Monday, March 30, 2015

Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites: Strategy 7

Hi, Friends! This strategy is all about using manipulatives, experiments, labs, and models. We’re teaching at a time when assessment has been placed at the forefront of well, just about….everything. Often times, we rush too quickly to abstract paper and pencil tasks without allowing students adequate time to enjoy concrete experiences. By using hands-on objects that students can touch, manipulate, change, pull apart, put together to create…we help them to build a deeper understanding of concepts that will be easily remembered in order to apply the learning to real world situations.

How many students do you have that get frustrated or misbehave when a piece of paper is put in front of them or even flat out refuse to complete work? The frustration may not be with the work itself, but in being rushed to show it in a way that is uncomfortable…too soon. In the real world, no one takes away our support. No one insists that we “figure it out” and solve problems based on memory alone. We have calculators , fingers….tools and apps that we use to solve problems….all.the.time. So, why do we as teachers take away support from students because we feel they’ve grown dependent on it or have used it for too long?


Students understanding of mathematical ideas is broadened when they’re allowed to use concrete representations. In our classroom, when students visit work stations, manipulatives are provided as support. If students need them, they have assess to them. If they don’t, they’re not required to use them.


Before beginning independent work, examples of expected outcomes are projected to provide clarity…


…and a quick reference {example}. Using manipulatives can also provide game-like opportunities for learning.


In order to display our understanding of edges and vertices, students constructed models of 3-Dimensional figures using toothpicks and marshmallows. (I’m sure there were a few missing vertices, by the time this lesson was done!)


We could have read lots of books, colored pictures, looked at video clips....and we did, BUT none of those things could replace getting our hands dirty to plant real seeds.  Planting in our classroom is definitely an experiment because growing dendrites might be a talent, but growing plants is NOT! Ha!


When we compared living organisms to non-living objects last year, the kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on worms! Real…icky, slimy…wet, muddy worms! Yuck! Now, while I enjoyed watching them enjoying themselves….the gummy worms were more my speed! Lol! =)


Concrete experiences like this and labs also help ELLs when focusing on new vocabulary and concepts at the same time! There’s no doubt, every student in the room knew the difference between the living worm and the non-living gummy worm…not to mention, which one tasted better!


So, the next time you’re planning….think of  tactile ways to engage students in learning! Kids remember what they experience and DO!


I love my big take away or “aha” from this chapter. Provide students with the support they need for as long as THEY need it. It’s not up to me to decide it’s time to force them away from it. When a student is ready to show what they know independently, they’ll tell me they no longer need the aid or simply stop using it. Let them guide the learning. Let them touch, manipulate, feel, and experience as much learning as possible with their whole bodies. Paper and pencil tasks should be the very last step in learning….learning IS in the doing.

Allow students to use manipulatives, conduct experiments, build models and watch them flourish! Hands-on learning is FUN!

Stop by Mrs. Jump's Class to hop through the other posts about this chapter. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites {Chapter 5 & 6ish}

Hi, Friends! How are ya? I’m excited about jumping into the book study about Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites by Marcia L. Tate! While we’ve been enjoying lazy days around the house, I’ve had pen and highlighter in hand busily doodling over the pages as I’m reading. Hopping from post to post to read how this book is impacting other teachers has been inspiring!

When I read Michelle’s post about Strategy 5, I just had to jump in because this chapter addresses a topic that is near and dear to my heart…something we use in our classroom In fact, her chapter kind of incorporated every single chapter leading up to it.

Before I jump into Chapter 5, here’s my big “take away” or “A-Aha!” from each of the previous chapters.

Chapter 1: Brainstorming and Discussion….Classrooms should NOT be quiet places. There should always be a consistent hum or buzz about the room as children are working and learning together. Opening their mouths to talk allows oxygen to get to the brain which in turn allows for a greater depth of learning.

Chapter 2:  Drawing and Artwork…I could write about this strategy all day, every day! Art is not fluff! Can I say that again? Art is not fluff. It’s the stuff…that you can use to your advantage to make many meaningful cross-curricular connections. Art inspires creativity. Art requires creation, problem solving and THINKING. Art inspires deeper learning by engaging all senses.

