Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.” At PNA, “We educate students to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity.” Students at PNA demonstrate courage just by coming to school during a pandemic. Students also practice courage daily during Morning Meeting and Closing Circle. They not only speak in front of their peers but also share a belief, something about themselves, or their knowledge on a topic, knowing that not everyone will agree with them or understand.
Because courage is power, we must practice using it early and often. For the last two weeks, students have been using their reading fluency and comprehension skills to perform poems and plays in front of their peers. Last week, they performed winter plays to get an idea of what it takes to read, understand, and perform. Despite being nervous, students did it! When I was a kid, my teeth would chatter before speaking in front of people, so I know this took courage. For some, the courage was reading to someone else; for others, it was standing up and speaking in front of their peers or challenging themselves by memorizing their lines and finding the creativity to make props to entertain their audience.
This week, students learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They listened to the story, Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and looked at cause and effect to understand what Dr. King stood for and the courage he had. They also made a timeline of his life and listened to parts of his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Students then reflected on our world today and what they would like to see change. They then wrote their own “I Have a Dream” speech, which will be typed and displayed at PNA in the coming week.
To honor Dr. King, students have been preparing another performance for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. They have partnered up to read, comprehend, and perform poems about Dr. King and what he stood for. Through this, students recognize the kindness of similarities and the beauty of having differences. They will demonstrate courage by not only presenting these to their classmates but also to a live audience on Zoom.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance.” I know that, although the fear of speaking isn’t the same strife and dangers that Dr. King faced, these first graders will use these skills to overcome challenges and fears to do what is right and use the love they shine on others to uplift humanity, as they do for me.
Our class was ready to take a trip out of Anchorage and out of 2020! So, this week students brought out their great imaginations and traveled on Tuomi Airlines, not only to places around the world but also back in time!
After packing our suitcases and passports, we selected a destination on the map and took our seats for take-off. We ventured to Israel, Sweden, Mexico, Africa, Germany, Italy, and Australia to learn about the different holidays celebrated this time of year.
Upon arrival, students learned new facts about the winter holiday that originated from each destination. They were delighted to learn that Christmas is celebrated during Australia’s summer season and loved seeing pictures of animals with all the Christmas decorations.
Next, students listened to a story about how locals believe the holiday started. For example, students listened to the legend of La Befana, an old lady that now flies on her broom each year leaving presents for children in Italy.
Finally, they watched a real life video of the festivities going on in each region. In Mexico, students saw the different ways families celebrate Las Posadas. Many shared that they did not know people in Mexico made pinatas!
After learning about the holiday, students completed a fun artsy activity to show their knowledge of the holiday. For example, students colored and identified mystery items, like the dreidel, and recalled the order of events Kwanzaa.
Once we finished our adventure in one place, students added the stamp to their passport, and prepared for take-off.
My favorite part of our multi-destination trip was the connections students made between the new holiday traditions and their own. One student shared that he learned that the two countries his parents came from share a commonality--they both hide a baby figurine in a cake!
While traveling the world, students also took a trip back in time to experience and “compare life in the past to life in the present (HIST. Standard 1.1)” by making a gift with a skill people used in the past--sewing! They learned new vocabulary like “eye-of-the-needle” and “stitch.” There was frustration at times, especially when the thread came out of the eye, but students persevered and truly enjoyed the experience of making something special for a loved one.
No matter where you travel or how you celebrate the holidays this year, I hope you all stay safe and enjoy the traditions, new and old, that you get to experience with those closest to you.
Holiday stories, videos, & images from "Holiday's Around the World Unit - Interactive Google Slides" by Kristen Lawlor at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Holidays-Around-the-World-Unit-Interactive-Googles-Slides-6249203
Holiday worksheets from The Kinder Life - Amy McDonald at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/The-Kinder-Life-Amy-Mcdonald
To me, Thanksgiving is not only a time to reflect on what we are thankful for, but also a time to be with family, and (for a teacher) the perfect time for students to do a project that focuses on family. So, over Thanksgiving break, students worked from home with their loved ones to create a doll that represents one of their ancestors from a country their family originated from, and I have to say that I was so presently surprised and awed by the results.
