house until I was in high school (late 90s), and learning to type was a struggle for me.  Thanks to AOL Instant Messenger and wanting to communicate with my friends, I learned more quickly than I might have otherwise.

"Technology is not the lesson itself, but a tool for teaching the lesson."  (Hiraoka, 2006)  I think sometimes we focusing teaching the technology and the lesson gets lost.  I try to make my students' uses of technology valuable and not just an accumulation of 'screen time'.  I would guess that this would be a goal for many teachers as we know that some students get plenty of less-structured screen time at home.

Students researched farm animals using both PebbleGo and books.  They worked in groups of three to write little books about their animals to share with the class.

One of my favorite websites (with a hefty price) is PebbleGo.  It is a wonderful place for early readers to do research.  The text can be read aloud, highlighting the words as it is read.  Information is well-organized and presented in small chunks.  This year it is able to be used on the iPad, which is a perk for me.  Our building had a subscription that just recently expired last week.  Only a few teachers were using it so it was decided not to keep it.

We have been using a variety of apps like ChatterPix, WordFoto, Doodle Buddy, and Book Creator to share our learning.  When we use Book Creator, we submit our books to one person in our district who then submits them to Apple.  He keeps track of the number of downloads on each book and occasionally updates students on how many downloads we have and where in the world the books have been downloaded.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Our Planting Adventure

With Earth Day right around the corner, I thought it was a good time to plant seeds with my kiddos.  I have a local college student who comes to work with our class twice a week, and this seemed like the perfect job for him.

I purchased clear plastic cups for our planting because I thought my kiddos would be able to see the roots (maybe?) as our plants grew.  We got some new science materials this year, and included in the kit was soil, rye seed and a grow light.

With a little guidance, the seeds were successfully planted and watered.  The next day, a sad thing happened.  During centers, I caught 2 students looking in the cups to see "where the plants were hiding".  By "looking", I mean they were digging through the dirt trying to find the plants because they thought plants should have grown overnight of course.  

I watered the little guys before I left on Friday.  I don't normally have a very green thumb, so we'll see if anything grows after the adventure these little seeds have been on!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites {Chapters 14 & 15}

Kim and Megan from Kinder Gals are hosting the link up for Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites Chapters 14 & 15.  These chapters focus on Role Playing and Storytelling.

"As students involve their bodies in the comprehension of concepts and ideas through role plays and skits, they are able to understand the material in new ways." (Sprenger, 2007a)

My kiddos this year love Reader's Theater.  We have many of A Teeny Tiny Teacher's Reader's Theater packs. They are meant for 2 students to work together.  Each student's part is color-coded, making it easy for students to practice without me.

The Housekeeping/Dramatic Play center is one of my kiddos' favorites.  They love pretending to be grown-up.  It is a great play to include academic skills where they don't even realize they are learning along with their play.

I think areas where I could use more role playing are math and science.  We act out story problems when we first start doing them (and addition/subtraction) but why not more after that.  I'm not sure why I just kind of let it go by the wayside.  In science, we have used motions to learn things like the water cycle and have "acted out" the butterfly life cycle.  I know there are more ways we could incorporate role play here as well.  

How do you incorporate role play, drama and story telling in your classroom?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Plant Parts

Our study of plants fell when there was still snow flying, which doesn't really make me think about planting plants!  We decided to hold off until later this month with the planting but to go ahead and study plants in the unit where they were intended.  To learn about the parts of a plant, we made these little "lift-the-flap" sheets.  It is an 11x17 sheet of paper so they had plenty of room.

We started off by doing a directed drawing of sorts by putting each part of the plant in the correct section.  Once the part of the plant was drawn, students labeled that particular section of the plant.

 After drawing and labeling, we opened the paper flat to cut on those black lines to have flaps to lift.  We talked about only cutting to the fold or you would not have 1 piece of paper anymore and you would be sad.  To my delight, 100% followed these directions and everyone's paper was intact at the end of day 1!

On day 2, we lifted each flap and wrote a fact about that part of the plant.  I wrote these facts on the SMARTboard for students, and they copied them into the appropriate section on their paper.  We only opened the flap we were working on at the time so the writing didn't go into the next section.  Once we were finished with 1 section, that flap was closed and the next one was opened.

