Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Center Rotations

Hello everyone!
My name is Stacey Lynch and I’ve been teaching for thirteen years now.  For several years I was good about meeting with my reading groups, but not so good with center rotations.

Then I entered the “Pinterest and TPT” world and my teaching life completely changed! 

I was able to view what other wonderful educators were doing for their center rotations.  Taking bits and pieces from what I read, I put together a well-run and successful reading rotation schedule for my first graders! 

Center 1: Meet with me
Center 2: Seat work
Center 3: Fun center
Center 4: Meet with co-teacher
Center 5: Journal writing

Let’s break this down!

Center 1:  Meet with me
We do a number of activities when they meet with me.  We read books on their level of course, but the other activities depend on the needs of the particular group.  Sometimes we’ll do regular reading / writing activities, a Science or Social Studies activity, phonics or sight word activities, some of their unfinished work, etc...  I’ll even teach them some of the center games they will have access to.

It took me some time to remember that it’s okay if I don’t accomplish everything I wanted to with my groups that day.  There is always the next day! I’d rather take my time teaching / helping them with the concept so they understand it instead of rushing through and have them not understand.  There are still times I have to remind myself of this.

Center 2: Seat Work:
Generally, this is reserved for chunk work and sight word work.  There are occasions where they will also start / finish assignments related to what they did when they met with me.

Center 3: Fun Center:
Fun center changes every day! 

Mondays:  TPT center and / or computer center – I have found incredibly wonderful language arts related centers on TPT!  I use MANY of them for this center - games related to sight words, contractions, compound words, forming sentences, and much, much more! 

Sometimes I will have computer center.  The problem is I only have one student computer.  In the past I’ve had the students use that computer, my school tablet, and a laptop from the media center for this rotation.  They love it!

Tuesdays:  Listening center –Listening centers should be utilized more, especially in the younger grades.  Not only is it important for students to be read to, they really enjoy it!

My very first Donors Choose project was to request books on cd for my listening center.  I made sure to get a variety of books – classic favorites, seasonal, and biographies. I am so grateful that this was funded!  

My students look forward to listening to and following along with the stories.  After listening to the story, they complete a short assignment, usually writing about the story elements, writing their favorite part, or listing some facts from the book.

Wednesdays: Puzzle center – I spent three summers as part of an organization that tutors upcoming third graders who are struggling with reading.  There were several parts to their day.  (Half day.)  One of those parts was puzzle center.  My boss talked about how important puzzles are since it helps with both visual and organizational skills, along with developing hand-eye coordination.  She always taught students how to separate the pieces – outside pieces vs inside pieces.  She wanted the students to put together the border first, and then focus on the inside.

I have carried this with me into my own classroom.  My students LOVE putting the puzzles together!  As an added bonus, they learn how to COLLABORATE!

Thursdays:  Same as Monday.

Fridays: Art center – Kids need time to be kids!  They need time to be creative! They do what they want to do *as long as they are on task and they are safe!*  I have a bin full of paper that students can use for art center.  They can draw, cut, glue, fold, color, etc…They bring their supplies over and have a BLAST!  Every once in a while, I will put out a template for them to work on, but for the most part, it’s a free for all!

Center 4: Meet with my co-teacher:
I am incredibly lucky to have an administration that believes in the power of co-teaching.  The ESOL teachers, Academic Support Specialists, Reading Specialist, and many of the paraeducators, plug into our classroom for an hour or two each day. 

Depending on who my co-teacher is, I’ve had them do different things when they meet with their groups.  I’ve given some a list of indicators we cover each week / marking period and they use that to guide their instruction.  I had one co-teacher a few years ago who is a science geek and therefore mainly focused on science.  Another year, my co-teacher worked on sight words, blends, reading comprehension, and putting words together. This past year, my co-teacher focused on Words Their Way.

Center 5:  Journal writing:
My students write every day.  I start off the year with them copying words into their journals:  color words, number words, seasonal words, etc…When printing out their lists, I use the font that has the lines on it so the students can see where their letters should go.  For my “fast finishers,” I have them illustrate those words.

After a few weeks of writing those words, I’ll give them some sentence starters.  “My favorite color is….. I like it because…….”  I include a word bank for them and pictures for the words when possible.

Following that is a general topic.  Write about what you did over the weekend.  OR Imagine we could go on a field trip anywhere.  Where would you want to go?  What would you want to do?  Why would you want to go there?  I try to have a word bank when possible.

For each level of “journaling,” I have reminders:
1.  Start your sentence with a capital letter.
2.  End your sentence with a period.
3.  Leave a finger space in between your words.
4.  You must have at least 5 sentences.  ** (This one changes again, depending on the topic and what my writers are capable of.*)

I’ve been known to throw in other reminders and I always go over the reminders with them before we start our rotations.

