An EPIC Plant Unit

My favorite unit of study each spring is about plants. It's so engaging and fun for the kids, plus it always comes with great weather! But, by March each year, I'm always trying to STOP spending money on my classroom because by spring I've spent an unmentionable amount of money on books, supplies, treats, alternative seating options, makers supplies, etc. Which is why I really, really love epic! I may be late to the party, but I just discovered the website.

Have you heard of epic! yet? Epic! is a kids' eBook subscription that offers thousands of books, AND teachers can sign up for a FREE account. I think the absolute best part is that you can save collections of books for your units of study like the collection of plants books that I started for our current science unit.

Utilizing epic! has saved me time traveling to the public library and money because I didn't place an Amazon order!!! 

Here are a few other pics of our learning about plants. We made seed bags with Lima beans and popcorn kernels. Our goal is to prove that no matter which way the seed is turned the roots will always grow down and the stem will always grow toward the sun. I stapled straws near the top of the bags to hold the seeds. 

We used silk flowers from The Dollar Tree to make diagrams of plant parts. We added illustrations to show what plants need to survive (air, water, sunlight, soil).

For a cross-curricular activity, we combined our letter writing and plant units, and wrote a letter to a magic seed. This student wants his seed to grow into a popcorn tree that makes butter out of rain water!

Personally, I wanted a hamburger tree. Ha!

We also planted Gladiolus bulbs, another Dollar Tree find. We picked bulbs from a bowl and made predictions about what color flowers would bloom this summer. 

Here's to growing season!

Fraction Bump Freebie

Do your students BUMP? Bump is a fun and simple game that primary students can easily play. Download the game boards HERE

How to play Fraction Bump:
Players spin the spinner using a straw/pencil and a paper clip. Player 1 covers up the fraction he/she lands on with a snap cube. If Player 2 lands on the same fraction, then Player 2 can BUMP Player 1's piece. However, if Player 1 spins the same fraction twice, then Player 1 may "save" his/her fraction by stacking a second snap cube on top of the fraction. 

I like to print the game boards on colorful card stock for appeal and durability. 

Happy BUMPing!

Flexible Seating Pros & Cons (A Classroom Tour of Seats)

Welcome to my 2016-2017 classroom! These pictures were taken in January 2017, not back in August before school started. Teachers, you remember those days, right? Before the stacks of papers and piles of guided reading books and mountain of charts... Needless to say these pics are of a room well used! 

This is the first school year I have utilized alternative seating. In previous years, my classroom felt cramped and crowded with 25 student desks and chairs. The absolute number one PRO to ditching the desks is all the added space! We have so much space for math tubs, science experiments, and other activities. 

Before I get to the pros and cons of flexible seating, let's take a quick tour of the room. 

In this picture you can see all the space we have at the front of the room. The dots you see on the floor are Sit Spots. They velcro right to the carpet and they stay there! The custodial staff at my campus vacuum right over them. This huge open area is where the kiddos sit during mini lessons, read-alouds, Morning Meeting, etc. The space also gets utilized during Daily 5 and math rotations. 

You can also see two table options in this picture. We call these the low table and the high table. Students may use wobble cushions or stools at the low table or stability balls and chairs at the high table. 

I took this picture while standing behind the high table. To the left, near the doorway, you can see five standard student desks. To the right is the teacher table. Students typically use chairs or stability balls at the student desks and chairs at the teacher table. The pile of mess near the teacher table is boxes of 3D solids. (But it always looks like I'm getting ready for a garage sale back there...yikes!)

The next picture was taken from the doorway. 

At the back of the room is the classroom library. Those are pillows that look like a lemon slice, kiwi slice, and watermelon slice on the floor. I found those at Five Below this summer. Do you see the laundry basket of yoga mats back there? Another $5 find at Five Below. 

Where to buy the options you see here...

