Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Let's Talk STEM & Oriental Trading's Learn 365

Can you believe it is almost November? This year is FLYING! I have such a sweet group of friends this year so i'm not wishing the days away. They are kind, respectful, and wonderful listeners. We have been able to do so many things this year! 


With the new Next Generation standards, it is even more important to include STEM activities throughout the day. In my previous post about this, I talked about how we use a 25 minute inquiry period to do STEM centers. My kids are loving it and learning SO much! 

Through October, most of our STEM activities were related to fall. Now that we are getting into November, we will be covering force and motion. Force and motion is a next generation standard and we will spend about two and a half weeks on it.  What are we planning?

The game pictured above is called kerplunk and it is so much fun! We have been playing this game as a play time choice and the kids are loving it. I will bust this out during force and motion, but my friends will also be designing and building their own marble runs! I did a lot of searching and wanted to find something that was inexpensive yet durable enough to survive the hands of kindergarteners for years to come. Learn 365 by Oriental Trading  has some really awesome STEM activities, including a marble run set! It came recently and the kids got a peak at it. They are SO EXCITED to use it. I love that it comes in so many pieces because I want my kids to engineer their own marble runs. You can grab it on the Learn 365 website HERE

Learning Resources is a go-to brand for me-- it's where our STEM robot mouse came from. I always find that their products are great quality. I grabbed the Learning Resources STEM force & motion set, which comes with handy activity cards! This set is going to be a center-- probably run by me. Ever since the day it arrived I have been looking forward to using it. The activities are hands on and a perfect way to teach kids about engineering! I can't wait to share all of the things we do with this kit! You can grab it HERE

We are all about building sets in our room. I have all different kinds of blocks, gears, etc. and I am always looking to add to our collection. I want my friends to think like engineers; I want them to plan and problem solve. When I came across this wheel shaped building set I had to order it. We have already used the set to help us build pumpkin stands and will be using it in our force and motion centers and throughout the year. Pick it up HERE

Using our "wheel shaped building set"! 

Sometimes when we talk about STEM we have the tendency to focus on engineering and forget about "science-y" things. Throughout the fall we have had science centers dedicated to pumpkin science, gourd science, and fall observations. I picked up a viewscope  from Learn 365 and it has been AWESOME! I even had one of my friends say "I feel like such a scientist when I use this!" There is no doubt that this will be used right up until the very end of our school year! It is a great tool, if you don't already have one head over HERE! 


Teacher friends, I know when new standards get pushed down our way it can be overwhelming. But... let me tell you, Next Generation is worth it. Your kids will learn to be thinkers, problem solvers, and gain incredible collaboration skills. Yes, the topics that are covered are important. But the overarching skills your small friends will learn from doing different STEM challenges are essential. 

If you are looking for some great STEM tools, Learn 365's STEM curriculum page is totally worth your time. 

Disclaimer: This post may contain sponsored content, affiliate links or review products. Regardless of this these are 100% my own opinion. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Guided Math and Math Centers in Kindergarten


Worksheets are a hot button topic in the world of education and i'm going to say it loud and clear before you read any further... I do not believe that worksheets teach. Can we use them to assess? Absolutely. Should we rely heavily on them? Absolutely not. So, i'm throwing it out there before you continue. We are in no way, shape, or form a worksheet driven classroom.

What do we use? We have Go Math at my school and it is great, but it is one of many tools that I use to help my students build a strong foundation in math. Engage NY has some fantastic resources for guided math that I peek at, and I also create lessons on my own based on my students needs. Whatever I use, I am all about hands on math. So what does my math block look like?


