Making First Grade FANTASTIC

Friday, February 25, 2011

Only 2 Days! Argh...

Well, my lack of quality posting this week has been due to a two day work week.  I am officially sick of snow days!  I can't believe that is actually coming out of my mouth, but it's true.  I'm ready for a real, normal week of school.  My kids are so accustomed to the same schedule every day and these past two months of off and on school has just wreaked havoc in so many ways.  Not to mention that I've had to take out a lot of the "fun stuff" in order to play catch up with all the basics.  I'm looking forward to posting regularly again next week, when we are hopefully at school every. single. day.  All day.  Anyone else feeling this way?  Who's had ENOUGH of this winter madness?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Presidents Day

Well, my plan was to share a fun graphing activity and Smartboard file I used today for George Washington's birthday, but for some reason, my files won't upload at home.  I will still share the activity, but I'll try to post the file to go with it tomorrow.

We had ANOTHER snow day yesterday, so we are going to be celebrating Presidents Day through the remainder of the week.  Last week, I introduced Abe Lincoln.  Today, I introduced George Washington.

I was planning to do the following activity on Washington's birthday, February 22, but alas, the snow made other plans.  After reading "A Picture Book of George Washington"
and discussing a basic history of George Washington, I told the kids I brought a birthday treat to celebrate Washington's birthday.  I brought chocolate covered cherries to help the kids remember the legend of Washington chopping down the cherry tree.

Every child tried their chocolate covered cherry and then we made a graph on the Smartboard.  Our graph was titled "Do You Like Chocolate Covered Cherries?".

This is where the pictures are supposed to come in, so just imagine them for the time being.  The Smartboard has a really neat graphing feature that allows you to drag pictures into the graph so you can make an actual pictograph.  The kids really LOVED the special birthday treat and had a ton of fun using the graphing feature on the Smartboard.

I will try to figure out how to post the file for this graph tomorrow along with some other activities we are doing to celebrate Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How I've Come to be "At Peace" with My Listening Center

I don't know about you, but whenever I opened up the listening center for my kiddos to use in past years, it was always so stressful.  First, most of my audio books were still on tape.  Do you know a child who even knows what a tape is anymore?  So, explaining how to use a tape player was a challenge.  Then, I had six pairs of headphones in one large perpetual knot.  That's always a delight!  And, while I have always had a very large library of audio books, I generally have only one or two copies of each book, so children had to share.  This became it's own monster...always arguing over who gets to hold the book and the inevitable child who just has to sit and listen because he can't see.  Doesn't really sound like an ideal situation to enjoy listening to books and improve reading fluency, does it?

The quest to improve my listening center started two years ago.  During the summer, I vowed to convert all my tapes to CDs.  Luckily, my husband has the equipment to do that, so all my tapes were converted to mp3 files, which I burned onto CDs.  Problem number one solved.  Every kid knows how to use a CD.

My next issues all revolved around storage: how to make books easily available and how to store those pesky headphones.  For this, I turned to DonorsChoose.  If you've never heard of DonorsChoose or haven't yet tried it, you are missing out!  It's a website for teachers to post grant ideas.  The public gets to choose grants and projects to fund.  I've had a total of five grants funded through this wonderful site.  Anywho...I turned to DonorsChoose and wrote a grant for a storage cart to house my book collection, organize headphones, and hold the CD player.  I also looked for a hanging bag storage system to hang many of my audio books.  Thankfully, both of these projects were funded last school year and I was able to better organize my listening center.  Problem number two solved.

Towards the end of last year, I still noticed that the headphones were still getting tangled and we were still having the issue of more children then books.  I got this idea then to ask for six individual CD players from DonorsChoose.  I was shocked when this project was funded almost immediately!  Problem number 3 solved.

So this year, for the first time, I am completely at peace with my listening center.  The generous donations from DonorsChoose made it possible for my students to listen to books of their own choosing. They can always see the words and pictures and never have to sit among a tangled mess.

This is what my listening center looks like now:


The books that are hanging are the ones my students are allowed to choose from.  I keep my other ones in the two drawers on the left.  I rotate them seasonally.  On the right, you can see that I have five stacked Ziploc containers.  Each one contains one CD player and headphones.  I also have storage for other CDs that I don't use as often.


This is how the CD players are stored.  I was very specific when I showed the children how to store the players.  The player goes in first, followed by the headphones, so they don't get crushed.  I know some schools required students to use their own personal headphones, but I just use disinfectant wipes, and have never had any issues.  

My students have taken extremely good care of the CD players this year.  Every single one works and is as good as new.  In case you're wondering, I've only had to change the batteries once, and that was this past week.

