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Sunday, April 2, 2017

First Grade Life Science: Animal Life Cycles

As part of the first grade life science curriculum on life cycles, students are expected to compare ways young animals resemble their parents. At first glance, this standard appears somewhat simple. First graders can surely match baby animals and adult animals, right? In most cases, yes, they can. The challenge, though, is in explaining thinking. This part of the lesson opens opportunities for students to practice making a claim, giving evidence and sharing reasoning. There is also a huge opportunity to teach and build academic vocabulary.

On day 1, a set of familiar baby/parent animal picture cards were used as part of a Mix and Mingle. Mix and Mingle allows students to actively engage in new content by moving around the room and interacting with multiple members of the class. In this case, students holding animal baby picture cards needed to find their partner, a student holding an animal parent picture card. As expected, this activity was fun and fairly simple for students and they were able to easily make matches. The next step in the activity was a bit more challenging. Students were asked to share how they knew that their animals were a match... to give evidence and share reasoning (CER: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning). They began with very nonspecific, general explanations..."They look the same." or "Because the go together.". At this point a sentence stem was introduced and modeled to scaffold responses.

The baby ___ resembles the parent ____ because they both ______. 

The sentence stem served to deepen thinking and promoted more specific vocabulary. 


The baby flamingo resembles the parent flamingo because they both have rounded beaks and long skinny legs.

A class 'Animal Traits Word Wall' was started and additions were made throughout the week making academic vocabulary visible and readily available.

On day 2, students were grouped in 3s and 4s and given a larger group of animal baby/parent picture cards to observe, compare, discuss and pair. This activity allowed for lots of oral practice in using CER statements and academic vocabulary. Ultimately, students were asked to choose one set and use the sentence stem to record their thinking.

On day 3, I read the book, Are you My Mother, by P. D. Eastman. This is the story of a young bird in search of its mother. The bird encounters many different animals (and other things), none of which can be its mother because there are no shared characteristics. 

Using a similar story structure, students then created a plan for a video presentation (using the Draw and Tell app) that would tell the story of a baby animal searching for its mother and encountering other animals that could not be its mother because the animal did not share common characteristics. Students used the sentence stems, 'Are you my mother?' and 'I can not be your mother because...'. 
A story outline template was provided.
  • Page 1: beginning
  • Page 2: encountering the 1st animal (dialog)
  • Page 3: encountering the 2nd animal (dialog)
  • Page 4: encountering the 3rd animal (dialog)
  • Page 5: Ending
I modeled my plan along with my finished product. I think it really helps kids to see an example of an end product expectation.

On day 4, students shared their plans, got feedback, made improvements and prepared their videos. Completed videos were shared via the Seesaw app.

Below are a few examples of their work.






As an unplanned benefit, these videos served as a great formative assessment for the next science standard, investigating how the external characteristics of an animal are related to where it lives, how it moves, and what it eats.

While reviewing the videos, I noticed some misconceptions and/or possible specific vocabulary confusions.

  • All penguins live where it's cold ie in the arctic. 
  • Walruses can be found in Florida. 
  • Tusks and trunks are the same. 
  • Flippers,wings and arms are the same.
Armed with this knowledge, I can plan lessons, resources and my own specific language to clear up these misconceptions next week.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

1st Grade Interactive Word Walls, Academic Vocabulary and Writing in the Content Areas

I have been making a concerted effort over the past few years to more intentionally integrate writing into content areas. I have observed that given a supportive structure, even the most struggling writers are successful in writing about their learning. It has also been interesting to observe students' desire to use academic language. One tool that I have found to be unparalleled in its effectiveness in achieving this goal is the use of content specific interactive word walls. (Shout out to Professor Julie Jackson for sharing her enthusiasm and expertise in this area! If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, she will change how you teach science.)

When I begin a new Science unit, I carefully examine the TEKS to clarify EXACTLY what students need to know and be able to do. In years past, I was guilty of 'scanning' the TEKS, or 'remembering from last year' and often making up my own verbs. I've learned that it is critical for me to be diligent here - the vertical alignment between grade levels depends on it and it is essential for student success. Next, I check the academic vocabulary required for the unit.

I then use the 5E model for planning out the unit. There are always a number of Engage and Explore investigations for any given unit. It is during these lesson pieces that students make connections, draw on experiences, manipulate materials and focus attention on the concept or process being learned. Academic vocabulary is used by the teacher and encouraged in students.

It is during the Explain part of the unit of study that the interactive word wall becomes an essential tool. This is where the rubber meets the road if your goal is teaching academic vocabulary and you wish to facilitate writing in this content area. It is during this time that students have opportunities to first verbalize then read and write using academic vocabulary, giving examples and definitions for more formal terms.

