Have you ever thought about using STEM challenges to teach your Bible lessons?  I love using STEM at church in my Sunday School class!

Today, let's talk about the Drink the Water challenge we used with the Bible story about Gideon with kindergartners!

What You'll Need

My favorite STEM challenges are ones you can do with things you have lying around the house or classroom!  This one is no different.  All you need is...
  • A bowl
  • A large cookie sheet for overspill
  • Water
  • (adorable kid not included... :) )

You will need as many bowls/sheets as you have kids that will participate.  Not all kids have to participate, but it is not a challenge they can take turns trying....Once they figure it out, there is no point in continuing to try! :)

Before the challenge starts, you will fill the bowl(s) with water and put a cookie sheet underneath it.  Another option is to take this challenge outside so you don't have to worry about spilling water!

Drink the Water Challenge

Once you are prepped and ready, the challenge is simple: The kids must drink the water in the bowl without touching the bowl. (They can't pick it up or tip it.)

You time them for 1 minute and see who can drink the most water!

My guy had fun testing out different strategies!

After the challenge, share the strategies and which were the most efficient.  Why were they efficient?

Many of my Bible STEM challenges are designed to do after the Bible story, but this one is important to do BEFORE you even introduce the story in case kids are already familiar with Gideon and how God told him to choose his army.  Since the Bible story actually tells the ways the men drank the water, it would be pointless! ;)

You can find the Gideon & Deborah kindergarten unit on courage here.

For 10 years, I taught first grade and was used to my kids having a year of solving math word problems under their belt.  We obviously took it slow at the beginning of the year and gradually moved into our "full-blown" routines that you can read more about here.

But when I was asked to fill in for a 12 week long term sub placement in kinder, I knew the routine would be a little bit different for those babies.  I came in January and followed the routines the kinder teacher had started and added to those to get our kinder kids doing "full-blown" math mystery routines in less than 12 weeks.

Program note:  When you write this blog post during an international pandemic, you write about the routines as phases! :)

Kinder Word Problems: Phase 1

In the beginning, when kinders are clueless about how to do school in general, there is lots of hand-holding with math word problems.  While the end goal is for kids to independently solve math word problems and show their thinking all on their own, it takes some work to get there.

In "phase 1" of kinder word problems, we introduce or launch the story problem just as we normally would.  I have the kids get their math brains ready (close their eyes...some put their heads between their knees, ya know...whatever works!) and I read the story problem aloud to them twice.  After I've read it twice, I say, "Ready?" and they lift up their heads and open their eyes and we are ready to chat about it.

I ask, "WHO is the story problem about?" and they all (eventually...sometimes I have to call on a kids at first) answer the name of the person the problem is about.  

Then, I ask, "WHAT is the story problem about?" and they all (eventually) answer with the set, like cookies, crayons, t-shirts, whatever.

Next, I raise my hand so they know to raise their hand to answer and I ask, "What do I know about ____ and her/his _____?"  Then I call one kid at a time to tell me one of the two things I know.

In the problem above, I know that Cooper bought 4 pencils.  I also know that he bought 1 more.  

Finally, I raise my had again so they know to raise their hand to be called on and I ask, "What is it I DON'T know?"  Then, I call on one kids to tell me that.  In the problem above, I don't know how many cookies Cooper has now.  I remind them NOT to shout out any answers.

After we've launched the problem, I turn down the lights and dismiss the kids a few at a time to quietly go back to their seats and get started.  This is a very quiet time, with quiet thinking music on.  There are only a few times in my day that I ask kids not to talk at all, and this is one of them.  It's important that they can concentrate and get their thoughts together.  They are instructed to solve the problem, show their thinking and return to the carpet when the finish.  They sit on the carpet quietly while they wait.  I usually have the whiteboard switched over to the instrumental music video we are playing so they can watch the screens and keep them quiet and calm.  This is my favorite instrumental video that I like to use!

As I see kids on the carpet, I go check their work at their table and make notes of what strategy they used using this record keeping tool.  If I need them to come back, I call them back from the carpet to conference with them about their mistake or how to show their thinking more clearly.

The total work time is usually only 5 minutes--maybe 7 minutes max.  It doesn't take long at all, but the important thing is to establish the routine of working quietly and returning to the carpet when they are done.

