Wednesday, September 28, 2011


About half my class had a really rough time during art yesterday. So for the first part of indoor recess those little munchkins joined me on the carpet to write apology notes to the art teacher.

That amount of writing is a bit much to ask of beginning first graders but I felt it was important for them to do it. So I wrote Dear Ms. H on the easel for them and told them I would write any words they needed for their letters. But I didn't tell them what to write. (I did refuse to write I, for, am, and such high frequency words but talked with them as they listened to the sounds. Spelling wasn't my biggest concern here.)

I was thrilled with the words they asked me to write. There were even more after I took this picture. I felt they had really thought about what to say.

They reached a high bar with this one. It was a quick reminder to keep the bar high.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blog Tour and Free Book - Next Friday

As I mentioned previously I will be a stop on an upcoming blog tour. The book, Math Exchanges, was written by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind and published by Stenhouse.

I'm the final stop on the tour. Kassia will be answering questions at Catching Readers Before They Fall with Pat Johnson and Katie Keier on October 3rd. She will be at Our Camp Read-A-Lot with Laura Komos on October 4th. Then on October 5th she'll be with Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine. Finally, she'll join me on October 6th. I mention these other blogs not only because they are wonderful, although they certainly are, but also because a copy of Math Exchanges will be given away at each stop on the tour. (If you already have a copy of this book Stenhouse will send you any other Stenhouse book.)

I'm greatly enjoying this book and revising my thinking about how I will teach math this year. It's got me really excited about possibilities for meeting students' individual needs and knowing what they each know. I feel there aren't enough thoughtful books about math and that is especially true when thinking of books about math and young children. I'm asking our librarian to order copies of this for our professional library and I will be recommending it or specific pieces of it to colleagues frequently.

If you have any questions for Kassia about the book or about math and young children, leave a comment and I'll pass them on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I haven't read a Pippi Longstocking book in a very long time, but this kid is just like I think of Pippi being. That may be amazingly inaccurate as to the Pippi in the books, but she makes me happy the way I think Pippi would.

I had her older sister a few years ago and adored her. I was thrilled to see this little one on my class list. She's nothing like her big sister! I'm amazed at how different siblings can be. (As I have two daughters who are quite different this shouldn't be so shocking.) That said, I adore her just as much as her sister.

She's full of energy and always on the move. She struggles to sit still but she's eager to learn and be a part of everything. Pippi is almost always smiling or laughing. In fact, in twelve days of school I don't think I've seen her upset once. She gets along with all the kids and is thrilled to see her teachers from last year.

Pippi loves to talk. She wants to share about everything in her life and she loves to hear about others' lives. When she is in a leadership role she is totally on. There is a ton of potential in this little one.

FableVision Fun

FableVision is Peter H. Reynolds' company (well his and many others, most notably his twin brother Paul). They do a ton of things, including educational software and animation. I had the chance two summers ago to visit their headquarters, above the Boston Children's Museum and right on the water. It was an amazing experience.

FableVision has a program, FableVision Ambassadors, in which I participate. So far I haven't done a very good job with this but I have high hopes and grand plans for this year. I truly love the software FableVision creates, especially Animationish. There is now a site about all of the FableVision ambassadors across the country and in Canada. Check it out to see if there is an ambassador near you or to become an ambassador yourself!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ExploreOrrs' Class Blog

I'm finally getting rolling on our class blog again. I shared it with parents at Back to School Night last week so I really should be updating it regularly. I've taken plenty of pictures in the first few weeks. I really have no excuse for not being on top of this.

I hope to turn over the writing duties to the students as soon as possible. My plan is to let them pick the pictures and compose the text while I type it. As soon as our free choice routines are well established we can get moving on it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This little guy is a constant surprise to me, in the best way possible. He comes out with the most wonderful answers so often. His smile is constant and he is excited about everything we do.

He's classic six-year-old boy in many ways. He goes non-stop at recess and is engaged in free choice play time full on. He gets along with everyone, students and teachers alike.

I've named him Harold after Harold and the Purple Crayon. He seems to have the same unlimited faith in everything and fascination with the world.

I anticipate wanting to remember a lot of quotes from Harold throughout the year. Here's hoping I manage to write them down and hold on tight.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get the Year Going with History & Social Studies

I know the year is well under way in most areas, but if you are looking for ways to get your kids rolling with history and social studies, my newest National History Education Clearinghouse post is up on just that topic.


This little friend, with the fabulous smile, joined our class a week into the year. His first year of schooling, last year, was done in another country so I'm sure this has been a huge adjustment for him. He was born in the US and lived here for the first few years but lived last year with family in his parents' home country.