Some people ask me why I have journal writing as my last center.  It’s not really my last center, it’s just the last center they go to before meeting with me. :-)  When it’s time to switch, they bring their journal with them to my table and we take a few minutes to go over their writing. 

What about reading center?   
While reading center is not one of my regular rotations, I use it when 1) My co-teacher might have been pulled for the morning.   2) I’m giving them a break from writing center.  3) I will use this in lieu of one of the *fun centers.*

That’s it!  My co-teacher and I meet with four groups every day.  I will start the next day with the group I didn’t get to.  Rotating centers every 18-20 minutes allows me to get through four centers each morning.  Between rotations two and three is a brain break...usually a Just Dance Kids video.  My students are able to transition with ease and focus with this setup.

I hope you find this helpful!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Project Based Learning

Quote from here.

Greetings everyone! You have wandered to this post to learn about Project Based Learning 
- also known as PBL. I am so happy you are here!

A quick little blurb about me:  I’ve been teaching since 2005.  I taught 2nd and 3rd grade 
before moving down to 1st in 2009.  I am certified in Early Childhood and Elementary Edu. 
My Master’s degree is in Educational Technology.

My school is a Project Based Learning Focus School.  I am deeply passionate about PBL and 
feel the need to help others learn about and implement PBL in their classrooms.  

This is a long post - I apologize for the length, but it's full of wonderful information! I'm working 
on adding pictures to it.

First of all, to understand project based learning, let’s start off with what PBL is NOT!
Project-Based Learning is not just a project.  A project is something that can be done alone.
Projects are about the product and are teacher directed.  

Projects all have the same end goal for each student and occur after the learning.

For example, imagine you are in my class.  “Ok class, per our curriculum, you just learned 
about the rainforest.  You will each create a diorama of the rainforest. You must include all of 
the different layers of the rainforest. You must make the diorama in a shoebox.  You must have
3 animals per layer. The animals must be drawn to scale. You must have 3 different rainforest 
plants in your diorama.” That is NOT PBL.

So then what is PBL?
PBL requires collaboration and teacher guidance.  We act more as facilitators during PBL.
PBL is about the process.  The real learning occurs THROUGHOUT the project.
PBL is student directed – where the students have voice and choice.  This is a KEY 
COMPONENT to PBL. If the students have voice and choice, they have more buy-in.  
Buy-in leads to higher levels of student engagement. If they are more engaged – they are 
learning more and that is the result we want!
Students will also need to present their project to an authentic audience – other classes in the 
school, their family, staff…

My principal is in the middle of writing a book about PBL.  When I asked her for two things that
I should tell others about PBL, here is what she said.

“PBL is authentic projects that are used as the vehicle for delivering the curriculum.”  
Re-read that quote and let it sink in.

“Students don’t just acquire knowledge, they apply it.  It is integrated throughout the entire 
curriculum.” (As opposed to projects, what usually is limited to one subject area.)

So how did I get started with PBL?
Back when I was in college, I worked part time at a preschool with my mom.  Her preschool 
adopted the project approach method – very similar to PBL. Her students built a mini 
restaurant in their classroom.  Why? They were interested in it. They asked so many 
questions about restaurants. Due to their curiosity, they took a field trip to a nearby restaurant, 
learned how to cook the food there, learned about menus, prices, etc…After their field trip,
those kids got to work!  They created their own menus – complete with prices, curtains for the 
restaurants, etc….They eventually brought in parents and sat them down in the restaurant for 
some food. It was adorable!

Around 8 years ago, the county I work in introduced a new curriculum, based on the Common 
Core Standards.  The curriculum was meant to be an integrated curriculum, meaning what 
we’re doing in Social Studies is being intertwined with Science, Reading, Math, and Writing.  
The curriculum was meant to be full of lesson seeds, - also known as “suggested lessons.” If 
we didn’t like something about the lesson – the book they used, the way they told us to teach it,
etc…we have the freedom to change the lesson and teach it the way we see fit, the way that 
we will best be able to reach our students! My principal took advantage of this opportunity and 
encouraged us to start using PBL in our classroom.

Before I continue, I must add that I am that CRAZY teacher who likes to take risks and GO BIG.
You do not need to be a crazy teacher or go big in order for PBL to work. It is perfectly okay to 
do something small scale!  (Especially if you are still getting your feet wet in the PBL pool.)

I was excited to do PBL with my 1st graders.  It was a bit challenging though to get started.  
One of the things I loved to teach was the rainforest.  We do a young geographers project, 
and focus on Brazil.  One of the books we read is The Great Kapok Tree.