Chapter 3:  Field Trips…Sadly, the decreasing of school budgets have brought a screeching halt to taking field trips. To improve in this area, we’re going to look for opportunities to learn outside of the 4 walls of our classroom on campus. I’m also going to get with my favorite techy guru to plan a virtual trip! =)

Chapter 4:  Games…I need to use them more. In classrooms full of boys, games are a great strategy for learning because boys are inclined to compete in everything!

NOW…Chapter 5Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs! =)

The best classrooms are ones where students are actively engaged in the learning-talking to one another, moving to learn content, connecting ideas together, thinking positively, and having a purpose for learning. ~Marcia L. Tate

Creating graphic organizers incorporates all of these things! Not only are they engaging, but they’re fun! Every Monday, we create a word web together to introduce our phonics focus for the week. The kids get so excited listing words that it’s hard to get them to stop! I LOVE to doodle! Win-win!

While you may not like to draw or are thinking you couldn’t make a stick figure with a ruler….don’t worry! Have a projector? Well, project a picture you’d like to use and trace away. Your kids will never know and they’ll think you’re an artistic genius! Even if you use your own stick figures, they’ll still think you’re an artistic genius!

We incorporate guided writing toward the end of every week [during guided reading]. This is how we address our comprehension skill. Graphic organizers help students to represent abstract concepts in a concrete, organized, visual format. The brain remembers images more easily than just words. When graphic organizers are used to change words into images, both left- and right-brain learners can use those images to see the big picture. (Gregory & Parry, 2006)

Each group completes a graphic organizer or responsive writing that is specific to their guided reading book. Here, after students read quietly…we discussed story structure and I wrote what they told me about the book. After I wrote to provide an example for them, students created their own story maps by copying the information in  an attractive, engaging format in their guided writing journals.

Same week. Same concept. Two different guided reading groups.

If time allows, students also enjoy sharing what they’ve learned and all students get to experience the gist of each of the different guided reading books that have been used over the course of the week.

This is an example of something new we’ve just recently started. As we approach the final six weeks of the school year, our stories are getting harder and much longer. So that students have additional exposure to the story of the week, two of our reading books have been placed in a work station bin for students to read the story independently. After reading the story, there is an 'I Can' statement provided to guide them toward creating their own graphic organizer. Because we’ve been faithfully creating these each week in small group, they’re now ready to make them on their own!

I Can statements don’t always have to be fancy. Sometimes, they can get whipped up from a sharpie and blank sheet of typing paper. The important thing is for students to have an organized model to follow, IF they need it. =)

Graphic organizers can take on fun shapes too!

In our classroom, kids help create everything. They are much more likely to be engaged and remember what was taught if they have a hand in creating it. Just sitting and watching me have all the fun isn’t actively learning.

This year, we’ve also focused on pumping a little life into our graphic organizers! Just like they can take on shape…they can be 3D too! Using 3D graphic organizers lends itself to project based learning….yet another, brain compatible strategy to grow those dendrites!

They’re great for every subject area. Again, let kids help create charts! Let them color them, touch them….construct them. Let them guide the creation of them. It’s in the “doing” that they’re learning. If time is an issue, {When isn’t it?} I create the background and the kids add the content.

They’re not just for reading! We’ve adapted the Frayer model for tons of uses in math too! We fold and learn a lot! =)

We build our classroom community with them as often as possible. This little book is one of my all time favorites! I usually whip it out as we review routines to begin the second semester. One of my coworkers introduced it to me years ago and I’ve been reading it ever since!

Here’s my reflection on Strategy 5. I hope you’ve found a little something helpful in this post. I’m looking forward to continuing this book study. Each of the sections I’ve read so far have been a big affirmation of personal beliefs and strategies we’re enjoying in our classroom. It’s also given me a greater understanding of the brain research that supports each of these strategies. Reading this book has allowed me time to reflect over how I can improve those strategies and consider how to add more tools to the “toolbox”.

Strategy 6 is all about the use of HUMOR in the classroom. What can I say? I’m goofy. I have the attention span of a 6/7 year old. I love to laugh! It makes the kiddos and I ooper schmooper compatible. Humor is usually one of the bullets my administrators list as a strength on my yearly evaluation. I think it’s their very nice way of saying…thanks for sharing your goofiness! LOL!