After about 5 minutes or when all kids have returned to the carpet, we share.  Share time is short and sweet, but I walk around to the desks and collect usually two math mysteries to show on the board.  Those kids come up, tell us exactly what they did to solve the problem, and then we use star-star-wish to give them feedback.  The star is, "I like how you..." And the wish is "I wish you would have..."  2 stars. 1 wish.  In the beginning, this is more teacher led.  For example, I had kinders that said, "I like your flowers you drew."  And I would add, "Oh, you like how she drew a picture to show how she counted! Yes! I love that too!"

When we are finished sharing, I read them the story problem with the 2nd set of numbers (I erase the first set inside of the problem and write the new set in with pencil. With my first graders I don't have to fill in the blanks with numbers, they can look at the sets and usually do that mentally.  But my kinders need extra support.)  

Then, we go through the exact same routines again.  Launch the problem.  Send kids back quietly with music.  Return to the carpet when the finish solving.  Share time.  We only do two sets of numbers in this phase.  I just X through the bottom boxes before I copy it.

Kinder Word Problems: Phase 2


That was a lot of info for phase 1!

But it's all so necessary to set up important routines for math problem solving.  With our littles, there is no such thing as practicing routines too much, right?

When my kinders have the hang of the phase 1 routine, we go on to phase 2.

The routine is the same for phase 2 in that we...
  • Launch the problem
  • Unpack the problem (who is it about, what is it about, what do I know/don't know?)
  • Work independently
  • Share time
But this time, when the kids finish, they raise their hand.  I quickly glance at their strategy and if they have the correct answer, and I can see how they got it, I just tap their hand and say, "You can do level 2."  Sometimes I reread the problem quickly with the 2nd set of numbers since we only launch the problem with the first set. ("Okay, for level 2, Cooper bought 6 pencils and then bought 4 more...)

Then, that kid moves on to level 2.  If they miscounted or I don't see how they got their answer, I conference with them about that and have them redo/add to their level 1 work.  Then, they can raise their hand again for me to recheck.

When they finish, level 2, they go to the carpet and sit quietly while watching the instrumental music video--just like in phase 1.  Again, once most kids are to the carpet, we share.  We hang out in phase 2 just long enough for kids to get fluent with the routine.

Kinder Word Problems: Phase 3

Phase 3 is very much like phase 2.  The only difference is that I read both sets of numbers in the story problem when we launch and they can move on to level 2 on their own without raising their hand.  This just adds more independence.  

Once they finish both levels, they go to the carpet and wait...just as before.  As I see kids on the carpet, I look over both of their number set levels and call them back if I need to conference with them.  If not, they can stay on the carpet until it's share time.

So, if that's the only difference, why can we just add that in with phase 2?  Because, the key to establishing a successful routine with word problems in kindergarten is taking baby steps.  Phase 2 is training them do 2 levels without needing a share time in between.

The purpose of phase 3 is to encourage them to self-check their work and decide independently when they are ready to move on to the 2nd set of numbers.  It also helps them handle talking about two different sets of numbers.

Kinder Word Problems: Phase 4

Phase 4 is where we land and it's where my kinders really start LOVING math mystery time!

The difference in this step is adding more challenging number sets so they are solving 4 number sets each time. 

I set up our challenge numbers as something super exciting, and make it where they WANT the hard numbers.  When we launch the problem and I read through the first two number sets, I then write on the board what the two challenge numbers will be.  They LOVE watching me write the challenge sets and setting goals for which color sets they want to get! :)

I color code the challenge sets with two different colors.  One color set (like pink in the photo below) is harder than the other color.   

How do I choose the 2 challenge number sets?  The first regular set of numbers are within 10 (the kinder standard).  The second set of numbers are within 20 or within 10 still depending on my kids.  So for the challenge sets I think about two "groups" of my kinders who might typically be my early finishers.  Usually I have on grade level or just above grade level kids that are early finishers and then a group of kids well above grade level.

So based on that, I would make a blue set of numbers (like in the example below) for those on or just above kids and a red set for my well above kids.  When they are on the carpet, and I know to check their work, I also use their work as information to know which number sets they should do.

As time goes on, you may find you need to add a third set of numbers that are just more on-grade level number sets for kids that commonly miscount.

Word Problem Templates

These are the templates I use for the word problems.  I used the same ones in 1st grade as well.  All I do is add names into the story and write in number sets in the top two boxes.  

