Monday, August 3, 2015

Is Your Morning Work Making Kids THINK?

Take a minute and think about what your students do during their first ten or fifteen minutes of class. Are they getting started on their morning work?
If we took a time machine back to my first two years of teaching, my first graders worked on what we called "Math Boxes" from the Everyday Math program. When I moved to second grade a few years later, my students completed a daily "fix it" page. If we go back just a couple years ago, my first graders worked on a math or word work page.

My kids were working on what I would call "practice work." They were answering questions. They were working on surface level activities. They were bored.Some struggled. Others finished so quickly that I spent more time working on "fast finisher" activities than I wanted to admit to anyone. 

Hear me out. There is absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with printable practice pages for morning work. I have used them and I will use them again in my classroom. Sometimes our kids need additional practice.  But this past year, I found myself wondering if there was something they could do in the morning that would work for ALL levels of learners AND foster pure, genuine thinking skills. What would integrate writing, science and social studies content, discussion, and critical thinking within those first 10 minutes of class?

What would make them THINK?
I started to dive into brain research. I discovered the power of pre-exposure for our students. Students will make more connections and retain more information if they are pre-exposed to content BEFORE we directly teach it.  

A week later, I had a plan in place. I threw away the printables sitting in our Morning Work basket. I looked at my lesson plans and saw that we were going to use the old strategy of "seeing, thinking, and wondering" in social studies. We were suppose to talk about the past and the present. I threw this photograph onto my smart board:
"What ARE those buckets used for?" my students asked. "What do YOU think they are used for?" I asked them right back. ;)

First, they wrote down what they could see in the photograph. I encouraged them to use describing words and paint a "vivid" picture in their readers' minds. It didn't matter if they didn't know what the item was in the photograph, I just simply wanted them to write what they could see. 
Then, they wrote about what they thought the item in the photograph was used for. They wrote about what they thought they knew about the topic. They wrote about what they thought it did, or who used it. The verb to pay attention to?? They thought about what they were seeing and looking at. They were thinking. I was immediately hooked. Now THIS is what I wanted morning work to look like for my students. I wanted it to say, "Wake up! Good morning! Today we are going to THINK!"  In the final section, they jotted down questions they had about the photograph. Yes, yes yes! Genuine curiosity! (Remember, I had not told them anything about the photograph!)

The final part of this quick but effective morning work activity is the 2-3 minutes of discussion time that I provided my students with. This is where the real magic happened. As the students had a discussion and shared their ideas, they figured out A LOT of information about the photograph! 
By the time our 10-12 minutes was up, my students had figured out that the buckets were old, they were used for carrying things, and that people long ago must have used them. I filled them in with some accurate, short information on lunch pails and how they were used long ago by children. Guess what?! When we got to our "long ago" unit later in the day, my students had been pre-exposed to a small detail about life long ago, which later helped them make connections to other areas and topics within the unit.

And so it began. Tuesday-Thursday, I threw a photograph up on the board. (Monday and Friday were journal prompt days.) Often the photographs were connected to a concept or topic we were studying in math, social studies, or science. Sometimes they were random antique objects that I knew my kids wouldn't truly "know." I waited for them to think, discuss, ponder, and draw conclusions about what the object was used for and what it was. They were developing problem solving skills and critical thinking abilities faster than I anticipated!

This new morning work routine (what I now call, "Wake Up Work"), led to the creation of my See, Think, Wonder, Write pack!
So why did I do away with our "practice pages" in the morning for this new, integrated writing experience? Here are five reasons why I gave my morning work a "makeover."
I want to CAPTURE my students during those first ten minutes of school. I want to ignite their excitement and their thirst for learning. Providing open-ended discussions and writing opportunities was much more engaging and thought-provoking than the practice pages we were using the prior year. (Again, there's nothing wrong with using practice pages! But for this group of kids, and my teaching style - this "makeover" was what they needed. It worked and we LOVED it!)
Our students are not born knowing how to think critically. The ability to think critically is a life-long skill that needs to be developed and fostered on a daily basis by teachers, families, and the community. I want even those first 10 minutes of the day to be a time when my kids are deeply engaged in thinking critically about a real-world topic.

