Throwback Thursday!

It's Thursday, and you know what that means... Throwback Thursday!  Today, I am going to share a post from last year.  This is actually something I am getting ready to have my students work on again this year, so looking at this old post was helpful for me too!  :-)

Anyway, this is a post from March 2013.

I have the world's smartest, cutest, sweetest first graders, ever.  I know you think yours are pretty great, but I promise... mine are absolutely the smartest, cutest, funniest, sweetest, most amazing group of first graders ever.  How in the world does one teacher get so lucky?

*Cease bragging*

I promised my first graders I was going to brag on them.  Well, I bragged to everybody in the school, so now I have to brag to the entire internet. :-)

When I took a class over the summer appropriately called "Informational Books", we did something called in "investigation."  While we didn't do it as in depth as a student might, we got the concept of how students can take information and "investigate" it and make a poster with this information as a sort of visual display of the information.  This got the wheels in my head turning.  After our Winter Break, I decided that my class would do an investigation of their own.

You know as well as I do that asking first graders to do research on a topic is pretty much futile.  We did our research as a class.  We started doing research as a class on whales to go along with the book "Our Whale Watching Trip."  I even mentioned what I was going to be doing to my librarian, and she helped my students look up information in the encyclopedias and on the internet. :-)  Then we did some research on penguins and polar bears.

We read some informational books, and I gave my students one of these "Cool" Facts sheets on a clipboard.  We would read a little bit of the book, then I would stop and give them time to write down facts they thought were interesting or that they might want to share with others.  I let them share their facts with their partner, and their discussions about what they had learned were so cute!

I learned from my mistakes the first round, so when we wrote about the polar bears, I showed my students how to use bullet points to help them with their note taking.  So cute!  I told them it wasn't necessary to write "polar bears can" every time, but that they could just write the fact on the paper with a bullet point.  This really helped them organize their thoughts in a neat way.

Once we did all of our research, we practiced writing sentences using the "Can, Have, Are" graphic organizers.  I added the "Eat" and "Live" sections as well.  We compiled our interesting facts onto these graphic organizers, and then used it to help us write complete sentences about the animal.

Fast forward a few days, and we started to work on our posters.  Holy cow, I was so impressed!  To help them organize their thoughts, I gave them 4 squares to do their writing in.  At the top, we wrote the "topic" they were writing about.  Then they had to write 2 facts in each square.  To help them think about the topics, we brainstormed some topics we could use.  It was hard at first, but they figured out what they were supposed to do, and we came up with a great topic list.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it!

Then they got to work writing in their squares!  I asked for a minimum of 3 squares, though many (most!) of my students wrote in all 4 squares!  I checked their work to make sure it was factual and correct, as well as neat.  I also checked to make sure they had at least 2 facts on each topic.

Before we began actually making our posters, I modeled how to lay out their posters using their squares, the pictures I provided that they COULD use (not had to!), and their text feature.  We talked about leaving space for a border and title.  We discussed laying things out where we wanted them before we glued, so we didn't have to pull things up.  The students watched as I took my pieces and laid out my own poster and thought aloud about how I wanted to arrange it.  It must have worked, because almost all of them listened to the directions and didn't pick up a glue stick until after they had everything where they wanted it.  I was so proud that they listened so well and took the time to lay out their posters so they were nice and neat.  We talked a lot about how they needed to be neat instead of messy and sloppy.  Nobody wants a sloppy poster!

The process took a lot of time, I admit, but it was worth it.  When it was time to assemble our posters, it was easy!  Each student cut out their squares and arranged them on their poster.  Then they had pictures (clip art) available to put on their posters if they wished.  They also had to use one text feature; most of my students chose a map that showed where the animal lives.  A few chose pictures with a caption or label.  I would not let them glue anything down until I had checked them.  Once they had arranged their poster pieces and made sure they left room for a title, I allowed them to glue and add a border to their posters.  Watching these posters take shape was nothing short of awesome.  Every student (except one, but I'm not talking about her!) was working so hard on their poster.  The students who were still working on their writing worked so hard so they could get started assembling their poster.  And every single kid was working so hard, they didn't even notice when I stepped out of my door to flag down our Writing Coach so she could come see what they were working on.  She was also super impressed!

They even used books as resources when they needed information to complete their poster.  One of my students is helping another figure out where her animal lives on a map.