My listening center is always open now.  Children can use it during center time, but are also free to use it before school starts, after taking a test, or during indoor recess.  The other wonderful thing about setting up a listening center this way is the freedom the children have, not just to choose what they personally are interested in reading, but the freedom to choose where to sit.  Some children do better in a chair and some prefer to be sprawled out on the floor.  A few of my children like to sit in a quiet corner of the room and even under the coat hooks.

Not only am I at peace with my listening center now, but it really has made my classroom a more peaceful place.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Make 10

I read this post last night that Babbling Abby of The Inspired Apple wrote.  I just had to share...

I HATED math when I was in school.  I struggled through my high school algebra and geometry classes.  And calculus...fo'get about it!  It wasn't until I was taking my math methods classes in college, that I really began to understand math and fell in love with teaching math.  More specifically, early elementary math.

Call me crazy and zaney and absolutely nutty, but I really do enjoy teaching math to little ones.  Part of the reason I love it so much--we use Investigations math.  I know that there are mixed opinions about Investigations, but I have learned to make it work well for my first graders.  It's taken four years of tweaking and supplementing and adjusting, but every year, I enjoy it more and more.  It's so child-centered and developmentally appropriate.  In this crazy culture of teaching to the test and pushing kids to read earlier and earlier, math is the one time of day that I can count on for so much time focusing on the number system and the patterns that numbers make in first grade.  I feel like my kiddos leave me with such a strong, concrete number sense...nothing like I ever had.

Investigations uses lots of manipulatives and games to teach math concepts--another thing I love!  I wanted to share a game my kids are just loving right now.  Last week, I introduced it during our math lessons.  This week, it is at math center.  It's called "Make 10."  Please keep in mind that Investigations focuses more on the how and why of addition in first grade and not rote memorization (we actually have a supplemental program that we are required to use for fluency, but that's for another time...).

So, the object of "Make 10" is for students to find different ways to make 10 using number cards.  We have special number cards that come with Investigations, but you could just as easily use playing cards.  You'll just need to add in some 1s and 0s.

The basic rules are:

  • Lay out four rows of five cards.  
  • Find two cards to make ten.
  • Record your answer as an equation.
  • Fill in the missing spots with new cards.
  • You play until you run out of cards and can't make anymore combinations to equal 10.
However, this game is WONDERFUL because you can provide instant differentiation.  I encourage kids to use more than two cards to make 10.  I have also challenged my highest kids to make 10 using mixed operations in an equation.  I took a ton of pictures today as my kids were playing, so you should be able to get an idea of how it works.  Also, kids can play alone, with a partner, or a group of three, so it's a great quiet or interactive game, depending on your situation.

This is how the center is set up.  I wrote brief rules on a little tri-fold board I made from a file folder.

This is what the game looks like as it's being set up.

Here you can see some of the pairs she has made.  She then records the matching equation in her note book.  She has also replaced the cards she took out with new ones.  Notice there are no "holes" in the set-up.
Here's some longer ways to make 10...

...and the matching equations.
Here's an example of a way one of my higher kids came up with: 9+9-8=10.

The equation to match.
The kids get so into this game.  I mean REALLY into it!  It's exciting to see them stretching their minds. I love the higher-level thinking that begins to happen.

So, I'm thinking I might start doing a weekly math post to share some of the fun activities we do.  Hopefully, I can help inspire you to be a math nut enthusiast too!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Wonders of Fabric

Have you discovered the wonders of cheap fabric in your classroom?  Fabric makes a fantastic bulletin board background.

It is wondrous for so many reasons:

  • It comes in a gazillion colors and patterns.
  • It doesn't fade.
  • It self-corrects when you remove staples or pins.
  • You can stretch it over your board to remove all wrinkles and creases, leaving only a beautifully smooth and vibrant background.
  • It can be cheaper than fadeless paper, especially if you use coupons.
I purchased all my fabric at Walmart back when ours still had a fabric section.  It is basic quilt fabric and was $2 a yard.  If I was patient, I probably could have found fabric at Jo-Anns in the clearance section and used a coupon for **really** cheap fabric.

My boards happen to about 47 inches from top to bottom, which is perfect for a basic bolt of fabric.  Fabric usually comes in a width of 45 inches, so I don't have to trim the fabric on the top and bottom of the boards.  I just make sure it's centered so my boarder covers the edges.