This led to the start of a rainforest project – and this started off as a project!  “Okay, you just 
learned about the rainforest. You all are going to create a mural now of the rainforest.”  There 
wasn’t a lot of voice and choice to this mural. There wasn’t a presentation to anyone – it just 
hung in the hallway.

Over the course of several years, my rainforest project not only became bigger, but I 
implemented more and more PBL.  I started incorporating more student voice and choice – 
Which animals do you want to have in our rainforest? How do you want to make your animal?
Where should you place your animal? We started giving tours to the other classes, to staff, 
and to parents. The students had to decide the most important pieces of information about
each animal and they carefully wrote out their scripts – which they practiced over and over!
All of the rich informational texts they were reading, in conjunction with practicing their lines 
over and over, led to every student jumping at least three reading levels over the course of 
one month!  This includes my lowest student who had been on a reading behavior all year! 
It was an amazing transformation to see!

This is a picture of the rainforest project in its 3rd of 4th year:
Our rainforest was just in the hallway.

Eventually, my room was turned into a rainforest – complete with trees, animals, waterfall,
mist, animal noises – EVERYTHING!  My students gave tours to most of the classes in the 
school, many staff, and parents.

Click here for a video tour of the rainforest.
If you are interested in seeing the different areas of the curriculum where I fit the rainforest 
project, click here. 

After that year, I was rainforested out.  (Yes, I turned that into a verb.)
I didn’t even want to think about doing another rainforest again.  So I turned to my students. I 
gave them a list of things I had done in the past with my students, as well as a list of other 
things I thought we could do.  The most important thing I said to them though was, “What 
other ideas do you have that you think we could do for a big project?” One of my boys raised 
his hand and said, “Let’s make a movie theater,” to which I responded, “Well, I like your idea, 
but we can’t just make a movie theater.  We need something else to go with it. We need 
something more.” So he replied back with, “Let’s make a movie to show in our movie theater.”
After getting several other suggestions from students, we put it to a vote, and the class 
overwhelmingly chose to make a movie.

They were ecstatic!  They wanted to get started right away!  I asked them for ideas on what 
our movie should be about – and you can tell what time of year it was because they all wanted
the movie to be about Halloween.  I looked at my students and said, “I love your enthusiasm 
for this, but our movie can’t be a Halloween movie. By the time this is all said and done, it will 
be May / June – definitely not time for Halloween!  But lucky for you, we have some time to 
figure this out. We will keep thinking and talking.” 

A few weeks later, the students were learning about force and motion.  I was showing them a 
clip from Discovery Education. I paused the clip to compare something they said to hitting a 
hockey puck.  The students looked at me like I had three heads. They mainly know football 
and soccer. So I showed them some clips of my favorite player, TJ Oshie of the Washington 
Capitals.  They were hooked on hockey after that! Every day they asked me, “Can we learn 
about hockey today? Will you teach us about hockey? Please?” I started teaching them 
about the player positions, how to interpret game stats, all about the Washington Capitals 
players, etc….and one day, a student piped up with, “Hey, our movie should be a hockey 
movie!”  Before I could say anything, all of the kids screamed, “YES!!!!!!” Thus began the 
journey of our hockey movie. 

One of the changes my principal wanted to see in terms of our PBL was more authentic math.
With the rainforest project, there was only so much authentic math I could do. This was mainly
height, length, and weight of rainforest animals, how far animals could jump, and height of 
rainforest plants and trees.  With the hockey project, we were OOZING authentic math out of 
our ears! I could go on and on about this so I’m just going to highlight three of the things:

1) Interpreting game stats was ALL authentic math!  I even had the opportunity to teach my
1st graders basic multiplication during this time.  Let me tell you, they could interpret
game stats like nobody’s business! You can read about that

2) Since the students were going to transform a room in the school into a movie theater, we
needed to figure out how many seats we could fit into a room. You can read all about that

, here, and here.

3) The students hit a hockey puck down the hall and measured how far it went using
nonstandard units of measurement.  You can read about that

We realized we were going to need more people in our hockey movie so we teamed up with a 
fourth grade class.  This was the most amazing thing ever! Those fourth graders took my first 
graders under their wings. They developed quite the relationship.  

Note: We did a hockey movie again this year. Once again, the fourth and first graders bonded 
so nicely. The older students will ALWAYS have protect and look out for my kids.  
I have many links on my blog about both projects so please browse through it. 

I could go on an on about our hockey movies, but this is already so long and I still have a lot to 
discuss.  In addition to checking out the links I’ve already posted, here are a few more:
This link will take you to the indicators which my hockey project fell under.

