Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mouths on Math Episode 2: Tasting our Way Through Bear Bar Graphs

Here's my second installment of "Mouths on Math!" (If you missed my first episode, see "Freshly Baked Fraction Pizzas" here) As teachers we are always striving to make our learning experiences engaging and hands-on for our students. In our class we love lessons that are not only hands-on, but also mouths-on!!!

We've been studying all about bar graphs, so to kick off our learning, we did "Beary Bar Graphs!" We had several different ways we tasted and practiced graphing, creating graphs, and analyzing graphing data!


Our first kind of graph was using Teddy Grahams. (On a side note, I hadn't had Teddy Grahams in forever...probably since I was in first grade...and can I just say, they are amazing!! Why did I ever stop eating these?!? So yummy!!!!)

Each child got to sample four different kinds of Teddy Grahams: honey, cinnamon, chocolate, and birthday cake.

Once they tasted (and re-tasted) the different flavors, we graphed our favorites!!


After Teddy Grahams, we moved onto tasting different "berries." We enjoyed strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. We graphed our results! The raspberries were SO sweet and were definitely the favorite!


After we had done several class graphs together, the firsties paired up and created their own graphs. I wanted them to have practice creating their own graph with options choices their classmates could pick from.

Each pair posed a question: What is your favorite food? What is your favorite ice cream flavor? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite sport?

They then got to choose the various food/ice cream/color/sport options their classmates could pick from.

After they had created their graphs, they posted them around the room for their classmates to fill out. We played a graphing game where the students got to search around the room to find and fill out their fellow mathematicians' graphs!

Here were the graphs when everyone had filled them out!

The students were so proud of the graphs they created!! The sense of ownership and pride at making their own graphs was awesome!!!!

If you would like the graph templates (7 different kinds in total), feel free to pick them up in my TPT Store here.

Mouths on math was "beary" fun once again!! Can't wait for our next installment using foods and treats in the classroom for math learning!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Back to School Boot Camp: The Best Thing I've Ever Done with Parents Plus a FREEBIE

"Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. 
Involve me and I understand."
 ~ Chinese Proverb ~

Back to School Night has always been one of my favorite events. I love it because it's a special time I get to share with my students' parents. It's a unique opportunity for me to get to know them away from their children, and for them to get to know me and our class. However, I have always hated the format of Back to School Night. In years past our Back to School Night time had been spent going over curriculum, details about how our class runs, behavior management, etc. It was 45 minutes of me talking and parents listening (even though I tried to make it more interesting with a Powerpoint with pictures and videos of their children doing whatever I was talking about, I was still never satisfied). While all of the information that I was presenting to parents was necessary, I strongly dislike this “lecture” style of teaching. I don’t believe lectures are the best way to present content -- it's anything but engaging and isn't the best way to retain information. It isn’t how I teach and run our class on a regular basis, so I hated to do that at Back to School Night. However, with the massive amount of information that needed to be covered, I saw no other way to get through it all. Every year it saddened me that my one night with parents would be spent lecturing. What I really wanted to do is allow them to truly experience what first grade is like, while at the same time learning all that they need to know. In line with the quote above, I didn't want them to just hear or even see first grade, I wanted them to truly experience first grade! Not being able to do this was something that had always bothered me...but then one night on vacation, I got an idea...I was going to flip Back to School Night! 

I had finally figured out how to make this year DIFFERENT!!! Parents would learn the content before them came (via a class video) and then do activities and games to solidify their learning. I was so excited to pilot Back to School Boot Camp! This event (not lecture) strove to be an exciting, hands-on, game and activity-filled evening of friendly competition and learning with PRIZES!! My goal was to make this a “must attend” event!


In order to make this event work the way I had envisioned, it was going to require a little more from my parents beforehand. Gone were the years when they came and sat quietly for 45 minutes with me. This year they had "missions" they needed to complete before they came, so that they would be prepared for Boot Camp. Several weeks prior to the event, I sent home an invitation and letter to explain the "how" and "why" for what we would be doing this year. I also sent home an "Enlistment Form" they needed to fill out to let me know who would be attending so I could split them up into teams and prep the proper materials. Two weeks before Boot Camp I sent home a "Mission List" with four missions they needed to complete before they came:

  1. Watch Class Video: Since I wasn't going to spend our precious time together at Back to School Night lecturing as I had in the past, I still needed some way to get that information to my parents. As part of my "flipped class" format, I created a 13 minute video for my parents to watch before they came. It included photos, clips, and information about our class schedule, grading, behavior management, homework, and all the other pertinent class information. We used this information as the content for our games and activities at Boot Camp.
  2. Download a QR Code Reader on their phones
  3. Sign up for Remind
  4. Wear a shirt (white or black) for their assigned team (Navy or Army, respectively)


Each parent received a few goodies when they arrived. Our back table was stocked with water bottles with "Thanks for Being a Parent Hero at Home" labels and bags of popcorn with "Thanks for POPPING Into Boot Camp" tags.

