Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Creating a Christmas Light Park

After settling into our new room just a mere six weeks ago we are becoming very at home in our new environment.  It took some time for the kids to become comfortable and learn where everything is at...just as it would in any new kindergarten room in August.  We've had lots of time to explore and experiment with all of the materials that were not available to us in our temporary classroom.  

As their creativity began to flourish I've noticed a theme happening in our block area and art studio, Christmas lights seemed to be popping up everywhere!  Below you can see the steps my class took to create their light park themed block center...hope you enjoy!

 Planning the Light Park
We began the planning process by listing what we already knew about light parks and what we would like to see in our own version of a light park. We were able to find books and pictures to help us with our ideas. 

On the two plans below there was a difference in opinion....One little guy really felt that the park should be one that visitors WALK through instead of driving through.  He even labeled his parking spots.  The other friend really felt like it should be a DRIVE through light park.  I love the faces on his drivers!  After some discussion they decided that part of the park could be for driving and part of the park could be for walking. 

Once our plans were made they were displayed for those working on constructing the light park to consult during the building process. 

Building the Light Park
Once the plans were completed the kids were so excited to start building.  I strung lots of lights from the ceiling for them (they had requested a tunnel) and let them proceed with our light table blocks, the overhead and our regular block materials. 

The beauty of creating a light park in our block area is that it can expand and change each day depending on who is working there.  They are looking forward to adding quite a bit to the park before we leave on our Christmas break. For those of you who are class last year also showed a bit of an interest in light parks and spent some time creating their own at our light table. 
 Merry Christmas! 

Monday, October 19, 2015

9 1/2 weeks to set up a classroom? Here is the end result....our classroom reveal!

9 1/2 weeks to set up my classroom was NOT the original plan.  Originally we thought we'd have a few weeks over the summer to get our rooms in our new Kindergarten center all ready to go for the very first day. Well due to lots and lots of rain we were postponed. A lot.  The week before school was to start we got the go ahead to set up but there was a electricity. That also meant NO AIR CONDITIONING! It was over 90. Yuck.  

Thanks to my family and friends my classroom was ready to go in time. However, there was a glitch with the construction process and the first day of school in our new center was not meant to be in August. Move on to setting up a temporary room in our main building and going ahead with the first day like any other year.  

There were lots of teacher tears and frustration when we first got the news but we put our best faces forward and had a great beginning to the new school year. We were able to tell our kiddos all about our new rooms and even turn it into a great learning experience. We observed the digging and pouring of our new sidewalks, we mapped what we thought our new room would look like and we even made predictions about when our first day would be.  

One positive that came out of this whole experience was that I had the opportunity to really plan out exactly how I wanted my room to look and function.  Below you will find the finished product of 9 1/2 weeks of planning.  Everything has a place and a purpose.  I've purged the unnecessary items and kept only what will be meaningful to our learning experiences in our room. Great storage also means that a lot of the "teacher stuff" that can sometimes look  a little cluttered can be hidden away.  Since this is only our first day you wont find student work displayed just yet but it will soon be making it's appearance! 

So .... here is our new "home!" 

Our "art studio."  We began today by working on self portraits for the tree you see as you enter our room and leaf rubbings for our tree that is on top of the table. 

Our construction area. We recently went to a pumpkin patch and on the table you can see the work of two students who created their own pumpkin patch. 

One of our inquiry spaces

 Another Discovery Area


Our alphabet wall and lockers. My class from last year made the alphabet projects as a present for my class this year. 

The numbers above our sensory area is another gift from my class last year. 

Our Meeting and Reading Area

Back to our entrance and mail area.

It took quite a while to get here but we are so glad to be in our new home! Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Kiddos not getting along? Try having them create group games for a game center!