This year in social studies, students have been studying geography and comparing life and perspectives in the past to those in the present. As part of the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) standards for first grade, students are also “working to understand the perspectives and cultures of others.” This project had students identify their country of origin on a map, record facts about their country, and learn where their classmates’ families originated.
As the dolls came in, our excitement grew, and my heart was overjoyed as I heard and witnessed the power of family support, which we have in our class! Students shared that they spoke with grandparents, brainstormed, and researched with parents & siblings, and all the things they had learned about their ancestors and family origin. However, the best part was seeing the pride in each student as they shared their doll, knowing that it represented who they are and the love and support that went into the whole project.
To start our sharing off, students added a sticker to our classroom map to see how far some of our families have to come to get to Alaska and know that we have families that originated from all around the world right here in our classroom. We learned that we have families from Russia, Taiwan, Mexico, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Ireland, England, and Alaska.
Students then presented their research--what their doll represents and facts about the country of origin. After presenting to their peers, audience members asked questions and shared compliments. Students demonstrated respect and appreciation for where each of their classmates came from and for what they created. They shared excitement for many of the facts that were presented, like how Ireland has 30,000 castles. They also showed an interest in learning more about their peers’ country of origin and an appreciation for the creativity, skill, and materials that went into making the clothing, hair, and props added to the dolls.
This week, students also began learning about terms like past, present, and future. They made a calendar of the month and added holidays that they and their classmates celebrate. They also sorted out objects between past and present, reflected on their own lives--past, present, and future-- and learned that what they did yesterday is already part of history (minds blown!). As we move forward, we will look at timelines and holidays while respecting the similarities and differences that each of us has and brings to our amazing classroom community.
This trimester, students researched and explored different animal systems, functions, and adaptations. This week used their new knowledge to think like an engineer, and developed a model of a new invention that mimics an animal system and solves a real-world problem.
To set students up for success in designing a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs, students read about and researched different organisms, their parts, and their functions. They labeled animal parts, explored examples of some animal and plant adaptations, and met with an engineer. They also researched, made inferences, and wrote their own scientific article about animal teeth. These were compiled into an online book that includes audio of the students reading their article aloud. You can check out the amazing job students did by clicking on the link below!
After gaining knowledge of animal systems and functions, students started reflecting on inventions already made. They drew the invention and reflected on how it mimics something in nature. Below is an image of clothing inspired by nature.
Next, students were given a problem and began working their way through the engineering process to solve the problem.
After choosing a problem, students began brainstorming and planning a solution to their problem.
Next, they began creating their new inventions with items like tin foil, plastic bottles, feathers, pipe cleaners, and stuffing to complete their task.
After creating their inventions, students tested them out. Some tested their invention in water to see if it would float and move. Some tried using their invention to dig in the frozen ground outside. Others dropped eggs to see if their invention would keep their egg from breaking. And the remainder took their inventions outside for some time to see if their design would keep their egg from getting cold and freezing.
At last, students reflected on their inventions. What worked? What could they improve? Some had the chance to improve and test their inventions multiple times, while others chose to continue the process at home. Either way, students knew it was the process that was most important, and they had a blast!
Worksheets & Engineering Process found at: www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Complete-1st-Grade-NGSS-Life-Science-Unit-4930148.
Students enjoyed learning from our guest marine engineer, Rett Tanner, this week. As students listened to how engineers came up with the inventions for scuba gear, I recognized the truth in Pacific Northern Academy’s mission statement: We educate students to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity. Students showed courage by asking questions and showed integrity by showing our guest respect, but what I really noticed was their vision. Students were fascinated by all the “what if’s” they could come up with. Some may consider questions like, “What if you run out of air?” or “What if a shark swims up?” silly, but these are the questions that guide engineers to the next great invention and questions that will help them accomplish their personal visions for the rest of their lives.
