Monday, September 28, 2015

Leaf Chromatography: Why do leaves change color?

Our school is adopting the Next Generation Science Standards for the first year, and it is definitely keeping me on my toes. I have been learning all kinds of fabulous science right along with my 1st grade friends. One of our first standards for the year is exploring patterns in seasons and sunlight. With the start of Fall last Wednesday, it was the perfect time to talk about the shorter days and longer nights of fall, as well as, answer one of our most-pressing 1st grade questions - "Why do leaves change colors?" We began our Fall and Leaf study by collecting leaves from our own homes and sharing them with our friends.
The afternoon before I commissioned my Leaf Hunters, we enjoyed We're Going on a Leaf Hunt together. Put to the familiar tune of "We're Going on a Bear Hunt", "Leaf Hunt" it was a simple and fun way to introduce many different types of trees and leaves, as well as, put our learning in context. 
The next afternoon, we spent our theme time exploring and investigating the leaves my friends brought to school. I placed 5-6 leaves on each of our tables and students carouselled around the room observing the leaves and touching them (with only 1 finger, so we didn't crush someone else's leaf). We then measured the leaves with cubes (non-standard measurement is a 1st grade standard) and we did some casual experiments with leaves and water (do they float? do they sink?).
After we observed the leaves, we brainstormed adjectives to describe the leaves. We are learning how to use our 5 senses to write narratives, so using adjectives to describe our leaves was a perfect science-writing connection. Rather than illustrating our leaves (which would definitely test our artistic abilities), we did leaf rubbings. WARNING - Children born in 2010 have never done leaf rubbings before!!!!!! My little KC asked me - "Can you do this on the iPad?" #facepalm If you decide to do rubbing be completely prepared with ample amounts of patience and a step-by-step plan for how to do a rubbing. 
The next day, we reflected on our leaf exploration and spent time comparing the leaves we brought in. Many of the leaves were green, but some were starting to change we had green leaves, yellow leaves, brown leaves, and a few leaves with faint hints of red. Looking at our leaves, we asked - "Why are the leaves different colors? Why does the color of a leaf change in the Fall?"

Learning about predictions in reading, we shared our ideas about why leaves might change colors. The friends below were fairly confident of their thinking and shared their ideas with the class. FRIENDS - 1st GRADERS ARE UNINTENTIONALLY HILARIOUS. 
Hoping to answer our question, we set-up a lead chromatography experiment...1st grade style! I collected 3 plastic cups and 3 sets of leaves (4-5 leaves from the same tree in each set). Then, I snagged pencils and coffee filters to act as our chromatography paper, plastic spoons for mashing, and rubbing alcohol for chemical in charge or extracting pigment from the leaves.
We split into 3 groups, each group responsible for tearing their leaves into tiny pieces and putting the pieces in their cup.
Why 3 cups?? Well, I was not sure if this would actually I figured if I tried 3 different sets of leaves *hopefully* one set would offer a result. (Note - I piecemealed this experiment from 3-4 different website and cut out all the bells and whistles. I did not have access to ceramic bowls, hot water, plastic wrap, etc. I did not want to run to Walmart and used what I had in my school closet.)
To each cup, I added just enough rubbing alcohol to cover all the leaves. I did do this part of the experiment myself because I did not have goggles or gloves for my 1st grade friends. Although rubbing alcohol isn't likely to kill one of my 1st graders, I would much rather err on the side of caution. 

After the rubbing alcohol was added, I mashed the leaves in each cup with a plastic spoon. While I was mashing each cup, we sang some of our favorite songs (Learning Station Days of the Week, Twin Sisters Learning our Short Vowels, Ron Brown Nouns and Verbs)...which means I mashed each cup for approximately 2 minutes. By the end of the mashing, the rubbing alcohol should be a light green. This is the most important step because it releases the pigments so they can travel through the coffee filter! 
We cut a long strip from the middle of a coffee filter and taped/wrapped it around a pencil. We then put the paper strips into our leaf/alcohol mixture! 
After 5 hours of hanging, these were our final chromatography strips! Amazingly, all three of our strips actually worked - woohoo! (Note - of course this only happened because I did 3 samples. Had I done 1 sample, the experiment would have most definitely failed.)