The Elaborate stage of the unit allows students to dig a little deeper, refine skills and perhaps pursue and area of interest. This is where higher levels of Blooms can come into play...with the task, not necessarily the TEKS. As a STEM teacher, this is often where I am able to integrate design challenges that are tied to the content and follow the Engineering Design Process.

The Evaluate stage of the unit is pretty self explanatory...students demonstrate mastery of key concepts and skills.

For the purpose of this blog post, I would like to focus on the Explain phase of the the 5E lesson model with examples of how an interactive word wall supports the use of academic vocabulary and enables students to explain their thinking.

We are closing in on completion of a 1st grade unit on Forms of Energy (1.6).  Following engaging investigations and explorations in each of the areas: heat energy, light energy and sound energy, I presented a circle map where students brainstormed examples of that energy (heat, light or sound). I acted as scribe and wrote their examples on Post-It notes. Each student then chose an example. They were directed to  label, illustrate and write about the form of energy, specifically how the energy is helpful in everyday life. The academic vocabulary for this unit included heat, light, sound and energy. The specific TEKS required students to "Identify and discuss how different forms of energy such as light, heat, and sound are important to everyday life".
I presented a sentence stem to support successful use of vocabulary and an explanation tied to the TEK.
I claim that _____ is a source of _____ energy.
_______ energy helps _________________. 

Below are several examples of student work. Notice how each of these examples - in fact all of my students' work - illustrated understanding of the vocabulary and the TEKS. (This is not an evaluation ...that comes later... this is part of the development of conceptual understanding.) The conventions of writing - for 1st graders - are largely in place. Through the use of the sentence stem, all students were successful. Additionally, I believe that because the writing was scaffolded, it freed up student imagination and allowed them to think deeply and use interesting examples of each of the forms of energy.

 Often, interactive word walls come in the form of a Thinking Map. In this case, a Tree Map was used allowing students to categorize the examples of energy sources while still seeing that they come under the umbrella of 'Forms of Energy'.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Raft Regatta: Following the Engineering Design Process

Our most recent engineering design challenge was to design a model raft that would float and hold weight. The raft would also need to support a sail for part two of this challenge, the raft regatta.  With each design challenge, we try to be very intentional about following the engineering design process so that that cycle becomes a natural way of solving a problem.

Part 1: The Raft

We often integrate literature selections into our design challenges and this particular challenge uses one of my favorite books, The Raft, by Jim LaMarche. The book tells the story of a little boy who is less that pleased to be spending the summer with his grandmother -a river-rat - in her cabin in the Wisconsin woods. With NO electronics, the boy is sure he will be bored beyond measure and his summer will be wasted. As it turns out, his summer is filled with adventure, exploration and independence,  as well as a new found love for nature and his river-rat grandmother.

The Challenge

We often spend time in the imagine stage building background knowledge around the design topic. We learned early on in our STEM journey that the youngest children often lack the experiences and imagery that would allow them to be successful. Nearpod is one of my favorite interactive apps to use for this purpose. For this particular challenge, I created a Nearpod presentation that showed a variety of pictures of different kinds of rafts. Students were asked to make observations about the materials that were used, how the materials were used (platform, floatation) and how the materials were held together. Students were asked to list materials that they thought would make good model rafts and these were then shared with the group in real time. Students also drew a diagram of a model raft that they might build. This step forced them to apply some of what they had just learned about rafts and begin imagining how their raft might look. Their ideas were shared with me and I was able to push out their designs to the class, in real time, sharing the thinking. The last slide was actually a survey asking if students thought traveling the ocean by raft would be exciting, challenging or scary. This information was put into a graph and pushed out for the class to see.

Materials Investigation
Investigating possible materials is also an important part of the Imagine stage in the engineering design process. We investigated materials that could be used for the platform, some that might make good floatation devices and finally adhesives...what would work to hold the raft together. The data gathered during this time would be critical in making material selection decisions in the planning stage.  You will notice that the craft stick was the only platform choice that was both waterproof and not flexible. Most students chose this for their platform which told me that they were attending to the data gathered during the investigation. Floatation materials were tested for waterproofness and whether or not they would take on water (which would lead to sinking).  Finally, adhesives were tested for waterproofness, whether or not they would hold things together and how they might be used in designing a model raft.

Students drew a labeled diagram of their model raft and listed materials and amounts they needed. This stage is particularly important because it forces students to commit to a design,apply what they learned about the properties of the different materials to consider amounts of materials (leading to less waste).

The building stage is a BUSY time! I did not get any photos of the kids building...but I did cut a lot of duct tape!!


