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Friday, February 27, 2015

Writers Block = Randomness

I've had a bit of writer's block the last week or so.  I've opened up Blogger several times and just couldn't write out words that made sense.

Not that THAT is unusual! haha! :)

But seriously...I've decided maybe some random, Five for Friday thoughts would help pull me out of this writer's block I'm experiencing!

1.  Hurt Hearts
Usually, I do this lesson at the beginning of the year, but for some reason I didn't.  And now, 2 weeks after Valentine's Day, this lesson was necessary.  My firsties have gotten a bad case of the meanies!  This truly is one of the sweetest classes I've ever had and they really love each other dearly.  But I think they last few weeks we've graduated to a brother/sister relationship between my firsties.  Ya know, cat fighting, name calling, I love you, I hate you kinda stuff???

We sat in our class meeting circle on the carpet and read Chrysanthemum.  I had made a beautiful clean red heart....and forgot to take a picture....because this was not a preplanned activity.  This was a "Okay, everybody stop what you're doing and come to the carpet right now" kinda lesson.  You know the kind.

Every time one of Chrysanthemum's classmates laughed or said mean things to Chrysanthemum we crushed her heart.  The heart got passed around in our circle so everyone had a chance.  There is actually not enough for all 25 of my firsties to squish the heart.  So when we finished the book, we talked about other things friends or siblings have said that crush our hearts.  Therapy session 101!

At the end, our heart looked like this...

Usually, when this is a preplanned activity, I use butcher paper to make a large heart and we each sign bandaids promising to be caring and to help repair our friends' hearts when they are hurt.  But I didn't have room on my impromptu construction paper heart!  However, I use this same lesson with my preschool Sunday Schoolers at church and this is what their response page looks like after the lesson.

You can find this lesson and other love & Valentine's lessons in my Love One Another packet.  Perfect all year long!

2.  Math Games
I've super pumped about my newest pack because it is WAAAAAAAY overdue!  I've been using these tried and true number sense games for the last 9 years, and it was about time I updated the Comic Sans versions I had from my first year...*wince!*

Here's the Game of Double Compare from this packet from a few weeks ago...so still the less exciting version of handouts... It's basically double war.  Each partner draws 2 cards, adds the numbers and then they compare the sums.  The partner with the greatest sum, keeps the card.

And for my low babies, they just played Compare with me in a small group while the others played Double Compare with partners.  We used cubes to build the numbers to make it easier to compare!  The packet has cards with ten frames and without for differentiation as well!

9 games, 20 total differentiated version.  Posters, I can cards, instruction posters, playing cards, and student recording sheets!  The only thing it doesn't have ready for you are dice!  Print and play.  It's that simple!

3.  Seasons Writing
After a short break to research and write about presidents for President's Day, we are back to trucking along in our Weather Unit!  This week we started researching seasons.  We researched Winter and Summer this week and 2 next week.


Unlike last year, I decided to chart the details for each season within categories.  And this actually was for a more important reason other than my OCD...

We've been doing informative writing for a while. And while most of my firsties could write an informative paragraph in their sleep, their detail sentences are quite random.

Like this...

So, we've been focusing on grouping related detail sentences together instead of randomly writing whatever about a large topic.  Having a "categorized" anchor chart REALLY helped.  We were able to easily see during share time who had facts from all over the place versus kids who wrote all of their details about weather together and animals together, and so on...
During share time, we highlighted and color coded the related details.  
And while my lower writers didn't quite get this independently, my on and higher kiddos did really, really well.  And now I can totally see how much easier the transition to writing multi-paragraphs will be for these kiddos!
4.  Dr. Seuss
Next week is Dr. Seuss' birthday and I can't wait to celebrate with some old and new activities!
Follow me on Facebook to see all of the literacy activities we use from this mini-unit!  My firsties love becoming poets like Dr. Seuss!

5.  Cat
Speaking of cats in hats....errr...cats....you may remember my crazy cat saga with our new house we are building.  {Have I mentioned I hate cats???}

Well, 2 and a half weeks later, he is caught.  And my firsties are none too happy that the "cat news" section of first grade is over.  But I had some pretty happy campers that he was caught with a cage trap...which was the idea several of them had!  ....watch out, Rogers Animal Shelter, you may have 25 firsties coming to adopt a new pet cat soon!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cat Catching 101

Anybody else out there realize the different from first grade writers and motivated first grade writers?

