Monday, June 29, 2015

ABC Countdown Commences!

In our first grade class, life is a perpetual party. A festival of fun and fabulousness. A spirited soiree of struggles and successes.  A continuous celebration of learning and accomplishments. Okay, so that's not exactly true. For a number of days this past year, that was absolutely the case and others not as much. Some days are phenomenal, some days are hard, and others are even harder. Nonetheless, we do try; everyday our goal is to learn and love learning through fantastically fun experiences.

I have no idea where this year has gone, but we are "winding down" to the end of school. This realization comes with a plethora of emotions swirling in my being: sadness, excitement, pride, and anticipation, to name a few. But that's another post for another time. The point of all of this, is that even though school is coming to a close, we're turning up the party! Each year we celebrate the final 26 days of school with our annual "ABC Countdown!" Starting with the letter "A," we countdown to "Z" on the last day. Each day we have a special activity or snack that corresponds to the letter of the day! It's a fun and exciting way to celebrate and enjoy our final days together. 

Here is the letter I send home to parents about our Countdown as well as a schedule of all our days!! 

ABC Countdown Letter

 Countdown Calendar
A is Art Day! 

I'm happy to announce that our ABC Countdown has commenced!! My firsties and I had a fabulous first two days of our countdown last week! We began with Art on Thursday and Bubbles on Friday of last week! 

For A's "Art Day" we had several fun activities. We read books about famous artists in history and looked at some of their incredible masterpieces. We talked about what motivates artists and why they create what they do. In anticipation for our "Muffins with Mom" time in a few weeks, the firsties did their own art projects -- special crowns for their moms to wear to our event. Here are some pictures of their masterpieces made with love:

Working on our special Art Day crowns for our moms!

Bring on the bubbles!

B was "Bubble Day!" We talked about bubbles in relation to states of matter and then played bubble tag. Students try to "tag" one another by "hitting" their classmates with a bubble while trying not to be hit with one themselves. Boy, did we have a blast with bubbles!!! 

Needless to say, our first week of the countdown was a success! Looking ahead to this week, we're super excited about continuing our countdown! We'll celebrate with:
  • Monday: C - Chalk
  • Tuesday: D - Donuts with Dads (One of my absolute favorite days! Such a special time with the firsties and their fathers!)
  • Wednesday: E - Earth Day
  • Thursday: F - Fitness
  • Friday: G - Glowsticks
These super smarties blow me away!

Stay tuned as our countdown continues!!! 


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hello, Houston!!!

I have to say, I heart Houston!!! While I'm definitely a born and bred SoCal girl, part of me often wonders if deep down I'm a southern girl at heart. The southern hospitality and southern charm, in addition to the accent, chivalry, and impeccable manners the south has to offer, cause my heart to skip a beat. Admittedly, I do secretly wish I lived in the south with my pearls, monograms, and Vera Bradley accessories.

Enjoying ASCD's 70th Annual Conference Photo Booth!  

Several weekends ago my wanna-be southern heart found its way to Houston -- the most recent city to sweep me off my feet. While I fell in love with the sights, food, and culture, nothing compared to the Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD)'s 70th Annual Conference and Exhibit Show. At this three day conference, thousands of educators from around the world gathered to learn, grow, develop, network, and be inspired together. I have loved attending every year, and this third year was no exception!  I always learn so much, but here are my top five takeaways from this conference. As opposed to previous years, most are more "inspirational" rather than "teaching tips" or best practices that uproot everything I do, but that's definitely what I needed this time around!

Favorite Five Takeaways 

My signed book 
1. Learning Happens From the Feet Up (Not From the Head Up): Students learn best if teaching and learning is done with movement. Whether it's movement used to prepare the brain to learn, to teach new content, or review previous content, move, move, move with your kids! It's more fun -- you and your kids will be happier and will learn more! 
2.  Game On: By the age of 21, kids will have spent the same amount of time gaming (online, on cellphones, game consoles, etc.) as they will have in their 6th-12th grade classrooms. This is almost unbelievable to me! Teachers can increase student engagement by applying what kids love about gaming to their classrooms and lessons -- the social aspects of gaming, the motivation involved, the risk-free environment, and the element of fun! These are all key components that keep gamers coming back again and again! By employing them in our teaching we can keep our kids always wanting to learn more!
3. Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You -- Be Willing To Take Risks & Try Something New Each DayChristopher Columbus is quoted for saying, "You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore." As an educator, progress, growth, and improvement only come when we consent to leaving our comfort zone and trying something new. Whether it's a new classroom management tip, a new kind of technology, a different teaching strategy, a new lesson format, etc. just try it! Regardless of the outcome, we are always pressing on (see next point).
4.  Focus on Mastery, Not Success: Like the above point, as teachers we should view our classrooms as laboratories. We should always be trying, constantly experimenting, and forever striving to improve. We have never "made it." Instead, there is always more to master and learn. However, we shouldn't focus on our traditional evaluation of "success." Realize that mastery is a journey; recognize and acknowledge progress and "near wins." We need to accept that not everything works; the key is to be able to adjust after a "failure" and be willing to have the resilience and grit to get up and try again as many times as it takes. 
5. Even the Greats "Fail" (aka, Don't Trust in What You See): This was definitely a big one for me. I attended a session with, had the privilege to meet, and get a copy of my book signed by Rafe Esquith. He has been hailed as "The Most Inspirational Teacher in America," has been Disney's Teacher of the Year, and has received accolades from the Dalai Lama, the Queen of England, and Oprah to name a few. He's known for his incredible books Teach Like Your Hair's One FireLighting Their FiresThere Are No Shortcuts, and most recently, Real Talk for Real Teachers. He truly is an amazing educator who was incredibly inspiring to listen to! I felt like my love for and belief in teaching was renewed. A moment of truth from me -- I don't think I've told anyone this (well, except for my mom), but in this past school year I've been considering leaving the teaching profession (some close friends know I've been considering leaving my current position, but none know I'm considering leaving education altogether). While this still isn't completely off the table at this point, this session with Rafe made me willing to give it at least another year. In my eyes, he's considered "one of the greats" in education. He has accomplished amazing things and helped hundreds of students. Yet, he shared with us experiences of feeling like he had failed -- failed to reach a particular student, failed to make a difference, etc. However, as a veteran teacher he reminded us that teaching is a long-term investment. We cannot put all of our trust in what we see; we must realize what we do makes a difference whether it is visible today or not. Trust your gut, trust that you know your students and what is best for them, give them everything you can, and you will not fail them. Test scores and assessments are not everything. What teachers impart to students goes far beyond a percentage in the grade book. As the above points have mentioned, try something new and if it doesn't work, try something else, and be willing to try as many times as it takes. Failing is not failure if you never give up. Never give up and you will never fail.

