Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: brainstorming, discussion, and art!

**Note: Please excuse the look of my blog at the moment...I'm trying to figure out where my design went!!**

I'm so so so excited to be diving into this book and go through this book study with so many amazing bloggers! Making learning more engaging and meaningful for my kids is such a huge passion for me. I was really struck by the first strategy "Brainstorm and Discussion". The poem at the very start of the chapter was so true and so telling. "They can't talk in class, they can't talk in the hall, they can't talk in the cafeteria, they can't talk at all!" Yet, as the book says, teachers and talking at every chance they get. But we often have a habit of shushing rather than encouraging discussions between our students.  As I was reading this chapter I was simultaneously thinking of all the ways I already utilize discussion and all and the same time all the opportunities I am missing to bring even more discussion and collaboration into our everyday routine.

As many others have noted, my kids LOVE to talk. They are so so chatty, and of course many times I find myself trying to stifle the "mindless chatter".  I think that my biggest takeaway from the whole chapter is to make it a point to find ways to channel their natural inclination to communicate with each other and turn that into better learning opportunities.

While I know I can improve in this area, we do utilize discussion and collaboration at various times in our day. Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I am obsessed with Number Talks in my classroom. Every day we gather together to discuss ways to solve various problems. We talk about different strategies to solve a single problem and as they are talking I am writing down their explanations. We end up with a white board that looks like this.

After we have shared a few strategies with the whole group, I have them turn to an elbow partner (or 2) and discuss how they solved the problem. They get just as excited about finding someone who solved it a different way as they get finding someone who solved it the same way as them.

Number talk time is easily one of my kids' favorite times of day.  Many of them excitedly ask if we are doing one every time we gather to sit on the carpet. After a few months of doing this every day they started doing it on their own during "dessert time" aka early finisher time.  They absolutely love getting to discuss and collaborate to solve problems. I just love this first picture of one of my sweet girls running her own number talk on the carpet.

Another favorite in my room is our I Spy games. I have some of these games for all the phonics patterns that we go through over the course of the year. I give an I Spy Board to teams of 2 students. To start the game,  I give them a "clue" as to what word I am looking for. So I will say "This is something you can eat.." or "This might be in your house.." or "This is a verb.." and the partners discuss the clue, and read together to find the words that might fit the riddle.

After a few rounds, I have the teams work together to come up with a list of "clues". After everyone has their clues they hook up with another team to share clues and solve each others riddles. I love this game because not only is everyone engaged in reading words using the phonics pattern of the week, there is a lot of collaboration and critical thinking involved in coming up with the clues.

I've been really loving using STEM challenges this year in my room also. (There are some great resources out on TPT!) One of my favorites all year was at Thanksgiving when they had to Mayflowers that would float and not let the Pilgrims (marshmallows) drown. I sat at my table with the "ocean" and when teams thought they were ready we tried to float across the ocean. I just loved hearing their discussions and problem solving as their boats sprung leaks, toppled over, or sunk straight to the bottom.

(Find this pack on TPT here)

I'm really inspired to bring collaboration and discussion into more areas of learning.

I really loved strategy 2: Drawing and Artwork. I saw a facebook post today from someone venting her frustration about times when people generalize any crafts in the classroom as "fluff". I wanted to stand up and cheer. There is SO much value in artistic expression for all people especially for little people! One of my favorite things to do in my classroom is to just hand my students construction paper and say "make a pumpkin" or "make a penguin" or "make a Christmas tree". I love to see their brains working as they figure out how to take a sheet of paper and cut it down to make whatever they are making. The first few times I do it they always look at me like "uh, where's my tracer? What the heck am I supposed to do??" but with a little prompting they just start exploring and trying and in the end come up with awesome crafts. Here's a pic of some penguins I had my kids made this way a few years back. No tracers or patterns or examples, just paper and their own imaginations (...and some die cut eyes haha). I just love how they each end up with their own personalities :)

I recently had a classroom experience that related perfectly to this chapter. I will admit that when making a craft with a writing project, while I to like to give them freedom, I almost always have them write first and then do the art part. I'm just gonna be real with yall this is part habit and part manipulation to get my reluctant writers to do some work so they can do the craft when they are done. However, purely by accident, I had an epiphany.