At the start of the year, students came up with their hopes and dreams for First Grade. Many said things like, “I hope to read lots of books” and “My goal is to have fun this year.” Doing this gave students a vision, or “a sense of purpose and direction” (Bowman) that helps students see that our class rules, daily goals, and the decisions we make each day all play a part in assisting them in accomplishing their hopes and dreams. In fact, every couple of days, students are asked to come up with a goal. Some say they want to win the soccer game at recess, some want to read three books, and others set a goal to finish a particular assignment. Doing this establishes an intention for the day and gives the students ownership of their learning. As the day progresses, they are reminded of their goals and are asked to reflect on what they need to do to accomplish them.
Many times throughout the day, students are offered choices. Some of these choices are decided by vote. Doing this helps students see what adults in the community do and will do this coming Tuesday and also allows them to see how their vote can change what their classroom community does. Students are also offered choices during subjects like reading. For example, they may choose to read to themselves or work on word work during reading rotations. These choices give students more purpose and interest in their learning and reshape their vision of the day, Some make a choice that helps them accomplish their goal, and some are left reflecting on what they can do differently to reach their goals next time.
I believe having vision also means having the ability to problem-solve. As I said before, this group of students is excellent at coming up with “what if” questions. What if the fire alarm goes off and I’m in the bathroom? What if the boat breaks down while scuba diving? These questions not only help them think like engineers in science but also help them recognize the problems that might arise in any given situation. Identifying the issues that might come up prepares them with new ideas to guide them back to track or to an even better destination when plans do change. These are skills that will help them be successful in the future because once they see a problem arise, they will already have a plan in action.
Giving students a voice in what they want each day and choices to help them succeed is vital in helping them see that their vision is important and that they can accomplish what they set their minds to. As we move forward, students will see how their vision can change into something else (maybe the student who wants to be a veterinarian will want to be an engineer) and how the choices they make shape their hopes and dreams today and in the future.
Bowman, Matthew. “3 Key Reasons Why Having A Vision Is So Important (And How To Define One).” Thrive Internet Marketing Agency, Thrive, 1 Oct. 2020, thriveagency.com/news/business-vision/.
This week first graders put spoons on their fingers and used them to dig in the dirt like an animal with claws! I feel so blessed to be teaching in-person and at a school that encourages hands-on learning, especially when I see how engaged and happy the students are. Not only do students reach higher cognitive skills through hands-on activities, but they are working on multiple skills and content areas, like fine-motor skills and art, and are directly observing, doing, and understanding what is happening.
In math, you can see our students adding and subtracting with tools like dominos and number racks that they made with beads and pipe cleaners. The number rack is a tool that helps them see and represent a number, and allows them to move the beads as they count, add, and subtract. Math also includes workshops that allow students to explore through games and activities like: domino games, making objects and designs with pattern blocks, and measuring furniture with number cubes and popsicle sticks. Students enjoy these hands-on activities because they can interact with peers (with distance and sanitizer), use their creativity, and do something that they are likely to do in the real world, like measure.
Play-Doh is another fun, hands-on tool that students can use to make things like their weekly spelling words. Students also enjoy building their spelling words with magnet letters, pipe cleaners, and their personal letter cutouts. It’s wonderful seeing students get creative with making the letter K out of pipe cleaners, and hearing other students help give ideas and explain the process to their classmates.
Science and social studies include many hands-on activities, as well. As you saw earlier in the year, first graders practiced using a compass that they each made from a paper plate. This week in science students explored animal adaptations with many household items. After digging in the dirt with their “claws” they had the task of finding cheerios and gummy worms with different bird beaks, or in their case, with chop sticks and clothes pins of different sizes. After exploring a few more adaptations, like blubber with Crisco, students made an organism with spikes. The goal was to make it so a bird could not eat their organism. These activities weren’t only fun, but allowed students to use their creativity, communicate and discuss methods and ideas with peers, and see the importance and function of an organisms structures.