    Meeting Rafe Esquith -- one of my teaching heroes 

    This wasn't actually at the ASCD Conference, but while in Houston I also got to visit the school of one of my favorite teacher friends on my way to the airport. We taught at my current school together, and he later transferred to help start our international sister school in Korea. Then, last summer I went to Seoul for one month to join the team there to help them get established. From California, to Korea, and now reunited in Texas! He's currently teaching at a truly amazing school in Houston. I was able to meet a number of his colleagues, visit their classrooms, observe instruction, and was truly blown away by their dedication, professionalism, and teamwork. The support from the school's administration is incredible and the school's effort to promote collaboration and growth among the teachers is inspiring. The teachers keep their doors open at all times -- administrators come in multiple times a week for observations and teachers come in to learn from one another on a regular basis. The palpable spirit and atmosphere of learning among the teachers is phenomenal. Every room I walked into was employing a plethora of "best practices," research-based strategies, and awesome technology to support student learning. I felt like so much of what I learned at the conference was being put into practice! My interactions with these exceptional educators and hearing stories of the community of teamwork and support they endeavor to cultivate reminded me of the quote, 

    "Surround yourself with 
    people who push you,
    who challenge you,
    who make you laugh,
    who make you better,
    who make you happy."

    While only a few days, my teacher heart was made so happy during this trip. I was inspired, encouraged, and returned with a renewed sense of purpose! I'm encouraged to press on and learn in the profession I love for the rest of this year! 

    I heart teaching!! 


    Saturday, June 27, 2015

    Freshly Baked Fraction Pizzas!!

    In our classroom we love hands-on learning. However, let me tell you that mouths-on learning is definitely more exciting and delicious! We recently discovered how to calculate the fractional part of a set with some mouth-watering pizza activities. 

    Students were each given a pizza box (special thanks and shoutout to Pieology for donating boxes!!) filled with pizza activities. The firsties loved having a place to store what they were doing! The first thing we did was learn a little about fractions with our two anchor charts:

    After the kids understood what fractions were and the difference between the numerator and denominator, we were set to go. Each child donned an apron and we began "baking." They were able to create their own pizza with customized toppings. They then calculated the fractional part of each topping type!

    Afterwards, we continued the fun with various pizza party and spinner activities! 

    And let's be honest, you can't just do pizza math lessons without actually partaking of real pizza, so we enjoyed some delicious pepperoni pizza for snack!

    The firsties were so excited to show off all their customized pizzas and all their pizza activities in their special boxes! 

    You can pick this product up in my TPT store at:



    Wednesday, June 17, 2015

    Welcome to Once Upon First Grade!

    Bear hugs and bright smiles and they bound in the door each morning. Twinkling eyes as they absorb and learn on the rug. Excited voices discussing literature and history with their peers. Gears turning as they observe, question, and wonder as scientists. All these "firsties" with their unique strengths, personalities, and characters converge in our fairyland classroom. A far away place where love, joy, fun, and learning all converge. Welcome to my classroom!

    My name is Danielle Allison, and I'm a first grade teacher from southern California! I come from a family of educators, and have always dreamed of being a teacher! Six years ago, I accepted a position as a teacher at my alma mater. These past few years have been the most wonderful, exciting, and challenging of my life. They've brought more laughter, smiles, rewards, tears, and heartache than I could have every imagined. However, I wouldn't trade them for anything. Each class day is filled with so much learning and growth -- not just for my students, but also for me! I love first grade and can't imagine ever doing anything else! 

    Miss Super Verb visited us for our lesson on action verbs!

    This simple blog will house just some of the activities, stories, and experiences my firsties and I have. And I'm a firm believer that school and learning should be an experience -- not just something you do, but something you truly experience. I believe learning should be challenging. It should stretch a student's capacity to help them achieve their very best. However, challenge shouldn't break a student. It should inspire them. It should be enjoyable, exciting, and extremely rewarding! So I strive to design learning experiences that are fun and silly. I wear costumes. I create hands-on activities. I write songs. I dress in tutus. I will do whatever it takes. My goal is that my kids would leave each day anxiously awaiting tomorrow. My hope is that my students would love learning and love coming to school! I want to be more exciting, more engaging, and more fun than anything else they have! I dream that they would be scholars who learn happily ever after!

    As a teacher, I exercise to go outside my comfort zone to grow and develop professionally. I take risks I experiment. I make mistakes. I make changes. I strive to improve. That's what this blog is. It's a step. It's an effort to learn and grow to be the best teacher I can be. Join the fabulous first grade fun! Join me on my journey!