In January we were doing a writing response to the book "Snowmen at Night". My plan was to have them write about what their snowman did at night and how it messed up his/her clothes and pieces, and then make a snowman that showed a hat askew or an arm out of place.  (I'm pretty sure I got this idea from the fabulous Vickie Plant last year). Well, this was one of those Monday mornings where I was printing the paper (yes I have a classroom printer - such a gift!) while I was reading the story. Well, that gift of a printer decided to jam itself up so well that I needed outside assistance, so I decided to let them make the snowmen first and then do the writing after. Yall, I was AMAZED at how much their creativity came out through doing the artwork BEFORE the writing. The stories of their snowmen that they created were so detailed and intricate because they were focused on MAKING the snowmen with the materials rather than having to get through writing the story. When it came time to write, they had some AMAZING stories that they were SO excited to write. I mean some of my most reluctant writers wrote the most amazing things!!

It was in that moment that I realized how much tapping into their artistic side brought out their creativity in a new way. Not only did they come up with more interesting stories, they were REALLY excited to get their stories written down. I really got a new understanding of the importance of artistic expression.  When I read the book In Pictures and In Words a few years ago and it changed my writing workshop world, I really came to understand how allowing students the freedom to get their thoughts out in words can really tap into their creativity and create better writers. But somehow that knowledge never fully transferred over in my head to actual cut and glue crafting. Nothing about that craft was "fluff" and that writing lesson would have been nowhere near as meaningful for many of my kids if we had just done a written response to the book without the art component. It really changed a lot about they way I approach using art in my room.

I also learned that day that every art project doesn't need to be perfect and cookie cutter and uniform. These snowmen were not really "bulletin board worthy" or "Pinterest picture ready" but my kids really owned them as their own and because of that they were awesome to me. (BTW: Don't get me wrong, I love cute crafts just as much as the next teacher!! I'm totally not hating on cute crafts at all!)

This snowman went dancing and her hat slid off...

This guys' face got messed up when he put on a jet pack and flew around the town.

The last thing that really struck me from this project was how much the students loved sharing their snowmen with their friends. I made a note to try to remember to give them more opportunities to share their artwork one on one with their peers. This will let them not only share their point of view but also see how their friends completed the same projects - more collaboration and discussion!!

I'm so inspired by this book already I can't wait to dive into more chapters in the next few weeks!!

"What do teachers learn at teacher school?"

Last week I was out of the room for 2 days to see the fabulous Kim Adsit present!! If you ever get a chance to take a workshop with her go do it!!  I'm still reading through all my notes and riding on the inspiration I got from 2 days with her :)

I generally tell the kids when I know I will be out of the room, and once a year I like to keep my whereabouts a secret and have the kids guess where they think I am as a writing prompt.

This time I decided to tell them I went to "teacher school" and the sub had them write about what they thought I was learning. Their responses and pictures were HILARIOUS. I was cracking up when I got back to school.

Here are a few of my favorites:

"She needs to learn how to draw" (True story)
"She needs to learn not to forget to print things" HA!!
"She should learn Social Studies so she can teach it" (My partner teacher teaches SS)
LOTS of them said I was learning about Number Talks.
"She's learning to count to a million"
"She should give us less sugar"(What?? When do I ever give them sugar??)
"I hope she is learning more math games"
"She needs to learn to give harder spelling tests"

The pictures were so funny!!

My partner teacher at I at our desks :)

Me trying to do math and apparently getting pretty stressed about it!

I really love this one. I mean my nails look awesome!! But I should really work on my pencil grip!

I just really loved getting to see their thoughts and perspective on what they think teachers learn/should learn at school. If you want to grab some writing paper to use the next time you go to "teacher school" you can download it here.

Snowman Store

Hi friends!  I wanted to stop in and share this great activity we did this week in math. We had so much fun with this and there were SO MANY great math skills being practiced all at once.

It all started with a picture.

