Tuning In to Sharing the Planet

Looking for provocation for your next unit of inquiry? Try using a "mystery box". Read on to see how we just started our Sharing the Planet unit!

Tuning In to Sharing the Planet, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

Ok, so I spoiled the surprise! Yes, there was a turtle, a real LIVE turtle, in our mystery box! Let me back up a bit....

The central idea of our unit is:
People's actions  produce change in the natural environment.  (I've higlighted concepts that we plan to unpack trhoughout the unit, starting with "natural environment").

Our lines of inquiry:
Change- The positive and negative impact on the environment as a result of human actions  
Causation- The reasons why some animals are endangered 
Responsibility- The responsibilities humans have for the environment

So, what makes up the natural environment? Living things. At the first grade level, we are considering humans, plants and animals. What is more fun and interesting to kids than animals? It was easy to incorporate that idea into our hyrbid Provocation/Tuning In experience. (Luckily, our grade 1 assistant keep a turtle tank in her office!)

This lesson was co-taught with my amazing friend and colleague, Connie. I was taking photos, so you'll see Connie in some of the pictures.

FIRST, we started with a simple game of questions. For our purposes, we called it "Guess My Animal."
  1. Students gather in a circle.
  2. One student thinks of an animal and sits in the center of the circle. (you will want them to whisper it in your ear first before starting the game!)
  3. Other students ask YES/NO questions to try to figure out which animal it is.
  4. Whoever guesses correctly then becomes the child sitting in the center.
Tuning In to Sharing the Planet, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
Simple, right?  Yes, but it also scaffolds students' thinking from lower to higher levels. In the beginning, students struggle to ask YES/NO questions and they have to learn how to think their question through so that they are phrased correctly.

They also transition from asking simple to more complex question as they learn to consider an animal's various characteristics. From, "Is it big?" to "Can it breathe underwater?"

We played 4 rounds and the questions asked during each one was more thoughtful than the one before. Yes! We love that! At the end, we reflected as a group, and discussed how students' thinking changed. Connie and I were able to introduce the word, characteristic, in a meaningful way.

SECOND, we brought out the "mystery box"! Now that students were warmed up and thinking about animal characteristics, they were ready to quess what was in the box.

Tuning In to Sharing the Planet, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

  1. Connie presented the mystery box, explaining that there was something inside. Immediately, the students thought that it couldn't be real. "It's a plastic animal!"
  2. We had showed slides with guiding clues and asked students to make predictions. They recorded their predictions (pictures and words) on the chart paper.
  3. Finally, Connie revealed what was inside- the turtle, which they had correctly guessed!
Tuning In to Sharing the Planet, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
What followed was simply aweome! Every child was totally entralled by that turtle! We explained that we could do what all inquirers and scientist do, OBSERVE. Mr. Wu Gui (oo gway; Mr. Turtle) crawled right across our chart!

Tuning In to Sharing the Planet, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

Students then recorded their observations in their (blank) unit journals and held the turtle if they wanted. 
They noticed how his neck would expand, his skin stretching... 
"Why is that happening?"
"Because he's breathing."
"How could you record that in your notes?"
Tuning In to Sharing the Planet, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
This is one of many fabulous renderings of Mr. Turtle. The squiggly line is actually the basking rock from his tank!

We also had the opportunity to talk about treating caring for Mr. Wu Gui, and treating him with respect. We will also look to foster a sense of appreciation for the natural environment in students. (Learner profile attributes and attitudes. We will explore this more deeply throuout the unit.)

Tuning In to Sharing the Planet, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

Do you have ideas for using the "mystery box" in your classroom? Or possibly the questioning game? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Make Your UOI Planning Easier!

Do you ever feel frustrated when planning for a unit of inquiry? Sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming- there's just so much to consider. Today I'm sharing something that worked really well for my team. I hope you find it helpful!

Planning Conceptual Understandings, Unit of Inquiry, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
My PYP co-ordinator shared the book, Taking the Complexity Out of Concepts, with me last spring during a concept-based teaching workshop. It is an excellent resource and I highly recommend it!

