Little Elliot Big Family: A Visit with Mike Curato

Mike Curato (20)

We have been excited since the very beginning of this year about author/illustrator Mike Curato visiting our school.  Thanks to Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, and Avid Bookshop, our local independent bookshop, Mike visited all of our Prek-2nd grade classes.  We all read Little Elliot, Big City during library orientation this year, so we were super excited to meet the person who created it.

On field day, students created a massive window display of Little Elliot and cupcakes.  They worked for 30 minutes designing their own special cupcake.  They also added dots to a collaborate Little Elliot.  Many volunteers worked to get all of the cupcakes and elephants onto our windows to celebrate the author visit.

The display has been so much fun to look at and watch students searching for their dots and cupcakes.

It was a busy time at our school during the visit because it is also our fall book fair.  Instead of having our visit in the library, we moved everything to the cafeteria stage.

Students enjoyed a reading of Mike Curato’s new book Little Elliot, Big Family.

Mike had the book’s pages displayed on the large screen so that students could easily see what he was reading from the book.  They were mesmerized by the story and were such careful listeners.

After his story, Mike shared some slides and stories about how he works as an author and illustrator.  Students saw sketches beside finished artwork as well as a time lapse of a drawing being created.  He also showed students pictures of how Little Elliot has changed through the years.  He has been drawing him for several years, and he has gone through some changes along the way.  We also saw sketches of some of Mike’s early artwork, which was a wonderful connection for our young learners to see how work they are doing right now could inspire a future career or hobby.

Students even got to see the cover of next year’s Elliot book Little Elliot, Big Fun.

big fun

Next, Mike worked with the entire room to create 3 pages of a new story.  He wrote a sentence to start the story: “Elliot went to school”.  Then, he drew Elliot on the page and let the students take it from there.  They suggested things to add to the picture and Mike added them in.  For the next 2 pages, Mike took suggestions from the audience about what Elliot should do.  Students decided he would read a book and go to lunch.  Once again, Mike added details to the drawing that were suggestions straight from the audience.  The best part was that we got to keep the 3 drawings to enjoy in our library!

Mike Curato (47) Mike Curato (46) Mike Curato (45)

Finally, students got to ask questions.  Mike jumped right out into the audience with the students to take their questions and give thoughtful answers.  The kids were so attentive during the whole process.

Before Mike left, he took time to sign all of the books purchased by students.  Our incredible PTA bought a copy of each book for every PreK-2nd grade classroom, so he signed those as well.

He also took time to look at the big window display and marvel at the students’ creativity.  If you ever get the chance to have Mike Curato at your school, don’t hesitate.  He was wonderful and the kids and teachers have talked about it all day.  Be sure to check out both of his Elliot books, add them to your home and school collections, and enjoy the many positive messages that your sure to take after reading the books with kids.

Mike Curato (19)

Thank you Mike Curato and Avid Bookshop for a wonderful day!  We can’t wait to reconnect once the Polka Dot Express arrives at our school soon!

Coding and Beyond with PreK Using Sphero, Osmo, iPads, Computers, and Books

PreK Coding (27)

I love it when a small seed of an idea turns into something much more.  A few weeks ago, I approached PreK about using our Sphero to practice writing letters.  I knew that PreK was working on forming the letters of the alphabet and I thought that the Sphero Draw and Drive app would be a perfect way to merge letter practice with some programming.  I originally thought that small groups might come to the library and use the Sphero with me, but further brainstorming with Ms. Heather resulted in us deciding to do 5 centers that students would rotate through in order to experience many technology, math, and literacy experiences.

Ms. Heather’s class has been bubbling with excitement about coming to the library to try out all of these centers.  Ms. Heather split the class up into 5 groups which was 4-5 students per group.  Ms. Heather, Ms. Melissa (parapro), Ms. Callahan (parent), and I all led a center and one center was independent.  Each center lasted about 10 minutes and took up about an hour with transitions. Here’s what they did.

Center 1:  Hour of Code programming with Sphero

Since this week is our hour of code, I was so glad that PreK got to experience an aspect of coding.  While coding didn’t fill up our hour, it certainly sparked their interest in how to make a computer or robot do what you want it to.  Students sat in a row and each took a turn to think of a letter to practice drawing.  Using the Draw and Drive app on iPad, students drew a letter and pressed play.  The Sphero drove around the carpet in the shape of that letter.  With a shake of the iPad, the letter was erased and the next student had a turn.

We repeated this process over and over until we were out of time.  Each time the robot rolled around the floor there was a burst of excitement.  As the facilitator, I asked students about the letters that they were drawing to make sure that they understood what they were trying to draw.

