Saturday, February 28, 2015

Smells Like Teen Numbers (KidLit and EdTech, Too)

This week in kindergarten-land was a crazy one. Between my being out a good portion of the week with sick kids, and all of our two-hour delays, it was hard to find any consistency, but we still managed to have a lot of fun learning.

Math this week was all about making teen numbers. We had already filled a ten frame, and now needed to use that knowledge to help us make teen numbers. As with everything else I teach, I try to change things up, finding different ways to to introduce a concept. We used base ten blocks and straws as manipulatives, we made anchor charts together and we used the lesson from our math series. We'll use the robots to practice the concept this week.

Dot and Dash:
We used Dot and Dash (our Wonder Workshop robots) to explore our new sight words for the week. Over the past couple of weeks, we performed a Control Challenge, where the kids practiced controlling the robot, moving him from one spot to another while learning the controls. We also performed a Precision Challenge, where the kids used Dash to push a tennis ball to a given sight word. This week, we combined the two challenges, as the kids had to drive to a given sight word, turn Dash around and push a tennis ball back to the starting point. This was really hard for them, and we'll probably try it again this week.

I love that by watching the robot, you can almost see the kids' brains working. Also, I thought it was really neat to hear the kids encouraging one another throughout this challenge. They really want each other to succeed, and try to help each other out as much as I will let them. It makes me feel like we've done a good job in Room 6A making the kids feel like they're all a part of a team.

One thing that I didn't get done this week was an activity practicing teen numbers. It's a pretty neat one that I thought of while looking at Make Wonder's challenge for the week: using Dash to go bowling. This week, students will start with the number 10 (showing a 10 frame on chart paper), and use Dash to "bowl" toward bottles or cups used as pins. They will add the number of "pins" knocked down to the 10 that they started with, telling me what teen number they made. More on this next week...

New Apps:
I don't have a full classroom set of iPads, but I do have enough for a couple of small groups, so I am always on the lookout for new iPad apps (some are actually new, while some could be considered "newly discovered"). These usually get tested on the kids at my house before they are introduced at school. I'll talk about a couple of them here:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

EdTech as a Motivator and Vessel of Knowledge

There's this girl in my class. She is an underperforming student, who has had a number of absences (a startling number, actually), and who is very shy and backward, with little self-confidence. As you know, due to my obsessive social media posts and my blog entry last week, we have recently received Dash & Dot robots in our classroom.

She. Loves. Them.

Not only does she love them, but she is good at them, and she knows it (I mentioned this in last week's blog post). I can see her confidence growing as she drives the robot around, making it perform whatever challenge we have lined up for the week. The thing is...she's learning the sight words while she does it. Also, (and there may not be a correlation here, but I like to think that there is) she is performing better in every subject. She's taking off. It's awesome. I feel that the educational technology in our classroom is what motivated her. The timing is right, and I can see the look on her face when she uses that robot...that's it. That's what got her going. She's having so much fun learning.

She's been tricked.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dash & Dot Rule My Classroom: My Experience With DonorsChoose & Two Adorable Robots

"Hey, Mistew Dicken."
"Can I dwive that wobot?!"

The smallest and youngest little boy (usually unengaged, and without a single care in the world) in my kindergarten class was beyond excited. I had just introduced my kids to Dash & Dot, Wonder Workshop's pair of blue and orange robots, designed to help teach young kids the concepts of coding. I showed them a YouTube video to announce that we would be getting a pair of the robots for our classroom. Clearly, the video had created a buzz of excitement, as very few (if any) of my students had seen a robot before, in the Gears? Whatever.

I had read about these robots while looking through Twitter, and then Googled them and read some more. New to the education scene, the robots were getting good reviews among educators who were incorporating coding into their classrooms. I knew that I could not fund the project, and I knew that the school could not fund the project, so I decided to try out

It was Saturday, and I filled out the required information on the website, wrote the essay, answered some questions, and selected the items that I wanted. By Sunday night, they had posted my project, titled, Dash & Dot Are the Secret to Kindergarten Coding. By Monday afternoon my project was fully funded (thanks to two generous donors). That evening I answered a few questions to confirm the materials list, and the following day the items were ordered and shipped from the seller ( It was then that I showed the kids the video, and mentioned that they would arrive in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Why Don't We Just...Play? (My classroom, and Global School Play Day 2015)

Global School Play Day was today (2/4) and my Kindergarten class got to participate.

