Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lulu and the Brontosaurus!

We have officially started a collaborative read-aloud project with Mrs. Bright's class at McDole Elementary in Montgomery, Illinois. We are reading the book, Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, and we are excited to be reading the book and sharing the experience with a class we "met" before via the Primary Blogging Community in the fall.

Mrs. Bright's class wrote a blog post for us on their classroom blog. They asked us a lot of great question, which we have answered in a reply on their blog. Check it out!

Here is some info for Mrs. Bright's class...

Hi Mrs. Bright's Class!

We love the book so far! Do you? We have some definite opinions about Lulu's personality at this point in the book! We don't want to give too much away, because we got overly excited today and read to Chapter 5. :-) Mrs. Sorenson just couldn't stop reading...the class was enjoying it so very much, and so was she. We all lost track of time! We read the page about her being a pain twice, because we thought it was so hilarious!

We give the book a big thumbs up so far!

Below is our bubble map of what we think of Lulu so far in the story. We wonder if she's really this naughty or if she's just going through a phase. :-) We can all be cranky sometimes, right?! We made this map with the iPad app, Popplet Lite.

Many of us hope that Lulu will change over the course of the story, and that maybe she'll start to be a little nicer.

Here are some questions for your class:

What chapter are you on?

How would you describe Lulu?

Can you think of a time when you felt the way Lulu felt when her parents told her she can't have a brontosaurus as a pet?

We are having so much fun with this book, and we hope you are too! We hope you are back in school on Monday after the big snow you're supposed to get. Wow!

Mrs. Sorenson's Class

Monday, January 27, 2014

Weather: The Water Cycle!

Our learning about the water cycle began today, but there is LOTS more to come!

Today, students learned a water cycle song, made a bracelet to help learn the phases of the water cycle, and labeled and color a diagram of the water cycle. We will do more water cycle exploration tomorrow, and we'll begin our learning about clouds!

We also began a close reading of this book:

Thunderstorms are a fascinating (and complicated) subject! We will continue to explore this text together tomorrow. Students were careful, thoughtful thinkers about the questions I posed to them today. We learned that it's helpful to go back and reread to better understand something and to verify our thinking. Were we right? Why or why not? What evidence in the text justifies our answer? Pretty impressive first grade thinking, don't you agree?!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Week in Review: Week of January 20, 2014

It was a short week, but it was also a productive and busy week in first grade! So much so that I didn't take many photos! Here are the few that I did take, with a "week in review" synopsis to follow.

The "All by Myself" math station on Thursday and Friday was creating a design with base-ten blocks, counting the blocks, writing the number, and then posting a photo of the creation to Kidblog. You'll have to visit Kidblog to see what they created! Remember, links to the blogs are on the right sidebar of this blog. Students are welcomed and encouraged to blog and comment on each other's blogs at home. 
Students are getting very good at using strategies when doing the group activity "Co-Seeki." Ask your child to explain how this fun Morning Meeting activity works!
Indoor recess has been the name of the game lately, due to sub-zero temps and wind chills. Students have made the most of it, but it sure was good to get outdoors on Friday after lunch! Please send your child to school every day with snow pants, hat, mittens, coat, etc. Students will go outdoors for recess as long as the windchill is zero or above at 11:25 (their recess time). Thank you!

And now for the Week in Review...

Writing Workshop
Everyone is working diligently on their nonfiction teaching books right now! We spent time this week learning to anticipate our readers questions by asking ourselves questions to help generate ideas for what to add to our books. For example, my nonfiction book is about the beach. I modeled asking questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why, and how. Why would someone want to go to the beach? How do you get ready to go to the beach? Where are the best beaches? Students worked with their literacy partner to ask each other questions about their topic to help come up with more writing ideas.

We also studied a nonfiction book about sharks to analyze how nonfiction authors use visual information to teach about their topic. Students noticed that many photographs and illustrations are labeled and/or have captions. They also noticed that sometimes authors show a close-up of something to help you understand it better. For example, in the sharks book, there was a close-up of a shark's skin to show that it's rough. Students were eager to try some of these techniques in their own illustrations. I will post a picture of our anchor chart (a chart that hangs in our classroom to remind students of what they've learned in mini-lessons) tomorrow.