"The stem takes food all around the plant."
On the third day, students had a snack of different plant parts.  They wrote each "part" on the "flap" side of the book.  We didn't label seeds on our paper, but we did taste seeds, so we just wrote these at the bottom of the roots part of our paper.They were surprised to find new vegetables that they thought they didn't like, but learned that, after trying them, they weren't all that bad.  Their favorite seemed to be finding the peas inside the pea pods.

Broccoli: flower, Lettuce: leaves, Celery: stem, Carrot: root, Peas: seeds

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites {Chapter 13}

Stephanie from Falling Into First is hosting Chapter 13, which is about Reciprocal Teaching and Cooperative Learning.

"Students' memory is strengthened when they are provided with opportunities to teach the entire class, parents or small groups." (Tileston, 2004)

At the beginning of the year, we spend quite a bit of time learning how to learn with others.  We do a lot quick small group and partner activities.  I change who they work with daily in centers at the beginning of the year to help my kiddos get to know one another.

One of my favorite activities at the beginning of this year was a collaborative mural.  I broke my kiddos into 2 groups and gave each group a large sheet of bulletin board paper.  I put several cups of paint and brushes on the table and my only instructions were to share and to create the mural using circles.

Both turned out very differently, but looking back, I can definitely see the personalities shine through.  In the "neon" group, the girls were dominant, whereas in the primary one, it was the boys.  There were an equal number of boys and girls in each group.

Throughout the year, students have a partner on the carpet.  This is their "turn and talk" partner.  I don't change these partners often as long as they are well matched.  This year they've been changed once; last year they were changed multiple times throughout the year.  This partner is the person students turn to throughout lessons to "think-pair-share".

Students worked in groups during our toy drive to advertise, collect and clean the toys.
Generally, when we do cooperative groups, particularly with project-based, these groups change with every project.  Sometimes students are grouped based on interest, other times personality.  I try to have a "high", a "middle" and a "low" in each group.  I like making the groups mixed ability because I feel as though it gives them more of a chance to learn from one another.  Everyone has different life experiences and different ways of approaching a task.

Something I would like to work on is being a little more flexible with grouping.  I have a hard time letting students choose their own partners/groups.  I allow them to choose during who they work with during "free choice centers" (play-based).  I can see the benefit of students choosing their own groups sometimes.  As we go into the end of the year, I plan to to have at least 1 project where students can choose their own groups.  I'm hoping that with the structure up to this point in the year, they will be successful in this little adventure.

How do you encourage cooperative learning in your classroom?  Do you choose the groups/partners or do your students choose themselves?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites {Chapter 12}

Sarah from First Grader...at Last! is hosting the link up for Chapter 12, which was about Project-Based and Problem-Based Instruction.

"When students interact with other students in a group while solving problems, both cognitive (basic) and metacognitive (higher-order) thinking skills are stimulated." (Posamentier & Jaye, 2006)

I love project-based learning!  It engages kiddos and can really make them think.

One of the suggestions given in the book was to have students construct their own math problems and have other students solve them.  We have done this many times throughout the year, especially with story problems.  My kiddos love challenging each other and seeing their friends solve their problems.

Over the past 3 years, I have really embraced project-based.  Our reading curriculum ends at the end of April, but we go to school through the end of May.  I devote this entire month to different projects.  This year I'm hoping to let students choose their topic that they want to learn more about then teach the rest of the class.   Each year, we have done a habitats project.  Our kiddos graduate the last week of school, so this has been a great way to allow parents to see their projects.  You can read more about these project by following these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Giving to OthersWhat's on the Menu, Community.

