Math Monday with Positional Words

Teaching Positional Words in Kindergarten

Do you have to teach positional words? Positional words can be very tough for ELL students and for those students who have not been exposed to a wide vocabulary. It's one of those skills that I struggled with when I first started teaching, because it seemed so easy to me that it was hard to understand how my students could NOT know what "on" or "under" meant and that I would have to explicitly teach these words! My own children knew these words way before they were school aged, simply because of all the conversations we had - "Your car rolled under the couch, reach under and get it!" or  "Leave your cup on the table while we wipe your hands." or "Put your bear on the shelf next to your books." Obviously ELL students haven't had these experiences, but since I teach at a Title I school, I see many, many students who are not ELL who still don't have this vocabulary experience.

So now I explicitly teach positional words as part of my Morning Meeting or Calendar Time. I have a few favorite positional word videos:

I also use my Kohl's Cares animals that are usually in our Reading Center. I usually choose a few students a day to move our animals around the room. At first, I instruct the children as to where to put the animals - "Put the dog on the table." or "Can you fit the monkey under a chair?"

As the children get more comfortable with positional words, I start having them decide where to put the animal and then tell the class where it is using positional words - "The bear is in front of the door." or "The bear is between the caddies."

Showing a video and having students manipulate the animals literally takes only 5 minutes a day and my students LOVE it. The fun of getting to get up and put the animals in silly places means that this is a highly engaging activity - both for the student holding the animal and their friends who are watching and giggling up a storm!  And because it works so well whole group, it's a skill that I don't have to focus on in small groups!

Simple right? Math often is - it doesn't always have to be a big lesson with worksheets and assessments! Now head on over to Kinder Kraziness to read some more Math Monday goodness!

Defending Play

How to Justify Play in your Classroom

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll probably have noticed that I post a TON of play-based learning articles. I am a passionate advocate for play-based learning and love to share research based articles that back up the practice. To me, it just makes sense. I've always wondered WHY there isn't more play in schools when it is supported by the research!

And then, in a workshop, I heard a teacher ask "But isn't a worksheet just as good?" And it hit me that there is a LOT of work to be done, if there are still teachers who can't see the benefits of hands-on-learning over worksheets. If we as teachers don't see, or can't explain, the value of play-based learning, how do we expect parents or administrators to see it?

This is my version of a quote from Plato, I think he would have agreed with the sentiment ;)

One of the things I think we need to learn, as play-based learning advocates, is not only how to share the research, but also how to justify play in the classroom as it is happening. If someone came into your room at center time, would you be able to articulate what is being learned at each center? If they said "Convince me that your Block Center isn't a waste of  space." Could you?  If they said "Free choice centers are a waste of instructional time that could be better spent on your reading standards." could you argue differently?

One of the ways that I help myself out in situations like this, is through my Center Signs. I use the signs to mark each center and as a center management tool. At the bottom of my signs I place small stickers. Those stickers correspond to the maximum number of students allowed in that particular center - generally either 2 or 4. When the children get to the center, they use their clothespin to cover up a sticker. When all the stickers are covered, the other children know that the center is full and they have to find another center to play in. 
This helps me prevent situations like 8 kids duking it out in a center where I only have materials for 3. It also helps ensure that center time is not total chaos - if your clip is in Lego Center, you need to stay in that vicinity, not be scampering from Reading Center to Paint Center to Puppet Center scattering toys and disgruntled friends in your wake!
But the other reason I have my Center Signs is because each one has a section of "I am:" statements describing the learning taking place in that individual center. If you've ever had a discussion and then later on thought, "Oh! I wish I had remembered to say this." or "If only I had told them that." you'll know why I have those "I am" statements on my signs. They're my own little cheat sheets.
Sometimes, when people ask a question and you feel on the spot, you might not remember everything you want to say. You might not be able to clearly verbalize WHY puppets are important for your kids for example. Having the "I am" statements on the Center Signs helps me make sure that whenever someone asks about what the children are doing at a center, I can put together an articulate answer that will at least give them something to think about before declaring that my students shouldn't be doing so much "playing."

The other thing I think we need to do, as educators, is to examine the play we see in our classrooms and identify the learning taking place for ourselves. This is great for anecdotal records and informal documentation. Instead of writing "Timmy played at Block Center today." which gives absolutely no indication that any learning took place, instead you have to be able to observe and then record exactly what was going on.

To help myself with that skill this summer, I've been watching my youngest son (22 months) play. I try to catch him when he's absorbed in self-directed play so that I can see what ideas and skills he's trying on his own. I took the following video and then picked it apart:
What would I be able to tell an administrator who came to me wanting justification of why I let Sully  play instead of trying to teach him letters and sounds? 

Well, let's talk about perseverance and problem solving - Sully's action figures get stuck in the ship and although he's frustrated, he doesn't give up and so he learns that if he uses his other hand it is easier to get the figures out. I was pleased to note that although he was frustrated (as you can tell by his screech lol) his first instinct was to try to fix the problem himself instead of looking to me to solve it for him.