For a better visual, we laid them flat on a white piece of paper and put it under the Document Camera. Then, students picked one of the strips to illustrate and describe in their journals.
Observing our chromatography strips, we realized that different colors had been in the leaves after all! We were able to see green, yellow, and brown in our leaves (even though the leaves only looked green at the beginning of the experiment). But now, we needed an explanation. How can a leaf have all of those colors inside but still look green? To explore this question, we read Why Do Leaves Change Colors by Betsy Mastero. This is a book perfect for primary learners - lots of science and explanations but not enough to overwhelm or confuse!
After reading the book together and making the connection to our chromatography strips, students went back to their writing journals and wrote their own explanations for our guiding question - "Why do leaves change colors?" Then, we came back to the carpet and wrote a class definition.
We learned that during the summer months, the leaves are making food which makes the leaves look green. This green color hides the other colors in the leaves. During the fall, the leaves get less light so they are not making as much food, and the leaves loose their green color. As the green color becomes less, the other colors in the leaves start to show. This is pattern that continues each season!

This was a simple way to make a huge impact. Plus, it made our world a little more magical - who doesn't love knowing that leaf colors are 'hiding' until the onset of Fall, when our world becomes considerably more colorful!
What are your go-to science lessons for demystifying fall? I'd love to hear your ideas! 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

1st Grade Classroom Reveal: 2015 - 2016

This is the first year where I have stayed in the same room in the same grade. As I approached my room, I really wanted to make it more functional in terms of wall space. The physical space is almost identical to last year because honestly, it worked. With only minor tweaks being made to my room over the summer, I've had a hard time finding the motivation to share. I really do like our learning space but the lack of novelty was initially a struggle for me. So, 7 weeks in, here is our 1st grade learning space!

You'll noticed there is no theme. Rather, clean lines, organized materials, and blue/green hints throughout our room. With lots of natural light and fantastic color-blocking provided by the district, I really don't want to overwhelm the room with too much color or stuff.
Most of the rooms at our school are inset, so they have learning nooks outside. Our learning nook was blessed with a carpet and bean bags as a gift from my first 1st grade class! It makes the perfect space for parent volunteers and peer mentors to read with my 1st graders. Plus, our Astrobrigh's student work display and bulletin boards are also in this space. I really do love this corner and wish I could teach in the nook. It's so comfy! 
Standing at my door, you'll have this view. Our school is fairly new (we are in Year 4) and when it was built, we received high ceilings and lots of windows. Every classroom has two windows on the back wall and then, one long/thin window near the ceiling (i.e. the blur of light in the back of the photo). This means during the fall and spring, we spend most of our days sans lights - it's wonderful!