In the time of Covid-19, hands-on learning can be tricky. However, students have many of their own tools and manipulatives that they keep in their own bins. Hands-on supplies are also sanitized before and after use. Along with this, students wash or sanitize their hands before and after touching the items, and all of us work hard to maintain our distance. We all work together to stay safe so we can reap the rewards of hands-on learning, including the wonderful memories we are making.
Scientists today look to animals and nature for inspiration on how to make human lives easier and longer. For example, our airplanes are shaped like birds, burn victims are treated with fish skin, and scuba fins for diving look like the fins you see on some marine mammals. Researching the capabilities and adaptations of plants and animals is especially important today as scientists search for a cure for things like cancer and Covid-19.
As scientists in our world look to nature for cures, the scientists in our classroom are looking at the Driving Question: How can humans learn from the way plants and animals use their external parts to survive? The real-world problem of the pandemic might not be solved in our classroom, but these independent thinkers are definitely excited to think like scientists and learn about how animal parts help animals survive and see how humans are inspired by them.
As we research, students are not only learning about science but are also working on their reading skills and discovering how much we can learn through reading. This week students listened to the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood" from our StemScopes science curriculum to see what animal parts help the wolf use its senses and survive. As we look at how each animal, like the wolf, uses its parts to survive, we go back to our Driving Question. In this case, students realized that animals can inspire our writing.
After hooking students with this fairy tale, we listened to the story, What if I had Animal Teeth by Sandra Markle. This put our small scientists in the shoes of the animals, taught them some fun facts, and set them up for our project on animal teeth. For this project, students selected an animal and began recording facts they already knew about their animal’s teeth. After recording their background knowledge, students helped me look at unknown vocabulary and inferences we could make on the texts about elephants and beavers, so that they could do the same for their own animals. These reading skills not only help readers understand the text but also help them see how we connect things we know with new facts to come up with answers to questions that may not be answered directly.
In the coming weeks, students will continue using technology and reading skills to explore animal parts. I’m excited to see what their new facts, inferences, and imaginations come up with. Maybe, with the vision and independent thinking these students exhibit, these small scientists will grow up and create a new invention or cure inspired by nature.
As we enter this last full week of school, I am shocked as I look back at how much time has past since we started distance learning. When we first began this new "adventure" I wasn't sure how I would even begin to teach first graders over the internet. So much of what we do and learn happens in our togetherness, in the messy work of classroom activities, and in the daily hands-on work children are meant to be doing. Yet, here we are, our final trimester coming to a close and I see that my students have learned new skills and even mastered new content.
As we moved away from our comfortable and stable schedule and into the arena of PBL for the final two weeks, I felt panicked. In the classroom, I can answer questions immediately, guide my students through each step of the project, and help them see the purpose behind their actions. Doing PBL virtually has not been without its challenges, and I can see that it's not ideal for young children; however, even with its challenges, first graders have shown up and presented their ideas, wonderings, and creations all on a digital format. Not only did these 6 and 7 year-olds transition to a virtual learning platform, navigate new technology and programs, conquer poor zoom connections but they also stretched themselves to learn about a topic they were interested in, create, and manipulate their pages in an online book creator. I am proud.
I haven been reading some distance learning blogs during this time at home and trying to figure out the best way to serve my students. I read something on EducationWeek.org that stuck out to me recently: The more that we teach remotely, the more I believe this. If we can accomplish one or two things a week and continue to build reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills along the way, we are doing it right. We have kept it simple and allowed our students the chance to breathe. There is no need to overload them with work and stress in an already stressful time.
So, although our schedule and routines have changed and our workload is ever-changing, it is the consistency of communication and connection, as well as the development of confidence and independence, that is important during this time. I see the work my first graders are completing and I know that they will move on to 2nd grade with confidence and a resiliency that will carry them much farther than any additional word list I could have given them.
