Sunday, January 27, 2013

Math Centers: Friday math fun

Every Friday we have math centers, which is 45 minutes of solid math adventure! The kids are split into small groups of 4-5, and they rotate between four centers. One of the centers is always working with me, which gives me a chance to work more closely with each individual. Then Ms. Breuer rotates between the other groups to make sure they are engaged and learning lots. I love math centers because it gives me a chance to monitor each child's progress and teach tough concepts that are hard to learn as a whole class. The kids love math centers because they get to work with their friends doing hands-on math! Here is a glimpse at our math centers from this past Friday.

1. Penguin Dial-a-Sum

To play Penguin Dial-a-Sum, partners spin a spinner on a penguin's belly to come up with two numbers. Then they write down the numbers and add them up to make a number sentence! They have counting chips to help them add up the numbers. Some of our kiddos are even getting to the point where they can add two single-digit numbers automatically! And here are a few math whizzes using strategies like counting on their fingers - we love to see those strategies!

 2. Craft Stick Patterns
At this center, kids work independently or with a partner to make a craft stick pattern (making letters and shapes out of craft sticks - for example X-O-I-X-O-I or square-triangle-square-triangle). They can stretch their pattern all the way across the carpet! Then they draw their pattern on paper. At this point in kindergarten we'd like to see them coming up with three-part patterns (alternating between three different units, like "X-O-I-X-O-I"), so that is something you can encourage at home! Here are some hard-working pattern makers:

3. Number Stacks
One of the main goals of math in kindergarten is to gain a solid, deep number sense. This means a lot of different things, but one aspect of number sense is for kids to be able to visualize automatically that "7" is bigger than "3," and that "20" is a lot bigger than "2." To help them get there, we can do building activities like this one. The goal of this center was for partners to lay out number cards in order from 1 to 20. Then, next to each number, build a cube tower whose height matches that number. For example, stack 1 cube next to the "1 card, stack 5 cubes next to the "5" card, etc. This gives them a nice visual to see how much bigger 20 really is than 2! Here are some stackers enjoying building their number sense:

4. Tricky Number Sentences with Ms. Woods
A very tricky part of math is understanding the equals sign. So often, by the time kids get to the older grades, they are stuck thinking that the equals sign just means "add or subtract whatever is on one side." Thus, number sentences like 2 + 3 = ___ are very easy for kids. But when faced with a problem like 2 + ___ = 5, kids are stumped! They know their addition facts, but they can't think outside of the box. So, I am determined to help our kindergarteners really understand the equals sign on a deeper level.

To do so, we're going to start referring to the equals sign as "the same as." The trick to solving number sentences of all kinds is to make sure both sides of the equals signs are balanced, or the same. So, a problem like 2 + __ = 5 becomes easier when you just ask "What do I have to add to 2 to make it the same as 5?" If this doesn't make sense, don't worry! It's a tough concept for all of us adults because we were never taught to think this way when we learned math! For this math center, I worked with the kinders in small groups to practice a few of these problems. It really got their brains working, but many of them caught on quickly!! Here are two kids hard at work filling in the problem 1 + __ = 2 on their dry erase boards.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A few great moments: Reading, writing, building, and yoga

We captured a few great moments from Literacy Workstations this week that I had to share.

First off, we have started doing a tiny bit of yoga each day at moments when everyone is stir crazy and needs to stretch or calm their bodies a bit. The kids love it! Last week we challenged ourselves to do "tree" pose, which involves balancing on one leg. I use the book ABC Yoga for Kids, so each pose starts with a different letter. Here at the Big Book workstation, one kindergartener acts as the teacher, pointing to a yoga pose, while the other tries it out!

 Here two readers at the Buddy Reading station wear special glasses to help them read. :)

 We've been learning about penguins this month, so partners can use special penguin paper to write stories about penguins at the Writing Station! Here are two writers working hard.

"The penguin have hot cocoa."
Then, at free choice time, we got new building materials: bendable plastic sticks that join together to make all sorts of creations! Lots of kids worked together to make this very tall building.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wood sculptures

Last week we finished our Wood & Paper science unit! While this unit was slightly interrupted by snow days and winter break, we still got to spend lots of time on the culminating activity - sculptures made from wood and paper! One of our kindergarteners lives on a farm, and his grandparents donated two huge burlap bags of wood scraps. We also had lots of cardboard and wood donated from other families. So the kids had free reign to make their own wooden creation! Take a look at these engineers:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ice skating in the classroom!

Take a look at our new dramatic play area! For the last couple months, we had a post office there, where kids could use play money to purchase envelopes and stamps and send letters to their friends and family. Then, when the kids arrived back at school last week, the post office had magically transformed into a skating rink! (In reality it's just blue painters tape with a sign that says "Take your shoes off and ice skate!" But when you have the imagination of a kindergartener this is almost as good as the real thing. :) )

It didn't take the kindergarteners long to learn the new routine: Ms. Woods or Ms. Breuer picks three people, and these three take off their shoes, press play on the tape player, and dance, twirl, and skate to a Pete Seeger song! Then when they're done they can sip "hot cocoa" with "marshmallows" (aka cotton balls) while they watch the next round of skaters. This activity is great for the kids' gross motor skills, plus their social development (they have to cooperate with two other people in the rink with them, and take turns at the hot cocoa station). And most importantly, it's fun!