Testing and Improving
Each student had an opportunity to put their raft into t tub of water and add the 10 weights (10 people). During this time, we discussed what was working, what was not working and shared ideas for improvement. There was a table set up with extra supplies so students were able to improve and retest.

This guy tested and improved five times! That's five iterations of this ultimately successful raft!
The sharing for this design challenge was rolled over into the next challenge as students planned and and designed sails that would catch the wing and move the raft.

Part 2: The Sail

I chose, I Face the Wind, by Vicki Cobb to kick off discussion of wind. We went to the garden, to observe the wind and even though wind can not be seen, students observed evidence in tree branches, plant leaves, clouds and the anemometer.
We discussed different ways to 'catch the wind' bags, wind socks, kites and sails.

The Challenge

Once again, I used a Nearpod presentation to help students think about the possibilities. They were introduced to the challenge, viewed pictures of many different kinds of sails, considered possible materials, shapes and sizes. They imagined/drew what they thought would make a good sail for their raft.

Materials Investigation
We investigated the materials at school. We used a zip line, a fan and paper sails to draw conclusions about size and shape.

We tested different types of materials using a tub of water and students completed this chart.

Armed with information learned during the materials investigation, students went home to plan with their families using this planning sheet. 

On Thursday evening, students and families arrived at school for Family Engineering Night where they built, tested, improved, retested and shared their sails.

The Raft Regatta
These videos show the 'Raft Regatta'. The kids were so excited and so proud to share their rafts with their families, their friends and their teachers. It was suggested to me, by a student, to take a 'slow-mo' video...good call! Check out the level of engagement on the faces of our youngest engineers in the last video!




Sunday, October 30, 2016

It's OK for Kids to Be Bored

Yikes! I can't believe I just wrote that title for a blog post...taboo, right?

This video popped up on one of my social media feeds this morning and it piqued my interest...I felt a connection.

I have noticed a phenomenon in my classroom over the past few years and it has been particularly profound this year. I've observed a noticeable number of students who require constant stimulation to stay engaged in a lesson or learning activity. They are unable to sit patiently for the number of seconds it takes for me to turn, grab a marker and record an idea on the board, or, for the amount of time it takes me to grab supplies from the other side of the room. They have great difficulty waiting their turn to speak or taking turns in games or activities. It seems every second needs to be filled with entertainment. They seem unable to sit for a moment and think their own thoughts or reflect on an idea. Often, they finish tasks quickly, with limited regard to quality and they produce work that is lacking in depth of thinking, immediately reporting, 'I'm done!" and asking what they can do next.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and talking to colleagues and friends about my observations. I've been wondering why this change has occurred over the past few years.  I've puzzled over how to help students become more able to tolerate the briefest delays without jumping off task or becoming annoyed or anxious, doubling up on my efforts to design interesting and engaging work.
Comments about attention disorders come up in the conversations I have with other adults fairly regularly. I do not think that is it. I believe that the causes of attention disorders are complex in nature and while ADHD does trouble school age children, it doesn't look like what I'm seeing and it does not occur in the numbers I'm seeing.
Screen time is also sited frequently. The pros and cons of devices in the hands of children is a blogpost for another time but I do believe:
  • There are digital resources that promote creativity, collaboration and higher order thinking. 
  • Screen time should be limited and monitored.
  • Kids need social interaction...with real, live people.
  • Immediate feedback isn't always best. Time to reflect is important.
  • And... everything in moderation.

I do not write this blog post because I have found the answer:) However, I did come across an article published by the World Economic Forum that left me saying, "Yes, yes!"

Follow this link to read the article.
Being bored is good for children -and adults. This is why.

Researcher and Author Teresa Belton states in her article...

"...children need time to themselves – to switch off from the bombardment of the outside world, to daydream, pursue their own thoughts and occupations, and discover personal interests and gifts."

"’s good for children to be helped to learn to enjoy just pottering – and not to grow up with the expectation that they should be constantly on the go or entertained."

"...filling a child’s time for them teaches nothing but dependence on external stimulus, whether material possessions or entertainment."