Center 2:  Osmo Tangrams and Words

Our Osmo devices are one of our favorite tools in the library.  The Osmo is came out this summer.  It includes a base to put the iPad in and a red attachment to place over the camera.  Osmo comes with 2 sets of tools to use with the apps: a set of letter tiles and a set of tangrams.  The three apps are free to download but you must have the base and attachment for them to work.  For this center, students used the Junior version of the Words app.  This app gives students a picture with a matching word.  The beginning sound of the word is missing and students have to lay the correct letter tile in front of the iPad.  If it is correct, the red attachment “sees” the letter tile and magically adds it to the word on the screen.  If it is incorrect, students have to try again.

Students also used the Introduction to Tangrams in the tangrams app.  This app shows students 2-3 tangram pieces pushed together.  For this beginning phase, the colors of the tangrams on the screen match the colors of the actual tangrams.  As students correctly place the tangrams on the table in front of the iPad, the red attachment “sees” them and fills in with black on the screen.  When they are all correct, a new combination is shown.

This center was one that needed adjustment as we went along depending on student needs and strengths. Some needed to focus more on the shapes while others were ready to think about letter sounds in words.  All students had a blast watching the magic of the Osmo happen on the screen and table.

Center 3: Starfall on Computers

Ms. Heather facilitated the computer center.  I put out a computer, mouse, and headphones for each student in the group.  One part of this center was simply using fine motor skills to practice using a mouse.  The other part was to use Starfall to continue practicing letters and sounds.

Center 4: Reading

A parent volunteer read aloud stories that I pulled.  The selections were Peanut Butter and Jellyfish, Job Site, and Stars.  She had students engaged in discussion about the story and the pictures all along the way.

Center 5: iPads

PreK has 5 iPads in each classroom.  Students have a variety of word apps that they can use at their own center time in class, so they are used to using these apps independently.  This made the perfect independent center since we didn’t have 5 adults.  Students sat on the bean bags by the windows and used the iPads by themselves for the 10 minutes of this center.

I think many times people think that our younger students can’t use technology or they are unsure of what to do with younger students.  I love giving things a go and seeing what happens.  We were amazed by students’ engagement and excitement today.  Some asked, “Can we do this every day?”  That was a sure sign of success.  When working with younger students, you have to think about what your barriers might be.  For us, we wanted smaller groups in order to have more adult support if needed.  We also wanted smaller groups so that students wouldn’t be waiting around since we only have 1 Sphero and 3 Osmos.  Using the teacher, parapro, parent volunteer, and me helped to make this possible.  You might have a different barrier, but I hope that you will consider what you might leap into with your youngest learners in your building.

Teaching Fractals in PreK with “Let It Go”

My daughter is in PreK, so the other day when I picked her up from her classroom to leave school early I saw her class busy exploring shapes at various centers in the classroom.  I saw Ms. Melissa holding up familiar objects like cans and bottles and talking about what 3-D shape these objects were.  My daughter ran up to me so excited to tell me about some new shapes that she was learned.  I was reminded how important it is for us to step into one another’s classrooms, especially when we collaborate with one another.  Taking just a moment to stop, look, and listen in a classroom can open your eyes to what students are learning and how they are learning it within a room.  I love how preK is full of curiosity and wonder.  They get excited about every new discovery and immediately start looking for that new knowledge all around them.

I also know how much PreK loves the movie Frozen.  I’ve seen them using GoNoodle to sing the song together.  They belt out the lyric “in frozen FRACTALS all around”, but they have no idea what a fractal is.  This was a perfect opportunity to weave together some informational text, video, music, vocabulary, science, and math since the teacher was already signed up for a read aloud.

We opened the lesson by watching the “Let It Go” video where the word “fractal” comes up.

We wrote the word fractal on the board and then asked ourselves what a fractal might be and how it was connected to our study of shapes.  Next, I read the book Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell.

This book explains how 3-D shapes are all around us and tells how Benoit Mandelbrot made up the word fractal to describe shapes that are made up of the same pattern.  One piece of the shape looks the same as the whole shape.  The book has photographs of things like broccoli broken into different pieces all the way down to a single piece of broccoli to show that it looks the same.  There are also pictures of Queen Anne’s lace, trees, lightning, and more.

Following this, we continued thinking about shapes in nature by reading Joyce Sidman’s Swirl by Swirl.  It was interesting to think about fractals and swirls and whether or not they were the same thing or different.  The teacher, Ms. Heather, checked out both books to take back to class to add to their explorations of shapes.  She plans to branch off of the excitement that kids had from the photographs and illustrations in both books and continue to look around outside for these patterns.  For example, the class already knows that there is a swirl shape within our playground equipment, so they plan to walk out there to take a look.

Now, when this class belts out “Let It Go”, they will have a new understanding of frozen fractals.



Not A Box Display

IMG_0400As part of the participatory culture of the Barrow Media Center, we like to feature student art exhibits.  We haven’t had as many this year due to our temporary space while our school is rebuilt.  However, today one of my favorite displays returned.  Ms. Foretich, our fabulous art teacher, setup the PreK Not a Box display.  Students read the book Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and designed their own artistic creations out of boxes.  This book always inspires creativity.  One of the things I love about this display is how each design is accompanied by a digital photograph of the creation that is labeled so that visitors can understand what each box represents.   In the future I could see this project evolving to include some QR codes to make the exhibit more interactive.  There’s always something new and innovative that we could include.  Time always creates some limitations on what we can do.  If you happen to be near the Barrow Media Center, please stop by and take a look.  If not, then take a look at the gallery below and feel free to leave comments for Ms. Foretich and her students.