Last year, I picked up the paper ceiling fans from Oriental Trading. During each season of the year, I like to change them out to keep our classroom fresh (fall = leaves, winter = snowflakes, spring = rainbows). Since our ceilings are exceptionally high (~16-18 feet I use a painter's pole with a hanging attachment to hang the hanging decoration. It typically takes about a half-hour with my Mom helping!)
I am going to take you around the room in a counter-clockwise fashion. As you enter the room, on your right you see my teacher desk pushed against the wall and converted into our Writing Center. Students love having a separate space for Work on Writing, and feel very important writing at a teacher desk. The 4-star writing chart and the heart writing ideas chart are all things we created together in the first few weeks of school. To begin the school year, this wall was empty.
For easy-access, I keep four clear trays for different writing papers and graphic organizers. Right now, I only keep general writing paper in the trays. As we learn different modes of writing, I will add different types of papers/organizers for independent practice. I also keep black pencils (so they can't wander off), highlighters (for highlighting the word because), and crayons. Keeping all of our needed materials on the desk minimizes transitions for students. 
On the side of the desk, you see mini-dictionaries with theme-specific words with picture clues. Then, there is our bucket of clipboards. Our class journals become collaborative writing projects and our mailbox will be introduced after Fall Break (in two weeks) as we learn to write letters. Pigeon (Mo Willems' creation) takes the mail from our mailbox and delivers it around the school!
Above our Work on Writing center, is our classroom alphabet and number line. To the right of the center, you see our class word wall. Last year, our word wall was much higher (above the cubbies) and I was never able to maintain it. This year, I'm hoping to use it more by keeping it reachable...we shall see!
Continuing to the corner, you see my Teacher Table. This is where my corner of the class is and where all of our small-group instruction happens. I have my white-board easel and chart paper, as well as, my 10-drawer rolling cart of organizing materials by day. I keep my guided math materials and my weekly-read aloud books on the top of the larger cabinet. In the larger cabinet, I store our math and reading games/manipulatives, indoor recess games, and other miscellaneous supplies.
Below the table, I have two 3-drawer Sterilite containers. The containers on the right are my personal drawers (snacks, data, basic supplies, notecards) and the drawers on the right are for guided-reading materials.  The triad of silver containers were a gift from a student and I LOVE them. One container holds dry-erase markers, one holds highlighters and markers, and the third container holds pencils and pens. These are all materials I need for guided reading everyday and it makes them easy to access!
Looking from my teacher table, you have my SMART Board on the right-side of this picture and then, you can see my classroom library, pocket chart center, and our listening center.
This is one of our most-used and favorite corners of our room. Here you'll find our Learning Wall, library display shelf, our book bins, our leveled books, and some of our reading spots.
Our library holds our new dry-erase focus wall. The best part of this focus wall is that I'M ACTUALLY USING IT THIS YEAR!!! Every Monday, I take a picture and text it to families via Remind texting. Each subject I-can has it's own color (yellow = math, pink = grammar/writing, orange = theme, green = reading), the small blue sentence strips are for vocabulary words, and the Target pocket charts hold our must-know words. The blank spaces under the learning targets are where we add pictures/awesome work/examples. The 'Our Learning' header is MTF Jumpin' Jack font that I printed on white cardstock and cut out...easy peasy.
Elephant and Piggie are our favorite book characters. Within the first few weeks of school, we had read all of Mo Willems' books together and we fell in love. They are hilarious, silly, and just-right for beginning 1st graders. I used colored bulletin board paper to make the characters and hope to add a quote about reading on the opposite wall sometime soon... again, we shall see! ;)

Every student has their own book bin. I use navy book bins from Really Good Stuff and love them. Last year, I only had 2 bins break and RGS actually replaced them for me! Students keep just-right books in the bins and use them for Read to Self/Read to Someone.

On the top shelves are seasonal books that go on our library display shelf. They are organized by theme. You can see more pictures of how I organized our themed books in this blog post. On the two bottom shelves, we have our leveled books. Right now, I have Levels A-L out. Hopefully by November, I'll be able to take our the A and B book bins and trade them out for themed book bins!
Turning to the right you see my least favorite corner of my classroom. There is nothing technically wrong with it, but it just doesn't do anything for me. Here I backed two large cabinets back-to-back and covered it in black bulletin board paper. This surface is magnetic, so I hang pocket charts here. Many times it is for word sorts. Right now, it holds our 120s pocket chart... a perfect beginning-of-the-year math center. We also have our listening center, our clip chart (our school is a PBIS school) and we all use clip charts. Teaching 1st grade, I LOVE the clip chart.), and our classroom sink.
Inside of the back-to-back cabinets are our curriculum materials, listening center materials, and overnight technology storage area. One entire cabinet is filled with Reading Street materials (there are a TON of them). Half of the second cabinet containers are Go Math Materials. (See more pictures of how I organize materials here.)
Our Listening Center has been streamlined this year and I am trying to keep it simple. The three folders on top of listening center are differentiated graphic organizers. After students listen to a book, they complete a graphic organizer based on our comprehension skill for the week. In the first cubby, I keep our headphone splitters which allow up to 5 friends to share an iPad (although I limit it to 3). In the second cubby, I keep 5-8 books students may choose to listen to and in the third cubby, our iPod Touches (I received these devices through Donors Choose) which store our books. (You can read more about how we run Listen to Reading in this blog post.)
Moving to the right 3 feet, we're met by my Wall-o-Cubbies. I have 30 cubbies in my 1st grade classroom and use the last 6 cubbies for storage. I store things that I want my students to have access to in these cubbies because they are 1st grade sized. On top of the cubbies are supplies I don't want students to have immediate access to (extra crayon packs, Sharpie markers, sheet protectors, dry erase pockets, etc.)