Written by authors from the Innovative Global Education (IGE), the book shares loads of practical information for teachers trying to implement a conceptual curriculum.

The planning template (IGE Model for Formulating Conceptual Understandings) is SO HELPFUL as it guides your thinking through the planning process to ensure that you focus on the concepts that will drive the inquiry.

As you can see from the picture above, we used the template to plan our Who We Are unit. Referring to our Making the PYP Happen book and the PSPE scope and sequence along the way, we followed the steps from 1 to 5. Great discussion and professional collaboration. Everyone was engaged and contributing- a true planning session. Don't you just love it when a meeting is actually worth your time?! ;)

We later added causation as a key concept and developed the following central idea: A balanced lifestyle promotes growth and development. I'll be blogging soon about how our unit went, so stay tuned!

Here is a "cheat sheet" template if you'd like to use it. I hope it helps you in your planning!

Planning Conceptual Understandings, Unit of Inquiry, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
What do you do to help organize and focus your planning efforts?

5 Simple Steps for Teaching Conflict Resolution to Early Learners

Do you have a problem with tattling in your classroom? How often do you find yourself stopping your teaching to address issues between students? Have you ever wondered how you could teach students to solve disagreements on their own?

The Peace Rug may be the answer.

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom, Conflict Resolution in 5 Easy Steps

I first learned about the Peace Rug from a school counselor. I didn't know at the time, but it is a Montessori practice - the idea if teaching children about peace lies at the heart of Montessori. I am not a trained Montessori teacher, so I'm sorry I can't go into this in depth, however, I am familiar with the positive aspects of this philosophy and think it's valuable to include in any classroom.

For PYP teachers, using the Peace Rug gives you an authentic context in which to discuss many concepts:
  • It is a way for students to "Take Action". When students recognize that they can apply real life skills to solve problems, that's a big deal! They realize they can DO something to affect change, even if it seems small.
  • It also reinforces the learner profile attributes, communicator, caring, reflective and thinker.
  • It promotes attitudes of empathy, cooperation, respect, independence tolerance and confidence.
  • You have real opportunities to teach students about perspective, reflection and responsibility, some of the key concepts.

The idea is really quite simple and you can start implementing the Peace Rug in your classroom in 5 basic steps.
  1. Plan a Peace Space
  2. Teach the Routine
  3. Model and Role Play the Routine
  4. Adjust as Needed
  5. Be Consistent and Commit

Plan a Peace Space

First of all, you need to dedicate an area of your classroom for peace so that students have a somewhat private area to discuss their issue. It can be a rug, a corner, a table, anything really. Many of you already do this; it may be called your "Take a Break" area where students go to calm down or get some alone time.

I purchased a small, inexpensive rug (you can see it in the photo below) because I'm limited on space in my classroom, and that worked just fine. I placed it near the sink, which is kind of in a corner, low-traffic area of my room. You don't have to spend a lot of money or go overboard with an extravagant plan to make this work. Simple is always just as effective.

Montessori philosophy values nature and the comfort of natural items- try to add something to enhance your peaceful corner- a plant, something made from natural material/organic objects, etc. I again decided to keep it simple, and instead of having a peace flower (as recommended by some blogs I read while reading up on peace corners) I used a peace rock. Just one I found outside.

If you think about it, kids love rocks, I think because of how they feel in their hands, the texture, the shape. I embellished the rock just a bit to make it special for our class by painting the word <PEACE> on it. The new peace rock has a role in the conflict resolution routine, so keep reading :)

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom, Conflict Resolution


Teach the Routine

Ok, so now you're ready to actually teach your students what to do. Set aside some time (about 20-30 minutes) to gather your students into a circle to discuss recent issues related to friendship problems, tattling or other social problems that have led them to come to you for resolution. Pose the question, "Are there other ways to solve our problems BESIDES going to the teacher?" You get the point here- you want to inquire into the issue, but still guide them towards the idea of students discussing and resolving their own problems...How do people solve problems? What works best? Great conversation here!