Our Writers' Workshop time is 20-25 minutes of independent writing time while I meet with a small group.  I expect that in that time frame, my firsties {at this point in the year} can write 4-5 sentences and work on their illustrations.  Most days that can be accomplished in just the nick of time.  And sometimes that's like pulling teeth...{Amen???}  I mean, a girl can only think of so many "fun" things to write about in 178 days of school, right?

So, when an opportunity comes along for some engaging and fun writing, I'm in!

Let's back up for a sec...

My husband and I are building a new house.  They are currently trimming out our beautiful house.  Last Monday night, after parent teacher conferences, we went out to the house because my kitchen cabinets had been installed and I was DYING to see them!

...and we heard a cat.  In our attic.  We walked up in the attic and saw her with our flashlight right before she dashed to the far corner.  I texted our builder, who is a close family friend of ours, and he said he already knew about the cat.  I jokingly asked if that was part of his job description, or if he would subcontract that out! :)

Long story short...over a week and a half later and we still have a cat stuck in our attic.  This saga has included grown men chasing a cat up and down stairs, ropes to pull the door shut behind her, multiple cans of tuna, and our trim guy trying to "speak cat" and befriend this stray cat of ours!

Oh...and have I mentioned that I hate cats???

Last Tuesday, I casually mentioned the saga to my firsties.  They were hooked.  I knew immediately this was gonna be a story they'd want to hear each day.  So I saved it for our end of the day class meeting time--a form of bribery for good behavior during the day--but, hey! Whatever works!!

And YA'LL.

They have asked every.single.day about that silly cat.  Multiple times a day.  They have shared their suggestions for "Mr. Wendall" and our trim guy, "Scoop," on how they can free this cat.  They have worried about her...and I even had a tear or two shed for a stupid cat. #sorrycatloverfriends

It really has blown my mind how concerned they are for our cat "friend!"  So, today, since we are in between snow days and starting informative writing about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I decided we'd review our How-To Writing from January and write about "How To Catch A Cat."  I even made promises to take pictures of several of the best writings to send to my builder.  They were thrilled, they clapped, and they ran giddily back to their desks.

And in less than 15 minutes of writing time, they had written more than they do on days when we have 25 minutes of writing time.  And most of them were completely finished with their paragraphs in 10 minutes and already working on their pictures.  More kids than normal wrote over 5 sentences.

I was floored.

It's amazing what a little "hook" will do for improving how much a first grader can write.

This was a once-in-a-while kind of writing day.  One that I can't recreate.  One that I can only hope comes around again this year!  So fun to watch my babies write today!

Check out their creative ideas!
This is how you catch a cat.  First, if the cat don't see you, then you can catch the cat.  Do not kill the cat.  Take care of it.  Now you know how to catch a cat!
This guy was envisioning my attic above our school ceiling tiles.  Those are the tiles he's referring too!
This is how you catch a cat.  You need to cover the vent.  Take one tile out.  Then put a cage under the one tile that you took.  Now you know how to catch a cat. and a blanket. And install a light. {on the back} 
This is how you catch a cat.  You need tuna and a rope and a cat cave.  Then you cut the bottom off the cave.  Now you know how to catch a cat.
This is how you catch a cat.  First, you get a toy mouse.  Next, you attach a string to the mouse.  Last, you lead the cat into a box and close it before the cat gets out.  Now you know how to catch a cat. 
Love the labels on this one!  He wanted to make sure the builder understood his drawing! :)
This is how you catch a cat.  First, get a ball of yarn.  Next, get a string from the ball of yarn.  Then, when the cat comes to it, pull the string out of the attic.  Then one of you can hide.  Then come up behind him and cath him.  Now you know how to catch a cat.
 ...and this!  So creative and hilarious!
This is how you catch a cat.  First, you probably put some cameras first.  Next you probably then have to  put a trap.  That's what you should do.  Next and last, probably when the camera sees the cat then let the trap go.  Now you know how to catch a cat.
I was so proud of all of their writing!  And there were so many, many more great ones that I didn't get to picture here!  Sometimes, spontaneous writing prompts are the best!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

A few weeks ago, Cooper started answering the question, "How much do you love me?" by saying, "50 pounds!"  We aren't really sure where he got that from, but I knew when he started saying it, that it just had to be his Valentine's card this year! {and it does not go unnoticed how blessed we are to have such a talented photographer as Cooper's Pops!}

So from our little lovable stinker to you...