In kinder, I leave the bottom two boxes blank.  Those are for the challenge sets we use in phase 4! :)  Once they are ready for a challenge set, I have them "Do the blue sets in the bottom boxes."

You can find the free sample plus a year long bundle here.  
My first year teaching, I was moving 90 miles an hour all day long and my organizational skills suffered those first few weeks of back to school assessing!  I had assessment documents all over the place, I had no time to come up with a good system, and I had to look in 500 places before finding the piece of paper or spreadsheet I was looking for.

Sound familiar?

My OCD self won out after the first few weeks of school and I nailed down a system for keeping the data organized and easy to find and use. Take a peek at my favorite tips for recording data, and using that data to guide instruction (since that's the actual point, right???)

Tip #1: Go Digital

Digital data keeping is where it's at in my opinion.  Even when I do pencil/paper data recording, I always transfer it to my digital spreadsheet.

Why?  Because if it's on my Google drive, I can look at it at school, at home, on my phone, on my laptop, in my car, while I'm at PD... anywhere! :)

Most of the time, I keep my laptop right by me while I'm assessing kids.  For example, when I tested my kinders' rote counting, I would call them to my table, have them count with me and then just type in the number the counted to in my spreadsheet.  I put their score straight into my spreadsheet and skip the paper copy.  

If I absolutely can't have my laptop with me, I put the data in a paper sheet and add it in to the computer later.  

Tip #2: Keep the Data In One Place

Not much is more frustrating than having to flip through a bazillion spreadsheet pages to find the data you need for your administrators during PLC meetings or for your literacy coach when she runs down to your room to get a data point from you.

For years I had roughly a bazillion different sheets for approximately a bazillion different kinds of assessments I needed to give my kids.

Sound familiar?

The year I switched to having my data all in one place was a game changer for me!  

Now all of my data is in one Google Sheet on my Google Drive.  

So, why not just have several Google Sheets all in the same folder on my Google Drive?  I mean, I've definitely had to do that before when I had someone who needed me to fill out a specific sheet, but I MUCH prefer it all on one sheet.  

Having it all in one sheet means I just have one place to look for the data.  When I'm talking to someone about intervention on a kid, I have one line of data to look at instead of flipping through a bunch of spreadsheets.

Also, having it one sheet means I can easily see trends in kids.  I can easily see how lower PAST scores affect the nonsense word fluency scores for the same kid.  And that helps me make better data-driven decisions. 

Note: I do usually have a separate sheet for math and literacy.  I've actually done it both ways (altogether and separate) and both work well since we usually talk about intervention with one or the other.

Tip #3: Keep the Paper Copy

Yes, tips 1 and 2 were all about digital.  

But let's face it:  Many assessments, like the math one below, have pages that must be filled out during the assessment and aren't digital.  This is true for DIBELS, PAST, fact fluency and any student math assessments or writing prompts and rubrics.  

For these types of assessments, I fill out the paper assessment with the kids during the assessment just as I am directed, and then when I have the final score, I put that right into my laptop.  Then, I file that page into that students manilla folder that I keep on them for the entire year.  

Why keep the paper copy?  It's simple.  The paper trail.

Parents want to see the paper trail.  I use the kids assessment folders for parent teacher conferences.  There's nothing "extra" to assemble for conferences, I just pull out their folder and we go through it.  That way, in the spring, if parents forgot how far their kid has (or hasn't) come, I can just pull out both assessments and we can side-by-side compare.

In my early years, I stapled the relevant stuff for conferences together to go over with parents.  And inevitably I would understandably have questions from the parents and then I would have to go digging.

So, filing assessment pages into student folders as I go means I have the most up to date data ready to go for any parent or school person that comes to ask me about a kiddo.

The RTI Team needs to see the paper trail.  Having all of my paper copies all in one place helps me when we have last minute intervention meetings or a administrator comes in wanting to see data evidence on a kid.  It just makes sense to have it all in one spot.

I know it seems obvious, but if you're like me, sometimes it's a simple change that makes a HUGE difference.

Tip #4: Actually USE the Data

Okay, okay, another obvious one.  

But ya'll.  I've totally been guilty of racing to get #allthethings tested and recorded and then never look at it again.