He's also experimenting with gravity - he's learned that if he drops something, it falls, and thus he has his figures "jump" off the stand. He repeats the jumping several times, with one and two figures, learning that gravity is constant. He knows that when he drops the figures they will land on the shelf below, and thus looks at the shelf and claps when the figures do what he expects them to do. At the 1:30 mark he drops a figure and it bounces to the floor. He briefly takes a seat to consider this surprise, and then stands up to experiment again.

He's developing his fine motor skills while manipulating the figures into and out of the cockpit and grasping them in his fingers as he moves them around. He's also developing gross motor skills - squatting, sitting, stretching, reaching - building strong core muscles as well as fine tuning control of his arms and legs.

He's increasing his vocabulary and story-telling abilities too. Although it's a simple story - men getting out of a ship and jumping off a cliff, he's practicing lots of the phrases that he knows. "Ready, go!" is one of his favorites. He's using his imagination by making up dialogue for his "bad guy" and "Dobby". As he has the figures fight about some issue, he's also exploring relationships and power dynamics - will the bad guy win or will "Dobby" prevail?

He even pauses for a moment to check on the hermit crabs - noticing that they're moving and commenting with "Crabs?" to verify that these creatures are indeed called "crabs". Although I try to coax him into a further interaction with the crabs, once I confirm the name, he loses interest. (The crabs spend the school year in my classroom, so they've only been home a few weeks.) Although he was distracted by the crabs, he quickly refocuses on the task at hand and continues with what he was doing before the interruption thus showing he is able to sustain his attention.

Although Sully's play isn't as sophisticated as the play you will see in a pre-k or K classroom, I think you get the basic idea. It's important to be able to watch children at play and be able to pick out the various skills that they are working on. If you can't do that, then when someone says "Isn't a worksheet just as good?" you'll be hard pressed to defend play. It's also a good idea to videotape each of your centers at some point (I recommend not letting students know you're taping them to make sure you're recording authentic play - Sully is too young to care about the camera, but older children might change their play if they know the teacher is filming).

First and foremost you should tape so that you know that the purpose of your center is being met even when you are not standing right there. Your students in Listening Center should be listening to, and discussing, a story - not talking about what movie they want to go see. Once you're assured that students are engaged in the kind of play you envisioned, make sure that you can identify all of the learning involved in that center. Practice justifying it to an imaginary administrator.

It is incredibly important to read the articles and know that play-based learning is backed by research, but handing an administrator an article is probably not going to convince him or her that your students need more center time and less teacher-led instruction time. However, being able to show that administrator what play-based learning looks like in your classroom and being able to tell him what is being learned at any given center, may make all the difference! If we want to keep play in the classroom, we have to be able to defend it!

Easy Number Sense Activities for Counting and Number Recognition

Engaging Number Sense Activities

It's Math Monday with my friend Laura over at Kinder Kraziness and I've got some fun number sense activities for preschool or kindergarten!
The first thing students need when it comes to math, is number sense. This means they need a TON of counting practice and number identification practice. They have to have one-to-one correspondence too. Some students come in to K able to rote count to 100, but that doesn't mean they have number sense - just that their little brains are good at memorizing! Some kiddos have 1 to 1 correspondence as long as the objects they're counting are in a row, but get confused when faced with a jumble of objects. Some students can't discriminate between a letter and a number. And yet, we have to somehow meet them where they're at and move them along to the next level! How do I do it?

The first thing I do is start with number recognition. And to do this we do Dr. Jean's number song video:

We follow along with this song with dry erase boards and markers. I pause between each number and allow time for the kids to attempt to write it. Sometimes I give the kids unifix cubes so they can make a tower for each number as we go. Sometimes I just have them clap the amount or draw the correct number of shapes (I model it all of course!). At the beginning of the year,  I stop the video at 5,because trying to learn more numbers is just too frustrating. Once most of the class has mastered 0-5, we go on to 6-10.
 This kiddo decided to add hearts to the 5 boxes she drew to represent "five" lol. 

We do a TON of counting activities throughout the year:

 We stamp numbers in play dough and roll the correct number of balls or cut out that number of "cookies".

 We count manipulatives and then write the number in shaving cream.

 We put together number puzzles - this helps with both number recognition and number order.

 We count manipulatives and place them in labeled containers.

 We count and make sets according to a given number.

But of course, counting shouldn't just be a math time or center time activity! We count how many people ordered spaghetti versus hot dogs. We count how many people are left to use the bathroom. At recess we count how many pecans we find, or how many smooth rocks!

Another activity that I love for number sense is Roll & Cover games. These can also be used as addition/subtraction games later in the year. However, at the beginning of the year I simply use the dice with numbers and have the kiddos practice identifying the number as they roll it and then match it to the board.

For kiddos who are practicing one to one correspondence, I use the dice with dots. This is a two step process for them - count the dots, then identify the correct number on the board. This is why I let my kiddos play this as a partner game, so that they have someone who can help them if needed!