I was so super impressed and proud of their work!

Would you like to see some of their awesome posters?

Love the picture with labels!

This little cutie used a picture with a caption.  Penguins like to toboggan. :-)



Tell me those aren't absolutely amazing?

I am SO PROUD of what my babies did!  I just love it when something comes together and is absolutely perfect.  I have literally been working on this unit for weeks and weeks!

I thought that maybe some other people might want to use this unit in their classrooms, so it is now in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop.  In the effort to NOT turn this post into a commercial, I will post a link to it here, but I will make another post about the unit itself later.  I want you to focus on my SMART STUDENTS!!! :-)  But I did work really hard on this, and I'm quite proud of it.  So if you would like to at least check it out, there it is!

What do you think of our little project?  Have you ever done anything like this with first graders?  It was a lot of work, as I said, but the outcome has been amazing.  Just wait until you see their books... :-)


Growing Fact Fluency: Part 2

If you read some of my previous posts, you know that I have been focusing on math fact fluency in my classroom.  The Common Core Standards have a fluency standard, but my reason for implementing the fluency program in my classroom wasn't exactly because the Common Core Standards told me to.  We all know that fluency of math facts will help our students be successful in the upper grades as the math gets more complicated.  This has been something I have been wanting to do for awhile, but now that I am finished with Grad School, I have a bit more free time.  Thank goodness!

Here is the basic rundown of how I manage the fact fluency assessments and progress monitoring:
I check to see which tests each student needs to take, and give them the corresponding assessment.  The students get one minute to answer 25 problems.  I collect the assessments, check them, and mark the results on the checklist in my fact fluency binder.  If a student passes a level, I give them a certificate that states they passed, as well as a set of flash cards for the next level that they can go home to practice.

I monitor their growth using a checklist that I keep in my binder.  I can easily see at a glance where each student is.  For example, I can see that some of my students are still really struggling with their 0's facts, while I have some students who are much further ahead.

While the checklist is a simple way of tracking my students' growth, I wanted my students to also be able to see their progress.  I do this through a "fluency data wall" that I created on one of the cabinet doors in my classroom.

I have flowers hanging on the door, with the different fact levels written on them.  0's, 1's, 2's, etc...  The students each have their own marker on the flowers that tells us all where they are as far as fact fluency.  Each student got to decorate their own butterfly to give them ownership of their growth.

I attach the butterflies to the flowers by using small closepins that I purchased from the Target Dollar Spot a few years ago.  Glad to know they finally came in handy!

As excited as I am about my little data wall, I am even more excited about how easy it makes it for my students to practice their math facts during down times.  In my school, they want us to keep our students busy at all times.  We are supposed to carry flashcards with math facts or word wall words on them, and use them as the students are standing in line waiting for the restroom.  That's a great idea, but I can't just stand in line and quiz my students on their facts.  I don't know about you, but I have to rotate between the bathrooms to make sure the students aren't stuffing the sink full of paper towels or hopping between bathroom stalls like it's their job.

So I came up with a better idea.  I color coded my flash cards to match the flowers on the data tracking wall.  The 0's facts are green, the 1's facts are light pink, and so on.

When we go to the bathroom, we grab the basket with the flashcards inside.  When the students are finished using the bathroom, they can grab the set of flashcards they are working on and practice their facts during that time.

Because we are an environmental magnet school, and also because colored paper is EXPENSIVE, I copied the flashcards front and back.  The students can practice the front and back sides of the flashcards.  Whenever they move to the next level, they pull out that color flashcards to practice.  They can also practice their flashcards whenever they have extra time in the classroom.

Oh, and because I love love love having things on rings, I punched a hole in the flashcards and now each child can grab a ring with the set of facts they are working on.  :-)  I am so clever.

I have added the data wall component to my Growing Fact Fluency pack on Teachers Pay Teachers.  If you have already purchased, go back and download the updated version to get the data wall to use in your classroom!

Of course, flashcards and fluency assessments aren't the only way we practice fluency in my classroom!  Check back soon for some ideas on how to practice fact fluency in your classroom!

Growing Fact Fluency: Part 1


It's an important word when it comes to reading.  But thanks to the Common Core, it's also an important word when it comes to math.