Beyond all the great skills students learn while engaged in project-based instruction, I love to hear their share their learning with others.  With my habitat projects mentioned above, students created "science boards" with information about their habitats.  We invited other classes to come on a gallery walk the day before graduation.  As students from other classes visited their projects, my students answered questions and shared their learning.  When projects are displayed in the hallway, we leave a little "guestbook" for our visitors (usually other staff members) to leave us little notes about our projects.  My kiddos get so excited when we have a new message in the guestbook!
Sharing their projects with others.
In our district, we have an "Aviator Profile".  These are 6 skills we want all students to have before they graduate: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creative innovators, caring citizens and .  At first, it seemed like just one more thing to think about when planning.  I knew that my kiddos would not use it or understand it unless they took ownership of it.  I put them into small groups, and each group illustrated and described their characteristic.  These hang around the poster with all the characteristics listed.  My kiddos are able to tell you which of the characteristics they worked on during a particular project.

Generally, my PBL has covered language arts and science/social studies standards.  Math is another great place to use PBL, so that is my goal: to incorporate more projects into math.  Have you used PBL in your classroom?  How has it worked for you?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

2-D Shape Books and an App

If you have been hanging out around my blog for a bit, you know that we love to use technology in my classroom!  My kiddos thrive on technology, and many times, are much better than me with it.

Our curriculum began introducing 2-D shapes at the beginning of March and introduced one shape per day. My students were good with shapes, but just needed some vocabulary built (corner/vertex, sides, curved line, etc).  I knew that they would pick this up much easier if they didn't just listen to me say it over and over again.

I broke students into 5 groups and assigned each group a shape: circle, square, triangle, rectangle and hexagon.  Each group was responsible for one shape.  Their job was to take their iPad through the room and take pictures of items that were of their shape.  They were then going to write their first iBook without me sitting right there (big step for this girl who sometimes has trouble letting go of control).

Taking pictures of their shapes.

Hexagons were hard to find, so these smarties created their own!

I was absolutely amazed with the results.  Over a period of four 20-30 minute sessions, each group had created a book.  Students were in charge of choosing their own book title and creating the book. They uploaded their own photos, added text and even drew some arrows in some of them.  We use the app Book Creator to make books because it is so kid-friendly.

We'd love for your to download them using your Apple device or just check out the PDFs.  They get so excited when we have new downloads; thanks for checking them out!

1.  Circles-
iTunes link:

PDF link:

2.  Our Hexagon-
iTunes link:

PDF link:

3.  Things About Rectangles-
iTunes link:

PDF link:

4.  Triangles-
iTunes link:

PDF link:

5.  Square Land-
iTunes link:

PDF link:

At centers, they are more than happy to play with Timmy Learns: Shapes and Colors app that Mary Amoson from Sharing Kindergarten helped design.  At first I thought it was going to be too easy since we weren't using it until March.  Turns out that they didn't mind because they were so engaged in the "play" aspect of it.  They quickly advanced to the skills they were more in need of and are still asking to use it.  Well worth $1.99!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Animal Characteristics

Our most recent study right before Spring Break was animal characteristics.  I decided to cover one type of animals per day.  I've found that when students, much like myself, write something down, they are more likely to recall the information.

I created a set of fill-in-the-blank books for students to use as we learned about each type of animals.  They completed one book per day, and we also had a snack each day.  Food makes all learning better, right?

Day 1 was mammals.  Since it was the week before Easter, we made little bunnies out of sugar cookies, frosting, pull & peel licorice and M & Ms.

Cover page of book about mammals.

Day 2 was about reptiles.  I was struggling to come up with a snack, so we had gummy worms and pretended they were gummy snakes.
Page from reptile book.
This child is working on the last page of the book where students write animals in that group and draw a picture of the animals they chose.

Day 3 covered amphibians.  We made little frogs using pretzel flats, Oreos and M&Ms.

We finished up the week learning about birds.  I made little bird nests using chow mien noodles,  marshmallow fluff, peanut butter and M&ms.  My kiddos filled their nests with eggs (jelly beans) and a bird to keep the eggs warm (Peep).

Today is our first day back from Spring Break and the start of our new unit about water.  I decided to start this unit off with a fish book.  Our snack will be Swedish Fish (with eggs) from the Easter aisle.  

These books are a new pack in my TpT store.  They are bundled into one pack and are currently on sale for $4, but will be regular price ($5) on Friday.  Check them out here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites {Chapter 11}

What the Teacher Wants is hosting this chapter on Music, Rhythm, Rhyme and Rap.

