Monday, May 25, 2020

Project Based Learning: Design a Zoo

Design a Zoo: Project Based Learning | Apples to Applique

    I love the whole idea of project-based learning! The idea of addressing all subject areas in the context of one project makes so much sense, and allows for better real-life application. I had dabbled in PBL a little bit, but never to the extent of this project, in which I asked students to design a zoo.

    This was the perfect project for the end of our strange traditional-turned-virtual school year, and the kids really took it and ran with it! They were able to complete it at their own pace, collaborating with their families, and it went so well that I'm already planning to use it again next year when we're (hopefully) back in the traditional classroom.

    While the task of designing a zoo sounds monumental, I broke it down into individual tasks for my students. Differentiation was easy as I gave families the freedom of doing more or less than suggested for each task, depending on the needs of their child and family. (Let's face it, crisis schooling is not the same as homeschooling; I know some families just didn't have time to go all-out on a project, and that's okay!) Using this in the traditional classroom will make for easy differentiation, too, and I've included teacher tips for both higher and lower lever learners for each task in the download which is available here in my store!

    This project includes all of the subjects and many first grade standards. First, students select animals to include in their zoo and conduct research on them, making notes about what they eat, what kind of climate they need, and more. Next, they design the habitats based on their research, and create a plaque for each animal exhibit.

Design a Zoo: Project Based Learning | Apples to Applique

    They work on mapping skills as they create a map of their zoo, and coding as they then use their map to give directions to popular destinations.

Design a Zoo: Project Based Learning | Apples to Applique

    Math is integrated as they come up with prices for tickets and extra amenities they included in their zoo, and also as they set a feeding schedule for their animals.

Design a Zoo: Project Based Learning | Apples to Applique

Design a Zoo: Project Based Learning | Apples to Applique

    After all of that work is done, they get to add in art and technology as they design advertisements and create a commercial. Some of my kids even decided to design t-shirts!

    It was so satisfying as a teacher to see all of the ways my students completed this project. After completing all of the tasks and research, most of them actually set up a physical zoo in their house, and they were incredibly creative! Some of them made animals out of clay, others used stuffed animals--one even used her sister wearing an animal hat! They all truly made it their own, while learning and applying skills along the way.

    I hope your class has as much fun with this as mine did! You can find it here in my shop or here in my TPT store.

    Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Early Childhood Literacy Activities at Home | Distance Learning Series #5

Today, I am continuing my series on distance learning. This post, like my last, is directed at supporting parents. (In case you missed it, here is my post on supporting early childhood math concepts at home.)

To many parents, the idea of teaching their child is intimidating, and the idea of teaching them to read is even more so. Reading is such a complex skill that parents often don't know where to begin, beyond teaching them their ABCs. The goal of this post is to help you realize that there are many simple ways you can support literacy development.

Here are six easy activities you can do at home:

1. Rhyming
    Kids love rhyming! One of my favorite rhyming activities with preschool children is called "Willoghby Wallaby". Here's one version by Raffi. Substitute the names of your child, your pets, other family members, friends--kids think it is hilarious! My Pre-K students would often fall to the floor laughing, the idea of an elephant sitting on people was so amusing to them, as was hearing silly rhyming versions of their names.
    You can also say two words and ask your child whether they rhyme or not. Once they have that mastered, say a word and ask them say another word that rhymes. Nonsense words are okay! This is all about developing phonological awareness.

2. Beginning Sounds
    Identifying the beginning sound of words is a vital prereading skill. You can ask your child questions like, "What is the beginning sound of the word car? Can you think of another word that starts with the /k/ sound?"
    I like to use the visual of putting my hand on my opposite shoulder, and then sliding it down my arm as I say a word. Then I return my hand to my shoulder and ask, "What was the beginning sound?" Have your child do this motion with you as you practice listening for sounds in words.

Note: This activity is not asking them to identify the letter. If you use the word "cat", they should respond with the sound /k/. Do not try to teach all of the sound positions at once! When they have mastered identifying the beginning sound, then you can move on to the ending sound, and then to the medial sound.

3. Syllables
    Identifying syllables is another important prereading skill. Clap out syllables in names, in favorite characters from books and movies, names of animals...anything that sparks an interest! Gather up some toys and stuffed animals and sort them by the number of syllables in the name.

4. Fine Motor Activities
    If you're wondering why fine motor activities are included in a list of literacy activities, hear me out.
    Most kids at the preschool age are not developmentally ready to engage in writing letters with a pencil. In early childhood, children should be developing fine motor skills that will lead to the ability to write with a pencil a little later. Tearing construction paper into dime-sized pieces and gluing them to create a mosaic, playing with play dough and rolling it into small pieces, lacing beads on a shoelace, building with small blocks, and so many other activities are wonderful for strengthening the muscles in the fingers and helping them develop a strong pencil grip.