You may get some stories about home (Mom or Dad yells....) and that's natural if your students are being honest and are really engaged in the conversation. No worries, just briefly address and dismiss it. It's actually a good way to reinforce the idea that problems are normal, everyone has them. Why pretend that life is perfect? "Yes, we all have our bad days and nobody's perfect. Everyone feels disappointed or frustrated sometimes, even teachers and parents. Let's talk about what we can do to help ourselves when we have a problem.... (Moving right along,) ....."

Explain that the class will have a new peace area/rug to go to where you can solve problems by talking them through. "I will show you how it works...." Now you will go over the script. This is something I wrote by adapting ideas I've come across. It's not anything "official".

For student 2, I purposely avoided the language: "I'm sorry." What if they're not? Saying "sorry" is usually an empty, tokenistic practice. It really doesn't matter whether they are sorry or not; they need to stop the inappropriate behavior. I learned from a behavior modification teacher years ago that it's preferable for the child to take responsibility for the behavior by saying something like, "I was wrong to," or "I made a mistake when I,". Again, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. (#growthmindset) :)

Here's a simple example below...

Student 1:

This student speaks first and holds the peace rock, which is like a microphone in a way. The other student should listen until the rock is passed to them. 

I don't like it when ...(students names offensive behavior).
"I don't like it when you tap/keep tapping me on the shoulder in line."
It makes me feel ...
"It makes me feel annoyed/bothered/angry."
Next time, please ... (student names a positive replacement behavior, i.e. what they want their peer to do instead.
"Next time, please keep your hands to yourself when we're in line." (NOT "Don't tap me on the shoulder." You want the student to name a replacement behavior, stated in a positive way so that the other students can repeat it back and hopefully get a better understanding of what to do better in the future. Making it explicitly clear will help avoid future issues.)

Student 1 passes the peace rock to student 2 so that they may reply. This signals that they are done talking.

Student 2:

I made a mistake when .....
"I made a mistake when I kept tapping you on the shoulder in line."
Next time, I will .......
"Next time, I will keep my hands to myself when we walk in line."

****Make sure you read on to step 4 because this script changes!
        Oh, what suspense! :)

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom, Conflict Resolution in 5 Easy Steps

The purpose of the script is to equip children with the language they need to express their feelings in a positive, helpful way. The structure helps them internalize what needs to happen- they need to express what's bothering them and offer a solution. Ultimately, students can and will just say what's on their minds and not repeat verbatim- that's great! Without this scaffold, they often don't know what to say, OR how to respond.

Finally, in the spirit of forgiveness and starting over, students need to pick a way to celebrate their new beginning on a positive note. They may choose to shake hands, high five or hug. You can fist bump, do a secret handshake, a little jig, whatever floats your boat- it really doesn't matter as long as it lightens the mood and brings closure to the chat.

Model and Role Play the Routine

I suggest you have another adult (co-teacher or assistant, even ask your counselor or principal!) to help you model what needs to be said at the peace rug. If that's not possible, ask one of your more mature, confident, verbal (you know who I mean) kids to help you and discuss what you will pretend to do before pulling your class together. Even kindergarten classes usually have a child that loves to pretend and role play, so you should be able to find a willing participant in your class.

Now, pick a scenario to model with your partner in front of the class, fishbowl style. Ideas include:
  • name calling
  • annoyances, making noises or touching
  • taking something/supplies without asking
  • refusing to allow someone to play
I'm sure you can think of a few more!

Role play comes in where you invite two students to act out what they would say at the peace rug. I had a really confident class this year, and some of my friends were ready to jump right in! If they couldn't think of a situation, I gave them one and they had a go. I would suggest coaching them through 2 or 3 role plays a day for the first week or so, so that students become familiar and comfortable with the routine. This can take place during morning meeting time, at the end of the day if you have a closing circle/reflection time, or whenever it's convenient to your schedule.

I explained that the "Peaceful Communicator" poster would be put up next to the peace rug to help them through their discussions. And so, the peace rug was born!

Adjust as Needed

The students were really interested in using the peace rug and did so immediately. In the beginning, I needed to help them along, still coaching them, but managed to do this quickly (usually right after a recess) and effectively, not taking more than say 5 minutes. After a couple weeks, students really began to use it on their own, "Can so-and-so and I go to the peace rug?" I was really pleased at how they learned the routine and didn't over-use it.