I've chosen George as his name here because he reminds me of Curious George. He is always looking around, taking everything in. He opens things, touches things, checks everything out carefully.

He wants to be doing the right thing all the time. He asks me frequently if he is doing well. He doesn't seem worried about it, just wants to confirm that he's on the right track. So far I haven't done a very good job of harnessing his curiosity and eagerness to do well. These are fabulous qualities in a kid.

He has adjusted so well to a new classroom and a bunch of new kids. He seems to like everyone and they enjoy having him around. Given what a difference this must be from what he has known I am utterly impressed with his ability to become a part of the group so quickly.

I expect George to be a natural leader in our wonderings this year. He has much to teach his friends about how to learn and much to teach me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dot Day!

Last Thursday was Dot Day. I'm a bit late in writing about it. We did have a blast.

We used Big Screen Books to read The Dot several times leading up to the day. When the day finally arrived we made dots in several ways.

First, we created faux tie-dye dots. I cut up white t-shirts so that each student could create at least five dots. They attached their dot to a cup with a rubber band and drew dots on it with sharpies. Then they used a dropper to put rubbing alcohol on it. Slowly the rubbing alcohol bleeds the colors on the top. It makes for lovely dots.

In honor of Peter H. Reynolds we also water painted some dots.

In the afternoon we stamped some dots. We used the eraser end of pencils to stamp dots in math. Each student had a paper with four numbers on it (between 3 and 25) and they stamped that many dots. When they finished they were able to stamp pictures with the erasers.

I hope my students continue to make their mark all year!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


If that picture doesn't make you love this little girl you are crazy. I take pictures of everyone in my class in the first week of school and we use them for a variety of purposes throughout the year (matching pictures to names, creating class books, about the author pages). As the kids come over for the picture some are matter-of-fact, some are shyly hesitant, and some, like this darling, strike a pose. There was no hesitation for this one, she strutted over and planted herself just right. I loved it.

This is one of just a few of my kiddos this year that I sort-of knew from last year. She was across the hall from me and was often in the library before school so we had chatted some. Any kid who chooses to spend their mornings in the library is going to sit well with me.

I'm calling this sweetie Camille, a nickname my parents and sister will understand as it was one they used for me quite frequently as a child.

Camille is the child who said, on the first day of school, "Yea, now the fun's going to start!" She has said that more than once since then. Typically she doesn't really know exactly what is coming but she is excited about it. We can build a lot of learning off that kind of enthusiasm.

Yesterday Camille and I sat down together for a reading assessment. She's right at benchmark for the end of kindergarten/start of first grade. She has some great strategies under her belt and, again, she gets excited about the story. I think I'm going to really enjoy having her in guided reading groups.

Another fabulous thing about this kid is how she thinks. She'll request odd things (chances to go outside at random times, opportunities to play with stuff she brought from home) quite matter-of-factly. While I typically have to say no to her I appreciate that she asks. It suggests a child who doesn't feel too stuck in a routine or structure but is willing to consider all options.

Camille has made me smile more than once every day so far. I can't wait to see what the year holds for us together.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 13, 2001

The past few days have been full of the memories of September 11, 2001. I, too, vividly remember that day. But this day ten years ago is just as clear to me.

I had just started my fourth year of teaching. September 11th was exactly one week into our new school year. September 12th our school district was closed, due to our proximity to Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon.

So, September 13th was the first time my twenty-two fourth graders and I had been together with us all sharing the knowledge of what had happened. I had thought long and hard about how to address these events. I have a book in my classroom, What the World Needs,

and I had planned for us to create our own version of that book. And we did. We read the

book and then brainstormed together. Each student created a page for our book. Some were simple. Some were profound. It was wonderful.

But what I remember most clearly was the beginning of our

day. We were in a trailer that year and, when I greeted my students as they entered, more than one said to me, "Ms. Orr, you lied to us."

I did. On Tuesday I had not been truthful to them when I explained why we had to leave our trailer and spend the day in a first grade classroom inside the building. I told them nothing of the events that were unfolding just a few miles away at the Pentagon. The fears shared by all the adults in the building were not shared with them. I made excuses for why so many parents were coming to pick up their kids. I lied about why we had indoor recess on a stunning day. They were right, I had lied to them.

We sat down for our morning meeting and I explained to them why I had lied. Both because that is what I had been told to do by our principals and by our superintendent and because I had no words to explain what was happening. I opened up our discussion to them. They talked about what they had seen on TV, what they had overheard, and what their families had told them. The most heartbreaking moment came when one boy, a Sikh, looked me right in the eye and said with great sorrow, "My people did this." I nearly choked and explained to him that I did not believe that to be true. No one like him was involved in this terrible thing.