Reading Workshop
Our reading lessons have focused on reading nonfiction texts from the lens of being a writer of nonfiction, since students are writing nonfiction texts in Writing Workshop. One of the most powerful ways for students to learn how to write in a genre is to study that genre. We have focused on determining which information you can learn from the pictures vs. the words in a nonfiction text, reading nonfiction texts like a researcher--to learn more/new information, and reading with questions in mind (and, of course) trying to find answers to our questions as we read.

Students have been very interested in using technology during Reading Workshop as well--we always have iPads in the classroom so students can access reading resources such as RAZ-Kids. They also frequently ask to write on Kidblog, and I am certainly OK with that! Sometimes, I provide a focus for blogging (such as creating a post about their owl artwork and creating base-ten block designs), but often they can choose their topic. Soon, students will be asked to blog about books we read as a class. We are about to begin a collaborative read-aloud experience with a class in Illinois, and blogging will be an important part of this collaboration. (More info on that to come.)

Last week, much of our time in math was devoted to learning about Function Machines. Here's a cool interactive game that provides a fun way to practice this skill: Function Machine Interactive.

You will receive an explanation of Function Machines with your child's homework tomorrow with a supplemental Family Letter. These "machines" can be confusing at first, but they lay the foundation for algebraic thinking. 

We also spent time reviewing counting coins and practicing our "doubles" facts. Here are two fun videos we use to help memorize the doubles:

Students also learned two great new games last week--Blokus and Shut the Box. Both are available at retails stores (not just teacher catalogs) and are excellent for developing math thinking. Blokus helps develop strategic thinking and visual/spatial relationships, and Shut the Box is excellent for strategy, number sense, and addition/subtraction practice.

We play a lot of games in math! I will be sure to keep sharing, as they are a fun way to extend the learning/practice at home!

I highly encourage children to use the Dreambox site at home as well, if possible. The link to log in is on the right sidebar of this blog!

So far, most of our learning about our current science unit, weather, has been through reading books together about the topic. Next week is hands-on science week in our classroom! Each day we will focus on a different aspect of weather and do a project/experiment to go along with that component. Tomorrow, students will learn about the water cycle! They will learn a very catchy tune, which I will post on the blog as soon as they've mastered it! Other topics will include clouds, temperature, precipitation, weather tools, and the four seasons. 

Our Connected Classroom
You all know by now that I am fully committed to expanding our learning beyond the four walls of our classroom. Here's what's currently in the works in that department:
  • Mystery Number Skype--We had a little break from this last week, as the school in Michigan had a snow day on Thursday, the day we were supposed to Skype. We'll meet up with them sometime this week. 
  • Our Community eBook--We will be brainstorming what to put in a page about Colchester for an eBook that a teacher in Windsor, Ontario is putting together with 45 classrooms included. Very exciting!
  • Primary Blogging Community: We are now connected to three new blog buddy classrooms. There is a class in Seattle, Vancouver, and Colorado in our new group. We started "blog hopping" to their class blogs last week to get our collaboration started!
  • Collaborative Read Aloud: A teacher I know through my Twitter Professional Learning Network (PLN) contacted me over the weekend to see if we'd like to do a collaborative read aloud together. We chose a book, Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, and we will begin this project as soon as they are back in school (their school has been closed due to snow and cold temps). They were one of the classes in our first Primary Blogging Community group, and we plan to interact via Skype, our classroom blog, and our Kidblogs.
Coming Up...
100th Day of School!
Barring any snow days, the 100th day of school will be February 5th. There is no project to do at home...we will celebrate 100 days at school through a collaboration between all four first grade classrooms. There is a Sign-Up Genius form if you'd like to donate any materials for our day. Thanks!

We LOVE to Read and Write Celebration
Please join us on February 14th at 1:00 for a celebration of reading and writing in our classroom. We will exchange Valentines earlier in the day. I will send home a class list for this purpose tomorrow. If you can send or bring something in for our celebration, please sign up here

Parent Teacher Conferences
Remember, I am holding PT conferences before the February vacation. Most of you have signed up via the online sign-up. Please be in touch with me if you would like to sign up and have not done so already. Thank you!

I hope you had a great weekend! I will be in touch with news about the the Flynn Theater reschedule or refund as soon as I have more information. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

So proud!

I am so proud of how well students handled the disappointment of our field trip being cancelled today. We were all sad to learn that the Flynn Theater's heating system failed, which meant we couldn't see our play. We were bundled up and walking down the hall to the buses when we got the news. Upon returning to the classroom, we had a brief chat about the change in plans. We made the most of it by having an impromptu game hour and then a relaxing, calm afternoon of reading and even a bit of free choice!