Then one day, two of my boys had a problem that they just couldn't solve. LONG story short, it boiled down to miscommunication; what they thought they heard, or how they perceived it, misinterpreted it, you get the idea. After talking with them, I called a class meeting and we discussed the concept of miscommunication and how sometimes what you hear is not actually what was really said. After bringing up examples of conversations with parents and friends, my students easily related to idea that people often misunderstand one another and it's unintentional.

So, we decided to adjust the routine and revise the Peaceful Communicator poster to include an additional note.... "I think this is a misunderstanding." Now, students can recognize that miscommunications occur and they can acknowledge them and move on. They can explain their intentions by saying, "I was tring to ...." or just move on to resolution.

You can expect to have conversations about acceptance- sometimes student 1 may not want to recognize student 2's intentions, but they must in order to, as I say to my kids, "move on with our lives." Again, this is wonderful, authentic real-life stuff! Remind student 1, will stewing about this misunderstanding erase it from happening in the first place? Will feeling upset and holding on to what happened help you? No, it won't. So what's the solution? Move on. And they do, once they understand. Kids may actually be better at this than adults!

Now, these kinds of misunderstandings are not that frequent, let's be honest. :) I suggest introducing the routine with the "simple" poster first, and then present the "misunderstanding" version once this has actually happened in your class. You may download both versions below by clicking on the image. I hope it helps you in your classroom or inspires you to design your own peace poster with your students!

This is the revised version, made with student input:

This is the simpler version:

Be Consistent and Commit

Once students are comfortable with the peace rug, commit to having discussions about it every once in a while to keep it fresh in their minds, and be consistent about requiring students to use it with independence. Unless it warrants an office referral, always refer students to the peace rug when they come to you with a tattle... "Sounds like you need to go to the peace rug!" Don't be tempted to direct the conversation; if need be, sit down with them and listen and only intervene if necessary. We want to empower these kids, not solve their problems for them.

What strategies have your tried to help students manage conflict?
How do you teach peace in your classroom?

Blogger Burnout


If you're a teacher, you probably know what I'm talking about! Mental exhaustion. Physical fatigue. Just being all kinds of tired... Can you relate?

Yup, that's why I haven't posted in over a year. My blogger brain was burned out and my inspiration as a teacher was drying up. Not that I didn't still LOVE teaching, but I was just.... stuck!

Why? Now that I look back, lots of reasons.

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

>>> Losing my focus and comparing myself to other bloggers (never a good idea). Trying to blog about what I thought readers wanted instead of what I thought was important.

>>> Struggling with health issues that just literally made me feel bad, so I just didn't want to do a lot of things, including blogging.

>>> My inspirations were running low. I had been at the same (international) school for a while and I didn't realize I needed fresh eyes.

>>> Living outside the U.S. in a developing country started to take its toll on me.

If you're burned out, you probably need a break. Or a change. 

It's okay to take a step back. 

Or keep going and be patient with yourself until you realize exactly what you need.

Well, a lot has changed since I last posted. I moved to China for one thing!  And that obviously means I'm teaching at a new school. It's been an adventure, for sure, and there's been some bumps in the road, but as I look back, I realize it was just what I needed.

I've got a different perspective and some new interests, so I'm ready to start blogging again! I think there is a blog-face-lift on its way!

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
As a blogger, you often wonder who actually reads what you write. You wonder if people are interested in what you're passionate about....

Well, I hope others can benefit from what I have to share, as well as contribute to a conversation about:

+ inquiry
+ the PYP (Primary Years Programme)
+ concept-based teaching
+ literacy (reading and writing workshop)
+ structured word inquiry (spelling in a meaningful way!)
+ mindfulness
+ and math, of course! I haven't forgotten about math!

What topics in teaching in learning interest you?

I'd love to read your comments!

Estimation FREEBIE for First Grade!

Looking for a fun way to get your students to practice estimating? I use a take-home assignment called the "Estimation Station". It's pretty simple and lots of fun! Keep reading if you'd like to try it!