Because, let's be honest, after all that assessing, I don't WANT to look at it again.  At least for a few weeks... :)
But I finally got to the place where I thought, "If I'm gonna have to collect it all, I might as well use it!"

I know you don't have much time.  I feel you.  That's why in my own classroom, I just use my digital data wall and pull groups on the spot.  For example, when I was teaching kinder last year, when I had a quiet moment during morning work, or if I finished a reading group early, or during snack time, I would look at my data wall, and call all of my kids back who couldn't count past 20, or 50, or 100, or wherever I wanted to focus.  

Those counting strugglers would come back to my table, we would spend 5 minutes practicing our rote counting and then they would return to their desk and I would highlight their data points so I knew I had met with them!  Simple as that.

Other times, I called back all the kids on a specific PAST level and we would practice the phonemic skill they needed to move on to their next level.  Again 5-10 minutes max.  I met with all of my kids as I had a spare 5-10 minutes.  Once I had met with them all for that assessment area, I would check it off and move on to another data point.  This helped me keep track of which groups to pull next.

Often times, on Fridays, instead of pulling reading groups, I would pull data groups like I just described to just reinforce or reassess those skills.

This was an EASY, ready to go way to use my data immediately.  I literally finished assessing and then began pulling data groups during spare moments throughout the day.  It was purposeful, targeted, quick, but most of all, super effective!  Having all of the data in one place was a HUGE help for this too!

You can find the fully editable, Digital Data Wall I use in my classroom here.
If you've followed me for any amount of time, you know I LOVE counting collections!  But they do take time to set up correctly.  And the clean up time in the classroom with primary kiddos can be--well--a while! :)

And honestly, all of those "issues" are totally worth it!  But the biggest problem I've noticed lately is... kids can't do counting collections if they aren't in the classroom! #distancelearning

Yes, parents can grab some things around the house to count, but, that's not ideal to put on the parents--especially if they are full time parents.

So, digital counting collections were born!  I love these for so many reasons... let's talk about those and what the routines look like digitally in the classroom or at home.

Why Should I Go Digital With Counting Collections?

Okay.  Confession.  When given the option between digital and counting actual objects I can touch, feel and manipulate, I'd choose those dang q-tips every single time.  You just can't replace that.

But digital counting comes pretty stinkin' close.  It's a great fit for distance learning, if you want to be able to assign kids certain sets to count.  It's easy to do on a chromebook, ipad or even an iphone so many kids will have easy access to digital counting collections.

Besides being a great option for distance learning, counting collections can also be a great supplement in the classroom.

While I wouldn't recommend completely replacing your traditional counting collections with digital, there are some great ways to work it in that can add value to your counting routines.

Digital counting collections work great as an additional math center because the cleanup and set up is so much quicker than traditional counting collections.  They also work great as an early finisher task (read more about those here).

Again, this wouldn't replace your weekly or daily counting time, it would be in addition to it!

What Do Digital Counting Collections Routines Look Like?

Digital counting collection routines are super similar to tradition counting collections routines.  If you already do these in your classroom, adding the digital routines will be a breeze. 

If you are trying counting collections for the first time, digital is a great first step to practice and see how it works in your classroom before committing to collecting #allthethings in #allthetubs ! :)

If you are in your classroom, the first step is to introduce counting collections and do a digital example together.  Distance learning teachers, simply video yourself explaining how to use digital counting collections and showing them an example by using this screen recorder free software!

Once you feel your kids understand what to do, assign them all the same counting mat to practice and share together.  This will give you similar numbers and objects to talk about during the share time after their individual counting time.

Then, you are ready to begin the real work of counting collections.  You can use the assessments in the paper counting collections resource to determine where your kids should begin counting.  Then assign them a color level and you are set!  

That's a quick overview of the routines.  Are you new to counting collections and want more details on what to do?  Read this detailed post on getting started with counting collections.

The routine for digital counting collections is basically the same, just online. :)  If you want all the details about how to add it to Google Classroom, assign different mats to different students, etc, watch this video here!

Once you've assigned the mats, your kids will click and drag to count the objects like in this kinder mat.

Then, they will count and double click to type in the total amounts and whatever other skills needed.  (Kinder, 1st, and 2nd all have different skills they practice with their collection.)

Finally, they can use the "scribble" feature in google slides or the edit feature in google classroom on an ipad or iphone to show how they counted or label their counting.

