Sunday, March 27, 2011


Last week we learned about fractions and fractional parts in math. One of the projects that we did involved taking 12 one inch by one inch squares in two different colors. Students had to use the squares to create some sort of creature (real or fictional). They then had to tell what fractional part of their picture was blue and what part was red. The kids really seemed to enjoy this project and it was amazing to see the creativity that came out of their projects. No two were the same and they were all cleverly done.  I also added a bit of writing to the project by having the students name their creature and telling something that it liked to do.

This week we'll be reviewing a bit before moving on to our next unit. I plan to show my class the Study Jams video on fractions. If you haven't heard of Study Jams by Scholastic, definitely check it out. There are videos, slide shows, and step by step explanations for science and math topics.  Each Jam includes a teaching video/step-by-step/slide show, key vocabulary, and a test yourself section where students can practice what they have just learned. The videos have been created for students in grades 3-6, but I have found several that are also appropriate for 1st and 2nd graders.

I also found this cute Fraction Kite project on the Crazy for First Grade blog. I haven't done this project with my kids but think it would be another great way to hit home fractional parts while also incorporating writing and adding a bit of spring flair to our classroom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Basic math facts

Sorry, for not being around much last week, things here have been absolutely crazy. I am gearing up for report cards, planning next year's curriculum map, thinking about 21st century learning skills and technology integration and generally just getting wrapped up in the excitement of what next year will bring. I have been surfing all over the web and using my PLN on twitter to find and investigate a myriad of tools and research. Anyone out there on twitter? If so, look me up- my twitter name is smalchow. I'd love to expand my PLN with others who teach early primary and/or embed technology into their curriculum.

Over the weekend I finally got a chance to dig in to a site that someone recommended to me, Xtramath is run by a nonprofit organization and is a FREE, ad free website to help kids master their basic math facts. (I love the fact that it is ad free!!)It is very easy to use and is set up in such a way that your students can practice at school as well as at home! The site has separate logins for school/home and videos  to explain how the site works for both parents and teachers.  Entering your class takes only a few minutes and is as simple as entering your students' first names, the site will then assign your students a pin number for logging in. Xtramath has also done the legwork for you by preparing a personalized form letter for each of your students with an enrollment code that parents use to set up their home account. The developer even has his email on the note so that if parents have issues, they will contact him directly and not you.  I added my son to my class list so that I could experience the site as both a teacher and a parent and have found it easy to use from both viewpoints.

From the parent viewpoint, I am able to see which facts my son knew and didn't know.  The fact table is color coded to show which fact he answered quickly (within 3 seconds), which he answered correctly but took too long (4-10 seconds), and which he didn't know (either got wrong or ran out of time). It also tracks their progress over time, something that I'm excited to see. We've only been using it for 3 days.
My son, being a digital native, is pretty excited about using the computer to help him learn his facts versus using his flashcards or paper pencil practice. The practice sessions are short- about 15 problems.  He was excited engaged enough to want to do 2 sessions, after that it told him that he did a good job and to come back tomorrow. When he finished each session it also gave him a color coded table so that he could see how many problems he knew quickly (smiley face), which ones he knew but took a little extra time (green check mark), which ones he took too long on, and which ones he got wrong (red x). This was very eye opening for him and motivating as well.

From the teacher perspective I think I love it all the more! Students come to the computer, do their practice, and when done the site will randomly pick the next student for that child to tap. If they are busy or absent there is a button that they click and the computer will pick a new student. There is also a code you can enter if you have more than one computer to sync them so that each student will only get picked one time despite using more than one computer.
The other awesome thing I love is that I have access to all of my students' progress records from both school AND home. It is a great way to watch each kiddos progress. The reports are easy to read and easy to access as well.

I am excited to see what this site will do for my kids over the course of a few weeks. So far, my son has asked to get on every day this week. Even if you don't utilize the at home portion of this site, I think the reports will be extremely helpful to show progress or lack of progress to parents. I am also hoping that it will be beneficial for RTI meetings as well for my struggling kiddos.
There's so much more I could tell you but the site will do a better job of walking you through the features and benefits. If you try it out, let me know what you think. I'm sure I'll be chatting about this site again once we've been using it for a bit of time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Model Technology Classroom!