Students use either a number dice or a dot dice to practice number recognition to 6 and one to one correspondence. Using dice with dots is also great for subitizing - the ability to perceive how many without actually counting.
Once the kiddos can identify and count to 6, I break out the 2 dice game boards for practice to 12!
Once kiddos are adept at one to one correspondence and are working on recognizing teen numbers, we bring out the 3 dice board!

I created the boards above for the beginning of the school year when I'm reading The Kissing Hand. I love Roll & Cover because I can teach the actual game play rules once and then swap out the boards for each new theme. The kids think they're getting a brand new game, but I don't have to stop to reteach how to play it! You can grab the Raccoon Roll & Cover Sampler pack at my TPT store. Make sure to check out my other Roll & Cover games while you're there! Your students will be thrilled if you give them new game boards throughout the year! I laminate mine for durability and then I can reuse them year after year.

Don't forget to go check out Kinder Kraziness for some more Math Monday fun!

Advice for a Kindergarten Teacher ~ Linky Party

I'm coming to you today with a linky party hosted by Sharing Kindergarten!

Here are my top 4 tips:

I know there are probably things that you HAVE to have at a certain time - lunch, PE, Music, a reading block or math block. Since those things are generally set in stone, try to make sure the rest of your schedule suits your students' needs.  Have a plan for several activities the first day or two and then observe how they do. You may have a class that needs more frequent bathroom breaks. Maybe they're a bunch of movers and shakers and you need to make sure you have plenty of brain breaks. Maybe they need to have their center time before reading time otherwise they spend reading time wistfully looking at the toys. Maybe they need a quiet rest time after lunch. This year I had scheduled a looooong center time in the afternoon. However, I found that my kiddos just couldn't wait that long and did better when I broke that block up into a morning and afternoon center. Remember, these are little people who have no control over their day - it's up to you to make it as appropriate as possible for them! The benefit to you, of course, is that by meeting their needs, you'll have an easier time with classroom management!

If you're on Pinterest, no doubt you'll see all sorts of cool classroom management ideas over the summer. It's wonderful because you'll have so many strategies in your toolbox! The downside though, is a lot of the strategies won't work if your kids aren't developmentally ready! Have you seen the one about not blurting out in class? Well guess what? If your students have not developed an "inner voice" it doesn't matter what incentives or punishments you use, the student won't be successful because they haven't developed the ability to keep their thoughts inside their head. And, an inner voice typically appears by the developmental age of 8. So in a kindergarten class, some will have it, but many others won't! So make sure you know what's appropriate to expect of your students - you will be less frustrated when you're not trying to get orange juice from an apple! Check out this developmental milestone guide for what a typical 5 to 6 year old can do!

I cannot say enough about play-based learning. I know that some administrations make it difficult to include play in the day. That doesn't mean you should give up and turn to worksheets. It means that you MUST KNOW the benefits of play and you must be able to ARTICULATE what your students are learning at each center! When someone comes in and say "Why are they playing with blocks?" you need to be able to say "They're developing spatial concepts that are important for math. They're improving their fine motor skills and experimenting with balance and gravity. They're problem-solving and engaging in cooperative play - learning to work as a team!" My Center Signs have these "I am" statements listed on them, so visitors can read them and so I can remember my talking points if anyone ever questions me! Talk to your administration about brain research and myelination and how students have to have ample opportunities to practice what they learn. If all else fails, close your door and do what's best for your students. It is often very possible to meet the minimum required by your administration and use the rest of your time in more developmentally appropriate ways.

Make your classroom reflect you. Decide on your rules and procedures - what are the most important things and which do you not really care about? Don't get caught up in someone else's rules just because you saw a cute alliterative poster somewhere. A 4s line might be great for someone else, but you may need to focus on facing forward and not leaving a gap. What's your stance on tattling? How many reminders will you give? You have to have hard and soft limits and you need to make sure you communicate those to your students. One of my hard rules is "We write on paper or dry erase boards, not on tables or chairs." I always keep Mr. Clean erasers on hand so that if someone does color on their table, I can give them an eraser to clean it up right away. That's a logical consequence - you colored it, you erase it.

Decide which aspects of your day are most important, and which can be skipped if there's an assembly or field trip. Generally, if we have an assembly, I take that time out of our reading block rather than out of our center time because I value our center time more. If you go to the Library, will that time count at your read aloud for the day or will you take something else out instead?

Since I don't have a ton of money, I spend it on what's important to me - books, dry erase markers and paint - before I spend it on anything else. If you don't have dry erase boards (I can't live without them!) then the markers might not be a big deal to you. You may decide to use watercolors because the kids bring them in, rather than tempera paint that you have to purchase. Is it more important that your kids are reading books on their level or books that they're interested in - whatever you decide will determine how you arrange your library! Are you going with glue sticks, glue sponges or tap & glue caps? Lots of decisions with no right or wrong answer, simply your preference! Decide what's important and worth your time/money, and what's not!

Those are my tips ~ I hope you got a little something to think about for the 2015-2016 school year! Now go check out what other kindergarten bloggers have to say!

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