Above our cubbies is a new Focus Wall for hanging and displaying our anchor charts. Last year, this space was our word wall, but it was too high for me to actually maintain. 7 weeks into the school year, and this space really works for anchor charts. I attached the paper to the wall using painters tape and then clipped on clothes pins. 
Even if completely stacked, students can reach the top bins. I clearly label every bin so my friends know exactly what to grab and where to put materials back. This helps keep things organized and allows students to be in charge. My friends know that anything with a label can be touched by a 1st grader. If a bin doesn't have a label, they need to ask me before touching! (The bins on the left are size small and the ones on the right are size medium.) On the bottom left, you see a thin, unlabeled bin. My friends know they must ask first to open this container (because it's unlabeled). It holds all the dice I use for math games and differentiating math centers. I picked up a bead container from Michaels (with a coupon and my teacher discount) and it's the perfect way to store dice!

Then, we have our Math Center tubs and our Word Work tubs on the right. I use the Large Sterelite Clip Top Tubs for centers and absolutely love them. I know they are definitely an investment...BUT take it slow and collect them one unit at a time. (A unit included 6 containers). My first year of teaching I purchased 2 units (12 bins) and they are still in perfect condition. They are big enough to hold a sheet of paper without folding/bending it, as well as, the bins don't open when dropped..a key detail in 1st grade! ;)

As my students make their reading and math choices, they grab the correct tub and during Word Work they also grab a word ring (as seen hanging from a Command Hook in the picture on the right). You can read more about our Math Centers here and more about Word Work here. If there are extra 'pieces' to a center that don't fit in a container (i.e. a 100s board as seen on the left or magnetic letters as seen on the right) I keep them on the bottom of the containers. Students will look at the visual directions (math and word work) on the top of each bin and know they are missing something!
So, there you go friends! As you can see, I just made a few tweaks this summer to make things run a little more smoothly and keep our learning a little more intentional.
Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope your school year is off to an amazing start. Until next time, happy teaching!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Narrative Writing: Zooming into Small Moments

Outside of "What do I write about?" (see that post here) teaching students to zoom into a small moment is one of the first skills I teach during narrative writing. Without this concept, we have grocery-list stories that involve lots of conjunctions, commas, and actually tell you nothing! So, here are a series of mini-lessons that we loved over the past week all about digging into small moments. 
At the beginning of the week, we started with the hands-on. So often in writing we forget to start with the concrete and move to the representational. It's best practice in math (and we totally do that) but for writing we somehow always jump to the pencil. 

So, I brought in a mini-watermelon and we took a minute to pass it around. We talked about how big it was, what it looked like, and we even tried telling EVERYTHING about it. We decide it would be *really* hard to eat a watermelon like this.
So, we cut into the watermelon to make it more manageable. (Then, #teacherfail - I BOUGHT A SEEDLESS WATERMELON. <insert every face palm emoji here> Thankfully there were still white seed, so our metaphor continued. Students decided that the cut watermelon was definitely more manageable to eat and talk about.
We then made the connection that the HUGE watermelon was just like our "List Stories". I went to the park, then I played on the slide. Then I went on the swim. Finally it was dark. I went home. We talked that knowing what happened is very different than knowing all the details.