5. Prewriting Activities
    Although many early childhood children may not be developmentally ready to write letters with a pencil, that doesn't mean they shouldn't practice using a pencil or crayon! Let them scribble and color to their hearts' content. However, I must caution here, avoid the temptation of using the chunky crayons advertised for little ones. All of the various occupational therapists I have worked with have encouraged use of regular crayons--even breaking them in smaller pieces to avoid the fisted grasp so commonly seen. Before expecting your child to be able to trace or copy letters, have her first start with drawing vertical lines, horizontal lines, and circles. Then move on to crossing lines, as in a plus sign or an X, and tracing curved or zigzag lines.
    Forming letters can be practiced in many ways without use of a writing utensil. Children can "air write" by pretending to write the letters in the sky with their hands, write letters in a salt tray (a thin layer of salt poured out on a plate works well), write in a layer of shaving cream spread on a table, make letters with finger paint or play dough, etc.

6. Reading
    I saved the most important one for last. Reading to and with your child is the best thing you can do to encourage and develop literacy skills at home. There are so many benefits to reading to your child, so, when possible, take the time to snuggle up with a good book and read. You want your child to learn to read for pleasure, so make it fun! Do the voices for the characters, make predictions about what might happen next, ask questions about how characters might be feeling or what your child would do in a given situation, ask questions after reading about events in the story or what happened first, but above all, READ.

There are, of course, many other ways you can encourage literacy skills. I hope this has given you a good place to start and helped you have confidence in teaching your child.

Keep teaching (and parenting!) with heart and passion!


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Early Childhood Math Concepts at Home | Distance Learning Series #4

    I had great intentions of completing this series earlier, but we all know how good intentions sometimes go. ;) Although school is ending here, I know many schools are still in session, and many others are looking at potentially continuing with distance learning or a hybrid type situation in the fall, so I decided it would still be timely to continue my series as planned. Besides, these ideas are good for any time, pandemic or no.

    Today's installment is directed more at parents. I know so many parents have been intimidated by the idea of teaching their children at home. I can honestly tell you that, even as a teacher myself, it isn't easy to keep up with my own children's learning on top of all of my other responsibilities. I have found, both in parenting and in teaching, that often the most meaningful activities are the ones that pack the biggest punch in the shortest amount of time, especially when disguised as fun.

    Here are five activities you can easily complete with your child at home, with items you already have on hand, to continue reinforcing math concepts during this time when school is not in session.

1. "Open Your Eyes, Subitize!"
    If you're wondering what on earth "subitize" means, don't worry! It's not nearly as intimidating as the word itself sounds. Subitizing is simply the act of recognizing a quantity of objects automatically, without counting them. We subitize every time we roll a dice and know automatically how many dots there are.
    Pre-K and kindergarten kids love this game! Simply gather some small objects (coins, paperclips, blocks, anything!) and something to cover them with (a dishtowel, bandana, etc.). Hide some of the objects under the towel while your child closes her eyes. Then dramatically say, "Open your eyes, subitize!" As your child opens her eyes, whisk away the towel. See how quickly she can tell you how many objects there are. Encourage this to happen without counting, but it is okay if she wants to count to double-check her answer.

2. One to One Correspondence
    To encourage 1:1 correspondence, have your child count objects, touching each object as it is counted. Then, take this a step further by having your child help with things like setting the table. This can be as simple as, "There are four people in our family. Make sure each person gets one plate." Or make it more fun by setting up a teddy bear picnic, and making sure each animal gets one plate, one cup, one cookie...

3. Shapes
    Encourage your child to find shapes in everyday objects around the house or in the neighborhood. This can be done through observations, "Look at that square window. Do you see anything else that is square?" Carry the conversation further with comments like, "I knew it was square because all four sides are the same length, and the corners are square." You could also use these shape finders and have your child play shape detective!

4. Sorting
    Have your child sort items in different ways. He could sort blocks by size, then mix them up, and sort them again by color. Sorting the same items in more than one way reinforces the idea of sorting by a specific attribute.

5. Measuring and Comparing
    Kids love measuring! Depending on your comfort level with sensory play, you could let your child play with different sizes of cups and bowls outside in the dirt, with water in the bathtub, etc. This type of exploratory play teaches a lot on its own, but you can enhance the experience with your own self-talk: "The red cup is taller, but the blue cup is wider. I wonder which one will hold more?"
    You can also work with non-standard units of measure for length: "I wonder how many paperclips long this pencil is?" "How many pieces of cereal do you think it will take to make a line as long as this spoon?"
    Comparing comes naturally when engaging in activities of measurement, but can also be encouraged as it comes up in conversation. "Do you see that dog? He is a lot bigger than Grandma's dog." Comments and observations like these may seem unimportant to us as adults, but children use them to construct meaning in the world around them.

    There are numerous other ways to work on math concepts at home, and I hope this post has helped you realize how simple it is to help your young child continue to develop these concepts while schools are closed. Please don't feel intimidated by the idea of teaching your child; parents are the child's first teacher, and children soak up knowledge like sponges! Any time you can work some simple math into an activity or conversation, even for just a few minutes, you are laying a foundation for solid math skills.

Hang in there; we will all get through this together!
Keep teaching (and parenting!) with heart and passion!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Setting Up an Easy Virtual Classroom | Distance Learning Series #3

This post is third in a series on distance learning. You can find the other installments here: 
Connecting with Students During Distance Learning
5 Teacher Tips to Save Your Sanity During Distance Learning

Setting Up an Easy Virtual Classroom | Apples to Applique
This has been a crazy whirlwind of a ride, learning how to shift mid-year from a traditional school setting to distance learning. There has been so much for me to learn as a teacher, and I know it has only just begun!

