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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pumpkins and PCs

As much as I hate having to give my students a 30-some page benchmark test, I enjoy the fact that I have the whole week to do it, which means that I have some extra time in my schedule to explore new things during benchmark week. 

  At the beginning of the month, I had registered for the Pumpkin Seed Project on Projects by Jen.  Knowing that I had to complete that activity during this week (and with Halloween coming up), I figured I would jump on the pumpkin unit bandwagon.  Along with almost every other primary teacher in my building, I made a one- week mini unit on pumpkins. 

  Below are some photographs from our pumpkin fun:

The large pumpkin chart was a chart that we made from looking at the outside of a pumpkin.  The students used their senses to come up with adjectives they could use to describe the outside of the pumpkin.  In addition to putting the adjectives on the chart, each student had a sheet to put the words on as well. 

The next day, we opened the pumpkin up and wrote down adjectives to describe the inside of the pumpkin.  The students passed around the pumpkin, feeling the “yucky” “smushy” inside !    On Monday, the students are going to use one of the adjectives (for the outside or inside) to write a pumpkin simile.  I am then going to scan their sentence and picture and make a class book on Little Bird Tales (great website for primary classrooms)!  I’ll be sure to post it to here when we are finished!

The Projects by Jen project required that we predict and then count the number of seeds in a pumpkin that weighed less than 5 pounds.  When I went to the pumpkin farm to get my pumpkin, I found that the 4.9 lb pumpkin was rather small.  With 18 students in my class, I decided to buy another 4.9 lb pumpkin.  I have two large tables in my room, so I gave each table a pumpkin.  One pumpkin had a red dot on it while the other had a blue dot.  Each child was then presented with a pumpkin die-cut, with the corresponding color dot for their table.  They had to put their initials and their seed count guess on their die-cut.  After that, we made a list of our guesses.  Next, came time for them to guess the pumpkin’s circumference.  I walked around with a roll of string and told the students that I was going to keep unraveling the string until they told me to stop.  They then used their scissors to cut the string.  We then taped their string to the pumpkin die-cut. Later in the day, we measured their strings around the pumpkin.  We had one student get it spot on!  Another was just a little bit over!    You can see a picture of their die-cuts and their circumference guesses in the picture above (with the pumpkin chart).

With all of the seeds, we decided to guess how far our seeds would go if we stretch them from end to end, down the hallway.  To make this task easier, I had my aide cut strips of paper into one foot lengths.   I then taped the strips to my students’ table spots and had them use their squeeze glue to glue the seeds on.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time on Friday to stretch our seeds out.  We will make our guesses and try it out on Monday!!

  The extra time this week also gave me an opportunity to test out our new laptop carts (being the primary level tech team leader has its advantages).  Our school recently purchased two laptop carts, each with 15 laptops.  I was asked to take one of the carts to experiment with, as I am going to be holding an afterschool meeting soon to teach my colleagues how to use them.    I was thrilled to get started right away! 

Our first experimentation was with using a familiar website (, to practice our math skills.  I figured it would be easiest to start with something that they were familiar with.  I wanted to take the time to show them how to use the laptop, before introducing something completely new on the computer.  I was surprisingly shocked by how easy it was for all of the children to use the mouse pad rather than an actual mouse.  I was anticipating having to spend a little time with modeling how to use their finger to navigate, but that wasn’t the case!

The next day, we used PiratePad to “share the keyboard”.  We were taking the writing section of our benchmark that day, so I thought it would be a good time to discuss a sentence rubric.  Earlier in the year, I had created a picture rubric with the students.  We rated four pictures, with scores of 1-4, 4 being the best.  Keeping with the same concept, I asked the students to tell me what was the difference between the “4” picture and the “1” picture.  They were able to tell me that I used more details in the “4”  picture.  I piggybacked off of that to show them how they can create a “4” sentence simply by adding a few more details.      I then pulled up four pictures on the SMARTBoard (similar to our picture rubric).  In addition to the four pictures, there were four sentences.  Each sentence was similar, yet each one added a few more details.  The children had to match the sentence to the correct picture. 