It was really difficult for me to differentiate my morning work when I used practice pages. Yes, I often tried to run other skill levels off for my kids who were high achievers. But this turned out to be exhausting! Even if I was organized, I found it difficult to manage each morning.  By having my kids participate in a writing-based morning work activity, each child was able to work at his or her level. No matter where they were in their writing skills, 100% of my students were capable of coming up with ideas and getting them onto the paper in some way. For kinders, that could mean drawing pictures. For emerging writers, it may mean labeling. My capable writers took off with pencils flying! Here are two pictures. One is a struggling writer and one is a proficient writer. Regardless of the length of writing, the important thing to note is that within the same ten minutes, both students were fostering thinking and writing skills:

Our time at school is limited. We have so much to do. So much to teach. So much content to make sure our lesson are covering. Pre-exposing my kids to what we were going to learn about later on in the day not only maximized my afternoon lessons, but they allowed my students to make deep connections between the facts we briefly discussed in the morning to the information we learned in the afternoon. Our subjects (math, writing, social studies, science) were blurring together. I showed an abacus one morning. The students wrote about it and later connected what they knew to the addition practice we were completing at the small group table later in the day. Integrating our content whenever possible - even in short, small doses - leads to amazing results!

Children are naturally curious! Make morning work fun by putting the creativity back into it! One morning I showed an antique mixer on the screen. My students, who did not know what it was, came up with ideas on everything from a pencil sharpener to a machine that cleaned dishes (far-fetched, but creative, nonetheless).  (Later, as they discussed the photograph together, they came to the conclusion that the item was a "cake mixer." The cool part? They came to that conclusion entirely on their own! When they do not accurately draw the correct conclusion, they have fun listening to me share facts and details about the photograph. At that point, they are so involved and "into" the photograph that they are captivated by the information!)  When I was using practice review pages as my morning work, my kids were not given creativity in their work. Now, they have the opportunity to put their own voice, flair, creativity, and sense of self into their morning work time! 

I hope you enjoyed reading about our morning work routine. My See, Think, Wonder, Write pack contains 75 photographs that you can use as you implement this into your classroom! Please note, this pack is not only intended for morning work time - you can use it whenever and however you wish! 
Fast Fact pages take the guesswork out for the teachers! Each photograph contains a Fast Fact sheet that you can use to guide your discussion of the photograph and teach your students some basic facts after they have completed their see, think, wonder, write activity.
Guiding questions for each step of the activity are included. Signs and posters can be printed out and used as visual reminders to help students stay on task.
Even kinders can use this pack! A blank template has been provided for children to draw their thinking. Beginning and intermediate templates have been included, as well.

Click HERE to check out my pack in my TpT store. Or, click on the picture below:
Don't forget, this pack and EVERYTHING (I'm talking EVERYTHING) in my TpT store is 28% off today and tomorrow when you use the code BTS15!
You can click on the video below to get a glimpse of just some of these products:


Click  HERE to check out the sale or on my TpT button below! 
Happy Shopping and Learning!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Contact Paper!

Last year, I covered my guided reading table with black contact paper. It used to be an ugly blue. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my table now! :)

Can you think of any other uses for using contact paper in the classroom? What have you covered, designed, or created? Share your ideas with me below by leaving a comment!

If you're a blogger, link up your weekly picture with us using the linky below. Then, join the party by visiting and commenting on someone else's weekly wordless Wednesday picture! :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Student Desk Organization!

Last week on Wordless Wednesday, I shared a picture of my "teacher desk" organization. This week, I'm sharing a picture of what my students' desks (usually) look like during the school year! We spend a lot of time discussing which items go on the left of our desk and which items should be placed on the right. I believe that organization is a habit that we need to instill in our children, and we can start them on this habit EARLY! :)  

My question this week:  Do you have a specific way you expect your students' desks to be? I will often use the "desk fairy" as a bribe for clean desks - do you have any other tricks or tips to "Clean Student Desk Success?" :) If so, share with me below!! 

If you have a blog, link up your photograph of the week with me below! Be sure to link back to this blog post so we can find you! :) Thanks for joining in!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Are You On Periscope With Me?!

I'm not sure if you have heard, but there is a new social media app that is sweeping the educational blogging community lately! The app is called Periscope and works like a live broadcasting channel.  Users can videotape a session and followers can interact and converse with one another directly on the app, during a LIVE chat! It's SO fun!