Time to "visit..."

Soooooo....
 Let's See...








Friday, February 13, 2015

Dear Governor,

When I started teaching over 9 years ago, my daddy {who is also an educator} gave me this book.

With tears in my eyes, I read his handwritten notes and thought about what the next indefinite number of years would be like as a teacher.
Whitney - I am so proud that you have chosen to be a teacher.  Except for the ministry, it is the highest calling that a person could receive.  You will be a great one!  You need to find out about MISS BONKERS and learn a thing or two from this teacher created by Dr. Seuss.  Enjoy the Journey!  Dad
The most moving notes to me are on this page.  They are forever etched on my teacher heart.


There's more "stuff" in this world than you or I could ever teach our students.  Give them a love for learning and then teach them how to think.  They will be forever grateful to you.
4 years ago, as a first grade teacher, I began pouring over the new Common Core State Standards.  They were daunting.  They were difficult to understand.  There were fewer and sometimes cloudier standards replacing many, many picky and shallow standards.  And they were different.

But that's nothing new.  Teachers getting a new set of standards to teach by isn't a Common Core thing.  It's an education thing.  Anyone who teaches for longer than a few years knows that standards change like fashion.  Sometimes it's just small changes.  Sometimes it's big changes.  But change is inevitable.

Because of the vast differences, Common Core was a big change.  It was a shift in content.  It was a shift in focus.  And it was a shift in kid thinking skills.  And while I can only speak for the first grade Common Core Standards....it was a shift for the better.  Yes, there are major, major gaps for older kids.  The shift for secondary students has been more than difficult.  But my first year of Common Core kiddos are in 4th grade now.  Secondary is only going to get easier if we stay the course.

Like the text in Dr. Seuss' final book says....my kids have learned to THINK.  That's always been my focus...despite the standards.  But our old Arkansas Frameworks were standards that focused on doing.  Common Core is a set of standards focused on thinking.

And since you are pulling together a committee to study Common Core and its place in Arkansas education, let me give you {and my fellow citizens} my two cents.

Common Core is NOT the only change in the history of education.

Common Core is NOT a violation of privacy or religious rights.

Common Core is NOT a teaching strategy.

Common Core is NOT an assessment.  That's a completely different issue.

Common Core is NOT a new step-by-step program for solving a math problem.

Common Core is NOT a mandate for how much homework your child has.

So, what is it?

It is challenging.  Do you want your child bored from the low level learning going on at his school? Challenging means learning is happening.

It is different.  Do you think 2015 first graders need to learn the same exact things that 1915 kids needed to learn?  Different means standards are changing to accommodate the different needs of today's techy generation.

It is deeper.  Do you think rote memorization is the best way to learn?  Could you still pass that multiple choice chemistry test from high school?  How many stats from your Jr. High history class do you remember?  Going deeper means concepts are fully understood and not forgotten.  It means instead of memorizing a way to solve a math problem that they'll forget in a few years, students can learn how to problem solve and persevere to get an answer.  It means they can defend their ideas and strategies.  It means learning isn't lost.

Mr. Governor, while discussions around Common Core have been heated over the last year and a half or so, I'm in my 4th year teaching the Common Core standards.  Nobody in the general public really talked about Common Core when it was rolled out for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade 4 years ago.  And what I can tell you from my years of experience with these standards is that Common Core has helped give me more time to focus on my first graders' abilities to problem solve, think for themselves and prepare for real world success.  What I can tell you is that I have a class of first graders that is excited to tackle problems, that gladly accept a challenge, and that have critical thinking skills I didn't know 6 year olds could have when I first started teaching.  And what I can tell you is that matters.  And that is partly because of the challenging, different, and deep standards I am teaching through Common Core.