It’s important to love what you do. How else can you express joy, if you don’t enjoy the work you do every day? My BIG TAKE AWAY from Chapter 6? Sarcasm is the opposite of humor. It tears children down and can be demeaning. Don’t use it. While older students or advanced students may be able to get the humor part of it, most young children cannot and it can be damaging to them. Soooo, share a laugh. Wear a funny hat or shirt. Dance! Play! Make a funny face and LOVE what you do!

I hope you’re enjoying this book study as much as I am!

Stop by Fabulous in First to read about Strategy 5 and hop through the links.
Stop by One Extra Degree to read about Strategy 6 and hop through the links.
Later, gators!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What kind of pet would YOU like to have? {Research FREEbie}

Hi Friends! How are ya? Today started out a little wonky with a dead car battery and will end with a visit to the torture chamber a.k.a the dentist….so in between all the randomness of the day, I thought I’d stop in to share a little research fun.


Conducting simple research is an on-going topic for us and my little class of curious firsties is LOVIN’ it! After completing research using biographies, we tackled pets/animals next. The little chart above was created to document partner discussions at the carpet. Kiddos shared 1 target question about an animal they would like to have as a pet. After lively discussions with partners, we listed the questions to share and give each other ideas before recording the pet/animal on one sticky note and the 1 question on another.


We visit the computer lab once each week. During our computer lab time, students worked with helping partners to take notes. Each student was responsible for finding 3 facts that were connected to answer their guiding question.

What’s a helping partner? Glad you asked! I allow students to choose who they will work with when its time for partner activities. There’s only 1 rule. You must choose a partner that is NOT in your reading group. Reading groups contain friends with like abilities right now. Whole group and partner activities involve mixed ability groupings, sooooo when we work with a partner, it’s part of our classroom culture for stronger readers to be paired with a friend that may need a little more help.

I alternate, how they choose…sometimes the friends who need a little more help get to choose a partner. Sometimes, the strong readers choose. It’s created an environment of empathy and compassion that I’m very proud of. BFFs make for great pals at recess or during free time, but they can be very distracting when it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty.


Over the course of the week, students worked together during writer’s workshop to complete their writing and illustrations. This little research project was also an extension of our story for the week, Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats. It made for a lot of connections between reading and writing and even science! In order to take care of a pet, you have to know what a living thing needs to survive.

As we enjoyed stories by Ezra Jack Keats and about real animals online, students were also exposed to elements of media literacy. It was a wonderful week of all the little pieces we’ve been learning over the past few weeks coming together in lots of teachable moments.

When I complimented the class on doing such an amazing job with their second research project, the “Teacher Jrs” came up with a great idea! The trouble with giving a class of kiddos creative control is that once they’re used to it, they’ll exercise that right…lol! So, next….they put me to work!


I was asked to create a cover, so we could compile our writings into a class book! Here’s a look at how it turned out…


…and now we have a brand new book full of facts about pets…and a class of firsties excited about research!


Just like little Peter enjoyed learning how to do something new, it’s been a joy to watch my kiddos grow as readers and writers and now…..researchers.


With research complete and open house done, smart art was on the agenda for Friday. Researchers can be artists too! Willie jumped right out of the pages of the book onto the streets of our little city! When Peter’s mom sent him to the store, it looks like he whistled all the way to HEB and back! Just in case you don’t live in TX, HEB is our local grocery store. It’s the ONLY grocery store in a lot of areas! =)

Click the pic above to grab this little FREEBIE to get your research on too! Either I really like having choices or I’m indecisive….either way {lol} there are two choices of note taking pages and two choices of writing paper for your student’s final drafts, including a “back of the page” sheet and a cover if you’d like to make a class book too.

Enjoy and happy researching!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

5 Things Ms. Dwyer Says…

Hi, Friends! How are ya? In an effort to make myself blog on a more regular basis, I’m jumping back into Five for Friday with Kacey at Doodlebugs Teaching! This week, I’m sharing 5 things that I find myself saying daily. You know, those little things that are a spoken language between you and your littles. The language of love that develops and binds you together as a little family.