We were having difficulties getting along in our class. Lots of tattling and arguing was beginning to occur.  Yikes!!   So a little cooperative group work was in order and as a result we have lots of new games for a class game center!
I divided the class into 5 groups to begin planning their games. The first hurdle for them was when  I asked them to decide on a "theme" for their game such as Candy Land, an ABC game, number game or Chutes and Ladders.  Some right away wanted the games I mentioned while others wanted to create their own theme.   I did have some groups voting and a few that had pouting members who did not get the theme that they wanted.  In the end it took two sessions of planning intermixed with a class meeting for everyone to peacefully decide on their theme!
Hurdle 2....planning the game board!
The next day I gave each group a large piece of paper and asked them to begin planning one game board.  They were asked to use pencils and to really think about the details of what they want their game board to look like.  Oh boy....we had a couple of groups that had 4 game boards on one piece of paper.  Lots of reminders were needed that each group had to create ONE game! Eventually they got there and we put them away to come back to the next day. :)
Hurdle 3...adding the details!
Once the game boards were planned I asked the groups to think about the colors, words and even extra pieces such as cards and dice that would be needed.  Finally the groups starting working really well together!! They were listening to each others ideas, delegating jobs and helping each other to finish. It was amazing to see! 
Hurdle 4...creating the rules!
Each group had to create rules for their game.  Again...lots of discussions and listening to each others ideas!  The above rules are:
*  Do not cheat.
*  Do not break the rules.
*  Do not cry if you lose
Last but not least...
On the last day of this project I asked the groups to play their games a few times to see if anything needed to be changed.   This was a very important step for them as many realized they needed more items such as color cards or dice. 
Once the games were completed each group was allowed to explain their game to the class.  The games are now part of a class game center.  It is very rewarding to watch the children go to this center and explain their game rules to another classmate. They have a lot of fun playing them and there has not been any arguing! 
By focusing on creating the games this past week my kiddos are back on track with treating each other with respect. They are listening to one another and are doing a great job with taking turns.  This may be an activity we repeat before the school year is over!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Student Created Vet's Office

My kids absolutely love their dramatic play area this year. We started off the year with just plain old housekeeping.  As I attempted to integrate more literacy and math into this center it began to take off in a completely different direction.  So far this year we have turned our housekeeping center into a space station and a weather station.  Once the interest in the weather started to slow down we began brainstorming other ideas for the area.  As you can see from our chart above they overwhelmingly voted for a VET'S OFFICE.

Of course the kids could "just play" vet's office in this area. However, I asked them to begin by planning the details of the office first.  So all this week they have worked busily in groups to make lists of needed materials, required jobs and even office designs! 

The office designers each gave reports to the class on the details of their design.  The one farthest to the right even labeled the shelves and medicine.  At the bottom it says "The vet is getting medicine for the dog."

As we brainstormed various jobs we kept coming back to SHOTS!  They are still currently in the process of deciding what materials in our room could be used as the shots for the dogs!

 So we have the necessary cages, water bowls and even the dreaded 'SHOT  TABLE!" 

 I have one little one that kept insisting that we needed an office for someone to be able to make appointments for their pet. Above is the result of that suggestion.  Today was our first day with our newly opened vet office.  Several are working on signs to advertise our office, creating money for the register and a few are also working on art work for the dogs to keep them happy! I can't wait to see what fun they will have next week once more kiddos are able to join in on the fun!

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Reggio Inspired Journey....Transitioning From Themes to Inquiry Based Learning

I admit it. At one time I was a very thematic based Kindergarten teacher.  I taught for quite a few years without a formal curriculum, reading series or math series.  As a new teacher teaching thematically was a way to organize all of my lessons and centers in a way that made sense.  I've collected many prop boxes and files over the years all focused on the typical Kindergarten themes such as "snow, transportation, dinosaurs and butterflies."  But I always wondered "What about the kids that may not find dinosaurs all that interesting."

In my early years I focused my own learning on finding out more about the The Reggio Approach.  I like many others who find this approach interesting focused on changing my classroom environment. I also added as many bits and pieces of this approach as I could over the years within the confines of my ever changing curriculum and administrative expectations of what a Kindergarten classroom was supposed to look and function like.

Our math investigations area using lots of regular manipulatives and natural materials.