We love music and rhyme in my room.  I think I hear daily "That rhymes with..." or "____ and ____ rhyme".  I'm glad my kiddos are making these connections and are wanting to point it out.

We are rockstars at rhyming this year.  Our favorite rhyming activity this year is "I have, Who has" with rhyming words.  As I was writing this post, I thought "wouldn't it be fun when I have a minute or two to break students into groups, give each group a rime and have them see how many rhyming words they can come up with in a minute."  They love little games like this, and much to their less than competitive teacher's delight, are not super competitive in little games like this.  We must give this a try sometime...

We just started writing poetry last week.  We haven't talked much about it rhyming, but more about the rhythm of it.  So far, my kiddos have enjoyed writing and listening to/reading poetry.  One of them even wrote his daily journal like a poem.  It was written vertically down the page with only a few words per line.  He was so proud to show me that it looked like a poem.  Good connection, buddy!

"The rhythms, contrasts, and patterns of music help the brain encode new information, which is why students easily learn words to new songs." (Jensen, 2005; Webb & Webb, 1990)

I am always amazed at how quickly students pick up on songs.  I also have to laugh, to myself of course, when I hear students singing things that aren't the most appropriate for young ears and mouths knowing that they probably only heard it a couple times and already have it memorized.  This makes me think that music is so incredibly important to learning if they can pick up on things that we may not want them to through music!

I mentioned a few of these in my post yesterday about movement.  HeidiSongs and Jack Hartmann incorporate both music and movement.  You can check both of them out with their YouTube links above.  We puffy heart "Miss Heidi" in our room.  She makes an appearance on a daily basis, and my kiddos are better readers and writers thanks to her songs.  Jack Hartmann has been instrumental in teaching science concepts to my kiddos.  Both have catchy songs with motions that my kiddos remember.  When writing, I start singing a HeidiSong, and my kiddos are able to write the word with just the first few words of the song.

Harry Kindergarten is also a staple in our room.  You can check him out using the YouTube link.  I generally use his stuff for math concepts.  We are currently using his 3-D shapes song on a daily basis.

The penguin was for my class.  Each presenter that they "knew" (via their songs) was kind enough to take a picture with the penguin last year to send to my students.  They were in awe!
I have had the opportunity to see all three of these talented musicians/educators in person at I Teach K! It was a wonderful experience, and they are just as fun in person. My kiddos think it is so cool that I actually met them.

I'd like to add more by encouraging students to create their own songs/chants/rhymes to remember important information.  I think student-created will certainly leave more of an impact on their learning, and my kiddos love learning from one another.

How do you incorporate music, rhythm and rhyme in your classroom?  We'd love to add even more to our room!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites {Chapters 8-10}

I'm back to with more Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites.  I am combining chapters 8-10 because honestly, I struggled to think of ways I use chapters 8 & 9.

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 was about using similes, metaphors and analogies.  After reading through the different ways to use these, the only way that I could think of that I solidly use this strategy was through the teaching of inverse operations in math.  We have talked a few times about how we can check a subtraction problem's answer by using addition.  This is also a way we have started to build some fact fluency.  

Tate says this is the most effective strategy for students because it helps build connections.  I guess that mean I had better find a way to incorporate it more!  One way for me to do this would be through examples and non-examples.  Instead of simply doing sorts, I could have students sort examples/non-examples and explain why.  This would be a little higher level and the explanation would help build their vocabulary as well.  Win-win!

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is about mnemonics.  Again, this was not a strength for me.  The only one we have used is good old ROY G BIV for the colors of the rainbow.  Believe you me, we have that one down pat!  Well, if that works, why not try another!?!  Holly at Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten hosted the link up for this chapter, and has so many great mnemonics listed in her post.  A few I plan to use are some of the spelling ones, and I like the weather ones to use next year when we do the weather unit.  I love the idea of the kids coming up with their own mnemonics.  I could see my students really getting into this!