Clearly, teaching fluency in reading and math are two completely different things.  But the similarities are the key words:  accuracy and automaticity.  I expect that my students be able to recall their facts automatically, but they also must be correct.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I haven't really done enough with fact fluency in my classroom for various reasons.  This year, I decided it was time to step up my game.  So I decided to create a method to use in my classroom where I could allow my students to practice their fluency facts, track their progress, and communicate the results with parents.  I wanted to create something in my classroom that was flexible, trackable, and easy to manage.

Now I have a great way of practicing and tracking my students' fluency progress in my classroom, and it totally excites me!  It has been working well for a few months now, and I am thrilled at how easy this has been to implement!

Here's how I work on fluency in my classroom:
About 2 days a week, we take a fact fluency assessment.  I try to shoot for Tuesdays and Thursdays, though it doesn't always work out that way!  But my goal is to take an assessment twice a week.  I have a checklist where I track each students' progress through the levels.  On test day, I check my sheet, hand each student the correct assessment, and send them to their table to put their name on the paper.  It takes less than 2 minutes total.  Once everybody has their paper, I hit the timer.  They have 1 minute to answer 25 problems.  When the timer goes off, they put down their pencils and I collect the assessments.  Quick and painless.

My students have to take and pass two assessments before they can move up to the next level.  The first assessment has all the problems written the same way.  The second assessment has "mixed" problems.  My reasoning is that I need my students to be able to answer 0 + 2 and 2 + 0.  I have seen where some of my students really struggle with looking through the entire problem, so making them take the "mixed" assessment lets me know if they are really fluent with their facts or not, no matter how they are presented.  After I give the assessment, I quickly go through each child's paper to see who demonstrated mastery of the set of facts they were working on that week.  If they did, I put a check in that column next to their name.

I also created 2 different tests, an A test and a B test.  If I have students who sit near each other and are on the same level, I give them different tests.  Then I don't have to worry about cheating.

If they passed their assessment, I do one of two things:

1. Send home the next set of math fact flashcards
2. Send home a certificate (if they passed the second quiz!) and the next set of math fact flashcards.

Either way, they get the next set of math facts to practice at home to prepare for the next assessment.  This helps me keep the parents informed on their child's progress as well.  The kids are also very proud of their certificates and love being able to take them home!

If you are interested, my Fact Fluency program is available in my TPT store.

Even though I track their progress on the checklist I keep in my binder, I felt like it was important for the students to see their progress as well.  So I created a Student Fluency Data Wall to help the students track their progress.  I'll be back soon to share how I track student progress in the classroom, and how this helps my students with practicing their facts!

Your Turn:
How do you help your students demonstrate their fluency of facts in your classroom?  Please share by leaving a comment!

Five for Friday Fun!

My five for Friday isn't exactly going to cover this week, as I didn't do much except hang around my house, go out of town to visit family, and work on stuff for school and TPT and my blog.  So I'm going to cover the past few weeks instead!

I'm linking up with Kasey at Doodlebugs Teaching!

1.  Christmas: I had a pretty good Christmas.  I visited my parents, and then my family and I went to visit my extended family in Pennsylvania.  Here are a few highlights of that trip:

Molly was forced against her will to bring in good cheer by dressing up as Santa.  She was adorable.

There were 2 new babies in my family this Christmas.  
This is Autumn.  She's a month old.

This is my sister Lauryn with Lennon, who is almost 3 months old. 

Of course, I made taggie blankets for both of them.  This was Autumn's taggie.  Lennon got an Ohio State taggie, but I forgot to take a picture of it.

Molly wanted to take Autumn home.  So did I.  So did my mother.  Molly LOVES babies!

2.  New Years: I went over to a friend's house for New Years Eve, and we played Cards Against Humanity.  If you haven't heard of it, it's like Apples to Apples on steroids.  Or drugs.  It's perfect for people with a horrible sense of humor, like me.  If you're easily offended, I suggest you stick to Apples to Apples. :-)  We had a great time.  Oh, and I beat the pants off everybody else.  I am super competitive and I like to win! :-)

3.  Technology: I got a new phone.  It is the coolest phone ever.  It's the Motorola Moto X, and I love it so far.  Yes, I'm an Android girl.  I hate the iPhone.  I love the battery life (the battery life on my old Droid 2 was horrible- it being 3 years old didn't help!)  My old phone was out of space, had a horrible battery life, crashed on a semi-regular basis, and was just generally limping along.  I'm hard on phones, so it's a good thing the old one was a tank.