Last week I saw this post on Instagram and immediately my head started buzzing with ideas. A snowman store where the kids buy all the pieces that they need to build a snowman?? LOVE.IT.  We have been working with money the last few weeks and I decided that this would be a great way to make it meaningful for my kids.

My teaching assistant donated a TON of real coins to the classroom a few years ago so the kids get to learn with real money which they absolutely love!

To prep the stores I just cut up some carrot noses, hats, earmuffs, scarves, sticks and a bunch of buttons and coal.  I also used die-cut circles for the snowballs.

Over the last few years I have been acquiring these circle punches in various sizes. They work perfectly for eyes, and various other craft pieces. These were perfect for the coal, buttons and earmuffs.

There are a ton of different ways you can set this up but this is what worked for my class:

I projected the price list up on the starboard. 

I split my class into 2 groups - buyers and sellers. We have 6 tables in our room so I had 3 tables of buyers and 3 tables of sellers. I had each buyer table go to a specific seller table so everyone always had a task.

The buyers had to buy 1 piece at a time for their snowman. They chose the piece to buy, checked the board to see how much that piece cost, and gathered the correct amount of money. 

 I wanted the sellers to get some practice with making change so I made the rule that the buyers could NOT use pennies to buy. This rule also made the buyers had to really think about coin values so for example if they wanted to buy a scarf for 7 cents they had to pay with 10 cents and the seller had to give them 3 cents back. 

Each time the buyers bought a piece, they took it back to their desk and recorded how much that item cost them. This was opportunity for some more great math skills as many of the times were bought in multiples so for example, they had to figure out how much 4 buttons cost at 2 cents per button.  

I just loved hearing all of the math talk going on while they were buying and making change for each other. When 1 group had finished buying all the pieces for their snowmen I had all the buyers put their pieces into a plastic bag to store while we switched up. Then all the buyers became sellers and the sellers became buyers. When we finished the second round everyone got to glue their snowmen together.

Quick tip: you will have to keep going around and transferring pennies from the buyer bucket back to the seller bucket so that each "store" has enough pennies to make change.

The next day, we went back and counted up how much money they spent in all.  I gave everyone back their snowman, a recording sheet, and a coin mat. (Please excuse the terrible lighting on this phone pic!)

First they put the correct amount of money in the box for each item bought Then it was time to count. My kids are doing really great at this point at counting up large numbers of mixed coins so I decided to add a bit more of a challenge. We watched the Brainpop Jr lesson on equivalent coins and I told them I wanted them to get their money down to the smallest number of coins that they could before counting up their spending total.  After they had filled their mat with the cost of each item, they started trading in coins for larger coins. When they couldn't trade in anymore, they counted up their spending total and recorded it.

Finally I had them compare spending totals with a friend and discuss why their totals were different. Again, there was some really great math talk going on as they discussed why their totals were different and compared what they spent their money on. 

I absolutely loved this activity. I'll admit, it was loud and a seemingly chaotic but everyone was really engaged and practicing a ton of math skills in the process.

You can find the price list and recording sheets by clicking the picture below.

Have a great weekend yall!!

Combination snowflakes!!

My sweet kiddos this year are always surprising me with things that they do. One morning this week one of my boys brought me a white board with an idea that he had for a math activity that we could do. This is what he showed me:

He said "We can all pick a number and write all the different combinations on the points of the snowflakes! And then we can hang them up around the room!!" I thought it was a great idea and we made them that afternoon!

When you are making snowflakes and you fold the paper enough to make it look like a pizza pie it's not hard to know where to hold and where to cut, but I wanted these ones to have a specific shape and number of points so I had them fold the paper into quarters.   I gave everyone a sticker on one corner of their folded paper and put a sticker on the same corner of the tracer. This way everyone knew exactly where to place the tracer on the paper so we all got actual snowflakes and not random cut apart pieces of paper.

After everyone cut out their snowflakes I had them pick a teen number to use. We are getting really good with our facts to 10 and are working on facts to 20.  Some students needed some extra support with the use of some counters and a number bond in order to make the 4 different combinations.