I found the stools at ALDI, but I haven't seen any since the summer. The yoga mats and fruit cushions are from Five Below. I'm positive you can still get yoga mats there for $5, but I'm not sure about the cushions. The seating discs and stability balls are from Amazon. I have two different brands of seating discs which you can find HERE  and HERE. The prices have gone up since August because I paid $12.95 for one brand and $14.99 for the other. You can get the stability balls HERE

Pros & Cons

Let's start with the yoga mats. The kids love these for sitting on or lying down, especially when reading. Using a yoga mat makes hanging out on the floor that much more fun. The good news is that the mats add a layer of comfort and store easily in a large laundry basket. They are pretty sturdy too. First graders have to be trained to roll the mats up tight enough for storage. Some kiddos can roll the mats quickly, but some take a long time to get the mats rolled tightly. This can extend your clean-up time. Our class has a Mat Monitor that can help mat users roll the mats up more quickly. You will also need to train your students to walk around the mats instead of on/over them so shoes do not dirty up the mats.

The stability balls were the most popular option at the beginning of the year. The kiddos could not wait to earn their ball seat privileges! While most children like to use the balls, the biggest fans of the balls are my most energetic boys. We practice "seat safety" by keeping our pockets on the balls, our feet on the floor, and taking small bounces. A student is asked to choose a new seat if he is bouncing very high or is rolling under the table by lifting his feet off the floor. The balls are awesome to get some wiggles out and they stack easily on top of the tables at the end of the day. Students must be taught not to put scissors or pencils near the balls. It is very important to stress that these balls are seats, NOT toys, and the balls will not be used for rolling or kicking. My students follow the NO KICKING OR ROLLING policy, but I put the balls away during Open House and other times when younger siblings visit our classroom. Some substitute teachers do not care for the balls, so I usually put the balls up if I will not be at school. 

The wobble cushions are awesome! They are super sturdy. The kiddos enjoy sitting on their pockets or on their knees on these seats. The wobble cushions have a smooth side and a textured side. They do not seem to have lost any air since I blew them up in August. The cushions come with a pump, so it does take a little elbow grease to air them up. These cushions stack great on top of tables or shelves. Students should be taught to treat the cushions like seats and not to stand on them. I consider these my best investment and the wobble cushions have remained a favorite all year long. 

These low stools are an inexpensive option, but they are not as popular as the wobble cushions. Students prefer to use the stools while holding a clip board to sitting at the low table. Students really like to take out the stools during spelling tests. Go figure! The stools have a handle in the middle of the seat. When you grab the handle the stools fold up which makes them easy to carry to any spot in the room. Since they fold up, the stools are also easy to store between shelves or just lean them against a wall.

The least used seating option is the fruit pillows. They are super cute, but they really aren't that plush. Plus, they get dirty very easily. The cushions get ink and pencil marks on them. Also, students should be trained not to step on them because shoes dirty the fabric quickly. In our classroom, students must use the pillows as a seat, not as a pillow for their heads, just in case we have a lice situation. Knock on wood. 

The last seating option, other than just sitting on the floor, is a traditional chair. At the beginning of the year no one wanted to sit in a boring old chair because chairs are old news. But, as the year progresses more and more students use them. Chairs are comfortable, promote good posture, and are a very good option for writing tasks. I'm happy I kept some chairs and did not get rid of all of them.

I don't plan to ever go back to stuffing 25 student desks in my classroom, at least as long as I have a choice in the matter. I like that the students have choices of seating options and they like it too! I cannot emphasize enough that my favorite part of deleting desks is ALL THE SPACE. It's like I have a wide open meadow at the front of the classroom. I hope to expand my seating options next school year, so if you have a seat your student love leave me a comment so I can check it out!

Check out this post to see the seats in action. 

Check out this post for a flexible seating freebie. 

Story Elements in a Snap (Snapchat that is!)

My students LOVE making videos of themselves! To add a little extra excitement to guided reading rotations, I let students summarize their learning in a Snapchat video. I do not share the video on Snapchat, instead I download it to my phone. That way, I can share it on Twitter which is "district approved."

So that I could post an example on my blog, I had my daughter (a first grader) summarize the problem and solution in the story, Franklin is Lost.