And as a mom, I'm excited about the thought of Cooper being taught the Common Core standards.  Because at the end of the day, this is what I want out of my child's education...

I want him to be prepared for success in the real world, not for taking a test that is unlike almost anything he will take beyond his high school or college years.

I want him trained in thinking.  I don't want him trained in doing.  Or memorizing.  THINKING.  And problem solving.  Because that will transfer to success in the real world.  Because that will last him a lifetime.

But most importantly, I want him to be surrounded by educators that love and care about him like his mommy does.  Because I'm trusting our state's public school system to "raise" my son for 35 hours a week starting in 3 and a half short years.

And, that, Mr. Governor, has nothing to do with what set of standards are chosen when he starts kindergarten.

That has nothing to do with the time you will spend studying the Common Core State Standards.

That...existed before Common Core, has existed during it, and will continue to exist after Common Core is replaced by even better standards in the future.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wizard of Oz Valentine's Party

Party Day!  Such a fun last 2 weeks reading and studying the Wizard of Oz...

...and today was a great celebration of everything we had learned...Valentine's style!

The first thing I should make clear is that this was not solely my idea.  My sweet and more-creative-than-I-am teammate texted a few weekends ago with the inspiration for this party.  I was driving in the car with my husband, read aloud this fantastic idea and we (okay, mostly my more-creative-than-I-am husband) had added to her ideas in no-time!  After much collaboration...the result was uh-dor-uh-ble.  End of discussion!  And, I really thought this might be a time consuming party...but honestly, this party was pretty simple and not really any more difficult than a regular class party!  Here's a look at everything that made this party a success!

Wizard of Oz Dress-Up

The thing that took the most time were the Tin-Man hats.
...and really, it was a pretty simple process.  I bought silver metallic scrapbook paper from my second home, Hobby Lobby.  I cut them in half (portrait).  Then folded the end in a cone shape and taped the seam in the back.  So, it wasn't perfectly round in the back, but it still looked cute on the boys' heads and super simple!  Once the cones were made, I just taped pieces of yarn on the inside and put felt heart stickers on the front!  I think they turned out perfect!

The girls got blue gingham ribbons tied in their hair!


Table Decorations

My teammate and I split the cost of the blue gingham tablecloths from Oriental Trading.  We got a 100 foot roll and I think between 2 classes we only used half of the roll.  Yay for one less thing to do for next year!  I added yellow napkins spread out as placemats and red plates.  Perfect color palette and el-cheap-o {my favorite!}

My back table was just a little too empty {I decorated while the kids watched the movie before the party}, and I had extra napkins, so....I had to make a yellow brick road!

Wizard of Oz Menu & Treats

We had so much fun coming up with snacks for this party!

This year we ordered pizza...although next year, I'm thinking there's no need for pizza...just add pretzel sticks as "scarecrow stuffing!"

And, finally...my valentines for the kiddos...



Wizard of Oz Party Games

Every party has to have games...and these were just perfect!

Pin the heart on the Tin Man...I traced a cartoon tin man from my Smart Board on metallic poster board.  They had so much fun watching and giggling through each turn!  We played while they were eating which was a great time saver!

Winners who touched the actual heart, got some nuggets of "tin."

Next game was my husband's personal favorite and his claim to party-planning fame: Hot PoTOTO.

I forgot to take a pic of the adorable stuffed brown doggy my teammate bought, but we shared the "Toto" for our game...
Hot poTOTO, hot poTOTO,
Hot poTOTO, hot!
Hot poTOTO, hot poTOTO,
Hot poTOTO, stop!

As they got "out," they were able to go back to their desk and open their valentine's.  Winner got extra chocolate...although I looked so hard for a mini-Toto to give away!  Better luck next year!

Our last game was "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" musical chairs.  While the firsties were going through their valentines, I taped yellow construction paper bricks to our carpet.

We used the YouTube video of the yellow brick road song as our music!

Prizes for getting "out" of this game?  A yellow Twinkie "brick," of course!

So thankful for my friend's inspiration, my hubby's party planning skills {ha!}...this party's a keeper!