Check out some of our game time fun:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Snowman Collage

Our snowman collages look great! Many are ready to hang up, and the rest will be finished soon. This project was inspired by the book Snowmen at Night by Caralyn and Mark Buehner. I will post more pictures when everyone finishes. We will be doing some writing to accompany our beautiful artwork. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Building Community

I love our Morning Meetings! Earlier this week, we did the "Pancake" greeting, which is a fun way to say hello to each other. I captured a few glowing smiles. Ask your child to describe (even better, demonstrate!) what this greeting looks like. :-)

Sharing is another wonderful component of our Morning Meeting, and it's a great way to build community by getting to know one another better. We learn things during sharing time that carry over into conversation at lunch, snack, on the playground, etc. New friendships and connections have come from our sharing time! And, I am pleased to report that EVERYONE shares each week. Hooray for being brave!

A Glimpse into Reading Workshop

Students meet with me for a book club at least once per week, a time when I can meet with students in small groups to better meet their needs. Since we are focusing on instructional text (nonfiction) in our whole-group reading lessons, we are taking a careful look at this type of text in our book club groups as well. Soon, we will form interest-based groups to study topics that students wish to explore. Most book clubs are focusing on the importance of asking and answer questions during reading. Reading with a question(s) in mind helps a reader read with purpose, which enhances comprehension. Sometimes, the questions we ask are not answered in the book we're reading, which has lead to some great discussions about what we should do when we want to learn more about a topic (read more!).

Concentrating hard during Read to Self time!
Engaged in nonfiction during a book club meeting today!
These two had some amazing book talk!


As much as I embrace and adore integrating technology in the classroom, it was fun to make our morning message "old school" this week. We often interact with the morning message via the iPad and interactive whiteboard, but using good old fashioned chart paper was quite popular this week. I purposely made many mistakes in this week's messages, and students had to use their detective skills to find and correct them. It will probably come as no surprise that they are very good at this! :-) Here are a few photos...

Finding Writing Inspiration

Our second unit of study in writing--writing nonfiction/teaching books--is off to a good start. But, I did notice that some students were having difficulty thinking of topics and writing with the informative voice of a nonfiction author (a "teaching voice"). So, we looked for inspiration in the many nonfiction books in our classroom library. We found it! Not only did students become more familiar with what's available in our classroom, but they also discovered a sampling of what they might be able to teach about in their next nonfiction book. Students "shopped for ideas" and jotted them down on a sticky note. We then came together to create a chart that hangs in our classroom for inspiration. Check out the amazing readers/writers at work gathering ideas below...

This is our first chart of topic ideas. The next day, we brainstormed together about things we are experts about and created another chart to go along with this one. Now there should be no shortage of writing ideas! Now to study the "insides" of these books in more detail for further inspiration. :-) (I will post a picture of the other chart--the student generated "expert" ideas--soon). 

Here are some writers hard at work--writing nonfiction teaching books and blogging on Kidblog. Everyone gets to blog during Writing Workshop on his/her share day. 

Math thinking in action

First grade mathematicians are hard at work, every day! After Morning Meeting, we begin our day with Math Workshop. During our math meeting, we do the calendar/number of the day routine or we engage in a whole-class mini-lesson from our Everyday Math curriculum. Currently, students are building their understanding of place value and how to solve number stories with larger numbers. For example, recently students pondered the following number story:

At the zoo, we saw a 75-lb. penguin and a 56-lb. beaver. What is their total weight?

To solve stories such as this, students have to identify the important numbers (75 and 56) and then decide what to do with the numbers--put them together (add) or take part away (subtract). We discuss what number model would go with the story (75+56) and then take thinking time with our dry-erase markers and boards to solve. We then take time to share solution strategies. We've been working on using base-10 blocks to help solve number stories like this, and many students are becoming more proficient with this tool. Several others have strong mental math strategies, such as taking 70+50 and 5+6, so 120+11=131 lbs. It's the sharing our math thinking that really makes the difference--many students can come up with a correct answer, but being able to describe and/or demonstrating how they arrived at the solution is a higher-order thinking skill. Since it's so important to be able to explain our math thinking, we spend a lot of time with this. 

