Getting back into the groove of school always takes time after an extended break. However, students arrived this week eager to engage, see their friends, play, and get back to the business of learning. We delved into a variety of topics this week from types of energy, board games, and learning and about being inclusive and kind.
Students loved having the opportunity to engage in board games this week. They particularly enjoyed learning to play Chutes n' ladders, which, according to esme.com, "was developed long before the learning game explosion, but it’s still one of the most science-backed games for building number sense in children. Number sense is an important building block that helps children make sense of what numbers mean and how they relate to each other." Students had to learn to take turns, practice patience, and use their number sense. We also played a guessing game in which children had to guess numbers using correct math vocabulary such as greater than, less than, tens and ones place, etc. Using games to reinforce number sense is always a great way to keep students minds and hands busy, all the while learning big stuff!
Speaking of keeping hands busy (but more importantly productive!), student's were tasked with taking what they were learning about in science and social studies and create tangible objects that reinforced the lessons. Students created straw pan flutes to study how air vibrating makes sounds, and they made beautiful paper tissue "stained glass" while exploring transparent, translucent, and opaque objects.
First grade also explored more about the topic of kindness. This month we will be learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and about his message of service, choosing kindness, and being inclusive. We have been reading books about kindness and discussing how we can choose kindness in our own lives. In order to help spread joy and kindness, students made warm fuzzies to hand to a special person. Warm fuzzies are merely yarn pom-poms; however, they are only to be given with the message of kindness or joy. They are meant to help the receiver feel loved or appreciated whenever they see or touch it. The ultimate goal is that the warm fuzzie eventually gets passed on to another person, and another, creating a ripple effect of kindness and joy.
Again, coming back after a long break has it's own readjustment period but it has been oh, so sweet and oh, so busy being back in the classroom. Seeing your children's smiling faces and their joy in playing and learning reminds me once again while we all choose to be here.
The week before a big break such as winter break is always mixed with a lot of fun and a little bit of chaos. However, students love these days of dress-up, winter activities, a bit of hygge in the classroom, and lots of games. We read books about winter and "sewed" paper gloves, discovered why bears hibernate and about frogs that freeze themselves solid and then thaw out and hop away in the warm spring, and got our hands messy mixing together Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid (it acts like a liquid when being poured, but like a solid when a force is acting on it.) All of these activities were focused on processes: processes of trial and error, the process of change, and how we can affect the process through how much force (emotional or physical) we put into what we are trying to achieve.
Students were exposed to not only traditional academic activities this week such as writing, grammar, math, and science but they were also able to participate in the 2nd grade store! PNA students get to interact with students in all grade levels and the 2nd grade store was an awesome way for 1st graders to learn about money, making wise choices, and being kind and considerate. Students were given $4.00 of play money and were given the opportunity to shop in each of the 2nd grader's store (items were made by the students). It was a great lesson on how far the dollar goes and that you can't just have everything you want.
Lastly, students also learned that saying goodbye to friends is a process. The importance of children being able to say farewell to a classmate moving away is so important for them to process the emotions that follow the absence of a friend. As we gathered in the classroom, students were able to share warm thoughts and ask questions to their friend who was moving to a new part of the state. They were able to share a snack, give a gift, and celebrate the friendship they have built in the classroom here at PNA. Establishing a sense of community and hygge into the classroom truly enable students to feel at home and create deep relationships with their peers. As we all departed for winter break, I truly believe the families and teachers at PNA felt a deep sense of coziness and comfort that can only be present when their is a lot of support and care within a school.
Hygge is a Scandinavian word that translates to a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.
I love to incorporate as many hands-on activities into the classroom as I can. It is awesome to see children applying what they are learning in real-world scenarios and problem solve with their classmates. I focused our Parent Snack this week on different design and task challenges to showcase how we work together to create within specific perimeters with limited materials. Students were challenged, along with their adult, to build a free-standing holiday tree out of nothing but pipe cleaners, or a stocking using only paper and tape, or a sleigh that would slide across the floor using nothing more than aluminum foil. It was so fun to watch how engaged each table was in their particular project!