These past few weeks have been nothing short of interesting. There has been a lot of trial and error, a lot of laughs, frustration, questions, and a lot of screen time. However, I would take a lot of screen time over not being to connect to my students any day. Although learning has taken on a different appearance since we have jumped into distance education, I still feel lucky to be able to log into Zoom each morning and see the bright and wonderful faces of my students. I laugh out loud when I read or listen to their stories, I love to see the interesting responses in Seesaw, and I long for the small groups where I can work on specific skills and focus on each child.
Even though we are not elbow deep in classroom projects, I feel that learning is still happening. Students proudly displayed their animal habitat dioramas, mastered their understanding of suffixes, created stories and pictures, practiced comprehension - all online. It's not ideal but it is working and I am so proud to see the resiliency that PNA's first graders are displaying throughout all of this. However, it is not only the first graders that are showing resiliency. Parents also deserve an applause as they have not only become co-teachers, but have also had to maintain all the other aspects of running a home and job from their house. We will all come out of this experience with a new set of skills that we might never have developed otherwise. I guess you call it the silver lining, or so to speak.
I will say, I have absolutely loved having a smaller student-teacher ratio this year. It has allowed me to work with each child in ways not possible with a larger class size. A small class size is also proving to be invaluable during this time of distance learning. Some children need more academic work and to be challenged in certain areas, while others mainly need a friendly, familiar face to ask about their day and learn about their favorite toys. Some of my students thrive on a large workload yet some thrive on simple and comfortable connection. I know my students. I feel for them and love on them and I miss them. They have gone from these tiny kindergartners that arrived in my classroom last fall and have grown into these resilient, growth-minded, young scholars. PNA is not merely an academic institution for any of us. It is a refuge, especially during times such as these. And I cannot wait to give them in-person hugs and high fives in the fall!
These past two weeks have been nothing short of a whirlwind of changes. We all anticipated returning from Spring Break and jumping back into our regular school routine of morning meetings, building challenges, math and word work, and social interaction. Yet, what we encountered was a new reality; a quick transition to distance learning in order to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and families due to the arrival of COVID-19 in our lives. Were we prepared to jump headfirst into distance learning? No. However, I was amazed to see and experience the resiliency of our PNA community as we transitioned to an online platform with an amazing amount of communication, flexibility, and grace.
I have to admit. I was nervous. I still am in ways on how I can best serve my students. Yet, my main concerns were "How am I going to continue to help my students grow? How can I be the teacher they need me to be? How can I recreate what we have in the classroom through a screen?" Well, all I can do, all any of us can do, is our best. I still see my students growing as they challenge themselves to spell new words and find patterns in their reading. To have a student struggle over a word in a text we are reading together and then master that word, reading it independently in their books shows me that they can still grow and learn regardless of how that material is delivered. I know that I cannot recreate what we have in class; our classroom - and school - is a unique place. Yet, to see each other's faces during morning meeting, to talk, share, and listen in small groups, to discover, to laugh and be silly - these are all present online and are all components of what we have in our physical classroom. It's not the same but it is still rich and full of community.
This past week I feel we have fallen into a sort of rhythm. My days are full of back-to-back online lessons, working with my students and trying to meet them where they are and trying to push them a bit further. Art and Spanish rolled onto the scene and students were able to have online class and interactions with their specialist teachers. I was able to see the growth of my student's plants, listen to their recordings of their classwork and thoughts on virtual field trips, as well as feel confident that my students are ready to move forward with more challenging work that will prepare and have them ready for 2nd grade. As with all challenges, we must modify our normal and do our best with what we have. I feel that our families have shown tremendous flexibility and our students have shown tremendous GRIT, and I hope that we can establish this distance learning as our new normal so that we can make the absolute best of our time together while we all work together to make our community, and world, a healthy place again.
Ms. Tuomi has over five years experience in ASD, where she taught first and fifth grade classrooms. An avid skier, Ms. Tuomi is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Alaska Pacific University’s Bachelor of Arts in K-8 Education.