Chapter 10

Chapter 10 is about movement.  These quotes reminded me how important incorporating movement is:

"Any task learned when we are physically engaged in doing it remains in our memory for a very long time." {Allen, 2008}

"Movement not only enhances learning and memory but it also causes neural connections to become stronger." {Hannaford, 2005}

One of the ways I use movement is through Go Noodle.  I think this has become a staple in many classrooms, and it is no wonder why!  Another way we move daily is through HeidiSongs.   We L-O-V-E HeidiSongs in my classroom.  We have been moving and grooving to our sight words, phonics sounds and various math songs all year.  While I wash the breakfast tables each morning (we eat breakfast in our rooms), students are singing and dancing with Heidi.  Parents tell me all the time how impressed they are with their kids' spelling, and I attribute so much of that to HeidiSongs!  If you haven't used her stuff, look it up on YouTube and give it a try.

I use reading centers in my class to keep kids from being in one place for too long.  This isn't really movement throughout a lesson, but it does keep them up and going by rotating every 10-15 minutes.  I have also tried some alternative seating this year.  I borrowed an exercise ball from a partner and recently ordered 2 Hokki Stools.  This is the first year I have really noticed (probably more actually paid attention) to the different positions in which students learn best.  I have 3 kiddos who will happily stand all day while working.  After seeing them do this over and over again, I thought, why should I stop them.  This obviously works for them!

My kiddos love games.  One of my favorites is Double Double from Greg at Kindergarten Smorgasboard.   You can read more about it on his post.  We also modified it for subtraction by playing "Zero, Zero".  Each time you get doubles, the kiddos are up and moving.  They definitely know their doubles and are well on their way to building fluency in other facts as well.

Jack Hartmann has kept us moving while learning.  I have a few of his DVDs and CDs, and they are fantastic for teaching concepts with movement.  I personally like the DVDs because I don't have to create the movements on my own!

Sorry for the long post with no pictures!  I'd love to hear how you use these strategies in your classroom!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites, Chapter 7

Deanna from Mrs. Jump's Class is hosting Chapter 7 of the Worksheets Don't Build Dendrites book study.   Chapter 7 was about manipulatives, experiments, labs and models.  I'm late to the party on this one, but I thought it was a good chapter and wanted to record my thoughts.

I think kindergarten teachers as a whole love manipulatives.  Every activity is more fun with some type of fun seasonal/theme related manipulative.  I think kindergarten teachers are also good at making manipulatives out of any small object we can find!

My math shelf- not looking very organized at the moment.  There is usually a curtain hiding that!  These are my "year-round" materials.  Themed materials are stored in each theme's box.

Using jelly beans to practice math skills.

We are currently learning about shapes, which really lends itself to manipulatives.  My kiddos are loving our Learning Resources Dive Into Shapes set.  It makes them excited to visit the math center; that is a win in my book!

I think math is an area where I do a pretty good job incorporating manipulatives.  I was not good in math in school, and I think the hands-on experience would have helped.  I am also not very good at being able to "see" things.  I am HORRIBLE at tangrams, puzzles and building shapes.  Without directions using words AND diagrams I am generally a lost cause (you can imagine me with Ikea directions...).  Setting up my room takes me forever because I have to actually move all the furniture over and over again until I like it.  Being able to shift things around and play with it helps me.

This would be a struggle for me!
An area where I am not so good at using manipulatives in is reading.  I have multiple sets of magnetic letters, but I don't remember to use them.  I'm not sure why, they are cute and fun colors (usually a motivator for me), but they just don't get pulled out as much as I should.  I even have cute little magnetic boards (see below) but the letters still don't come out.  I've gotten better about playing games, which generally involve some type of manipulative, but this needs to be a goal.  More manipulatives in ELA!

I have the magnetic boards on the top/second shelf.  Found this picture on Kindergarten Korner.
Like math, science was "not my thing" in school. I didn't like lab day in chemistry- I was afraid I might break something, make it explode, etc.  I dreaded teaching science.  I'm sure it doesn't come as a surprise, the kiddos love science- especially hands on science.

This was last year when we tried the milk, food coloring and Dawn dish soap experiment.  
Making it "rain"
I would like to incorporate more STEM activities throughout the year and maybe involve parents or other volunteers to make this a more realistic idea.

Did you read others' thoughts on this chapter?  Be sure to head over to Mrs. Jumps class and check it out!