The mini lesson is exactly what it sounds like... mini. In this portion of our math block I cover what everyone needs to know.  When we spend long periods of time teaching math concepts we are reaching just one group of children and the rest are left behind or bored. Here are some examples of things we cover in a mini lesson:

  • A math read aloud 
  • Number formation 
  • An interactive whiteboard activity that everyone needs to know (introducing vocabulary, brief introduction of a new concept)
  • Introduce new vocabulary: for example, when we began comparing numbers we did the "alligator greater" song and talked about the symbol
  • Group game- race to 10 with our giant ten frame, "find your match" with numbers represented different ways
  • Rekenrek math chat (ex: showing a 5 group + 1 more is 6)
  • Talking numbers-- have students solve a problem on whiteboards and talk about how they did it.
Whatever the topic, it is short and sweet. Our mini lesson is the pathway into what we will work on at the teacher table.

Guided Math

How many kids and how long? This probably the most frequently asked question. I am blessed with a small kindergarten class this year and have three math rotations. I meet with each group every day. I have 3-5 students in each group and we meet for 15 minutes. Last year my groups were much larger (I had a class of 24) and I had 5-6 in each group with four 15 minute rotations (I pulled time from elsewhere in my schedule to make it work.) 

These magnetic ten frames came from Oriental Trading. You can grab them by clicking the picture!
Those magnetic ten frames in the picture? They are a-w-e-s-o-m-e and we use them all the time! Check out Oriental Trading's Learn 365 website to grab other awesome learning manipulatives! 

What is guided math? Guided math is the heart of math instruction. It is intentionally planned and targeted instruction to meet the needs of each child in your group. Differentiation can be a scary word and when we are talking about breaking kids into small groups. Teachers can get overwhelmed with the idea of planning but sometimes differentiation can simply be how you scaffold students, your delivery, or even the manipulatives you use. What i'm getting at is that often times each one of my guided groups is learning the same concept just in different ways.

For example-- the group in the picture above solved the problem "Mason had 5 cupcakes and his friend gave him two more, how many does Mason have now?" Using our ten frames was much more concrete. Below, my friend is solving the same problem but drawing it on her own.


Guided math is one of my favorite times of the day because I truly get a full picture of each of my friends and I can meet them at their level. This is something that is nearly impossible impossible to do if you are teaching a whole group lesson for the majority of your math block.

Guided math should be hands on. You guys. Sometimes people think that kids should be working on workbook pages when they come to see you, or even learning a new math center. This is not what happens at the guided math table. True guided math is hands on-- our smallest friends need concrete experiences to build a strong math foundation. Giving a worksheet about a number is not the same as having a child build it with manipulatives and then explain their thinking. 
Here my friends built two numbers that we rolled and showed that they knew the two numbers are equal using hand signals.

Using Rekenreks to break numbers into smaller parts
Practicing making a counting path to count scattered groups of objects
These hands on experiences are everything when it comes to truly building number sense. Every new topic we introduce includes lots and lots of hands on activities during guided math-- once we have the concrete down, kids can move on to a combination of using manipulatives and things like pictorial examples. Catherine over at the Brown Bag Teacher has an incredible article about planning using the CSA continuum (concrete, semi-concrete, abstract). 

Comparing Numbers using snap cubes and our math balances
Something I really want to hit hard on is that during guided math instruction, it is REALLY important that the kids explain their thinking to you. It's not just build it, say the number, done. I want to know HOW and WHY they build the number the way that they did. During the comparing example above, we compared two numbers that were rolled using our balance and snap cubes. Each child explained their thought process-- this is really an important piece of the puzzle when we are getting to know our students math abilities better. It is also amazing to hear all the different ways they thought through math problems!

Math Centers

What is everyone else doing while groups meet at teacher table? Math centers! We have a total of three rotations this year because (as mentioned) I have a small class this year. Last year we had four.

Let's talk center tubs! The kids LOVE LOVE LOVE center tubs and it is by far their most favorite place to visit. At any given time I have between 5-8 center tubs to choose from. I do not assign tubs-- I am not a micromanager and the kids can choose whatever tub they want as long as it is not one they have visited repeatedly. They can also sit wherever they want in the room as long as they are not under a table or up against a door. 