There are many platforms available out there to use for distance learning. Since I teach first grade, my goal was to make my virtual classroom easy for both my parents and students to navigate. Some options that work well for older students just weren't a great option for 6- and 7-year-olds.

The best option that I came across to meet my needs was a Google Site. It is free and user-friendly. I love that I can quickly and easily insert resources right from my Google Drive, embed videos from other websites, and add features like Google Forms so that students can check in with me. (No, this post is not sponsored by Google 😉 ). I've heard great things about Google Classroom, too, but, unfortunately, I was not able to try it out, as my district does not give students email access in 1st grade.

The thing I like about having a class website is that everything is in one location. This was important to me so that I would not overwhelm my parents. I'm sure they are overwhelmed enough right now! From that one location, I either embed or link everything the students need for the week, including any videos or printables, and even assignments from specials teachers! I directly link to the platform I am using for students to submit assignments, so parents don't have to remember anything more than just the one site.

I added tabs and pages, and was able to quickly and easily hyperlink to other pages on my site to help parents find what they are looking for. Nowadays, most parents are comfortable with navigating websites, so having a one-stop place for them to go helps ease their mind as they learn how to "homeschool". Even better, it can be accessed on their phones, tablets, etc. so they can check things on the go.

You can make your site as simple or complicated as you want. If I were using Google Sites for other purposes, I would probably bemoan the lack of customization features, but for these purposes, it's perfect! Everything is pretty much drag and drop, which is just what I needed. No messing with html, no finicky settings to worry about messing up. In just a few hours, I made a professional-looking website that I could push out to kids and parents, where they can access everything they need to do their schoolwork at home. It's super easy to edit, too, when I need to change plans for the next week.

Now that I've got it set up and ready to go, I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on what's really important: helping my kids to keep learning these next couple of months!

Stay tuned for more distance learning tips, and hang in there!
Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

5 Teacher Tips to Save Your Sanity During Distance Learning | Distance Learning Series #2

This post is second in a series on distance learning. If you missed the first installment, all about connecting with students, check it out here!
Shifting mid-year from traditional schooling to distance learning is certainly not something we ever thought we would have to prepare for as educators. There are so many questions and unknowns as we enter these uncharted waters!

I served on the Continuous Learning Task Force for my district as we figured out how to move forward for the remainder of this school year. Here are the five main things I took away.

1. Less is More
I have been repeating this often to myself over the last week or so; it's becoming my new mantra. "Less is more." Focus on the "meat" of your lessons and standards, and don't worry about the fluff. What is it absolutely essential for kids to know by the end of the year? What will they need to master before entering the next grade level? Focus on those things.

2. Keep it Simple
Don't try to learn every new platform and program. I know that I have been inundated with emails and advertisements from every education platform and website, all touting why they're the best for at-home learning, or how they are offering free subscriptions right now. Some of them sound amazing! It is tempting to try to learn and do them all. I appreciate these companies stepping up and helping teachers and parents, but it is all overwhelming. I am going to continue using platforms and programs that I have already been using, and with which my students and their parents are already familiar. We are already having too much new stuff thrown at us; we don't need to add in one more thing to figure out and adjust to.

3. Be Flexible
Some people are having a hard time wrapping their minds around this new approach to teaching, and are thinking they need to have a strict classroom schedule with live lessons at set times. That's just not realistic. Many teachers have young children at home who are going to run screaming through the room during a live lesson, or who will need to be online completing their own assignments. Many students will still be at daycare during the day and will need to complete assignments in the evening, or complete several days worth of assignments in one day. One of the beautiful things about distance learning is that it can be worked around family schedules. Give yourself--and your students--a lot of grace. Everyone is doing the best they can.

4. Be Available
While being flexible, it is important that you are available to your students and parents. Distance learning is not "set it and forget it". You cannot upload assignments for the week and then enjoy a week of "paid vacation". Students and parents will have questions and need assistance. Students will miss you and want to connect with you. You might choose to schedule some live videos or lessons so that you can connect with students, but make sure to record them and upload them to your chosen platform so that all students can access them later.
Many districts are recommending set office hours. This can be difficult to achieve for those of us who have littles at home, but make sure you are checking your email, messages, etc. multiple times a day and responding promptly. You are still their teacher, and you still have an obligation to give them a quality education.

5. Set Boundaries
Being available does not mean that you are obligated to respond to parent emails and phone calls at 10:00 pm or on weekends. If you choose to do that because it works for you and your schedule, great! Just remember that you are not constantly on-call, and it is okay to set aside personal time when you are not available. If you need to schedule a set lunch and planning time during the day in order to ensure you don't get burnt out, do it. Whatever works for you, just don't forget to take care of yourself. You can't pour from an empty cup.

Stay tuned for more tips on distance learning, and remember to breathe. We will get through this together! Even in the midst of the unknown, keep teaching with heart and passion!