Fast forward to my twenty second year of teaching and I'm once again researching and finding out as much as I can about this approach.  It seems to be a good fit for where I am at now and the expectations of what my administrators would like to see in a typical classroom.  As I continue to change my environment and plan more engaging "provocations" or  center activities I still struggle with using themes.  It's hard to not just pick a new theme each week and focus all of our activities around it!

Reggio inspired classrooms typically use a negotiated curriculum.  Those of us in a typical public school setting of course have standards that we have to teach that are non-negotiable.  There is  no getting around this.  However, the topics and centers in  which we choose to teach those standards can  be negotiable.  For instance it's currently January and in the past many of my reading lessons and centers would focus on snow/Winter.  You can only read so many snow books to a class, paint so many snowmen or put out so many snowmen themed math tubs   before they begin to get bored with the whole idea.  So this January I decided to follow the children's interests and see where it takes us. 

Although it's a little more involved than what I'm sharing here today we have several areas of interests currently being investigated in our classroom.  Once we returned from our Christmas break I had the kids working on our basic literacy and math activities.  We did read a bit about snow and had a few snow focused centers but it was not overwhelming.  As the first couple of weeks progressed the children began expressing an interest in various topics during their writing time, recess time and general center time.  Gradually a few investigations into new topics began to evolve. Math and literacy standards are being integrated into the new investigations in order to meet all of the requirements that are expected of today's kindergartners.

I'm not sure if any of these will turn into a full blown project but it is interesting to see how engaged they become when working on something that they are not only curious about but they also initiated. In the few short weeks since we have been back I've also noticed how the children are taking their time with their work. They are really invested in doing their personal best whether it be a writing project, science / math investigation or an original piece of art.  More so than if I would have given them a cute thematic center that I created on my own. 

Here are a few areas of interest that are currently happening in our classroom...

It began with the Arch.  A few kids decided to build the St. Louis Arch.  They were very detailed and even included the elevators in the legs and the museum that is underneath of it.  This interest continued for several days but then fizzled.  To see if I could spark a new interest I borrowed "The Structure Book" from one of my coworkers. She has printed out photos of various well known structures from around the world. 
Each day the block group must have a meeting to decide what structure they will be working on. They make a plan of the materials needed and delegate jobs. They also create labels and signs to go with their structure. 

Our Arch inquiry binder and the block structure book.  The photo is a shot of the last piece being inserted into the Arch. 

This group chose to build the Chrysler Building in New York.  I love their use of the natural materials to show the rest of the city below their skyscraper.


Although I would prefer the new inquiries to be something the children have some familiarity with (such as the above structures) I do have a group of boys that have been showing an interest in outer space since this past September.  So we initiated the "Space Station Planning Committee."  This group used my various materials from my "space prop box" to create a space station in our house area.  Once they felt the space station was ready for missions they began bringing other members of the class to the station to go on missions together.  They typically will pick one planet at the beginning of their work time and will read / look at pictures of it.  Then the plan their mission together. Once their mission is over they have been writing "reports" of what they learned or what they are still wondering about. 

The Space Station

They became very interested in the outer planets.

A documentation board of their questions and what they have learned.

Being a Scientist

I have a group of girls that love to play scientist with our various science tools.  Here is an example of what a typical day in the science area looks like in our classroom. The girls sorted some of our "gems."  On the white board they recorded their information .  "5 W J" stands for "Five white gems."  The did this for the other colors and then recorded their total gems which was 25. 

Once the group finished this portion of their "science work" they observed the gems with magnifying glasses and tried to use the magnet wands on them to see if they had "magnets in their cores." 

Animal Hibernation

Right before the "structure" inquiry began several did show an interest in animals who hibernate.  We read books and wrote about what we learned but I just loved their representation of the animal dens who hibernate in the Winter.  Although you can't see it in this picture they have a stuffed bear sleeping in one of the dens and a toy bat who has made a home inside one of their "trees." 

January is winding down and I'm anxious to see where the kids interests will go to next. My next goal is to increase the engagement and find more ways to meet the required standards while focusing on meeting the needs of the whole child.  Have a great week!

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