You can find the Periscope app in the iTunes store by clicking HERE or clicking on the picture below.
At first, I have to admit that I wasn't sure about this whole idea of "live broadcasting." It sounded more like a disaster to me.  However, my sweet friend Jodi from Fun in First challenged me to my first Periscope session, explaining three random facts about myself. Once I faced my fears and got over that first video session, I was hooked!  The next day, I videotaped a tour of my home office. 
I am planning on showing my classroom reveal, my office reveal, product sneak peeks, how-to's, teacher Q&A's and much more in future via Periscope! In order to not miss out on all the fun, be sure to follow me on the app. My username is easy: missdecarbo
The sneaky part to Periscope is that often, you don't know when your fav bloggers are going to go live - so having the app installed on your phone is a must! You don't have to tape yourself - you can just watch the live broadcasts and participate in the conversation, if you want! If you like what the speaker is saying or what you are seeing, just tap the screen to give them "hearts" or "Periscope love!!!" It makes me so happy when I see those hearts flying across the screen! Also....and here's the sadsville part - the videos are only available to watch for 24 hours. After that, they are gone. GONE! So, you have to be quick and you have to tune in when you get notified that one of the bloggers you are following is broadcasting! How fun is that?!

Need more information on how this app works?
My lovely friend, Ashley, from Schroeder Shenanigans in Second, wrote an awesome blog post that explains the basics of Periscope. You can read the post and learn the ins and outs of the app by clicking HERE. She's my Periscope expert and will have you in love with this little social media app in no time!

I hope to see you LIVE during my next Periscope session! :) 
Have a wonderful weekend,

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Vegas Recap: SDE I Teach 1st, TpT, Friends, and Fun!

Hello everyone! Today I wanted to write a little recap post about my Las Vegas trip for you.  My week consisted of the most fabulous collaboration and teacher-interaction you could ask for as an educator.  I not only attended and presented at SDE's I Teach 1st National Conference, but I also attended the 2nd annual TeacherPayTeachers seller's conference on Thursday and Friday.  

One of my roommates, Jessica from Second Grade Nest, packed this small carry-on with all of her belongings for the week! We couldn't help but laugh at the difference in our packing personalities! I was super relieved to make it to the beautiful Venetian hotel after lugging all of those bags through the airport!
On Monday and Tuesday, I attended sessions from I Teach K! and I Teach 1st! at the SDE conferences. I learned a lot and had fun hanging out with old and new blogging friends.  On Monday, we went to Starbucks, where Emma from Clever Classroom had her first Starbucks coffee!
Wednesday was a big evening! We attended the BIG blogger meet up in one of the Venetian ballrooms.  There were over 1000 teachers in the room!! We had a lot of fun and the teacher energy was at an all-time high!!
Thursday was a huge day for me! I presented my very first sessions for the National I Teach 1st SDE conference!! I had been planning and prepping these sessions for months, and I could not believe that the time had already come!! I presented two sessions on Thursday morning. The first session, Teacher in the Trenches, consisted of LOTS of tips and tricks on everything from organization to classroom routines to small group instruction! We had a lot of fun!

The second session, Building Strong Writers, was a favorite of mine! We talked about informational text, opinion writing, and narrative writing. We discussed the importance of a solid foundation for oral language skills for our students. I had a blast sharing ideas and meeting such amazing educators!! 
After I presented, I threw my stuff into my hotel room and sprinted to the first day of the Teachers Pay Teachers conference. It was amazing to be surrounded by such creative and driven people from all over the world. That evening, I even won $35 off of a penny slot machine - yay!
Thursday night was super special to me! All of my friends who blog at Primary Chalkboard, the collaborative blog I am a part of, had a wonderful dinner together.  We also had a baby shower for two of our members, Alyssha from Teaching and Tapas and Naomi from Read Like a Rock Star!  We ate a delicious cake from Carlo's Bakery, too - yum! The best part of the night? Getting to celebrate our friendship and spending time together. It's amazing how friends from all over, whom you meet and talk to online, can instantly feel like family within a week! I feel so blessed to be a part of this special group of bloggers!
On Friday morning, I could not believe our week was almost over! We got up early and headed to the last day of the Teachers Pay Teachers conference. Over 1100 TpT sellers gathered together to celebrate TpT, learn, get motivated, collaborate, and network. We listened to Paul Edelman, the founder of TpT, give a heartfelt and inspiring speech. We also met Adam Freed, TpT's CEO - who is amazingly kind, sincere, and passionate about what we are doing and achieving for students at TpT. Rachel Lynette, from Minds in Bloom, gave an endearing and motivating keynote speech that touched everyone's hearts and brought tears to my eyes! I could not have been more proud to be a part of this company and a part of such a talented bunch of educators!
On Friday night, we went onto the High Roller Ferris Wheel on the Vegas Strip. The view was STUNNING! I am so glad that I did it because it was a simply beautiful view of the city lights! 
I could not believe it was time to say goodbye the next morning. It was definitely a trip that created life-long memories and friendships. I am already looking forward to what next year will bring. :)

Thanks for taking a little tour of my Vegas Vacation with me! :) I hope you enjoyed a little peek into our fun-filled, busy, and special conference week. Have a fabulous week, everyone!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: What Are You Planning?