WoW!!    It's official!!!!
I am beyond excited about an opportunity that I and my coteaching partner will be taking part in next year. Our district sent out an email about a month ago looking for classrooms that would be interested in applying to be a model technology classroom next year. My inclusion partner and I decided to have a go at the application and hoped for the best as the questions were very thought provoking and in depth.
Well...we found out last week that we were chosen to be the primary level model classroom for next year!!! I am still in disbelief and at the same time just reeling in thoughts for how I want to structure my room and my curriculum for next year.
We will be working to increase our use of 21st century learning skills as well as embedding technology and our new ITLS standards into the curriculum. We will be utilizing iPod touches, iPads, netbooks, digital cameras, and flip videos in addition to our SMARTboard. I am so excited to give 1st graders this opportunity as I sometimes think that we take for granted what the younger kiddos can do and accomplish. I am sooo looking forward to helping the youngest of learners to be tech savvy, problem solving, collaborative learners! This is going to be a wonderful learning experience for myself, my teaching partner, and our students. Let the journey begin!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A wee bit of Irish fun..

I love St. Patrick's Day~ maybe it's that little bit of Scotch-Irish in me that makes me love a wee bit of fun?! I also love the fact that 1st graders fall for the shenanigans hook,line, and sinker! Last week I read the story, The Luckiest Leprechaun: A Tail-Wagging Tale of Friendship. As we were reading the last page, a little note from Louie the Leprechaun fell to the floor. Louie mentioned that he had been looking for his gold in our classroom and, well, the rest is history. Each day, Louie has been doing something in our classroom: leaving a book, a message on the SMARTboard, a writing project, etc. Today in his frustration of not being able to find his gold, he asked the kids where they would hide their gold if they were leprechauns. He then left special paper and a project for them to display their answers on. He told us he'd be back tonight to see their ideas. In the meantime, Louie found out how to access our classroom blog and was a bit of a sheister when he took our 3D shape hunt pictures and put them into a Smilebox album for us, complete with little sayings on each slide. The kids were pumped about that as they could hear the Irish music playing in the hallway when they came in from recess. ( I have no idea how Louie managed that while we were gone to recess- wink, wink) Tonight I also noticed that he went on the blog and created a Voki- hmmm... a tech savvy leprechaun, what do you know!?!

Tomorrow he is leaving us a graph (Do you believe in leprechauns?) another note, and a money game to play during math game tub time. Sure glad that he's been a nice leprechaun, even if he has been sneaky. I hope he won't be upset when the kids bring their leprechaun traps to school tomorrow to try and catch him. The traps are an at home project that I encourage families to take part in each year. When the kiddos bring them in, they tell us about how they built their traps and how they work. I'll post some pics of their creations later this week.
Although we have a lot of fun with all of the tom-foolery, I've worked hard over the years to embed the silliness into our curriculum so that learning time isn't lost on fluff- hence the writing project complete with an Irish editor's checklist, a graph and money game for math, notes on the SMARTboard which we use as part of our shared reading and then respond back as part of our interactive writing, the many books he leaves for read alouds and guided reading, and the crazy note he leaves us in the computer lab which takes us to some fun St. Patrick's Day sites.  All of this is spread out a little at a time over the course of the week leading up to St. Patrick's Day. The excitement that is brewing in my class right now is exciting, a great way to spice up the winter doldrums!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


This week I introduced my first graders to Vokis.
Voki is a free service that allows you to create personalized speaking avatars and use them on your blog, profile, and in email messages.

On day 1, I started by doing a whole group intro on my SMARTboard. I showed them how to get to the site- I'm a big believer in showing the kids how to get to sites by actually typing the addresses when appropriate (appropriate being when the addresses aren't too long or complicated) We then walked through the many different options of customizing your Voki. We learned how to pick a character, how to change the hair, clothing, and bling. We then learned how to tweak our characters. They thought this was an absolute hoot, especially when we enlarged all of the options. At this point, I took them into the computer lab where they all typed the address and then explored and created various Vokis. This entire lesson took us 30 minutes.

On day 2 (we go to the computer lab twice a week for 30 minutes each time) we quickly reviewed what we had learned on day 1. I then showed them how to change the background and how to make their Voki talk. We used the typing option. To make it quick and easy, I had the kids type in, "My name is..."  Some names did not come through correctly and so I worked with the students to spell their names phonetically which they thought was interesting. This lesson also took a total of 30 minutes.