       Having done very well with the previous activities, we took to the laptops and PiratePad.   For those of you who aren’t familiar with the website, PiratePad is a shared work page, where students can input text to the page while using different computers.  I started by creating and opening our Pirate Pad work page on my computer/SMARTBoard.  My consultant teacher and I then put the url on all of the laptops for the students (eventually, I will have the students do this on their own, however, being the first time, we went ahead and did it while they had a work period at their tables).   For this activity, I had the students work in partners, each pair having a laptop.  I explained to them how this page worked, and allowed them each the opportunity to type their names onto the page.  They loved being able to see what they were typing, up on the SMARTBoard.   Now, I should add that this was a little chaotic at first.  The children had to learn to click their mouse exactly where they wanted to type, otherwise, they would all be typing on the same line and in between other students’ names.    I let them experiment finding their own line and making sure that their name was the only name on that line.  Once they got it, the activity ran beautifully. **  My consultant teacher and I took turns typing sentences on the work page.  When we finished a sentence, the children then clicked by their name and scored our sentences.  They LOVED it! 

**My tip to teachers who are hesitant with trying technology because it is new to them…. don’t get frustrated!  You have to be open to the possibility that things may be a little dicey at first. That is okay though!  It may be a little noisy, you may have to troubleshoot a few issues, but once you get everyone on the same page…. it’s awesome!  Plus, the more you use it in the room, the more the novelty will wear off and the silliness ( typing the letter “y” repeatedly, instead of just once, etc.) will dissipate. 

Here are a few random activities that we have completed recently: 

Mummy Math -  In an effort to spice up the, “Ways to Make 4, 5, and 6” lesson , I gave each child a tag board “mummy head”.  Each mummy had a number stapled to its chin.  That was the sum that the student would be working with.  I then gave them a cup of red/yellow counters with the appropriate sum inside.  They had to shake/dump the counters, and write the addition sentence on a strip of white paper.  They then glued that strip to their mummy’s head.  They repeated this until they had filled the mummy’s head with strips of paper.  Last but not least, they added two googly eyes as a finishing touch. 

      (Prior to them completing their own independently, we worked on a mummy head showing ways to make 4, together)

Blend Blobs We teach initial blends in October, which is perfect because our blend blobs make great Halloween decorations!!  After talking about what a blend is, each child randomly picked a blend from a deck of blend cards.  They then had to write three words that start with their blend.   I gave the children 3x5 cards to write their blend words on  (with pencil).  Once I checked to see if their words were spelled correctly, I allowed them to trace over them with marker.  Next,  I gave the children a large sheet of construction paper.  I asked them to use the paints I put out to make one large blob of paint ( I modeled first what a blob looks like), and then three little blobs. 

  The next day (we let the blobs dry overnight), the children cut out their blobs and added a nose, eyes, and tongue to their big blob.  At the end of the tongue, they glued their blend card.  Then, they cut out their blend words and glued one blend word to each of their little blobs.  Lastly, I helped them string their little blobs under their big blob head.  They end up with this cute creation!

Have a Happy Halloween everyone!!!

Happy Teaching,
Mindy Wolf

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Do You Know How To Chicken Noodle Soup?"- My Students Do!

   Weve done so many things I could blog about! Yet, todays entry is going to be about one of the students favorite things-! 

   Teaching first graders, I know the importance of movement breaks.  That being the case, I wanted to find an option for us to shake, wiggle, and roll, when we cant go outside and run around.  The result……..  3 of my favorite classroom purchases ever (one was actually a Christmas gift from a parent). 

   After getting my SMARTBoard, I scoured the Internet one summer trying to find classroom exercise DVDs. I read several reviews,  and finally settled on two.

   The first one I found on Amazon was, 6 Fit Kids Workouts.  This is a great DVD.  Its led by a woman, who is joined by about four different aged students.   You can select from African, Kardio Funk, and Latin.  Each workout is 5 minutes long.  If you want something a little longer,  they have three 10 minute workouts which are a combination of the previously mentioned dance types.   The children truly enjoy doing these exercises.  They arent that complicated, but they do get their little heart rates up!

    Now- this next one is by far the classroom favorite.  "Hip Hop For Kids - School House Hop" is a dance DVD, which teaches the students hip hop dances, such as, The Chicken Noodle Soup, The Snap, and The Motorcycle.  The kids LOVE this one!  They always beg for me to play more.  There are approximately 6 different dances on this DVD, in addition to a dance music video, which is also a huge hit with the kiddos.  Ive uploaded a few pics of my students doing , The Chicken Noodle Soup. It is so cute! I love watching them dance.  Some of them really get into it! So funny!!