While Belton was referring to parenting in her article, I'm contemplating how these ideas translate into the classroom. I am encouraged that the phenomenon that I am observing in my classroom reaches beyond my four walls - I am not alone - and that people smarter than me are researching and offering solutions.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Math: Problem Solving

As our class finished up a math unit on number sense from 0-50, I began to reflect on my teaching and their learning. They learned many skills: a variety of ways to represent numbers, ordering and comparing numbers, grouping and counting by 5s and 10s, place value using 10s and 1s and fluent counting forward and backward...all important skills. What I didn't teach was mathematical processes and how to apply some of these skills to problems that might occur in life.  I hadn't really addressed analyzing a problem, formulating a plan, choosing a strategy/tool/technique for solving, sharing thinking and justifying an answer. I questioned... what good is it to be proficient with a lot of items if you can't use the knowledge to solve a problem? So, I began to research and think about problems that would force students to apply some of the things they learned. I really couldn't find anything 'out there' that dealt with number sense 0-50. I was looking for 'meaty' problems where the solution would not be readily apparent but the problem could be solved by persistent 1st graders through analysis, a plan and use of skills. I ended up making up my own problem...surely not the best, but perhaps a jumping off point so I could observe how students processed and applied skills. What I learned was interesting and revealed some things I will address.

We started by analyzing this problem.

As we discussed the problem, I heard "oh, that's not challenging" and "I know the answer" and some even calling out the answer...mostly saying 10 or 11. I moved forward, undeterred by my less than enthusiastic audience. I told them that I was not really interested in the answer but in the strategies and/or tools they would use to solve the problem. This is the list they came up with. I resisted any comments or judgement on their ideas busily recording their ideas on the board.

I asked each student to commit to a plan, then partnered everyone up as best I could. We grabbed the needed supplies and students got to work. I was disappointed at the lack of discussion between many of the partner groups, hoping for more 'scholarly' discussions and sharing of ideas. (Note to self...model and provide more opportunities for this.) Most groups finished quickly and were sure that their answer was correct... rejecting any suggestion to reread the problem and analyze further.

These are their solutions:

This group chose to create a chart. Their thinking is clear, showing the original 5 friends and each of their 5 friends. I love the correction!...adding Miss Spider and changing 30 to 31, revealing that these students checked their work and revised their solution. :)

These two solutions appear to have a similar misconception. After interviewing the kids, I think they counting the original 5 friends as groups of 5. What I love about this solution is that these students recognized the 'fiveness' of the problem and immediately went to showing groups of 5 and counting by 5's.

These solutions resulted in the same incorrect answer. Interestingly, these students were the ones who were calling out that 11 was the answer when the problem was first presented. I believe that once they thought they knew the answer, they went about showing a strategy that proved the answer that was in their head rather than analyzing the problem and designing a strategy for solving. 
This solution exactly illustrates why I want to find 'meaty' problems for students to solve. I think these students are used to math being 'easy' and they often arrive at answers without actually having to think too hard. They need to be challenged more regularly so that they are in the practice of seeing analysis as a 'must' when solving problems (my job). I also think that 'reasonableness' needs to be a bigger part of our conversations as initial discussions around the problem resulted in most students agreeing that there would be "a lot of spiders" at the party.  11 is not really a lot.

This solution had potential in the early stage. A tree map is a very effective solution strategy for this particular problem. After interviewing these students, I think they simply didn't assign 5 to the original 5. Perhaps they also had the preconceived solution of 11 in their heads. Note to self: Teach visualization of the problem as an initial step in the process then check against reasonableness as a final step.

These two 10 frame solutions are the same. One group used 'real' manipulatives and the other chose a digital tool. They clearly saw the 'fiveness' of the problem. I must admit, using a 10 frame would never have occurred to me and my OCD tendencies absolutely LOVE the color coding of the solution!

As a class, we shared and reflected on solutions and strategies and tools. Each group shared their product and their thinking. During this time, I asked a few times, would anyone like to change their thinking...improve their work.  Some were very quick to recognize their errors and articulated how they would change things but some held out to the bitter end. I didn't get the feeling that they were really attending to the other student's explanation of their process and matching it against their own, but rather, thinking that their answer was correct and just waiting to be declared 'the winner'.

We talked about really imagining the problem...slowly and carefully. The focus was on efficiently and effectively finding a reasonable and preferably a correct solution. The last step involved all of us sitting in a circle and modeling the problem with some plastic bugs. I led the modeling revealing my thinking step by step.

So, upon reflection, I am encouraged that all solutions, correct and incorrect, showed a correct representation of the number they came up with. Additionally, I saw students incorporating grouping strategies and counting by 5s as they worked. I am also pretty happy with the variety of tools used and that students were comfortable knowing what tools are available to them and where to find them in the room.

What I need to work on...Creating 'meaty' problems. If anyone has a resource for this, please share:) Also, I need to work on helping students visualize/analyze problems as a first step. This is something I struggle with because I don't want to go too far and make the problem easy but I do want to scaffold toward deep mathematical thinking and ultimate success. I also worry that sometimes initial conversations make misconceptions public, shutting down original thinking or depth of thinking. The early on calling out of 11 as the answer may have contributed to some students taking that number and running with it rather than independently analyzing the information.