read alouds

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Are STEAM Challenges really worth the time?

 Are STEAM Challenges really worth the time? 

This is a question I've asked when I see a STEAM activity or challenge. I'll be honest. I've heard of them and the activities look fun but how am I supposed to do that and teach my curriculum? Am I right?

Let's take a look at a simple STEAM Challenge that most of us have seen before:

Use foil to make a boat that can hold money.

It seems a little pointless right? Like, okay-neat, then what? In a nutshell, here's why it's actually a really purposeful activity to use in the classroom.

To begin an activity like this, you start by first doing a see, think and wonder.

Students should look at the boat and tell what they see. For example, they see it has sides and a floor.
Students should think about why the boat has these parts.
Then, they can begin to wonder about things like why does a boat have these parts and how does it help the boat?

This skill is an important skill to develop critical thinking. We ask kids to critically think about the text they read and the math problems they solve all of the time. It's a muscle that needs strengthened and this is a fun way to engage them in that act.

A see, think, wonder can be completed as an individual task first and then students can share their thoughts as a small or large group. You can also do think, see, wonders using only conversation and no individual think time.

After students practice developing their critical thinking skills you can give them their materials and their challenge -or- you can model how to create the boat using foil. I think all of this depends on the age and abilities of the kids you're teaching.

Once, students create their boat then they get to test it out! This is where a little Growth Mindset Practice comes in! I like to start having these conversations at the beginning of the school year but you can start ANYTIME!

As students create their boat, they will get the opportunity to TEST it out. They will identify if their design works or not. Chances are it will have a flaw, which is great! Kids can then look at it and think things like, "What isn't working? What do I need to add?" More practice with those critical thinking skills. 

If students get it right away, great! Now, let's add a little weight. Give students coins or another manipulative to set inside their boat. How much weight can their boat hold? Does it sink when weight is added? Why? If it works again, amazing! Now let's see if we can design a boat that's in a different shape. Will the boat still float? Will it be better?

The thought processes that are involved in STEM Challenges are invaluable. 

To incorporate content into this challenge students can:
  • Read a book about how boats work
  • Write about their stem process (How to writing)
  • Write a story about someone who spent a day in their boat.
  • Weigh the items in their boat
  • Compare the number of items in classmates boats
  • Identify a problem they were having and how they found a solution - or tried to find a solution
  • Draw a picture and label

Hey, Little Ant! Letter A Activities

I wanted to pop in to share a fun activity with you that I made for my children (ages 4 and 2). We began doing a little more intentional learning each day with a learning board that I put in their playroom. Then, each day we do some sort of math or letter activity.

During letter A week, we read the book "Hey, Little Ant!"

My son was super interested in this story. It made him think hard about squishing those ants. :)
The first activity is the letter a squish activity. All you need to do is print off the shoes that you see above and cut them out. When cutting them out you will want to leave strips of paper on each side. You'll wrap them around to create a place for kids to place their fingers. They wear the shoes on their hands like you see in my photo below.

Once the shoes are created, you'll cut out the letter cards to create little tents. Then, it's time to squish! I told Ezra (my son) just to squish the letter A. He had a blast! He wanted more! :)

When the letter squishing was finished, the kids did activities using dabbers.

My two year old did the dabber activity with the large letter A. My four year old did the activity with multiple ants. He squished only the ones with the letter A.

This activity was one we did at the end of the week.
On the first day that we learned about the letter A, the kids worked on their coloring with an ant.

On a different day they also did a ripped paper apple. The kids were given a red piece of construction paper and they ripped it into small pieces. They glued the ripped pieces of paper inside the apple.

Our last letter A activity that I did with the kids was an astronaut craft. You can find the astronaut pieces that you need here: Glued to My Crafts

We used popsicle sticks to make the letter a. Then, the kids colored and cut out their astronaut helmet. I cut out little gloves and boots for their astronauts. They glued these on too. Afterwards, they wanted to do more. We made "space." We used foil for stars! 

If you're interested in grabbing these letter A activities, you can get them by clicking the picture below!

If you're looking for more letter practice, check out the blog post below.

Letter Review and Handwriting Practice

The beginning of first grade is so special. It's also a time when we have to get the ball rolling. There is so much to teach in first grade, but there is a lot to review too! At the beginning of first grade, I always notice that there are students that need a little refresher on a few important skills:

1. Letter formation

2. Letter identification

3. Letter sounds

4. Simple sentence structure

5.... building stamina

6. Finger SPACES!

I created a handwriting journal that covers all 6 of those concepts. In about 25 minutes a day, for 26 days, you are able to hit multiple areas with the ideas I am going to outline below.

I created the Handwriting Practice journal to have students practice their handwriting. I added sentences to it to learn about sentence structure too.  When I began using this resource in my classroom, it quickly dawned on me that I can use this precious time to review letter identification and letter sounds. I used the Handwriting Practice journal to do all of that.

I wanted to give you a glimpse into how I cover all 5 concepts in just 20 minutes. Here is how my lessons go:

1. Introduce the letter for the day. I write the letter in the middle of a blank piece of colorful paper. We review the sound. Then, we come up with words that begin with that letter. I write the words on the paper. We try to take up as much space as possible. This pages are hung up on our classroom walls and stay there for the year. The students refer to them ALL of the time. Student made word walls for the win!

2. I model the formation of the letter using a dry erase sleeve and the traceable a large letter that is included in the product. After I model it, a student comes up and does it in front of the class. They LOVE this. 

3. I present 4-5 scrambled words that when unscrambled create a sentence. We identify the word that begins with a capital and we identify the punctuation in the sentence. We place those words in their correct spots. We read the words and then place the other scrambled words in their correct places. The students read the sentence. 

4. We discuss the meaning of the sentence (simple comprehension). We draw a picture on the whiteboard of the sentence trying to include a setting and the characters. I model & eventually just remind how to write the sentence using finger spaces. I also tell students that when they are practicing their letters, to also use finger spaces. Then, I don't have to give them a certain "number" of letters to write.

4. We review what we just learned and then students begin to independently work on their handwriting page. I set my timer for 15 minutes and encourage them to work the whole time. This is where students work on their working stamina. At the beginning, 15 minutes is a little long, so we take brain breaks after about 5-7 minutes.

That's how simple it is to fit ALL of those concepts in, in about 20-25 minutes. Each day is predictable and effective. This is one of my favorite things to use at the beginning of the year. All of these skills need repetition and this is SO practical and effective.

If you're interested in this file, click below!

If you want FREE word wall printables with pictures to use to review letter sounds with your students, click the picture below!