 Lastly, last year a parent purchased "Gymathtics" for our classroom.  This is an exercise DVD similar to the Fit Kids Workout, except, it focuses on raising your heart rate while practicing your math.  There is a section on patterns- the students do exercises in a certain pattern.  There is also a section called, Counting Kinesthetic.  In this section, the students have to do air punches, kicks, jumping jacks, etc. while reciting number patterns (place value, odd numbers, even numbers, even prime numbers).  I think my favorite part of this DVD is the Wind Down, Cool Down, where she takes the students through a series of stretches.  This is especially nice as the students get all riled up dancing, and sometimes need that little cool down before getting back to work. 

                                Happy exercising!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Open House, Cats, Pigs, Senses, Oreos and a Few Randoms!

First, I apologize that it has been so long since my last update.  Unfortunately, I can’t access my blog from school, therefore, any updates need to be done at home.  To be honest, by the time I get home each night, it is late and I need to get dinner ready and just relax.  The weekends are my best time to update. 

So, since my last update, we have completed Open House and three thematic mini-units.  The pictures below highlight Open House and some of the thematic activities that we completed. 

Preparing For Open House
  In preparation of Open House, the students created some artwork to display throughout the room and in the hallway.  One of the projects they created was as sun, using paper plates and strips of colorful paper.  We put these up on string across the room, as well as on the windows.  I thought they fit in nicely with our pond themed classroom.

Another project the students created was a family tree, using their handprints.  After reading a story about families, I introduced this art activity to the students.  I thought they came out really well. 

I found both of these art activities on Pinterest! I am officially addicted.

Open House
   Unlike many, our Open House is for parents only.  While I like the opportunity to have a half an hour to review classroom routines and procedures, I have to admit, I miss the open house evenings like I had when I was young the kind where the children got to bring their parents to the room to show them around.  I remember being very excited to walk around my room and show my parents everything. 

      What do I do for Open House then?  The past two years I have used to create a presentation that I show on my SMARTBoard.  If you haven’t used Prezi, I would recommend it! It takes a little getting used to, but it is way better than PowerPoint (in my opinion).   

  When the parents arrived, they find this “Welcome” note in the hallway.  It asked them to sign up for Parent-Teacher Conferences, Homeroom Parents, and new this year, Gardeners (we adopted a school garden and I decided to form a committee of parents to help design the garden and collect donated items).    Below the “Welcome” note was our Giving Tree.  I created this for parents who want to help out in the classroom.  Each apple had an item written on it that we could use for the classroom (Alphabet Cheez Its, clear contact paper, Lip Balm for Smellies, etc.), parents could take an apple home and then send in the item.  I have WONDERFUL parents this year!  They were asking if they could take more than one!  I am so appreciative!

  Once parents signed up for conferences, they came into the classroom to find a folder of information.  In the folder I provide handouts that summarized our curriculum, along with information sheets for them to fill out.   On the folder there was a label attached, which had a spot for them to write their conference date and time.  I also placed a bucket filler slip on each folder for the parents to leave a special note for their son or daughter.

  While the parents were filling out the forms, I had a Windows Photostory with pictures of our first week, playing in a loop on my SMARTBoard.

Animal Unit
We use the Scott Foresman Reading Street as our reading series.  Unit one of the series is devoted to the study of animals.  I created weekly animal mini units that coincide with the short vowel sound for the week.  We started the year with a week-long thematic unit on cats. The next unit was pigs, followed by owls.  Below are some pictures of some of the activities that the students took part in.


The comprehension skill for the first week was understanding what a “character” is.  I created “Character Cards,” which are similar to baseball cards.  After reading (or listening) to a story, the students had to make a character card for one of the characters.  On the front of the card they drew and wrote the name of the character.  On the back of the card, they wrote a couple of sentences describing the character.  They also wrote the title of the book on the back of the card.  We did this activity after reading the story, Tim Kitten and the Red Cupboard.

Here is the character card document: 
Character Cards

In addition to learning the short /a/ sound that week, the students also studied the final “ck” sound.  We worked together to read a poem called, “Jack’s Cat.” After reading it, I had the students highlight all of the words they could find that ended with “ck.”  Finally, they drew a picture of how they visualized the characters from the poem.

During our cat thematic unit, the students worked in math on number sense.  Instead of counting objects on the math sheet and writing down the number, I decided to go on a number scavenger hunt.  To set the stage for the hunt, I showed the children number posters first thing that morning.  I had simply used markers to created each of the numbers, putting the corresponding number of polka dots inside each number (the “2’ had two polka dots in it, the “5” had five polka dots, etc). I made sure to point this out to the students! 