Happy snapping!

Use Wixie to Increase Engagement (Problem & Solution Lesson)

I teach first graders...six year old children who have NEVER experienced type writers, dial-up internet, an old-school library card catalog (I'm ancient and I'm not even 40 yet!).These kiddos were born into a world with smart phones, instant messaging, social networking, and personal technology. It's simply part of their culture. As teachers it is increasingly important for us to embrace as many forms of technology as possible. Children LOVE technology, they live for it. And, it's highly engaging, which is an important aspect of any lesson.

Recently, my kiddos used an application called Wixie during a lesson on problem and solution. The lesson was live broadcast to some teachers in my district. If you saw the broadcast and are interested in how to recreate the lesson, then this tutorial is for you! If you do not teach in my district, or have not heard of Wixie, I believe it is subscription based. Wixie works on desktop computers, Google Chromebooks, and iPads. My students love it and you should look into it!

The Student Activity

Students worked with a partner for this Problem Detectives activity. First, students scanned a QR code to access a recording of me reading a case file. Students who were capable of reading the selection independently had the option to read the text themselves, but noone did that because QR codes are fun! A "case file" is really just a short passage with a character and a problem. 

(I use Audioboom to make recordings and generate QR codes.)

I used four of the case files from a resource called Character, Setting, Problem, and Solution - The Bundle by A Year of Many Firsts. Then, I created some additional ones like the one in the picture. 

Students identified and discussed the problem and came up with possible solutions. Partners agreed on one solution to include in their product. The product was created on Wixie. 

One partner typed the problem and one student typed the solution. Then, students recorded a voiceover. One partner talked about the problem and the other partner talked about the solution. I like for students to record their thinking because A) sometimes it's difficult to tell what they meant to type, and B) primary students can typically tell with more detail than they can write or type. 

At the end of the lesson we listened to the case files and the student's reccordings. 

How to Create a Project in Wixie

If you're unsure how to create a project (like this one with file folders) for your students, here are the steps to follow:

1. Log in. Click "Creat or edit a Wixie project."

2. Click "New Project."

3. Click "Library" tab.

4. Search for stickers (clip art or pictures) that you need. In this case, I searched for "folders."

5. Click on a sticker to insert it onto the project. Use the green dots to adjust the size of the image. 

6. Click the "Text" button to insert a text box.

I inserted text boxes for the title, file folder labels, and "type here" boxes so students could just double click "type here" and begin typing. 

7. You can play around with font colors and add additional stickers to make the project more visually appealing. 

Wixie automatically saves all work. So, when your project is complete, assign it to your class. The next time they log in, the project will be there.

Assigning an Activity/Template

1. From the home screen, click the "Projects" tab.

2. Highlight the template you want to assign.

3. Click on the "Actions" drop down menu, then click "Assign." Your class list will pop up. You can choose to assign the project to the entire class or to select students.

Happy Wixie-ing!

Flexible Seating in Action!

Instead of the traditional classroom tour with pictures of an unused, immaculate classroom prior to the beginning of the school year, I'm doing a post about my flexible seating classroom in action! It's messy and it's AWESOME!

Our classroom seating options include:

  • 5 stability balls with legs (Amazon, approx $17)
  • 5 yoga mats (Five Below, $5)
  • 5 wobble discs (Amazon, approx $12-14)
  • 5 traditional desks
  • 1 floor table (legs removed from a rectangular table)
  • 1 high rectangular table
  • 6 stools (Aldi, $3)
  • 1 horseshoe table for guided reading & math
  • 4 fruit cushions (Five Below, $5)
The absolute BEST part of not having 25 traditional classroom desks and chairs is the space we have for games, activities, and demonstrations. And, the kiddos absolutely love having choices. In September the stability balls were all the rage, but in October the yoga mats reign supreme. 

We work anywhere!

I'll try to do a post soon on how I implemented the seating options from the first day of school, how we choose our seats for each activity, and what to do if you are going to have a substitute.