So I got a new one, and it ended up being free to me, so I'm thrilled!  It has touchless controls, so if I lose my phone in my car, house, etc... I can yell at it and tell it to find itself and it will start beeping!  (I've tried it and it works!)  I can respond to text messages from my computer.  It reads my text messages to me when I am driving, and has GREAT speech to text.  I swear, I sound like I am getting paid for this, but I'm not.  I'm just excited to get something so neat.  Man, I love technology!

Also, my old phone was running a version of Android that didn't support the Beautiful Mess App.  And I wanted that app!  So I can download it now.  Yeah, because that's a reason to get a new phone!  Ha!

Plus, the text on my phone is blue.  LOVE IT. :-)  

(No, I didn't take this picture.  This is not my phone.  I stole it from Gizmodo or Wired or somewhere.)

You know I've really done next to nothing when I write about my new phone.  Wow.  Ha ha!

4.  New Blog Project: I am so excited to be a part of a new collaborative blog called Who's Who and Who's New!  It's already got some really great content on it, and there are some seriously sweet, knowledgeable people who are a part of it.  I can't wait until it is my turn to post, which will be in February!  There will be a post every day through 2014!  You should definitely go check it out!

5.  Fundraiser:  My Fundraiser is still going through the month of January!  My friend Amanda, a fellow teacher, recently lost her mother to colon cancer, and I wanted to help her family out with their astronomical medical bills.  If you would like to read more about my friend and her family, you can read about it here.  Or you can click on the picture to see the product bundle on TPT.  

Now it's your turn:
I am making a resolution/goal to do a bit more blogging in 2014.  Maybe more posts, but shorter posts.  What types of things would you like to read about?  Leave a comment and let me know what would interest you so I can start making a list of topics!

Fun with the Elf who sits on a shelf: Part 2

I know I already wrote some about my class and their adventures with the elf, but we had even more elf-related fun the last week of school before Christmas.  I thought I would share some of the fun we had with you!

I never thought I would buy an elf, but desperate times call for desperate measures!  I mentioned my reasons for purchasing the elf in this post, along with some other fun my class had with the elf, if you would like to read it to catch up!

If you have ever had an elf in your classroom, you know it is a lot of work trying to find places to put the elf each day or new and interesting things for it to do each day.  I refused to have an elf that trashed my classroom by doing things like writing on stuff or moving stuff around, so I found "nice" ways of moving my elf around the room and different things it could do.

One of my favorite things I did with my elf was a "Random Act of Kindness" from my students.  They came in to find a paper tree attached to the smartboard, ornaments to decorate, and a letter explaining what they were to do.  We have some incredible partners at our school who donate tons of money and time to us, and one of the companies dresses up as Santa each year and brings each and every child a bag full of stuff.  It's awesome.  So we made a decorated Christmas tree for our friends and gave it to Santa when he visited.  They loved the tree, and the kids loved decorating their ornaments and gluing them to the tree.  (I wish I had a picture of the completed tree, though!)

It is important for the students to believe in the magic!  I always tried to cover my tracks by adding little touches that convinced them I wasn't her.  One of my favorites was a package of glitter tape I bought from Target randomly one day.  It was the best!  Each time we got a letter from Santa, it was always sealed with this tape.  I always made a huge deal out of opening them because the tape was soooo pretty! :-)

During the last week of school, Twinkle brought us some stockings filled with a small candy cane.  The students were so excited!  Of course, I denied hanging them up! :-)

Twinkle also brought us some games to play.  The students were so excited to come in and find Twinkle sitting on my table with a giant box next to her.  They couldn't wait to find out what was inside!  My favorite touch was that she had scissors in her hand to prove that it was HER who cut out the games, not me! 

The kids loved playing the games!

The games I used with my students are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, if you would like to grab them for next year!

On our very last day of school, Twinkle left us a goodbye poem.  She had some of my students crying.  I even teared up reading it- and I wrote the darn thing!

So that was our Elf fun!  Do you have an elf on the shelf in your classroom?  What was your favorite activity you did with your elf?  Does anybody continue having a classroom friend after your Holiday Break?  Leave a comment and let me know!