We went back to our writing journals and brought them back to the carpet. Students shared "Watermelon Stories" in their journals that they may need to revisit. (Note - this totally wasn't a shaming lesson and totally voluntary. I love pulling examples from our own writing because it makes it much more real.)

As students shared one of their watermelon stories, I asked - "So ___________, instead of writing about the WHOLE __________, what part can you go back and describe?" When students picked specific parts (hitting the piƱata, riding the roller coaster), we called these 'Seed Moments'.
Finally, it was writing time! As students worked, I delivered plates of watermelon as a motivator and reminder to think small. Then, I started conferencing with my habitual list-story writers. ;)
The next day we continued practicing zooming into moments. I brought in my Dad's binoculars (eeeek - how exciting!) and talked "What happens when you zoom in?" After looking at our class plants from across the room, we decided we could see SO much more with binoculars. We could see all the details! 

We made the connection that our readers weren't with us when our event happened, so we need to include all the details important to the story. Readers should be able to create a mental picture as they read your story.
After a few minutes of hands-on zooming-in practice, we used the Mentor Text Roller Coaster to see how a famous author zooms into a story. This is a *PERFECT* text for small moments. Marla Frazee takes the reader all through the roller-coaster process (waiting in line, seeing the carts arrive, getting nervous and wanting to leave, being buckled in, etc.). Plus, she uses some great text/writing features that students love to emulate - using dashes to stretch out words, using CAPITAL letters to place emphasis on words, using sound words. 

As a teacher, these are all features I pointed out as we read. I would write examples on the board and as a class, we practiced reading these phrases with and without those special features. What a difference they make! 
After reading together, it was time to put this mentor text into action! Students went back to write about a seed moment (or revise an old story) adding stretched-out words, sounds words, and punctuation that adds meaning. 

Below is a narrative from one of my on-level friends - "This weekend my cousins came over. It was so fun. We play outside and we played walkie-talkies - WEEE! We hid around the room. We tried to find each other. But we could not. It was a fun time."

For Day 2 of zooming into small moments, I am THRILLED! Plus, he begged to share it with the class because he included a sound word (WEEE) just like Marla Frazee did. (Which is fabulous and makes my teacher-heart so happy! It's also a great motivator to keep using mentor texts.)
On Day 3ish (possibly 4...I don't remember), we read another Mentor Text together - Fireflies by Julie Brincklow. This is a totally different type of book from Roller Coaster. It is more serious, definitely more detailed, and is truly a beautiful narrative about a little boy catching fireflies with his friends and releasing them. 

Fireflies is the perfect text to talk about why zooming in matters. After reading the book, our class wrote what the story would sound like if we didn't zoom-in. "I was eating dinner. Then, I got a jar and went outside. We all caught fireflies. Then, it was time for bed. Before they died, I opened the jar and let the fireflies go." <insert 1st Grade GASP> My friends all agreed that this was not nearly as wonderful of a story as the one Ms. Brincklow wrote. We read it again, this time with our eyes closes, so we could make a picture in our mind. 
This day, we actually spent our writing time together. Shared Writing is a perfect way to high features of many different mentor texts focusing on the strengths of lots of different students. We decided to zoom into building a sandcastle. Although not perfect, we have a great start to a narrative. Plus, we include some of those great features from Roller Coaster (VERY, wee, A-L-L) and Fireflies (small details about the day).

Since writing it at the end of the day, and we ran out of the time - the next morning during 'Morning Work' students came in and started working on their narratives. It's a perfect way to sneak a few more moments for writing!

This friend is sharing about his recent trip to the zoo, seeing tigers. My favorite line - "One did not look fun. He was lame." Hahahaha - classic and perfect 1st grade writing. (Note - he does go on to explain the lame tiger behavior.)
This week we are continuing to write about small moments but are transitioning into beginning/middle/end of our small moments, as well as, how to use our 5 senses to describe our small moments. The following week, we are going to begin exploring dialogue - eek. :) I'll be back to share soon! 