Parents also received "Army" or "Navy" crowns! Feel free to DOWNLOAD A PACK HERE that includes the water bottle labels, both Army and Navy crowns, and well as the popcorn gift tag!

Our class began using Brag Tags this year, so I each parent received a "I'm a parent HERO at home" brag tag (on a dog tag chain) when they arrived. When we were done, they all received an "I SURVIVED Back to School Boot Camp" brag tag! Through the course of the evening I also gave out some "Positive Participation," "Kiss Your Brain," "Terrific Teammate," and "Bucket Filler" brag tags. It was so fun for the parents to be able to experience earning brag tags, and my firsties were SO excited to hear about the brag tags their parents earned.

Pick up the BRAG TAG FREEBIES HERE in my TPT store!

Everyone likes to win extra prizes and goodies, so I wanted to make sure there were numerous opportunities for my parents to win special things. We had random prize breaks throughout the night and parents were able to pick things from our prize table!


When parents arrived that evening, they were received outside of our classroom where they picked up their packets with a few handouts as well as their brag tag and crown!

Navy Team materials are above and Army Team are below.

We kicked off the evening's festivities with a team activity on the Cone of Learning. Parents needed to work together to rank their predictions for what the Cone of Learning looked like. The Cone of Learning is based on the work of Edgar Dale in showing the percentage of things we remember by either reading information, hearing words, seeing visuals, seeing and hearing together, speaking, speaking and doing, and singing. The parents cut out the choices, discussed and ranked them in the order they thought they fell in and then glued them on their cones.

Each team then elected a representative to use our interactive whiteboard to present their rankings to the whole group.

We discussed their answers as a class, and parents learned what kinds of activities promote the most retention of information. They were then able to see why we do the kinds of activities that we do!

Now that we'd done some work, it was time for GoNoodle!! My kids and I picked the "Shake Break" video because it is one of our favorites!!! (As a side note, I was very scared and honestly a little skeptical about how cooperative and participatory the parents would be. I knew this whole evening would be outside of the comfort zones of many parents. I was making them wear a crown when they arrived, talk to one another, present in front of the group, and now I was asking them to get up out of their chairs, dance around and can see why I was a little worried it may not work. However, I was extremely cherished and relieved when they all indulged me and participated whole-heartedly! They were incredible!!) Check out the video we watched and danced to here.

The smiles pretty much say it all...the parents loved GoNoodle as much as their kids do! (I snuck a few video clips, and my kids LOVED watching their parents in action!)

Once we had completed our break, we dove right into Headbandz. I had several versions going on so the parents could see how they could use this game at home with their own children. Some were practicing math facts, some spelling words, and others had class vocabulary words (homework folder, Eagle Express folder, Effort Charts, brag tags, etc.).

 We LOVE Plickers in our class! The limited funding at my school has always made access to amazing technology difficult. However, Plickers is free and so easy to use (link to check it out). I wanted to show parents one of the ways we use it in our classroom, so I quizzed them on the information they had learned by watching our class video before they came. While the video was packed with important information, there were a few things I wanted to make sure the parents were clear about, so I "tested" them via Plickers. This gave us the opportunity to briefly discuss and reinforce those things!

In our class we love to stand on our chairs, stand on our desks, lay on the ground, etc. I am often up on my desk, their desks, the bookshelves, etc. chanting, cheering, and dancing away as they throw answers at me from atop their chairs. I wanted to make sure my parents experienced this as well. I wanted them to know that in our class we often do the unexpected, keep our kids on their toes, and sometimes throw convention out the window to bring in room for innovation. When I first told them to stand up on their chairs, several of them looked at me like I was crazy, but soon they were all in!

Our class is filled with music -- classical music, music that sets the stage for a themed lesson, and also songs that reinforce content. At the beginning of the year there are so many class and school specific vocabulary words (homework folder, agenda, EE Folder, Effort Charts, etc.) that my firsties need to know. While on vacay this summer, I sat in bed waiting for room service and wrote the song "Heigh Ho Homework" (to the tune: Heigh Ho from Snow White) that had all of these words in it. My kids love to sing this song because we march around the room as we sing. To help review these important aspects of our class, we sang and marched this song together!