Welcome to Wordless Wednesday! If you're new to Wordless Wednesday and this is your first week joining our "linky party," check out the rules below - then join in on the fun!
At the TPT conference this past week, I couldn't help but fall in love with this quote that Erin Cobb, from I'm Loving Lit, shared with us:
(If you haven't checked out her blog - run! She's amazing!)
The quote made a big impression on me last week, as I realized all of the MANY things on my to-do list as we head back to school shortly! First on the list? Get my classroom together so I can get to the important things - curriculum and content!

What type of jobs and activities do YOU have to plan for?
Share them with me below in a comment!
If you're a blogger, post a picture from this week and link up with me below. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Storage Success & A Big Vegas THANK YOU!)

Good Morning Friends!
Today is such an EXCITING day for me! I am so blessed to be given the opportunity to present two sessions at the SDE I Teach 1st National Conference! I cannot wait to meet all of you and share some ideas, activities, research, and FUN!
Storage and Organization Success with Miss DeCarbo

During my first session today, Teacher in the Trenches, I'm presenting a section on organization. In this post, I'm going to share even more organizational tips & tricks for material storage within our rooms. I believe strongly in the positive effects of being an organized educator.  We cannot expect our students to be calm and ready to learn if we, as teachers, are not calm and prepared ourselves. The good news? Being organized does not mean our classrooms must look like a magazine-worthy Pinterest-board. Classroom organization is about being effective and efficient for both you and your students. Let's take a look at some little tips & tricks for classroom storage.  (To pin these tips and photographs, hover your mouse over the picture and click on the pink Pinterest button!) Here we go! 
Storage and Organization - Word Work Manipulatives
You can grab these Word Work Labels for FREE by clicking HERE or on the picture below:

Storage and Organization Word Work Bins
My word work bins are numbered to make management simple.  If a student is missing material from their word work bin, they simply tell me the problem, along with the number on bin. This helps me track which bin needed the new materials, so that after school, I do not need to sift through six bins to find the one I need! :) Interested in learning even more about my word work set up? THIS POST will give you lots of details about how I organize Word Work in my room. :)

Storage and Organization Success
At one time, I have approximately six students at my small group math table. Therefore, each math manipulative bin contains six little baggies of materials.

Storage and Organization - Math Manipulative Organization
You can find this set of editable math labels in my TpT store by clicking HERE.

I "label" the Sterilite bins below by simply cutting a strip of construction paper. I use the "hot dog" style to cut my strips. Then, I tape the label to the inside of the tub once I've labeled and printed all of my materials.
Storage and Organization - Math Game Bins
I have monthly math games that students complete as math centers or independently for early finishers.  These are stored in Large Sterilite Bins in my closet and pulled out each month.  The bins are sturdy and they have lasted for years! You can find ALL of my math games bundled for the entire year HERE.
Storage and Organization Success for Math Game Bins

I find that I use crayons, scissors, glue sticks, and sticky notes the most in my small groups. I also keep sharpened pencils and dry erase markers/markers back at my table. There is never any need for a child to bring their own supplies back to the table, unless we are completing or working on something special that day! :)
Storage and Organization Success Small Group Materials

Storage and Organization Small Group Materials
Mini buckets store my pencils, reading wands (which you can find at the Dollar Store!), and dry erase markers/erasers. 

Storage and Organization: Teacher Read Aloud Books

Having a designated place for kids to put library books helps them get into a routine of returning the books. It also keeps your librarian happy, happy, happy!
Storage and Organization Success Library Book Bin

Storage and Organization Success: Lost and Found Trash Can

I hope these little tips help you keep your classroom organized and tidy! If you attended any of my sessions today, a GIANT THANK YOU!!!  I am so humbled that you chose to spend your time with me. Our greatest resources as educators are each other!  Opportunities to collaborate with one another, inspire one another, and share best practices for our students is something that is very near to my heart - and I LOVED being part of the energy this week!