This is one I did using the scribble feature on my laptop in google slides...

This is how my 7 year old did a kinder version on his iPad using the edit feature in the Google classroom app.

But what about share time?  Share time is different, but very doable if you are doing digital counting collections.  If you assign the mats in Google classroom, you can save the mat as a jpeg file once the student turns it in.  Then, you can pull it up on your whiteboard in the classroom to discuss or use it to record a share time video for distance learning.  You could even share your screen in zoom or google meet to do share time.

The awesome thing about the digital mats is you can see how they grouped the objects easily instead of counting on the kids to draw/represent how they counted accurately.

Where Can I Find Digital Counting Collections?

If you're ready to try digital counting collections, you can find the bundle of K, 1st, and 2nd mats here.  Click on the individual pictures for just that grade's mats.

Still unsure about how they would work in your classroom?  Try it out the kinder version for FREE here!

I LOVE a good anchor chart.  If you've spent any time in this little space, you know that!  I especially love making anchor charts stand out for kids so they can easily find what they need.

I love adding more visuals, and using unusual shapes, colors, or designs to help my littles find them in the room and actually use them!

Reading anchor charts are different for me because I have some that are whole group charts and some that I make as "mini" anchor charts and store in my guided reading folder for that group and just get out for that group during small group instruction.

Here's a look at some of my favorite reading anchor charts.

Building Great Readers

At the beginning of the year, it's important to set the expectations for read to self time and how readers will "behave" in our classrooms during the year!

I love talking about our reading stamina!  This takes up the first few weeks of our reading time as we are practicing learning to read to ourselves quietly.  We use this chart to not only talk about appropriate reading behavior, but also to set a beginning of the year goal for read to self time.

You can see on this chart that we were only up to 5 minutes of read to self time at this point.  I usually start with 1 or 2 minutes depending on my class and we increase 1-2 minutes each day.  I set my timer and they read.  If I see any "stamina breakers," we stop, come to the carpet, talk about it, and return to our reading spots to try again.  We get two tries to be able to color in our stamina chart and meet our minutes goal for the day!  They love this challenge and it's super easy to refer to throughout the year!

This anchor chart sits in our classroom library and is one we make at the beginning of the year as we learn how to take care of our books!

Phonics Anchor Charts

I love making our own anchor charts for some of our tricky phonics sounds.  This is an example of our soft c anchor chart.  We sing (and dance!) the Mexican Hat Dance song with this sound, so that's why I have a hat shaped chart! (Ex: ce, ci, cy, /s/ /s/, ce, ci, cy, /s/ /s/, ce, ci, cy, /s/ /s/, ce, ci, cy, /s/ /s/)

Ee and ea are the smile sounds in my classroom, so I made smiley faces for these sounds and we sorted some of our sight word cards under them and wrote our own new words underneath!

And when I just don't have enough time to make an anchor chart from scratch, these emoji phonics charts are easy to print and use!

Fiction Anchor Charts

This chart is an oldie, but goodie.  I make it every year and we use it all. year. long.  I love drawing it with my kids, but you can get it premade here!

Later in the year, we talk about character feelings and how they change.  And we talk about all of the ways characters change throughout a story.  You can read more about how we use this anchor chart in our lesson with the book, When Sophie Gets Angry, here in this post.

Fiction stories are also great places to look for adjectives in the books.  We use this chart when we are beginning to talk about character traits and describing characters in stories!  Of course, this chart is also helpful in writing...as many of these reading charts eventually are, but it's a great one to start with in reading! You can find a template for this chart here.

Non-Fiction Anchor Charts

My favorite non-fiction reading charts are our shared research charts. These are so fun to make and I love them because we use them in reading, in science/social studies, and then in writing!  In reading, we use these charts to record facts about the person or topic we are learning about.  I love making these charts into fun shapes that help the kids remember who or what the chart was about!  You can read more about this lesson here.

During the second half of the year, we start talking about facts and opinions and read non-fiction books to look for how authors write both opinion and fact sentences in their non-fiction books sometimes!

Soon, we talk more about the kinds of facts authors include and chart interesting and important facts.  As we read our texts, we recall facts and decide if they are important (must include) or interesting (fun to include) and list those together.  Read more about this activity in this post.

What are some of your go-to reading anchor charts?
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