My mother-in-law gave me the best tip for hanging paper when I first started teaching and this tip is the best for using fabric.  Use push-pins to hold the fabric and stretch it before stapling it in place.  I usually start by pinning the top left corner.  Then I stretch the fabric tight at the top and pin the top right corner.  Then I do the same with the other two corners.  Finally, I go along all four sides and stretch and pin every few inches.  Last, I follow with the stapler.  Yes, it takes a little time, but trust me.  The results are beautiful.  Plus, I have purposely chosen colors that I can keep up all year long, so I don't have to worry about removing the staples every few weeks.  

I have had all my fabric up since I moved into my current room four years ago.  I don't even remove it in the summer.  It still looks like it did the day I put it up.  See for yourself...





I just love how the fabric adds a bright and cheery pop of color to my classroom.  And since I did choose basic colors instead of prints, it's easy for me to change up my boards all year long.  



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Prepping for a Sub

I was lucky to have a student teacher for the fall semester, so the couple days I needed a sub, I didn't think twice about it.  Tomorrow is going to be the first day I've missed since Christmas and I spent 3 hours getting ready for my sub...for one day!!  

I have emergency plans set aside for days when I can't prepare for a sub. And, I can always count on my teammates to help get a sub through the day if need be.  But...when I know I won't be there, I can't help it.  I type directions for the day out word for word.  Every activity is sitting on my desk with sticky notes attached.  All materials are prepped and out on display, ready to go.  You'd think after 8 years of teaching I'd have learned to let go, even a little bit, but I can't.  

Anyone else this crazy and neurotic about sub plans?  I just can't let go. :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fishing for Compliments

Here's an easy idea to encourage appropriate behavior in the hall, at specials, and assemblies.  I call it "Fishing for Compliments."


Any time the kids get complimented for their behavior, the class earns a fish on the chart.  When the chart fills up, I treat them to a compliment reward: a special snack, a pick from the prize box, free time, etc.

I made this so easily.  It's actually a car magnet from Vistaprint.  I created this image and then uploaded it to Vistaprint's website.  And, of course, it was free!  That's the beauty of Vistaprint.  You usually can get away with only paying shipping costs.  I made the fish magnets by attaching different fish stickers to some squares of water-looking scrapbook paper, laminated them, and attached a piece of magnet tape.

The kids love to watch this display fill up and get so excited when they earn compliments.  And, honestly, I don't have behavior problems outside of our room, thanks to this little guy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hip Hip Hooray!! The 100th Day!!

Today was THE day!  The 100th day of school, that is.  This day was full of anticipation for my kiddos.  We've been counting the days all school year and today we were finally able to put our bundles of 10 straws together to make a bundle of 100.  Big!  Very BIG!

One activity we did was 100th day snack mix.  This is a hit every year.  Every year, I get a different variety of snack donations from parents.  This year, our mix included:
  • white chocolate chips
  • chocolate chips
  • goldfish
  • whale crackers
  • pretzels
  • colored marshmallows
  • fruit loops
  • cinnamon cereal
  • potato sticks
  • animal crackers
Students rotate around to 10 different centers and count out 10 of each item.  I have them use a 100 chart to keep track as they go around.  This helps us keep track of how many items we have and how many we still need.





The kids really enjoyed this activity.  And of course, they thought they were delicious "cooks."

The next think we did was fill in a blank 100 chart.  I love doing this.  I'm able to see the variety of strategies the kids use to get to 100.  It really tells me who is understanding the patterns on the 100 chart.

This child chose to write the numbers in order from 1-100.

This child started with 1-10 and then filled in all the 10s before continuing.  Many children did this.

Some of my students started with the 10s or 1-10, but then continued down the columns, knowing that the second digit remains the same all the way down.  I am one proud teacher once they understand this pattern!
The last thing we did was make portraits of ourselves at 100 years old.  I got this WON.DER.FUL idea from Mrs. Bates.  The kids had a blast and I am in love with their portraits!





Aren't they precious?!  This was such a fun way to end the day.  Hope you're 100th day is as grand as ours was!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You're "Write" On, Valentine

This year, my class has had a wonderful time exchanging packages with another first grade class on the other side of the country.  I was looking for a quick and easy valentine the kids could make for their pen pals.  I wanted something cute, but light enough that it didn't cost me an arm and a leg to send.

Here's what we ended up making:




Just in case you can see the words very well, the paper hearts say:

(name),
You're write on!
Love,
(name)

I had the kids trace a heart on pink paper.  After they cut the hearts out, I punched two holes for the pencil.  Then, the kids wrote the message and decorated the hearts.  I put the pencils through the holes, as the hole punch was just a smidge smaller than the pencil.  I had visions of many torn hearts!  

Of course, this was also a great time to talk about homophones and why this is actually a "punny" little valentine.  