We filmed a large majority of the movies in our gym.  Here is a video tour of the gym. 

We also had a locker room scene.  Locker room tour 

Here is our movie theater.  Movie theater tour  

While I’m thinking about, let me tell you about our theater.  The classes signed up for a time 
to come to the movie. We accommodated 2-3 classes for each time slot.   Every class that 
signed up received tickets tailored to their specific time slot. As the classes approached, my 
students and the 4th grade students went into job mode. 
First stop, the ticket counter:

We had ticket stampers who stamped the tickets of everyone.  If someone didn’t have a ticket, 
we had extras on hand.

Then, everyone followed the red velvet ropes to the snack bar.
As they approached the door, I had students there handing out programs to the adults.  
Everyone went inside and my “ushers” sat everyone down.

After a brief introduction from me, one student worked the computer, and one student turned 
off the lights.

At the end of the movie, I had students sweeping up the mess on the floor.

With all of that being said, here are the movies they’ve made:
2018 Movie 

Bless you if you are still reading this.  I appreciate it!

I know you are wondering what projects you can do with your students so here are some 
projects other teachers in my school have done. (I try to add in additional information when I 

  • Animal research projects 
  • Artist research project - which resulted in the K students creating art projects and giving
  • Seasons of an apple tree PBL - made applesauce with parents near the end
  • Shark research project
1st Grade:
  • Rainforest  
  • Hockey Movie  
  • Zoo Art Gallery 
  • Community project - the students created a community out of recycled materials. They
    gave tours of their community - why they chose those locations, how they made them,

    what happens at each place, etc…
  • Animal research projects
2nd Grade:
  • Escape room
  • Solar system
  • Coral reef 
  • Habitats / landforms
  • Animal research  
3rd Grade: 
4th Grade: 
  • Heroes
  • Motown Review
  • Arcade
  • Hockey movie (with my class)
  • Science Fair
  • African American Inventors
  • Native Americans
5th Grade:

  • Mars
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Pompeii
  • Time Travel
  • Historical Revolutionary War Dolls
  • Colonial Feast

I’m sure I have just given you all a lot to think about, but the question you might have now is, 
“How do I get started?”  Here are a few tips:

1. Start small!  As I said in the beginning, you don’t have a to do a huge year long project. 
Your PBL can be something that’s done in a day, several days, a week, etc….Even if all 
you are doing is giving them voice and choice over how they make / present their project,
that is a step in the right direction! 

2. Be flexible and let go of control!  This is the hardest thing for teachers!  I promise you it’s 
worth it. Here’s an example.  

During the first year of our hockey movie, my students BEGGED ME to let them make 

penalty boxes for our classroom.  I sat the class down, split them into two groups, and 
said, “With your group, you will collaborate with each other and create a plan on how to 
build your penalty box.  You can use any of the materials I have out. Come up with a 
plan and then get to work.”

In the middle of them working, a non-classroom teacher came into the room and started 

observing the students in action.  She wanted to help my students and started to say, 
“You should really do it this way.” I pulled her to side and explained why I wasn’t helping
them and why I was letting them do it on their own.  Their creativity will shine. She 
understood and even exclaimed, “I can’t imagine how hard that is to let go of control!” 

3. HAVE FUN!  If you aren’t having fun, your students aren’t having fun.  Do it with a smile 
on your face! Fake it if you have to! If you and your students are having fun, the 
possibilities are endless!  A few examples of how the fun spread:
  • During one of our rainforest tours, a parent told me that for Mother's Day, her daughter told
    her she wanted to buy her a Macaw. :-)
  • Over the course of 2 hockey movies, I’ve created at least 34 hockey fans.  This
    does not include their parents - all of whom are hockey fans now, their extended
    family members, or the fourth graders.
  • One student from last year, took to hockey so much, he is now learning how to
    play hockey.  He has also researched hockey all on his own. 
  • During the recent Stanley Cup Championship, which my team won, (YAY,) parents
    were emailing me pictures of their kids watching the game, wearing their Caps
    shirts I gave them, and more.  It was AMAZING!

I think I have posted everything I want to say.  As I stated earlier, I will be adding pictures to this.
I need to do research to find those pictures so it might be awhile. Please continue to visit this
entry and see if it's been updated.

If you have ANY questions, please email me: Stacey_H_Lynch@mcpsmd.org.  
I would love to see PBL take off so if I can be of any help, I will gladly do it! 


Center Rotations

Hello everyone! My name is Stacey Lynch and I’ve been teaching for thirteen years now.   For several years I was good about meeting wi...