Before I send this home with kids, I do a lot of modeling and practice in the classroom. The main strategy I use to help students learn to develop their estimation skills is determining a benchmark. The following image is very popular on Pinterest (I assume the original source is Teacher Created Materials. The pins did not take me to the exact source.), probably because it explains the strategy very well- help students determine a part or layer, a set of 10 or 20, for example, that they can then use to form an estimate.
We used different math manipulatives from the classroom and followed those steps- For example, "If this is what 10 cubes look like in the container, now estimate how many it holds when it's full."

After a couple of months doing the Estimation Station together during our daily calendar math time, I decided to make it a home activity.

I typed up directions for parents and made some cute labels for both the folder and the container. Then I found an extra library bag (supplied by my school) to use as a way to transport the items to and from school. If you'd like a copy, just click on the image below for the shared doc.

I explained to my class that I would pull two names a week (that way a couple kids get to do it each week without it losing as much novelty). Each student gets two night to prepare, so if they take it home on Monday, they need to bring it back by Wednesday to share with the class.

Since I love to use songs to teach concepts and/or signal transition times, I also set out to look for a cute estimation song. I found the following from Heidi Songs on Youtube. I changed the lyrics slightly to say, "Estimate, estimate, I use my best thinking and then I estimate." We leave out the part about "you're close, but I'm closer." That just made estimating sound competitive- why? For movements, the kids move their hands and gently tap their head like they are thinking deeply! After all, we are a "thoughtful" classroom ;) When I start singing this song, my kids know to make a circle on the carpet and get ready for the share.

During the share, the Estimation Station Supervisor shows the container and tells us what item is inside. He/she walks around the circle showing the container briefly to the students to allow them to judge a benchmark from which to base their estimate.

Then I collect estimates on the white board. I don't bother recording names as they usually remember what they've said, plus, I don't want to make the estimate "personal." Early learners can still be quite sensitive about being "wrong" and I try to encourage a growth mindset with this activity. I remind them that no one is always correct when estimating!

Finally the "supervisor" counts out the items into sets of ten so we can check the actual amount.

So far, students have shared legos, origami paper cranes (yes, she made each one!) candies and marbles! My class LOVES it and it gives us the opportunity to discuss how to come up with reasonable estimates- lots of great thinking and math talk!

How do you teach estimation in your class?
Thanks for stopping by,

Opinion Writing in First Grade: FREEBIES!

Hello friends! Do you use the Lucy Calkins' units as a resource for writing workshop? They are brimming with ideas and detailed teacher scripts, which can make them a bit cumbersome, if not intimidating. Today I'm sharing how I have used Lucy's first grade unit for persuasive writing. Hopefully you can get some helpful ideas for your classroom.

Before we started writing, we explored facts and opinions. One fun way to do this is with a taste test! I used Cheetos and Pringles- not so nutritious, but YUM! Of course, we graphed our opinions (sorry no pic!) and then wrote only an opinion statement using the word <because>. I felt like this would be a good way to scaffold for writing more details later on! Here is the writing paper I used. Click on the picture to get a copy. 

I loved Lucy's suggestion to ask students to bring in a collection of favorite things to write about because it's concrete, authentic and meaningful for your kids! I drafted this letter and sent it home to parents a few days before I wanted my kids to bring their collections to school. Feel free to grab a copy by clicking on it!

Whenever I plan for writing, I read Lucy's lessons and pull out what I think will work for my kids and my schedule. Time is often tight, so I don't usually follow everything in the units, but that's ok- Lucy wants teachers to make those units their own, so don't be afraid that you are going to mess anything up!! Add your own ideas and personality to it!

I find it helps me to outline the unit so I have a general sequence to follow, but I can still modify what I teach a long the way to meet my students' needs. Here are my notes after reading up through the "first bend".