The kids are thrilled to be sending these special valentine's across the country!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Easy Heart "Stained Glass" Windows

Looking for a quick and pretty decoration/craft for Valentine's Day?  Try these heart "stained glass" windows.  They are fairly easy for the kids to accomplish on their own.  My students completed them at a math center this past week.  Math center, you say?  Why yes.  I introduced symmetry with this little project.

This is what our windows look like now:

These hearts are very pretty.  They really help to warm up the room, especially with all the cold, white snow outside the windows.

So here's how they're made:

1. Make a pattern.  I cut 12x18 yellow construction paper in half lengthwise to start the pattern.  Then, I folded the strip in half lengthwise and drew three 1/2 hearts on the fold.  I cut the hearts out while the paper was still folded to get this:

2.  To prepare for the kids, I cut 12x18 black construction paper in the same fashion as the pattern, making the pieces 6x18.  I also cut different colors of tissue paper large enough to cover each heart.



3. Now the kids get to do some symmetry magic.  They need to fold the black paper in half lengthwise.  Some kids do this really well.  Others really struggle with it.  I did show the kids how to help each other with this: one person holds the corners together and the other one flattens the fold.  This really helps.


4. Then, the kids put the pattern over top of the black paper, lining up fold to fold.  They trace only one side of the pattern.  Keeping the black paper folded, they *carefully* cut on the lines.  When they're done cutting, the kids will open up the black paper to magically reveal three hearts (or heart-like figures, depending on cutting skills).  And believe me, this is a truly magical moment for the kids!


5. Then, they simply glue a piece of tissue paper to the back of each heart...


and VOILA!


I let them dry and then hang them up for a beautiful look.  The kids think they're just wonderful.



I happen to think they're quite lovely too!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A "Crate" Solution

If you're like me, I'm always looking for more storage space in my classroom.  I'm lucky enough to have some cupboards and shelves to store my supplies.  But, what is a teacher to do when 20 children bring backpacks full of wipes and tissues and extra supplies to school on the first day?  Seat crates!

I saw this awesome idea this summer on one of my favorite sites ProTeacher.  If you've never visited, you must!  It's full of great ideas from tons of wonderful teachers.

Anywho...this is what I ended up making this summer:


Actually, I made six of them, with my Mom's help.  I don't have any photos to show how I made them, but I will try to explain.  It's very easy, I promise!

1. First, you need some storage crates that are made to store hanging folders. This gives you a lip around the top edge for the "lid" to sit on.  I bought mine at Walmart when they had all their back to school stuff out, so I think the crates were around $5 each.

2. Take a crate and head to your local home improvement store.  A very kind gentleman cut 6 pieces of plywood for me that fit perfectly in the top part of each crate.  Please note:  It is so important to take a crate with you, not just the measurements.  Our happy helper had to shave little bits off of each piece to get them to fit, which would have been impossible to do without the crate.

3. Next, you'll need to purchase some foam.  I bought a roll of 1 inch foam at Walmart.  It was actually cheaper than it was at the fabric store.  You'll need to cut the foam to fit each piece of plywood.  I then used spray adhesive to stick the foam to the plywood.

4. Last, find some cute fabric to wrap the "lid."  Cut your fabric a little larger than the foam covered plywood so you can wrap it around the edges.  I used a staple gun to upholster the "lids."  Just be sure to pull the fabric taught as you staple.  I did the two longer sides first, then the short sides, and then tucked the corners, much like a hospital corner on a bed.

That's it!  Really, minimal investment and minimal time spent for maximum storage and very cute seating.  And trust me, these puppies are strong!  They hold me and have held all my students really well. When I need to get the lid off, I just put my hand through the handle and pop it up.  I store all my wipes, tissues, and extra supplies in my crates.  My room is so much less cluttered by not having to look at these necessities.

Here's a picture of my crates in action.


They add a fun pop of color and the kids love to sit on them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's Groundhog Day!! (2 days late)

Well, in the past 5 weeks, I think we've been out of school as much as we've been in school.  Fortunately Unfortunately, we had two and a half days of ice this week, so we missed Groundhog Day.  Today, we were finally able to do some activities for the holiday.  My favorite was this directional art activity.  I used it to assess my students' direction following skills.  I didn't tell them ahead of time what we were making...just that it was going to be a picture of something we celebrate in February.

They did a pretty good job and I got a fun chuckle looking over them after school.  I thought you might enjoy a peek.

Here's my picture.  I showed the kids mine at the end.

Here's the kid's work:







Aren't they adorable?  Some of them look a little more like bears, but I promise you, they are groundhogs.  Hope you got a chuckle!  
Happy Weekend!