We are currently working on numbers 1-10. This is a game called "roll and build" where my friends roll a 10-sided dice, find the number on their mat, and build it using snap cubes. The beauty of this center, just like most of the others, is that I can change these mats based on different concepts we learn. This way, changing out centers is not a big, dramatic event. For example, this game used to be only numbers 1-5. When we add they will roll two dice and build a number. Subtraction? Same idea. 

Here is our math balance again. We worked with our balance a lot at the teacher table so when the kids were ready, I included it as a center. This is something else that we will use for MANY different concepts (especially addition and balancing equations) so when we trade it out, we are not reinventing the wheel. 

One of the absolute all time favorite centers in our room is with our robot mouse, Jack. Because we are working on subitizing and number recognition 1-10, students roll the dice, and code Jack to find the number. This has been such an AWESOME way to combine STEM into our regular math block and it is the most engaging thing ever. We will be using this for every single concept we cover this year.

Hopscotch is a great activity for kinesthetic learners. When they toss the bean bag on a number, they hop to it and then write that number and represent it in a ten frame. When we move on to addition, they will complete a number bond to show how to break that number apart. Hopscotch is fantastic for getting kids moving AND doing math!

Math Through Technology

Technology is another rotation. Last year I used ABCYA and other free websites. I bookmarked the games I wanted my friends to play. This year I am using Boom Learning which is AMAZING because I get data about each one of my friends and I assign them games. Boom learning is interactive and self-checking-- I love that the kids are able to correct the answer and figure out why the one they originally selected was wrong. In addition to our robot mouse, it is one of the best things that has changed from last year to this year. 


To intentionally plan guided math instruction, it is SO important that we have data on kids. Boom Learning is such a simple way to do this. For each game I assign to my friends, I get data back that helps me group kids and plan. 
Data from my end! 
The kids get points on their end too and that is a huge incentive for them. They work so hard to earn all of their gems and I have seen them all go back into games to redo them in order to get all of their points.
This is what the kids see! They love earning points.

What the kids see from your classroom page
One of the best things about Boom is that the login is so easy. I bookmarked my classroom page on google chrome and the kids go right to it. They can find their usernames and I made their passwords super easy so that they can type them in on their own. This login system allows the kids to work completely independently-- so important because you are working with a small group at teacher table and cannot afford to go over to the computers to log kids in. It took me about 5 minutes to show a group of kindergarteners how to sign in. It is the perfect technology activity.


Here is an example of a Boom activity in action. Students drag and drop the correct number of animals into the barn.

 

If you want to try out Boom Cards in your classroom, you can head HERE to grab some. 

Some More Information


Management of centers- Let me let you in on something-- kids adore center time. They love that they get to choose their activity and they take pride and ownership. We make a big deal about how everything we do has to be done to help us get better at math. We spent basically all of September introducing centers and expectations so that they'd run smoothly. This doesn't mean you have to wait till next year to start. You can start tomorrow, next week, next month... just make sure you take the time to set clear cut expectations and practice them. You don't have to start pulling groups until all of your kids are ready to work independently. 



Math is not a worksheet; we need to create hands on experiences for kids and intentionally plan to meet their needs. I promise you that you will see amazing outcomes. So, take the plunge. No excuses. Tough class? Spend extra time teaching them routines and practices. Kids can't work independently? Yes they can, they'll surprise you. Cumbersome curriculum? Use it as a tool-- you are not a slave to it. Group of academically needy kids? Centers and guided math are perfect for them. You can do it, the kids can do it, and everyone will be better because of it. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fall Center Fun


This was the best week ever! We had so much fun doing all of our fall inquiry centers and ended the week with pumpkin day on Friday! My friends are getting so good at working independently at centers and we were able to do so many fun things during our 25 minute inquiry block at the end of the day. Here is what we were up to this week!

Observation Center:

I grabbed a bag of fancy gourds from target and a few magnifying glasses from the dollar tree to create a fall observation center. We talked about what it is like to draw an observational picture and I put a poster of what an observational picture of a gourd looked like at the center. My friends did this center totally independently and had so much fun! I was really impressed with how hard they worked and they were so proud of their drawings!