We continued the theme of learning by doing as we delved into what makes something float vs. sink. After learning about density and how it affects whether something will float or sink, students were divided into teams in the classroom and were given the challenge to design a boat that would float while carrying a small plastic animal. They were given metal wire, 5 popsicle sticks, 5 pipe cleaners, and a large sheet of aluminum foil. We had a lot of wet tables (and clothing!) but students had a blast through trial and error while building their boats. All in all, most boats were successful and, even though it was frustrating to have a boat sink, students learned a lot about teamwork and how to change up their initial ideas of what would be successful.
Over the past 2 months, I have watched the older grades during their after-school Lego robotics club work together and towards the common goal of participating in the FIRST LEGO League competition. I feel excited for the opportunities PNA students have as they get older knowing that they learn these very important fundamental skills of teamwork, trial and error, vision, integrity, and to believe in themselves from the youngest grades, and then they carry that into the upper grades and are able to work in groups with a strong sense of self AND teamwork.
Check out the article on WasabiLearning.com that talks about why PBL and STEM lessons belong in a modern classroom. I found it to be very inspiring! A great quote from the blog stated, "STEM develops a set of thinking, reasoning, teamwork, investigative, and creative skills that students can use in all areas of their lives. STEM isn’t a standalone class—it’s a way to intentionally incorporate different subjects across an existing curriculum."
Compounds words, word sorts, alliteration, scooping, poetry, vocabulary, literature - these are just some of the ways your child has been exposed to words this week. Immersing students in a language rich environment is imperative for their acquisition of new and more complex vocabulary. We may think words such as 'dawn' and 'dusk' are simple words. However, for a child who has not been exposed to them on a regular basis, they are new and unknown. Students need to be continually flooded with new words and have them used on a regular basis in story telling, read aloud stories, conversation and writing. For example, we are reading Charlotte's Web at the end of each school day. This book has so many opportunities to flood a young mind with new descriptive words (jubilee! runt! dejected! enchanted!) and it's pure joy to see them absorbing these words and rolling them over in their young minds. But it is not merely enough to read these lovely words, give a brief description of them, and then move along. We must find opportunities to use these new vocabulary words in our daily life.
Students this week were exposed to not only a variety of rich vocabulary in our read aloud stories, they were also introduced to compound words and parts of speech. I wish we could all feel the excitement that our young scholars feel when they were made aware that we have names for words! We explored proper and common nouns, adjectives, and verbs - and then used their new knowledge to create a word bank that they could draw from in their writing. To see their language and vocabulary development from the first week of school to the first week of December is just wonderful! They are developing confidence and structure in their sentences, paying attention to detail of letter formation, proper punctuation, and correct capitalization. However, we mustn't only limit our assessment of their skills to observing their writing and reading. When we give them opportunities to use their new skills informally, they really thrive! Students loved playing Gingerbread Compounds and were learning new compound words without even realizing they were actually teaching each other! It is this independence that we hope to foster in PNA students; the ability to independently take control of their learning and enjoy the process of doing so.
Aside from all of our learning in the classroom this week, we also participated in PNA's wonderful winter concert. It was enchanting to see our students come together and joyfully sing and perform their hearts out. Nothing quite gets me in the holiday spirit as much as seeing a room full of families and children sharing a common theme of gratitude and community. I was so proud of all our students from the very youngest to our oldest for being dedicated to their performance!
Dusk outside PNA on Thursday was just beautiful - a perfect setting for the winter concert!