Here are some photos of the kids enjoying the skating rink! We have some good little dancers in our class.

Hot cocoa?! No way!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Literacy Workstations: What do they look like?

One of our kindergarteners' favorite times of the day is Literacy Workstations! There are ten total workstations, each centered around an aspect of literacy (reading, writing, listening, speaking, phonics, and problem solving). Children visit two stations a day with their partner; by the end of the week, they'll have visited all ten stations. Our kindergarteners are very independent during Workstations, and since they really value this time, they make sure they are always focused on their station. The activities at Workstation time change every day, so it's an engaging and fun way for the kids to grow their reading and writing skills. Below is an explanation of each of the stations, as well as some photos of the kids in action!

Station 1: ABC Word Work
This is a very popular station since the kids can pick between three activities that change every week. All the activities focus around working with words and letters, especially sight words. Some favorite games are:

  • Moose (Students take turns picking out sight word cards and writing them down - but if they draw the Moose card, they have to put all their cards back!)
  • Roll a Sight Word (Students roll dice, and write down the word that matches the number that comes up)
  • Making letters out of pattern blocks
Two kiddos pick out a game from the ABC Word Work drawers
Station 2: Writing
This station has writing and drawing paper for students to write stories, letters, and poems. It's located just underneath our Word Wall, which displays all the sight words and other words we have learned throughout the year. Students know to use the Word Wall to help them spell very important words! Another popular choice at this station is "Write the Room," where students take clipboards around the room and write down words they find on walls, in books, and on charts.
Busily writing stories at the Writing Station!
Station 3: Buddy Reading
At this station, students set up chairs and read books from our library either together or on their own. We often have a "Book of the Week" that is related to our theme. Last week's book was Snowballs by Lois Ehlert! If students bring books from home to share with the class, we feature them at the Buddy Reading station as well. 
Two buddies reading together
Station 4: Smartboard
This is unsurprisingly everyone's favorite station. At the beginning of Workstations time, when I hold up the board that shows where each student goes for the day, inevitably the four students who will be at the Smartboard let out a "yesss!" At the Smartboard, students play word games from and other kindergarten literacy websites. They use screen-safe pointers to navigate the games. It's a huge privilege to use our fancy Smartboard, so partners make sure to take good care of it!
Taking turns choosing words that have the short "e" sound
Station 5: Poetry
Each week we read one Poem of the Week over and over again, so children become very familiar with it. Then the following week it will be featured in the Poetry Station. Children work together to read the poem that is hanging on the pocket chart; then they arrange lines from the poem (which have already been cut out and mixed up) in the right order on the pocket chart. Last, they arrange the poem lines on paper and glue them down in the right order. If time is leftover, they can color the poem and read it again!
Two partners color their poem after putting it in order
Station 6: Games and Puzzles
At this station, children choose from a variety of board games, puzzles, and word games to play with their partner. This station helps them develop various skills including fine motor, spatial, teamwork and cooperation, and problem solving. I often sneak in a few math games at this station, since kindergarteners can always use extra practice counting and developing number sense!
Two kindergartners work with Ms. Breuer to finish a huge puzzle!
Station 7: Listening Station
Another class favorite, this station features a different book on tape each week. The kids listen to the book together, then fill out a Readers Response sheet independently. The Response sheet changes as the year and their writing skills progress. Right now the students respond by writing the book title, rating the book on a star scale from 1-5, and drawing their favorite part. My eventual goal at this station is to have books on tape read aloud by me, since it is supposed to be really fun and exciting for students to hear their teacher's voice reading a familiar story. Anything to help the kiddos get excited about reading!!

Station 8: Big Books
Here students get to act as the teacher, using my teacher easel and pointers to read large copies of books to each other, sometimes searching for sight words or other featured words. (I write the target words on small cards, and they hold up the cards next to the text to find a match.) They can also choose to read current and past morning messages. (Each day I write a short, simple message for the class to read first thing in the morning. The language is basic and often accompanied by pictures, so it's an easy one for students to master.)

Station 9: Science
This is a special station that seems unrelated to literacy, but in fact I try to use science as way to sneak in more reading and writing, as well as to help students develop their curiosity and sense of wonder. The science activity changes each week, and can be on a variety of topics. This is a relatively new station; so far this year we have explored magnetism and solved a cookie jar mystery using fingerprints and magnifying glasses. Next week we will be making patterned bird feeders and learning about winter birds!

Station 10: Guided Reading
In the future I will do a much longer post on what Guided Reading in kindergarten looks like, but a short synopsis is that students work with me in small, ability-appropriate groups to develop reading strategies and skills. Each week students read a new book that is at their instructional reading level. Then we do a follow up activity related to comprehension, phonics, or other reading strategies. We are lucky to have several parent volunteers, so I am able to lead this station while the rest of the kids are engaged in their own stations! We also often have our assistant teachers, the reading specialist, and our ESL teacher come to help as well.