Fall Tree Q-Tip Painting

At this center, we used fall colors and q-tips to paint our very own fall trees. You know when  you have a really specific idea in your head of what the outcome of a painting will be? Never happens in kindergarten. But that is OK. There fall paintings came out beautiful and they were so creative! I love how hard they worked and how responsible they were with the paint. A project that could have turned messy never did and I was so proud!

I love the leaves falling off of her tree!

Pumpkin STEM Challenge

The week before we started these centers I was all over pinterest searching for a STEM pumpkin challenge. I saw really cute pumpkin stands made of straw and held together with masking tape. Problem was-- I really needed this to be independent and my friends are still having a tough time ripping masking tape. SO we improvised and instead the challenge was-- make a pumpkin stand out of blocks! This was extremely low prep and my little engineers were all engaged and working on problem solving skills. 

Pumpkin Day

On Thursday we had told the kids that we would have a very special surprise for them the next day. They went home SO excited and wondering about all of the possibilities. All of our kindergarten friends listened to a story and when it was over, we had a pumpkin patch set up outside! Everyone had their name written on the top of their pumpkins to extend the search. Afterwards, we came inside to paint!


Pumpkin Math and Science

After lunch, we had extra pumpkins set up to do pumpkin math and science activities. Students visited three centers: pumpkin exploration (parts of a pumpkin), sink or float, and pumpkin measurement. 
Our school custodian was kind enough to cut our big pumpkin open for us. I had it cut right down the side so that they could see what a pumpkin looked like from this angle. I figured that they had seen pumpkins with a top cut off before, so I wanted to do it a little differently. I also put some pumpkin seeds and pulp under our amazing view scope from oriental trading. We are going to be using this so much and it was totally worth getting! You can grab it HERE.  You can also head over to Oriental Trading's Learn 365 to find SO MUCH MORE awesome stuff! 


The kids were AMAZED at what the inside of our pumpkin looked like! We even got to feel inside and used our senses to describe the pumpkin.

We did some measurement with a pumpkin too! We measured the circumference with linking chains, height with snap cubes, and weighed it against some rocks. The kids filled out a responding sheet at this center.


We also did our "sink or float" activity and talked about why pumpkins float!


Happy fall! 

Friday, September 29, 2017

STEM and Next Generation Science in Kindergarten

When I first heard about the Next Generation Science Standards coming out I was worried. I had always connected both science and social studies to the topics we were covering in our reading curriculum and I was nervous about fitting in morning meeting, math centers/ guided math, Daily Five/ guided reading, snack, rest time, and play time, with a separate time for science. Don't get me wrong-- i've always done hands on science-- planting flowers, hatching butterflies, etc, but I hadn't ever had carved out specified time for it. I did a lot of reshaping of my schedule and figured out how to designate a 25 minute block of time for what I decided to call an "inquiry" period.

Carving out that 25 minutes for an inquiry period is the.best.thing.I.ever.did! And you know what else? Even though new standards in education can be scary the Next Gen standards are appropriate for 21st century learners and actually an amazing thing because they are hands on!

Next Generation Science is not a text book. Or a worksheet. Or a lecture.  It is STEM. It is real, hands on problem-solving. It is a way to teach even the smallest learners the most amazing things. Our inquiry period has ended up being one of the best parts of our day!

This week, we launched STEM in our classroom with some hands-on centers! We started by reading the book Rosie Revere Engineer which is a MUST READ for anyone doing STEM activities with their class. We talked about how we are a class of engineers-- and engineers fail all the time! The most important thing is that they don't give up-- they work hard to make their ideas better! My kids really grasped hold of this and I could see it right before my eyes as I observed them working at each STEM center.

Before we did any centers, I wanted to do a whole group challenge and observe my kids working together. For some, this was their first time working as a team to accomplish something. We talked about how we need to use our words and talk to our team members in order to accomplish a task. The question I posed to everyone was: can you build a bridge that a car can drive under? I showed them the "road" that they would have to build their bridges across and split them into teams of four! It was amazing to listen to them problem-solve together and it made me so happy that every team was able to communicate and work together to accomplish a goal!