I first heard about GSPD on Twitter, where I found numerous posts with #GSPD15 at the bottom. After finally following the link (see what I did there?), and watching the video, I realized just how much my kids missed out on unstructured play. They needed the chance to play without my providing the material (educational...usually tied directly to a standard that I am focusing on), and the rules, guiding their play. I asked. Permission granted.

An entire day of play seemed like a bit of a challenge. We played during the afternoon, after working hard throughout the morning, going outside for recess ( had been SO LONG) and getting to run around in PE. Heading to the gym, the kids were SO EXCITED! They all had toys in their backpacks, waiting to be unleashed. Upon returning to the classroom, getting toys out and talking about the two rules (Rule #1: Don't get too loud. Rule #2: Don't do something that could hurt you, or someone else.), we were off! 24 five and six-year-olds in a room full of toys (some from their homes, some from mine, some from school). Chaos would surely ensue, didn't.

I was amazed at how well the class played, and absolutely enjoyed watching them be a little community. They were never loud. They never ran in the classroom, or jumped chairs, or wrestled each other (things that they try to do on a daily basis). Four students approached me with small tattles at the very beginning of the afternoon, and I just told them to work it out or talk about it (I had vowed that I wouldn't step in and handle it for them...this was a skill that could be practiced on a day like today). After that...they handled it all. Play-Doh creation accidentally destroyed? Apologies and understanding. Lego building accidentally destroyed by a passer-by? Apologies, understanding, and help rebuilding. They governed themselves, for the most part, and it was glorious. Sharing. Helping others. Including others. I was so proud of my kiddos for working together as a community.

This was a cleansing of their little souls. Play time that was void of a hidden agenda (from the teacher) or an impending assessment. A chance to be a kid, and play with other kids...just for fun. A chance to be a part of someone else's game, or pretend story, or car race, or Lego architecture, or role playing, or board game, or drawing class, or Play Doh party, or...whatever. It was just awesome.

These kids could use a GSPD every week.

At least.

Things that I saw during GSPD15:
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Planning and execution
- Caring for others
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Innovation
- Communication
- Creativity
- Leadership
- Joy...pure joy

Things that I heard during GSPD15:
- "Can I play with you?"
- "I'll help you."
- "Let's play _____!" (fill in the blank with any toy or game)
- "Did you see that?!"
- "Let's put these together to make a ______." (fill in the blank with the random name of a crazy contraption)
- "Thank you for letting us play." (a bazillion times...usually as they were moving to another toy or play area)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Decomposing Numbers and Collaboration

We've been working on decomposing numbers this week in kindergarten. Decomposing numbers involves how to break numbers into parts (5 breaks down into 3 and 2, or 4 and 1), and turning those into addition problems (3+2=5, 4+1=5). I have to admit...this is not something that I felt confident teaching. Using our math curriculum gave me a vague idea of how to teach it...but not a great one. It seemed like a very difficult concept for the kids to learn and understand, and I needed to make sure that I was presenting it to them in the simplest way.

I turned to Mr. Greg, from Kindergarten Smorgasboard, who had some great ideas on how to teach decomposing numbers. Using some of Mr. Greg's ideas, I developed a Bubble Guppies math activity that used some of the kids favorite characters from Nick Jr., as well as one of their favorite snacks (Goldfish crackers) to break down some numbers and convert them to addition problems.

Many of my students took off with the concept as soon as they got their hands on the edible manipulatives (the best kind!), and started moving them around the bonds, breaking down numbers. There is a portion of my class that is still struggling, but I have no doubt that with more practice, they will get it.

It made me think about how great it is that teachers can share and collaborate with each other. I knew that I wasn't able to teach this lesson properly (in my opinion), and that I needed to find some help. Other teachers posted their ideas and experiences online, which helped me put together a lesson plan that fit my class and my students. Collaboration between teachers, at its finest.

Speaking of collaboration, this lesson made me realize just how much I allow my kids to "cheat" on their work. I read an interesting WIRED article this week on why students should be allowed to cheat. Kindergarten is so different from other grade levels. Putting the emphasis on learning the material (and being able to retain it), I find myself oftentimes encouraging kids to look at the paper of the student beside them, or even ask that student for help. There will be time later on for me to check for individual understanding.

This has also helped to create a sense of community in the classroom. The kids love helping each other, and they trust each other enough to ask for help. It's funny...I don't even hear "She's copying me!" anymore. The kids understand the end goal. They know that grades aren't going to be affected, and they know that everyone needs to learn and understand the material. They can't verbalize that, of course, but I can tell. Most importantly...they're learning.

I call it collaboration.