Those students are nineteen years old now. I will never forget them. They give me hope.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on Writing

During the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute back in July I, obviously, spent a lot of time thinking about writing. One of my goals at the moment is to look back at my journal from that month and delve more deeply into some of those ideas.

Looking there, I see two things that I wrote separately that seem very connected.
  1. We ask kids to write about their lives. In our first grade classroom we highly encourage students to write stories of things that happened to them. The reasoning is that they have plenty of knowledge about things in their lives and therefore, this is a way into writing. However, our discussions this summer led me to wonder if students, especially as young as mine are, really have the perspective to write well about their own lives and experiences. The ability to write about something that has happened to you requires that you step back and look at it more closely and from a new perspective. Maybe young students aren't really ready to do that.
  2. There are many types of writing. Spending time with middle school and high school English teachers made me realize that we teach only a limited few types of writing. English teachers, not surprisingly, teach the types of writing they do in their field. However people in all fields; science, history, math, medicine, anthropology, are writers. They write, often in ways that differ greatly from those in English classes. We need to be offering students the opportunity to write in a wider range of texts.
This year I will strive to share a wider range of writing with my students and offer them the opportunity to try new types. Last year we talked so much about their 'wonders' but we never truly connected that to their writing and reading. I think doing so will open up new types of writing quite naturally.

I will work to encourage their writing in whatever style, type, genre they are interested in pursuing. That's what I would want as a writer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

International Rock Flipping Day

I learned from my good friend, Science Goddess, that today is International Rock Flipping Day. She clearly had a good time with it!

Due to the astounding amounts of rain we had here over the last week my girls and I had just been down to the creek that runs right behind our house on Friday. It was gushing then. Now it's back to being a gentle flow already. We did notice there were a bunch of rocks so it seemed like the prefect spot for our adventures today.

I told the girls about the day and that we were going down to the creek to flip some rocks. They were thrilled. Clearly they are as geeky as their parents.

Neither one was a bit bothered by getting wet, muddy, or slimy. The little one is constantly in a dress and I was a bit concerned. But due to her four-year-old lack of coordination she got the wettest and dirtiest and was never bothered a bit. She also attempted to flip many rocks that were bigger than her head. She's determined.
The older one was exceptionally eager. Typical to her, she headed off, flipped rock after rock and plowed on. I'm sure we missed many fun little critters because she doesn't slow down a bit!

We found a few worm-like creatures and a beetle.

Aside from getting an average of three mosquito bites per minute of our adventure it was fabulous. By the way, those bug bites are not spread out among the three of us. Apparently I am the tastiest one in the bunch.

There is a wonderful flickr group for International Rock Flipping Day as well.

Friday, September 09, 2011

New Professional Book: Math Exchanges

I'm very excited about a new book, written by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, Math Exchanges: Guiding Your Mathematicians in Small-Group Meetings. I have read countless books in the last ten years on reading and writing, but have not found nearly the breadth and depth when it comes to math. So, I'm thrilled by this book.

Kassia has been a math coach (at a school not too far from me) for the past several years. She taught third and fourth graders and is, this year, teaching kindergartners. I have such respect for full-time teachers who manage to write books at the same time. I also read those books with an intense sense of belief because I know the author has lived what they are writing.

Stenhouse and Kassia have a blog tour planned to share about Math Exchanges. She will be stopping here on Thursday, October 6th. If you have any questions about this book, let me know.

Also, Kassia continues to write about her experiences teaching, and especially teaching math, at her blog.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Self Portraits - Six Year Old Style

We sure did have some fun today! After exploring with these thinkblocks yesterday we really dug in with them this afternoon. (I learned my lesson about making sure we explore.)

Every year I have my kids draw a picture of their face. We looked at each others' faces to notice the parts and listed what we found: cheeks, eyebrows, chin, neck, nose, mouth, hair, eyes, and ears. Then we added smaller blocks as we noticed parts of those parts; lips and teeth in the mouth for example. Their list became quite extensive.

Students headed off with paper and mirrors. They looked at themselves and drew what they saw. If you look closely at the picture below you can see eyebrows, nostrils, and the bridge of his nose.

Six year olds never cease to amaze me (something I assume I share with most first grade teachers).