Opinion Writing Unit for First Grade, 2016, 6-7 weeks

  1. Review checklist for students (kid friendly?)
  2. Discuss prompt: how will we word it?
  3. Give pre-assessment
  4. Norming meeting- score a piece together, then score by self using rubric
  5. Assign writing partners for kids

Week of Jan 3rd
What’s the difference between fact and opinion?(an opinion is a judgement)
  • Taste tests (use <because> to share verbally)
  • Class graphs
  • Position teams for debate
  • Read picture books, “The Best of Show”
  • Letter to parents about sharing a collection

Week of Jan 10
1) Make judgments
People talk and write about their opinions- Share your own collections of items and explain “judging” connection.
Students bring in their own collections
What do judges do (anchor chart)
Students judge their collection and write/support opinion
Model: paper with award ribbon: color blue, red or yellow

2) Write to explain judgement/opinion
Model: reread and revise to elaborate on the reasons
“For example” and I think that because”
Use half sheets of paper to add on (revision tabs)
Add details that tell how the item is special
Fishbowl share: what did you DO as a writer to improve? (reflect)

3) Form- What is the format of opinion writing?
Intro checklist/rubric
Analyze and evaluate student exemplar
Students self-assess personal piece
Begin revisions for missing components
Set goals

Weeks: Jan 17-31 (3 weeks)
MIni-lesson ideas
  1. What are HFW for this genre that we should spell correctly? Create a word bank with students and give a copy for their folder
  2. Brainstorming Ideas- our favorite/best in show
  3. How to write a lead
  4. Organizing - 3 parts/pages
  5. Using Transitions
  6. Elaborating with details
  7. Writing an ending
  8. Spelling by onset-rime, syllables/word chunks

Weeks of Feb 7 & 14
Pick a piece to edit and publish
Celebration on Feb 11th????
(My team and I decided to keep on with the next bend and then have a celebration!)

I then reworked her checklist to better match what I would be teaching and what my students would need. For example, I don't use a word wall; my kids have their own high frequency word (HFW on the checklist) folders that they keep with them at their seats along with their writing folders. Click on the picture below to download!

I made some paper that would go with the "best in class" or "blue ribbon" idea. I left the ribbon blank so my kids could write in it, and then color it to match the item's ranking; many wrote about the 1st, 2nd and even 3rd best items in their collections! Click on the picture below to download! You'll find different kinds of pages as well as revision tabs. By the way, the circle at the bottom right is to help kids remember to number their pages. (I like to teach them to write their beginning, middle and ending on separate pages- I think it helps them with the trait of organization.)

So, here's the fun part! Sharing collections! I shared a collection of earrings as a topic for my modeled writing- my kids loved sharing their opinions about which pair was the best.

Sharing cars and lego creations were very popular!

When they brought in their collections, they each shared with a partner and discussed their opinions. I modeled the writing a lot more than Lucy suggested and used some of the lessons from "bend 2", like "Writing Catchy Introductions and Conclusions" because it just made more sense.

I felt that my students would need to see examples of how to write beginnings and ending NOW, not during the next part of the writing unit!

 After the mini-lessons, they would write about their collection. I'd say this lasted about a week, and then it was time to send those collections home, and write about other opinions.

Sea shells get two thumbs up!
This friend brought in a collection of shells and "fossils". Knowing that they will need to rewrite some terms over and over throughout their piece, I often write topic-specific words on small post-its so my kids can spell them correctly.

After our collections, we wrote more developed opinion pieces, and now we are ready for "bend 2", writing reviews. Now we will focus our efforts on being more persuasive!

I'd love to hear how you teach your students about opinion and persuasive writing in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

Teaching Place Value, Tens and Ones Song FREEBIE!

Have you seen the video, Teacher Tipster Place Value Song? It's great! That's why a number of bloggers have shared how they have done a Place Value Boot Camp in their classes. Well, that concept is pretty much lost on my class of international students, but I still used the catchy song- they LOVED it! I whipped up a little poster with the lyrics,...check it out!

Click on the image to grab a copy!

Each day, I have the calendar leader pick students to "act out" a number (If you watch the video, Teacher Tipster explains, if the student is a ten, they stand up tall with arms in the air, and if the student is a one, they crouch down into a ball- Good Fun!!) 

We do it about 2 or 3 times each morning. It's a quick way to reinforce place value each morning, plus it gets kids up and moving. Love it!

I hope your students enjoy the song! Thanks for stopping by :)

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