Following our "Heigh Ho Homework" song march, we embarked on our "Covert QR Code Mission." This was a hybrid scoot and QR code activity. Just like with the Plickers and march song from above, there were a few things I wanted to make sure that parents were very clear about. They used their QR Code readers they had downloaded prior to coming (one of their missions before they came) to search around the room to answer questions I had for them. Some QR codes had text answers, some had ChatterPix projects of our class rules, others highlighted our class website, or even allowed them to watch a video of their children reading their latest narrative writing pieces.

They had the choice of working individually or together to try to answer as many questions as they could in the allotted time as the "Mission Impossible" theme song played in the background.

They were able to take a few minutes to compile their answers as a team to make sure they had successfully completed their mission!

Through the course of Boot Camp, the Army and Navy teams were competing to earn points for teamwork, correct answers, etc. Our final activity to determine the winning team was a Battleship Game. Each team chose boxes that were attached to questions they had to answer. If they got the correct answer, the box would reveal whether or not there was a hidden battleship underneath! (I purchased Best Teacher Resource's TPT product for this. I actually have their bundled pack with 10 different Powerpoint games that are totally customizable. Here's a link specifically to the Battleship game we played.)

Below is a sample question about The Scoop, our weekly newsletter. I used this game to help reinforce and review the content they learned on our class video they watched before they came as well as highlight things I wanted to make sure they got!

 In the end, the Army narrowly beat out the Navy! They received an extra "Go for the Gold" brag tag as well as some special goodies they could use with their children!

Everyone had successfully survived Boot Camp with General Allison, so they all got an "I SURVIVED Back to School Boot Camp" brag tag. Both teams did an awesome job, so they were all rewarded with a personalized "Scholar Study Supplies" basket. I had talked to the parents about the importance of having a designated, quite place for their children to do homework each night that was outfitted with all the supplies they would need. I created a basket for each child that included all of these supplies as well as other things (like clay, whiteboard and Expo markers, magnetic letters, etc.) that I had talked about would be useful in practicing spelling, math facts, etc. at home! Sadly, I completely forgot to get a photo of these! Sorry!

I had an incredibly fun time with the parents that evening! I think it started the year off on such a positive note for the parents, and I believe that it has encouraged positive collaboration between us this year! Following that night, I sent home an anonymous online survey (using Jot Form). As this was my pilot year, I wanted to know the parents' feeling (especially since they were required to do things beforehand, took them out of their comfort zone, etc.) and see if they felt it was something I should continue for future years. The survey asked a series of questions about the various aspects of the evening, what parts they felt were the most valuable, what they would like to see improved, etc. They were also asked to describe their experience in a few sentences. Here were just a few of the responses:

"Back to School Boot Camp was a fun, engaging, and informative experience. It made me feel like a kid again and gave me an idea of what life as a first grader in Miss Allison's class is like. It's high energy, interactive, and educational. My child was extremely excited to have me experience his class, and he wanted to know all about how things went. It was a big hit!"

"My experience was one that was amusing and delightful to be able to see the wonderful environment the kids are in each day at school. Miss Allison showed me how creative, interesting, and fun learning can be for the kids and I can see why they are all happy to be going to school."

"I thought it was a wonderful immersion into what our children experience on a daily basis. I am quite impressed with all the whole body experiences that our child goes through in the class to learn. It solidified why I choose Acaciawood for my 1st grader."

"It was a great opportunity to learn how my son is taught at school. You help me to understand what he is going through as a first grader and it was a such a valuable experience for me. Love your teaching method and use of technology as well!!!"

"I think it was very good to see how you are working with the children and making use of all that technology! I wish I could be a first grader again and be in your class! Thank you for all your hard work! I enjoyed your boot camp!"

While there are definitely things I will change for next year, it is absolutely an event I intend to keep! I'd like to say a special thanks to the parents for your enthusiasm and participation! If it wasn't for your willingness to go outside your comfort zone and really give this night 100%, it never would have been what it was.

Also, a special thanks to my mother. This truly was a parent-teacher night on so many levels. My incredible mom has supported me every step of my life. I would NEVER had made it through teaching without her. My mom was there when I first thought of the idea and allowed me to bounce ideas off of her for weeks. She also helped me purchase many of the "Scholar Study Supplies" basket supplies and prizes! In addition, she was there that evening to help me greet parents, distribute supplies, and for moral support!!  Mom, I can't thank you enough!!! 

Also, thanks to my principal for coming as an enthusiastic participant and supporting our class! And, thank you to an incredible senior at our school, Ariel, who captured all of these photos! 

I hope that you all had wonderful Back to School Nights with your parents!! What a joy it is to collaborate and work together with parents for their child's success!!