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Snapshots from the First Day of First Grade

  • My shock at what first graders are like at the beginning of the year. It took the first hour for me to get over that and convince myself that these kids will be just as quick, sharp, and independent as last year's group by the end of the year.
  • "Now the fun's going to start!" said as we got going on indoor recess (which is just a chance to draw and color).
  • Six year olds staggering in under the immense weight of an absurd amount of school supplies.
  • Eighteen first graders rushing around sorting said supplies and helping each other out.
  • Being asked, countless times, "What's that?" about just about anything in the classroom.
  • Seeing kids choose different places to sit all the time as they tested out the various tables and spaces in our classroom.
  • The difficulty remembering where we stop as we walk down the hall - we did it on the third try!
  • A few kids who don't know their last names (made finding them on the lunch number list of all first graders a bit challenging).
  • Complete and utter, sheer exhaustion at the end of the day. I mean fall down, totally done kind of tired. And we'll do it all again tomorrow!

Monday, September 05, 2011

New (School) Year Resolution

Inevitably I start every school year with a bunch of resolutions. Very rarely do any of them manage to last past the end of September.

So, this year, I'm starting with just one. For the first few weeks of school I'm going to blog about a different student* everyday. I will be writing, for myself, about all of the positive qualities I'm seeing in each student.

My kids are just six when they come to me and they are full of excitement, energy, and potential. Sadly, as the year goes on I often lose sight of that and get easily frustrated by their sixness. Focusing on all the positives in the first few weeks of school will help me see them all in the right light and be something I can refer back to later in the year when I need a reminder.

At this moment (just fifteen hours before the first day of school begins) I have nineteen students. I plan to write about my students on school days. I want them to be fresh in my mind when I write. So it should take me the first four weeks of school to write about each and every one.

I think it will also be interesting to look back in the last month of the school year and compare my thoughts about these kiddos.

*I will not use their real names, of course. In fact, it will be fascinating, to me at least, to see if the nicknames I choose for them when I have known them for such a brief period of time still seem fitting in a few months.

Image from opopododo's flickr stream:

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Welcome to My Room - Organization

First graders don't need a ton of stuff - thankfully. We share all our materials, a fact that is made clear on the supply list that goes home in the hopes that parents will buy the basic folders, glue sticks, scissors, and things rather than the ones with Hannah Montana or Cars 2 on them.

My students write only with pens so I have several cups full of those available. The black buckets here will hold crayons, scissors, and glue. The boxes hold their writing folders, handwriting books, agendas, and homework folders.

All of these things are accessible to them whenever they want them. I do keep the markers and colored pencils in reserve for special occasions. Mostly because I hate sharpening pencils and having a ton of markers with no lids.

I work with several primary teachers who don't have a desk.
I find that amazing and I have immense respect for them. However, I also find it impossible for me. I'm just not organized enough for it. There is an intern working in my room for this fall (and likely in the spring) so I have two desks. At the moment we've got them facing each other (they're behind all this stuff near the orange bulletin board) but I'm not sure I'll leave them that way. My goal is to keep all my junk piled back behind these drawers and to keep that area neat. Hopefully that way the room looks neater in spite of my tendency towards chaos. Of course, right now that's not happening.

I'm lucky to have a projector, interactive white board, and document camera in my classroom. This year we got nifty carts for all that equipment. Behind the cart are the two teacher desks and the tall bookcase full of my professional books and a bunch of kids' books I keep for reading aloud. Everything around my carpet is on wheels this year. That made setting it up pretty darn easy but I'm concerned it may mean it all moves around a lot once the kids get at it.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Welcome to My Room - Grab a Seat

One of the first things people often notice when they enter my room is that there are no nametags on tables. My students don't have assigned seats as is typically true.

I have three large tables, tables like you might see in any elementary classroom. However, they are at three different heights. One is almost as tall as some of my students. At that table they can stand to work. In the past I've often had students push their chair back from themselves and lean over the table to write or draw. Then the chair is in the way. This makes it more comfortable if they wish to stand and means I'm not tripping over chairs all around the room.

Another table is more traditional. It's at a height that makes it possible for the kids to sit at it in chairs. I keep it in my room partly as one place for a teacher to meet with a guided reading group. Otherwise I might have gotten rid of it by now.

The last large table has part of the legs removed and sits low to the ground on a carpet. Kids sit on the floor at this table. It has been astoundingly popular in past years.

Those three tables would not be enough space for all of my students so I have several little tables. One was given to me by our librarian a couple of years ago when she was getting rid of it. My students loved having a table just for one or two kids at a time. So I began gathering others. One came out of my daughters' playroom when we got a new one. One is from Ikea and one is from woot. One I got off of freecycle. Some have a chair or two at them, one has a couple of stools, and one has nothing. I've found that the kids will move chairs and stools around to fit their needs at any given time.

It'll be interesting to see which spots this year's kids prefer.