Number 1…

We sing this little diddy. When I notice a friend has forgotten to begin a sentence with a capital letter, I start singing “Every sentence….and because we do this…the class joins in and finishes the sentence….begins with a CAPITAL letter! Fun! And the guilty party  or parties usually go back, erase and write their capital letter in!

Number 2…
{Self explanatory!}

Number 3…

My one expectation for the completion of student work is that they always give their absolute best! There’s no slackin’ in Room 171; we make stuff happen! Knowing that, not everyone’s work will look exactly the same. Each student brings to the table a different personality, a different perspective on the world. I want them to understand their work is a reflection of them. How they complete it is how they present themselves to others that might see it.

Soooo, when we complete projects you will rarely find any copied patterns in our classroom. You’ll rarely find a color sheet. More often than not, what you will find is students beginning with a blank sheet of paper. A blank sheet of paper is a representation of endless possibilities. It’s a representation of them having the freedom to be creative. It’s a representation of them being able to uniquely express themselves. It’s me trusting them to show what they know in an organized way because I’ve taught them how. So, when I’m asked…do I have to use this color? Can I draw with a pencil or crayon? My response is… have creative control.

Number 4…

We use this phrase during writer’s workshop A LOT! One sentence does not a story make! =P It usually leads to other questions too, like what is the problem in your story? How do the characters feel? How did they solve it? What details in your picture help to tell the story? Which leads to….

Number 5…

Writing is rarely ever complete. There’s always more than can be added to tell a great story!

What are some of your favorite phrases?


Friday, March 13, 2015

Biographical Research…So Proud!!!

Hi Friends! How are ya? I’m tired, but still floating somewhere around cloud nine…too excited to sleep…soooooo I thought I’d shoo the crickets away from the blog by sharing with YOU! This evening we held our spring open house. While it made for a long day, it was definitely a great one! Watching most of my students bounce in the door ready to tell their parents all about what we’ve been learning made for a filled teacher heart!

There are times when you wonder if your students actually hear anything you’re saying….(like over the course of 2 straight weeks of bad weather and NO RECESS). Tonight proved they’re listening. They’re always listening! The kids did an amazing job of walking their parents through the classroom and explaining how and why we use the things we do. The ONE thing they all had in common was being excited about the research we recently completed.

When the first parent walked in the door asking about Pocahontas, I just smiled. Then the next one walked in wanting to know about Sacagawea and the next one and the next one…..came in asking about the person their kiddo had been researching. I quickly realized my kids had been going home sharing what they’d learned at school. My heart was filled with pride! The smiles on each kid’s face proved they were too!


We have a required list of biographies that we must cover over the course of the year. I address those in whole group. When it comes to “kid work”…I’m a firm believer that choice equals engagement… for their small group {biographical} research projects, each student got to explore our online database to choose a person they were interested in.


We worked on this over the course of the last 4 weeks. I guess you really do grow to love something that takes you a whole month to complete! I precut the foldable. We completed 1 section each week during visits to the computer lab and during writer’s workshop. Students were split into 9 small groups of no more than 3. Each group was guided by a student leader.


Students took notes on a plain sheet of printer paper. From their notes, they recorded 3 facts they learned….


…then recorded life span dates and created a timeline of 4 important life events in sequential order.


After illustrating the 4 important life events, students wrote a short booklet [using the events on the timeline] to write about the person’s life.


Cite our sources? Yep! 1st graders can do that! Luckily, our research database has an option for students to click and the correct format for the citation pops right up on the screen! Students click it and its immediately available for them to copy neatly. We use for online research.


Have you ever seen kiddos so engaged in the computer lab…..away from the computers?!!! They absolutely loved learning about real people! This afternoon bottoms were bouncing into the share chair ready teach friends. Those that came to open house had a second opportunity by sharing with their parents!

Seeing parents just as excited as the kids about what we’d been learning was an added plus!!! My littles amaze me a little more every day! Have I mentioned how much I love my class?


Click the pic above to get a closer look at our little project! After having some giveaway fun on Facebook, a sweet friend suggested creating a second version for older kiddos without primary lines, so this product has grown and now includes two versions. One with primary lines for firsties and one with wide-ruled lines for older kiddos. Check it out and happy researching!

I think I can head to bed now. There’s more fun to be had tomorrow and THEN…….we’re off for spring break!


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