When they had come up with their 4 combinations on a white board I let them place them on their snowflakes.  They matched the marker colors and placed the numbers for each combination on opposite points of the snowflakes.

By some horrible mistake I found myself VERY low on white construction paper (in the middle of January!) so we had a lot of blue snowflakes ha!  After they had written all of their number combinations, we folded the snowflakes back up (with the number side out) and cut holes in the middle to add some more interest.

This was such a fun and easy way to practice some math facts and I just loved the fact that it was a student's idea!!

You can grab the template for the tracer here.

We are diving head first into some penguin research this week. I hope yall have a great week!!

Hot Chocolate Math Freebie!

Happy Sunday friends!!

I just wanted to share a game we played in math centers this week that was a huge hit. We are still working on becoming fluent with those math facts so I made this quick little game for them. This was a good mix of skills because it encouraged quick recall of facts, decomposing and some missing addend practice all in one game.

This can be played in pairs or groups of 3 (I have an odd number of students this year). Each student gets a board, a spinner, and a set of hot chocolate cards.

When everyone has placed their cards, they yell go and start to race each other to fill their boards with "marshmallow numbers".  The hot chocolate cards are the whole in the number sentences and the marshmallow numbers are the parts. They spin a number and decide where they can put the number on their board. If they spin a number that they can't use, they just spin again. There are also a few wild spots that they can use as any number.  (You can see that this student really loved using 0 as the wild number - I gently guided him to start trying some other combinations)

The first person to fill their board yells "hot chocolate!"  Everyone checks to make sure their math is correct and then they all erase, pick new numbers and play again. Easy fun + great math practice = my favorite kind of math center.

I made boards for both math facts and combinations to 10 (depending on what your kids need to practice)

You can grab the game for free in my store by clicking the picture below.

Enjoy your extra day off tomorrow!!

Binder covers to dry erase boards

I'm excited to share another Bright Idea along with some fabulous teachers!!

This is one of my favorite tricks from my early years of teaching.  I've been fairly limited on copy counts and laminating in the last few years so I really try to limit the copies that I use for centers.  I generally have a lot of games and recording sheets in sheet protectors. A few years ago someone dumped a BUNCH of old binders in the teachers lounge and we hit the jackpot. Unfortunately the actual binder rings were busted but somehow we got the idea to cut off the covers and turn them into dry erase boards.

While I use a lot of sheet protectors as well, these binder covers are great because they are sturdy and keep the paper that you slide into them nice and neat (so many times when I pull papers or even card stock out of sheet protectors in a center they are all wrinkly from the wear and tear of little hands).

Just cut off the cover of a binder along the corner.

Papers slide easily in and out of these covers. I've added some washi tape to some of mine to add a little bit of pizazz.

Easy peasy right?? They work great for playdoh mats, spinners, game boards,  dry erase boards, or recording sheets for centers.

Be sure to scroll down to find lots of other great ideas from lots of great teachers! Happy Saturday friends!!

1 week till Thanksgiving break and counting...

Happy Monday friends!! Can you BELIEVE that it's already the week before Thanksgiving?? Goodness and I thought October flew by fast!! I just wanted to stop by to share a few things we've been doing in 1st grade.

We have been working for a few weeks on 2 digit numbers.  Last week we played a lot with adding and taking away tens and ones. We used these turkey mats to practice adding tens to a number. Some students used the base ten blocks and others skipped right past that step and just added the tens right on the feathers. It was a great way for me to see different students' levels of comfort with this concept.

After some practice using the math mats I let them pick a number and make their own turkey. These guys were a big hit :)


 You can grab the mats and turkey craft in my Turkey Tens pack.

We've also been building and manipulating 2 digit numbers with our number cards. I have a big blog post in the works about all the ways we use these cards so stay tuned for that ;)

Today we finished our "How To Cook a Turkey" writing and made these cute turkeys.  I always love doing this writing every year the steps to cook a turkey are always hilarious. My favorite one of all time was last year "First, get in the car and go to Grandma's. Second, eat Turkey".

You can grab the writing paper by clicking on the pic below.

And now it's another early bedtime Monday for me!!