Pondering the "Math Message" to get warmed up for our math mini-lesson.
I wish this weren't fuzzy, since she's drawing base-ten blocks to show how she added two numbers--demonstration by students is sometimes more powerful than my demonstration!
Our Mystery Number Skypes are another way in which students are building their number sense and math thinking skills. Since this has become such a regular part of the routine, students are better able to focus on the math behind it. At first, it was so novel that it was more fun to check out the other class and wave to each other. :-) Our list of questions to ask the other classes to guess their numbers has become quite sophisticated, and we add new questions when we get ideas from other classes. This is our current list:

In our call today with Mrs. Simmons' class in Columbus, Ohio, we designated "question answerers" to go up to the iPad to answer the questions from the other class. Students took turns with this role, as they do when asking questions to guess the other class' secret number.

This student is answering a question from the class in Ohio.
Students are becoming better each time with marking off the numbers that we eliminate through the questions we ask. Just a month ago, students recording as we go was a very difficult task. It's getting easier every time!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Nonfiction Studies (and Skype calls!)


We have jumped right in with our study of nonfiction reading and writing. We did some amazing work today, which I will share very soon (photos still on my "fancy" camera versus the iPhone or iPad, which I usually use). :-) Students are learning how instructional/nonfiction texts are different than fiction texts in that they are written for a different purpose (to teach) and often have many different features. The Common Core State Standards include rigorous expectations for students' understanding of both fiction and nonfiction texts. The bulk of the first trimester was dedicated to fiction, and we've now moved on to nonfiction texts. 

In writing, students are learning to write "teaching books," which are nonfiction books. Currently, they are choosing topics that they know well and writing what they know to teach others about their topic. Eventually, students will learn how to research a topic of interest and write reports about what they learned. We will conduct research in many ways, using both print and electronic texts. I'm eager to get started, as I know students will enjoy reading to learn something new!

To begin our nonfiction study, students looked through a big stack of books from the UMS library about weather (our current science topic) and sorted them into the categories Fiction and Nonfiction. We had interesting discussions as we did this, as students started to realize that we have to look inside the book and, in some cases, read excerpts in order to determine if a text is fiction of nonfiction. There were some books we decided were both fiction and nonfiction--blended books--because they include elements of both texts types (think Magic School Bus books). 

Number Sense and Mystery Number Skype

Last week, we had to honor of introducing two first grade classes in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to the world of Mystery Number Skype. One call we did on our own, and the second call we did with Mrs. Hughes' class next door. They are new to Mystery Number Skype, so we were helping them too. I have seen students' recognition and understanding of numbers grow as we continue to do this activity. For 20 minutes per call, it's a fun way to practice numeracy AND get to know more about other states (and Canada, too)!

Skyping with South Dakota--students have good conversations about numbers during this activity.
We have learned about "Skype Etiquette," which is a lot like our classroom listening rules--look at the speaker, one person speaks at a time, etc. We're getting better at this each time!

Today we had a Mystery Number Skype with a class in Beloit, Wisconsin. This call was special because we met up with a 2nd grade class--we had only done this activity with other 1st grade classes previously. We got some great new questions to add to our list, and we plan to use these in our next Skype session (with a school in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Math Update

 A Family Letter about Unit 5 of Everyday Math was sent home on Friday, and an introduction letter about Dreambox, an online math program, was sent last Thursday. Both are off to a great start! Students are enjoying the base-ten blocks to learn about place value in a hands-on way. We are using dice and dominoes during Math Workshop in a variety of ways to help children build automaticity with math facts. This week, the first graders enjoyed using wipe-off pages with dry-erase markers to practice their facts using dominoes and/or dice. We also play many dice games to practice math facts--has your child used his/her new dice and dice games that were part of our holiday gift? I hope so! It's a fun and valuable way to practice math fact fluency.

As for Dreambox, we are part of a pilot at UMS to try this resource to determine if it's worth investing in a subscription. So far, students seem to love it! It can be accessed at home online via a computer or through a free iPad app. The link for students is on the right-hand sidebar of this blog. I encourage children to get extra practice at home when possible. Our trial period ends February 28th.

Indoor Recess

Due to sub-zero temps and a VERY icy playground, students have had indoor recess since we got back to school last Thursday. They are handling their cabin fever quite well! The extra time indoors has allowed students to express their creativity using many of the building and art materials in our classroom. I snapped a few pictures on Monday during recess to give you a glimpse into indoor recess in first grade. Enjoy!