After our whole group challenge, we began our introductory centers. I had four centers which we began on Tuesday. By Friday, all of my friends had visited each center.

Marble Mazes






































This was an independent center-- I introduced this center to my friends by simply asking "can you build a maze that a marble can travel around?" My friends had so much fun at this center. I even overheard a conversation between a child who was becoming frustrated and another child who said "don't worry, engineers fail all the time. Just keep trying!"

Building Structures

When I introduced this center I asked my friends "can you look at a picture of a real-life structure and make it with blocks?" As a team they picked a structure and replicated it with a variety of different blocks. This required a LOT of teamwork-- at first a group of friends wanted to build separate things instead of working together and you know what? I didn't even have to intervene because then they said "engineers have to work together to solve problems like we did with the bridge." Amazing!

This is the "wheel shaped building set" from Oriental Trading's Learn 365
We just got a new building set and my friends were so excited to try it out! This is a "wheel shaped building set" and it was ordered through Oriental Trading's Learn 365. The kids can build so many different structures out of these pieces and it is also amazing for building fine motor skills. We will be using this a lot throughout our inquiry time. You can grab it HERE. Oriental Trading has some AMAZING STEM materials on their Learn 365 website! Check it out!

Boat Challenge


Here, my friends had to build a boat out of tin foil that would hold a certain amount of math manipulatives. The best part about this center was that they failed so many times but never, ever gave up! Each child made their boat stronger and learned from their failure. By the end, everyone was able to complete the challenge!

Introduction to Coding


This was the BEST THING I HAVE EVER GOTTEN FOR MY CLASSROOM and I will be using Colby the blue mouse for SO many things this year! This was the only center that was run by me-- and only because the coding kit was brand new. I wanted to teach my friends how to use it before I let them work on their own. We started out with the cheese super close and the kids built a code then input it on the mouse. Each time, we added to the maze (turns, etc) and moved the cheese further away. They problem solved and figured out what needed to be added or changed to get Colby to his cheese. The joy on my friends faces when they finally got the code right was priceless. It was incredible how these little ones were able to work as a team to code and this will be used in our classroom until the very last day of the school year.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Elmer the Patchwork Elephant Centers

We had such a fun second week of kindergarten! I am loving my kids and they seem to be enjoying all of the activities we have been doing together. This week, we read Elmer the Patchwork Elephant by David Mckee. I have about a 25 minute "inquiry" block in my day where we are able to do science and social studies activities. I am planning on using this time to implement Next Generation science standards. This week, we continued our "getting to know you" activities-- the theme was that we are all special! Elmer is one of my favorite books and it fits so well into this theme.

This week I had four centers that were "Elmer themed". Each group completed one center per day and by Friday everyone had done everything!


Sensory Paint Bags: I put some paint and shaving cream in a ziplock bag (the real kind-- the dollar tree kind may rip on you...) and duck taped the bag shut. The kids had a choice of using a Q-tip or their finger to practice letter formation. I made letter cards with a beginning sound picture for them to pull out of a container.  You can grab the letter cards for free HERE


Hidden Words Activity: I do the Daily Five during my literacy block. It has been my goal to sneak in word work activities during our beginning of the year inquiry centers. That way, the kids are already introduced to them when we start guided reading/ the Daily Five. For this activity, the kids wrote their names and word wall words in white crayon. Then, they colored over it in marker. You can grab this activity and a few others for free HERE

Painting Elmer: We learned how to use water color paint at this center. I printed out Elmer on cardstock and the kids got to make their very own patchwork elephants. I had them write a sentence about why they are special using the sentence frame "I can___." Grab this for free HERE

Color Mixing & Traveling Rainbow: This was the "teacher station" because I didn't want my small friends handling the food coloring solo. Before we made the rainbow, we did some color mixing. I let each child in the group choose which two colors to mix together. After, we made our rainbow! We simply put paper towels and linked them to the next cup to make the rainbow travel.