PreK and iPads: A Counting Story

Last week, I was sitting in a faculty meeting analyzing grade level math data with PreK.  As I listened in, I heard them talk about students from the previous quarter who had not met the standard for counting to ten.  They were making plans for new standards that were coming up in the current quarter, but also thinking about how to continue to support this group of students who needed to work on the previous quarter standards.

Counting Lite App

I pulled out my iPhone and searched the iTunes app store for counting apps, and found multiple free apps that we might try.  Most of the free apps were limited versions of the larger paid versions, but for our purposes, the free versions were enough to try.  I suggested that we might try some of these apps on our 10 iPads, and the teachers were eager to give it a go.

Today, the 2 teachers pulled together a group of students and brought them up.  I gave very little whole group instruction on what to do other than introducing the iPad and how to touch the screen.  I went around to each iPad and opened the app that students needed, and they started.  As usual, I was amazed at how quickly students started interacting with the iPads.  The teacher, a volunteer, and I went around to each student and prompted them to talk out loud because part of this lesson was to have the students practice counting.  They touched objects on the screen, counted aloud, and the apps also counted aloud and wrote the number on each object as it was touched.  I appreciated the ease of use of the iPads with PreK because the adults were able to focus on content instruction rather than having to instruct on how to use the technology.  Students left feeling successful with using the technology and with counting, and the teacher left feeling like students had practiced multiple standards through a few apps and was eager to come back to use the iPads some more.

I started this year with a flexible plan for the iPads that the district is having me pilot.  I’ve listened to teacher and student needs and searched for how the iPad might be a tool to support those needs.  The excitement over the device is growing, and I have a feeling that our small cart of 10 iPad is going to be in high demand very soon.

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PreK Poets in Action

Recently, I blogged about a collaborative project that I did with a Prek classroom creating shape poem.  Over the past few days, these students have been coming to our BTV studio to record their poetry.  Students practiced reading their poems before coming to the studio, but many chose to add additional words to their poems or even change the words when they read their poems.  This is something that they try in their centers in the classroom.  They have a center option of doing freestyle poetry.  You can listen to Ms. Spurgeon’s introduction of the poetry project and the Prek poets by clicking the links below.

Ms. Spurgeon’s Introduction

PreK Poets 1

PreK Poets 2

PreK Poets 3

PreK Shape Poetry

Today was lesson 2 in a 3-part collaboration with Ms. Spurgeon’s PreK class.  Last week, we read multiple examples of shape poems and wrote a model poem as a class.  Today, students focused on writing their own poems.  To prepare, Ms. Spurgeon and her parapro, Ms. Melissa, drew large shapes for each student and cut them out.  These shapes were the symbols that each student uses in class to label various belongings.  Each symbol has come to have special meaning to each student.  I pulled nonfiction and fiction books related to each symbol so that students could reference the books for words to put inside their shapes.

I opened today’s lesson by reading a poem from Joyce Sidman’s Meow, Ruff: A story in concrete poetry.  I used this as a reminder to students that the words that go inside the shape must somehow represent the shape.  Ms. Spurgeon and I found that it was a common mistake for students to want to put whatever words were in their heads instead of focusing on their shape.  She reiterated my opening by sharing a poem that she wrote about chocolate and reminding students that all of her lines were about chocolate.

Next, students each received the books about their symbol and proceeded to 3 work spaces where the pre-cut symbols were already out at chairs.  Ms. Spurgeon, Ms. Melissa, and I each went to these areas and sat with students as they worked.  Students began by looking through their books for ideas from the pictures or reading the words with adult assistance.  As they decided on words, students sounded out words and wrote their words inside the shapes with their best handwriting and spelling.  Next, students read their lines to an adult and the adult wrote the correct spelling of each word in parentheses.

Ms. Spurgeon will continue this lesson by giving students time to finish their poem and add color to it.  They will also practice reading their poems before part 3.  The last part of this collaboration will be recording each student reading his/her poem on camera and sharing those videos on Teacher Tube.

I was surprised by how helpful having books about their symbols was for the students.  Many got ideas from the pictures and several even used direct words from the text.  For example, one girl wrote a poem about rabbits.  In the picture, she got so excited when she saw that the rabbit’s ears were going down.  This turned into a line in her poem that was actually written on the rabbit’s ear.  Another student read her books about apples with Ms. Melissa.  She took facts such as “apples can be made into applesauce” and “apples are mostly harvested in the fall” and used pieces of those lines in her apple shape.

I’ll be sharing more about our media center’s support of poetry writing in the coming days and weeks.