I have had a complicated relationship with mathematics since I was a young child. I think I can pinpoint it to my middle school years and how my experiences during those pivotal years shaped how I thought of math, numbers, and my own intelligence. I struggled throughout high school, and even into college. I told myself, "I'm just not good at math." I truly believed I was deficient in numbers and calculations. However, now that I have been teaching numbers to children, I can honestly say that I am not deficient in numbers or bad at math. Rather, I was not given a foundation of number sense or guided down a path of fluency in equations in my earlier years. Was it the fault of my school system? The teachers? A lack of knowledge of how children need to learn numbers? I don't have the answers as to why I struggled for so long but I do know that I am not alone in this mentality that "I am just not good at math." We are all math people; we must find a way to hack our ability to connect to the patterns and to recognize the order that is all around us. That is one of the very reasons I love teaching math to young children. I love to see them build relationships with numbers, to play games with equations, and to interact with everyday materials in a mathematical way. My own relationship with math has changed as I have learned to approach it in a more humanistic and artistic mentality. Everything around us - our universe, nature, architecture - is formed by order and patterns - a compilation of the intrinsic beauty found in math.
Corelearn.com states that "Number sense is making sense of numbers – understanding numbers and how they work together. For example, in the primary grades students understand how numbers can be broken apart and put together when they explore and build fluency with concepts such as how to make 10 and how to break up 12 into 10 and 2. Multiplication builds on this foundation and with multiplication students are introduced to the distributive property: 8 x 12 is the same as 8(10 + 2) = (8 x 10) + (8 x 2)."
Math is something that kids should be having fun with. That is one of the reasons I love Bridges Math, especially in the younger years. It involves games, partner work, and sometimes art. The best part is that there are times that students don't even realize they are doing work. They just know they are having fun. It is this foundation of learning about the relationship between numbers and the patterns found in mathematics that I hope will establish in your child a solid footing as he or she progresses into more complex and higher ordered courses. I hope that numbers are not perceived as intimidating by your child - but a challenging puzzle that is begging to be solved!
Eddie Woo has his own YouTube channel called WooTube. He shares his experience teaching math and how he fell in love with numbers. He says, "mathematics is our sense for pattern, relationships, and logical connections. It's a whole new way to see the world...It's not just about finding answers but learning to ask the right questions." If you are short on time, skip to minute 5:29 for the really good stuff in his video: Math is a 6th sense. (Click the button below to watch.)
National Kindness Day fell on Wednesday this past week. Kindness to others is our number one expectation in our classroom and it is a skill that we must focus on daily. As we begin our day with morning meeting, we are establishing the culture of kindness as we practice respectful greetings and attentive listening. Students are encouraged to ask their classmates question and respond with kindness and empathy. Empathy is a skill just as listening and speaking is a skill; however, we must teach empathy and treat it with as much importance as we treat other academic subjects. Responsive Classroom states, "learning to ask appropriate questions will help children develop empathy for their friends, classmates, and family members, and knowing how to answer questions will help them deepen their social conversations and relationships with others as well." you can read more about emotional intelligence and how to help build empathy in your child in the Very Well Family blog.
We have been focusing on how to be a good citizen in class and our place in the world. Students have been learning about how we can give to others and share our abundance with those that are not as fortunate. Students are currently working on creating their good citizenship books where they are learning about the different types of communities, community helpers, and committing to being a good citizen and showing kindness to others. TheDanishway.com states that "many studies show that when you explain something to someone – like a math problem for example – you not only learn the subject much better than you would do by memorizing it yourself, but you also build our empathy skills which are further strengthened by having to be careful about the way the other person receives the information, and having to put oneself in their shoes to understand how learning works." Empathy and kindness stretches from morning meeting (taking turns listening and sharing) into partner reading, social studies projects, lining up for recess, and into the cafeteria. Students need to be able navigate their emotions and be able to help guide others in their need, as well. As we worked on our math objectives as a team this week, we also practiced kindness and empathy when one team member wasn't being as successful as the other. I saw students sharing their counting stars, working together to build their number pies, and talking through the directions on how to build their good citizenship book. Although they are young, they are learning the necessary communication skills that will help them be successful in every area of life.