Until then, how do you stop grocery-list stories and encourage students to zoom into small moments? Do you have any favorite mentor texts? I'd love to hear your ideas! 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Launching Writer's Workshop: Our 1st Day

Last week, mid-Week 4 - our 1st grade team launched Writer's Workshop. I am SO excited because all 5 of us are committed to using a Workshop model this year,  saturated with lots and lots of mentor texts, the bulk of our time spent writing, and assessment guided by Lucy Calkins' Writing Pathways. Today I wanted to share with you our 1st day of writer's workshop!

Now many classrooms and teachers jump right into Writing Workshop and that works for them. If you are one of those amazing teachers, go you! For my 1st grade friends, I actually hold off a few weeks. We spend the first few weeks of school building writing stamina, doing oral writing (through Whole Brain Teaching), and setting expectations for our Writing Journals. You can read all about these procedures here.
To jump-start our conversation, we talked about how we would spend our time in writer's workshop. Currently, I only have 30 minutes on the schedule for writing. I need a little longer than that and am dipping into theme time to get an extra 10-15 minutes. On days that it is not possible to take more than 30 minutes,  I alternate days we do mini-lessons and share. Cutting out writing time is a non-negotiable for me. On days that we only share, I will make sure I am very intentional about picking students to share, based on skills and ideas I want to highlight in their writing.
Our first writing unit is Narrative Writing and our first mini-lesson was all about "What do I write about?" I was introduced to Ralph Tells a Story through Instagram and will forever use it. Ralph is an adorable little boy who has zero writing ideas and he does all kinds of things to avoid writing - breaking pencils, using the bathroom, helping friends, getting drinks of water, etc. Then, with the help of his friends and a push from his teacher, Ralph learns that stories have been all around him the whole time! It's precious, hilarious, and hit home for so many of my littles. (Note - I read Ralph during morning snack, so our mini-lesson would indeed stay mini.)
Then, during our writing mini-lesson using a pre-cut heart, we brainstormed stories that are all around us. As students shared their story ideas, I wrote their ideas and quickly included a picture. Not all of my friends are readers yet, so we definitely need picture supports right now! (Note - I do make my anchor charts with students. It makes them 'real' and meaningful. I do have pre-cut/frame the anchor charts, so they are ready to go when students arrive.)
After brainstorming ideas, we entered into our 'Work/Write Time' where I play some type of classical music (currently we are listening to Yo-Yo Ma), students are writing/illustrating, and I am conferencing with students.

I love how this friend alternates text and pictures because "That's how real books do it, Ms. W and pretty soon this will be a book about my life."
You can tell this friend is really trying to add those details (up and down) but we obviously need a mini-lesson in the 5 senses and ways to add details - no worries, that's coming friends! You can also tell she is remembering to underline words she is unsure how to spell and move on - woohoo. :)
Although I do have some fabulous writers, I am a normal classroom with normal students - I promise! I have one friend that is not writing independently, yet. He struggles with motor and OT issues, reading issues, attention issues, and at the beginning of the year absolutely refused to pick up a pencil. In 5 weeks, we have come LIGHTYEARS! Even though he struggles, I still expect this friends to participate. He dictates his stories (obviously we need to review what a narrative is) to me and I write them on his table with an EXPO marker. Then, as this friend writes each word, he erases them from the table using his finger. It is a HUGE motivator for him to write because he loves erasing the words. Then, he adds pictures to explain his ideas.
After writing, we came together on the carpet to share our writing. We love cheering on our friends, choosing specific parts of their writing to praise, and of course, wearing the microphone! (Note - I've looked but have no idea where my school purchased the microphone. Every classroom came with one - sorry!) You can read about our sharing routine here.
Writers Workshop is for every student. Sometimes it may take more scaffolds and it may not start right away...We are in Week 5 and just starting to get our feet wet. BUT, students need and love time to write stories of their choosing. I am not dictating what they write or how much they write. I have been SO impressed with my friends this year and cannot wait to see where we end in May. The process friends make in 1st grade is amazing!  

Hopefully, I'll be back in the next few days to share about the rest of the week - zooming into small moments. Until then, happy writing!