Now that my students know how to navigate the site I plan to embed it into a meaningful part of our learning. One of the ideas I have, is for my students to create a Voki that to look like them and to have their Voki share one fact that they learned about a topic that we are studying. We'll then embed these onto our blog for parents to see. Another idea I have is for students to share text to self connections from books that they have read. Obviously, typing this length of information would be difficult for a 1st grader so I plan to have them record their message either by phone or microphone which will also allow their Voki to have their voice. I used the phone option for my Voki above and it was super easy. Doing these from school I plan to use my cell phone so I won't incur long distance phone charges.

Voki has also released their Voki for Education site with a Teacher's Corner message board where you can get your questions answered, look for and share your ideas, and get tips and tricks. They also have a lesson plan database where you can search for lessons by grade and subject.

Does anyone have any other great ideas for incorporating Vokis into early primary curriculum?

Monday, March 7, 2011

3D Shape Hunt

Our 3D shape hunt using digital cameras today went very well.  We started our lesson with a quick review of the names and characteristics of 3D shapes as well as digital camera etiquette. Students were then given a list of shapes to find and a digital camera to record their investigations. 
Student taking a picture of a Coke can as an
example of a cylinder. Love it!! Yes, I am a Coke-aholic.
There's always one, if not two on my desk.  :-)

 (Organizational side note: as I gave each group their camera, I took a picture of them so I would know which group had each camera when I downloaded the pictures).

It was amazing to see the variety of items that each group found that fit the characteristics of our shapes. To be honest, I was a little leary of how this would turn out as I wanted it to be purposeful, not a waste of our learning time, and not just about using the cameras. In the end I can honestly say I will do it again next year but with a few tweaks. It was a great way to check for understanding and for kids to collaborate and work together.  For several of my children it was also a great activity to practice their social skills. It was easy to see which kiddos had a good grasp of the concepts and which needed that little extra bit of help. Once I download the pictures, I plan to print them off, have the groups label their objects and then turn it into a class shape booklet.

Student taking a picture of our globe as an example of a sphere.
Edited to add:
I had a hard time deciding exactly how to use all of our pictures but in the end, Louie, our leprechaun took care of the issue for me. He put most of the pictures into a Smilebox slideshow and uploaded it to our blog. The kids got a kick out of seeing their pics and naming the shapes but were even more enamored by the fact that Louie was to blame!! Click here to see Louie's slideshow of  our 3D shapes.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks writing, rewriting, tweaking, and reflecting on my philosophy of education for a project. It's been awhile since I've really sat down and dug into my philosophy and so it felt good to dig into it. It made me realize how much my core philosophies have stayed the same over the years but how much other aspects have changed with the times (mainly tech integration and 21st century learning skills and how they benefit kids). When it was done, I pasted it into Wordle to see what main pieces popped and to my delight, my main values were right at the forefront. I love Wordle and the visual twist it puts upon writing.
On a totally different front, funny story from school today which is unrelated to technology. As I was finishing up with a mini lesson on choosing good fit books with my class I had made a comment to one of my little cherubs that he needed to have his "brain in the group". He was totally baffled by how I knew he wasn't paying attention as my back was turned, so I explained to him that I have eyes in the back of my head. Well, as we dispersed to start our book shopping for the week, one of my little girls came up to me and ever so seriously said to me, "Mrs. Malchow, when I'm an adult will I have eyes in the back of my head?"  Absolutely priceless!!
Have a fantastic weekend!!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Dr. Seuss went tech this week. This week our school had a door decorating contest for Dr. Seuss' birthday. Our door was inspired by the story, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut. After reading the story, students were shown how to use digital cameras (the timing for this was perfect as I have several projects in the coming weeks that will integrate camera usage). Students then worked in groups of three to take digital pictures of each other- the hitch was, students shut their eyes for their picture.  The collaboration and problem solving skills that were exhibited by each group were fantastic and their pictures turned out silly and wonderful. Once the pictures were printed, students cut out their head shot, colored a Dr. Seuss hat and glued it to their picture. They then created a Dr. Seuss book to attach to their project so it looked as if they were reading. Next year, I'm planning to read Dr. Seuss books well in advance of the project so that the kids can choose their personal favorite for their book and also write about why it is their favorite. Unfortunately, we just ran out of time for that piece this year.
Next week as we wrap up our unit on 3D shapes, we will use the digital cameras to go on a 3D shape hunt. Students will work in groups of 3 to find and photograph real life examples of cones, pyramids, spheres, etc. Once the pics are downloaded, cooperative groups will write about their pics and create a book that they will share with the class. I'm still debating if we will do our books digitally or on paper due to time constraints.
How about you? Anyone have any other great lessons that they incorporate digital cameras into? Would love to hear from you!