Kelli Vogstad states on her blog that "researchers say that when children explore and learn about patterns, we help them build important foundations for later number work. Creating, extending, naming, and talking about patterns help build strong mathematicians. " This week we have delved back into patterns to reinforce the order that is found in mathematics. However, patterns are not exclusive to mathematics; they are found all around us. One particular place to look for patterns is in reading. Reading Rockets states, "as your child becomes a reader, he or she will learn to find patterns in letters and words and use this information to read groups of words (for example, sun, fun, bun all contain the '-un' letter pattern or family)." Your students have been learning a variety to patterns in class and we have been focusing on strengthening their ability to recognize patterns and order. When children have a strong sense of patterns, they are able to organize their thinking, which translates into stronger readers, writers, mathematicians, and problem solvers.
Our young scholars worked on a pattern quilt this week in math. I had one student state, "we haven't done any math in 2 days!" I had to remind them that pattern work is indeed math work and gave them another AABAAB pattern to build out of blocks. Their quilt work focused on a few important things: following directions, team work, recognizing patterns and creating them on a larger scale. Stroll down the first grade hallway and check out the quilt pattern your student helped put together!
According to https://nrich.maths.org/, a Cambridge University program, spotting underlying patterns is important for identifying many different kinds of mathematical relationships. It underpins memorization of the counting sequence and understanding number operations, for instance recognizing that if you add numbers in a different order their total stays the same. Pattern awareness has been described as early algebraic thinking, which involves:
I believe that a strong foundation in mathematical and print patterns is imperative for a child's early development. So, I encourage you, parents, to challenge your kids by playing pattern games and looking for patterns in everyday life. It's a fun and educational way to pass the time in the car, that's for sure!
What is community? Why is it important? Many of us, including our children, don't necessarily think about this question very often. This is a question I asked our young scholars this past Monday morning. We talked about how our community includes police officers, teachers, restaurant workers, as well as our school and classmates. We talked about how we can play an important role in our community and how we can contribute to making it better for all. Then I asked students if they loved reading. Every hand shot up eagerly. I asked, "how many of you know how to go to our school library and check out a book?" Hands wavered, some went down. We discussed their prior experiences at public libraries and how to respectfully interact with books. We also developed a driving question for our classroom: How can we make the PNA library better for our school community?
Because libraries can be the hub of a school community; they are a place to gather, share ideas, grow thoughts, and get lost in stories. As we race forward in this digital age, we have somehow forgotten the wonder and joy of actual pages turning before us. Beyond the simple joy of reading, reading and regular exposure to books has a wealth of benefits for children (and adults!). By exposing our students regularly to a functional library, we are teaching them taxonomy, inquiry and research skills, how to broaden their genres interest and teaching them how to respectfully interact with an actual text. Give a 21st century child a phone or tablet, and they will navigate it like a pro. Give them an actual book or free reign in a library, and they may look like a deer in the headlights.
Although our young scholars are in the early years of their education, it is still so important that they feel their voices are heard. Just this past week, we welcomed older students from student council into our classroom to educate and discuss earthquake safety. It was awesome to see these young students speak with confidence to see our first graders so engaged! I thought about what a great example it was to our younger students to see that their peers were able to educate not only other students, but teachers as well. And this all goes back to community; to opening our minds and ears to create a space that encourages movement and change.
First graders are in the very beginning of their brainstorm regarding the PNA library. They love learning and I cannot wait to see them share their ideas with the student body and teachers. If our youngest learners can instigate change, think about what they will be capable of in the years to come!
Read about how to create a culture where students want to be included because their voice matters
Also, check out some these awesome links to the benefits of a school library and reading!
Space week was a blast! Students were engaged in a variety of enriching activities and having so much fun while learning a lot about space. I believe even teachers and staff learned a lot about our great universe and its complexities! First grade put the final touches on their Space Station Play Station and were so proud of their completed work. We spent a lot of time talking and learning about the International Space Station, what astronauts do in space, and even got to peak at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and see what scientists believe our colonies on Mars will look like in 2047 (one of our students has a grandfather there who gave us a private video tour!), a the while deepening their awareness of Earth's place in the Universe. Their Space Station exhibit was a true hit at our Space Night at the Museum, and many of our first graders who came loved to explain their part in the build and how their specific designs "controlled" the station!