 When they returned to the room from lunch, they found this note on the door.  I drew a picture of a “Cat Burglar” and had him leave a note to the students, saying that he stole the dots from their numbers.  In the note he mentioned that he left them around the school.  At the bottom of the note, I attached our first clue.  In addition to the clue, there were also 10 sheets of paper.  Each sheet had a number 1-10 on it.  This time though, the numbers didn’t have their dots.  I paired the students up and gave each pair a number.  I told them that if we found their dots, to raise their hand and we would staple their dots to their sheet. 

  Whenever we got to the location the clue sent us, I had posted a card with dots and our next clue.  As a class we would count the dots out loud.  Then, I would give the dots to the correct pair of students.  We continued this until we were brought all the way back to our classroom. 

  Once in the room, I had six math tubs with different number sense activities for the students to explore.  It was a fun day in math!

One of my favorite authors is Robert Munsch.  He has a story titled, Pigs! It is another favorite of mine.  I love reading this story aloud to my class.  This year, I created a “story path” for my students to walk down while summarizing what happened in the book.  Prior to reading the story, I drew pictures that highlighted some of the important parts of the book.  I then drew a path on butcher paper and taped the pictures in sequential order down the path.  Once I read the story, I called on volunteers to walk down the path and retell the story. 

 I have to tell you- finding a great way to practice story retelling has always been a goal of mine.  I can finally cross that off of my to-do list.  This worked BEAUTIFULLY! They loved walked down the paper and found great ease in sharing what was going on in each picture.  I even pulled out the Flip camera and taped them while doing so. 

The story path was another discovery from a Pinterest search.

  A colleague of mine shared a video with me regarding pig farms.  Prior to playing the movie, I told the students that I was going to ask them to share one thing that they learned from the movie.  When the film was done, I asked them to share the thing(s) that they learned.  I wrote their responses in complete sentences on the board.  Next, I gave them a pink sentence strip to write down one of the sentences from the board.  We then attached pig ears to the sentence strip and  created a headband out of it.  Each student then had a pig ears headband with one pig fact written on it. 

Lastly, we studied realism vs. fantasy by reading two books.  The fiction book was Olivia, while the non-fiction book was called, Pigs and Piglets.  After reading Olivia, the students were given a half sheet of paper that had the prompt, “Olivia was a make-believe pig because…” Each of them had to write down one thing that made it a fantasy story. 

Later in the  day, we read Pigs and Piglets.  After reading that, the students were given a half sheet of paper that said, “Real pigs….” The children then had to write one thing that real pigs do.   When they were finished with both sheets, they attached them to the pig puppets that they had created the day before. 

 Over the summer I found a mini unit on the five senses.  I honestly cannot remember where I found the unit.  If it was yours, please comment below and I will give you the credit! I am sorry!   Anyway, in the unit there was a lesson on how when you can’t use one sense, your other senses work harder.  To practice this, I had the students work in partners to build block towers.  After seeing the tower that their partner built, I blindfolded the one student and they had to build the same tower.  The student who wasn’t blindfolded was instructed to help their partner by giving them oral directions.  The students did a fantastic job with this activity. 

OREO Project

If you haven’t visited the website, Projects by Jen, I would DEFINITELY recommend it.  This page is fantastic if you are looking for online collaborative projects.  This is the second time that I have taken part in one of her projects and each time I have, my students have LOVED it. 

  This particular project focused on stacking Oreo cookies. Each student was given two opportunities to stack as many cookies as they could, before the tower fell.  We then had to average the towers and submit our score.  We had a BLAST!  One of my little girls stacked the tallest tower in our class 21 cookies!  Wooo hooo! 

Not only was this project fun, but it also fit right in with our math lessons, as we were studying greater than/ less than. 


I made these one-eyed space men for the students to use to remember to put spaces between their words.

This is a picture of our finished picture rubric.  I found this idea from the Finally in First blog.  It has worked wonders.  I have never seen my WHOLE class make such detailed pictures before. 

My intern this year is fantastic!  She too has become addicted to Pinterest!  When asked to create a lesson for sight words, she made Power Towers with the children.  They were a smashing success.  For more information on Power Towers, please see the Teacher Tipsters video for Power Towers on YouTube.   If you haven’t seen his videos before, you don’t know what you are missing.  Mr. Smith is awesome!