Students were so engaged with our guest speakers, Mr. Rich and Senior NASA engineer, Su Curley. They brought all of our conversation about space to life by showing students authentic items such as moon rocks, an astronaut suit, a space helmet, and even space food! Students learned about rocketry and then were then able to build and launch their own rockets, they engaged in activities that demonstrated how asteroids and meteorites create moon craters, and worked as a team to design their crew mission patch.
After a busy and wonderful week of learning, we visited the University of Alaska Anchorage to experience an awesome show at the Planetarium, launched more rockets, watched live the first all-female space walk from the ISS, and celebrated the end of our space week by watching Space Chimps with lots of popcorn! Overall, this week was so fun for the entire school and we cannot wait to see what Space Week has in store for us next year!
We have delved deep into the basics of Earth's place in the Universe, our solar system, gravity and orbiting, and the why's and how's of space travel in preparation for the launch (pun intended...) of our Space Week this coming Monday. As a crew, we designed and constructed our very own space station in our classroom! We discussed the purposed of a space station, how astronauts travel, and what type of work they do in outer space. We also discussed how space stations and the moon might help us reach Mars one day. We will be working alongside students of all grade levels next week to study and develop ways that we can get to the Moon and, eventually, Mars through a series of lessons, experiments, and hands-on activities.
John Spencer is the author of a blog I always find to be inspiring and empowering. He says something I wholeheartedly agree with:" We are all creative. Every one of us. And we can tap into this natural creativity when we embrace a maker mindset." It would have been easier for me to spend a bit of extra time after school and make everything for our space station exhibit. Every line would be straight and every piece of our project would have been organized to a tee. However, that is not the purpose of project based learning. The ultimate goal is not to create this beautiful project that receives accolades. While we want to encourage high-quality work from our students, the true learning comes from the experience of creating. By giving the majority of the work over to the students, they utilized our maker space, our resource books, and asked to watch videos to better understand how the sun looked, and made their own choices about what they wanted to include on their control panels, jet packs, and command center. They have ownership of their learning. Although I helped create some of the pieces, the students were absorbed in the process of making their projects and took such pride in the finished result. Their imagination was on fire and they had to problem solve to make their ideas work. We even donned our scientist mindset and went out to observe rocks that could serve as moon rocks in our moon rock exploration bin. One girl declared, "I am going to be a geologist when I grow up!" One thing I love is that, yes, while she could definitely grow up to be a geologist, these young go-getters might have jobs, or create jobs, that don't even exist yet.
Check John Spencer's blog and a glimpse into the 7 things that happen when students own their learning.
And a great link to a video about these 7 things can be found here.
This process, the design, creativity, and execution process, is vital to young learners self esteem and their ability to think critically. Just as we devote much of our classroom time to learning addition, subtraction, letter chunks, and good reading habits, we also devote a lot of time to independent thinking, team building, and growth mindset. Space week will be a blast because of the awesome activities and experiences we have planned but it will also be a time when first grade can proudly display their creativity to others from the school and the community. Why, we even had a few visitors at the end of Friday from the upper grades who thought their space station was a lot of fun!
Aside from our fun and engaging space station project, we experienced a lot of other really fun activities this week. We met with 3rd grade so they could share their Alaskan animal reports with first grade and teach them about their habitats and effects of pollution. We practiced good reading habits and how to support our reading partners and taking turns. Our young scholars learned different strategies to add dominoes - and they even learned how to play the game! As I sent students home this weekend, I kept thinking of how much fun we had this week and that I am not only seeing a lot of growth in their academics but I am also seeing a maturation of their confidence and communication. I see young tinkerers and go-getters in the making.
I love the outdoors, reading, art, gardening, and sharing my love of learning!