The Lion King

In addition to being a kindergarten teacher, I also direct the annual 8th grade musical at my school. I grew up acting in musicals and plays from middle school through college and saw many plays on Broadway and in Philadelphia, which I think has assisted me greatly as I make a vision and stage each show for my student actors.

I always begin by making a Pinterest inspiration board with ideas for sets, costumes, and make-up that I share with my set designers and costume designer. My boards for my last couple of shows can be found below:

Beauty and the Beast

Once Upon a Mattress

Oklahoma 

The Lion King

I worked with a large ensemble this year, so I kept in the back of my mind that I did not want them changing costumes often. Instead, the ensemble wore black tops and pants and we used props to set the scene and establish characters. The students and art department created the exquisite animal props, lion headpieces, Pride Rock, and the tree set. I did a lot of online shopping on Amazon and Walmart to buy the colorful tunics for Simba and Mufasa, the brown and tan tunics for the lionesses, and the black bases for most of the cast. The fantastic leather jackets for Scar, Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed were loaned to us by members of our faculty.

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Two of my favorite purchases were the #meerkat and Got warthog? shirts for my Timon and Pumbaa.

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I also indulged in my crafty side to make Zazu’s cape. My kindergarten students were impressed with my costume making. I also created hyena and lioness make-up looks for our student make-up artists, as they prepared to do make-up for their classmates.

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It truly takes a village to put on a show, and I would not be able to do anything without my amazing production team! I am so lucky to work with such hard-working, talented, and inspirational friends every year.

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Year 9!

Welcome back to school everyone!

I just finished my first {almost} full week of school with my new class. For the past few weeks, my co-teacher and I have been preparing our classroom for our new group of kindergarten students. I’ve been lucky to be in the same classroom for three years now and through many furniture arrangements and trial-and-error, we have finally figured out some learning and playing spaces that make the best use of the room space.

One of my favorite beginning of the year projects is to brainstorm a welcoming and colorful door to welcome the students and families every day. After thinking about our learning group name, KC, I considered a play on words…K C…K Sea, which inspired me to go with a nautical look. I grew up on the South Jersey shore and love everything blue, so this craft project was meant to be.

Earlier in the summer, I made mini-bunting garland for a dear colleague’s retirement party, so I decided to make them again for my door with shades of blue and pops of interesting patterns (tutorial here: http://www.artbarblog.com/create/mini-rainbow-garland/). I ended up making more strings of garland so that they could also act as borders for the bulletin boards in the classroom. I found a sailboat template online and then used scrapbook paper in shades of blue, gray, yellow, and green to construct the boat, sails, and mini-flag. Michael’s, the art & craft store, typically has an amazing sale on scrapbook paper the third week in August (5 sheets for $1!). With some tape and lamination, the door art came together:

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Happy beginning of the year!

Organizing and Classifying: Examining our Dramatic Play Center

During our geometry study, the children engage in a variety of classification experiences.  For some experiences, they work with 2D shapes, working to group them according to various attributes.  Children might sort by corners, placing squares and rectangles in one group and triangles in another.  Another child might sort by sides, arranging rectangles, squares, and triangles together, but putting circles and ovals into their own distinct group.  While working with attribute blocks, some students even focus in on the thickness of each shape, sorting them into the categories of “thick” and “thin.”

Another important experience for children is to apply these classification skills in real-life contexts.  Can they consider the purpose of various objects, and decide which things might be grouped together?  Can they examine a wide range of objects, and determine some semblance of organization?  What kinds of structures are put into place to assist them in maintaining consistent organization?  My co-teacher and I knew immediately which area in our classroom would provide the students with an engaging opportunity to apply their classification skills: the dramatic play center.

First, we had the children survey the play area, examining the containers, the objects within, and the manner in which things were currently organized.

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They realized immediately that the area was in dire need of organization.  No labels, overflowing materials, and just a general mess!  We collected their observations and ideas in an anchor chart:

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The next day, we talked about how we would begin the categorizing process.  The students talked about starting with one bin at a time.  They would take out objects, one by one, and decide if it went into an existing group or went into a new group.  The children also suggested making labels for the categories as they were made.  We started with the cooking materials.

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Once the initial categories were established, other groups rotating into the center checked to see if they agreed with the labels for each group or decided that objects should be moved around.  For example, pots and lids were originally in two separate groups.  The students decided that they should go together, since each pot had a corresponding lid.

The children were most excited to sort through the gigantic bin of food.  They agreed there should be different groups of food, since “if you’re looking in the food bin for a certain food, it takes too long and then you waste all of your play time.”  Fruits and vegetables were the first groups to be identified, followed by the meats and bread groups.

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With items like sushi, pizza, rice, and soy sauce, food items that did not clearly go into another already established group, the children decided to make a “special foods group.”  The students finished up their sorting by making a group of baby dolls, stuffed animals, and dress-up clothing.

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Once all of the objects were classified into their distinct groups, it was time to put them into containers.  When considering the range of containers available, the students shared that it was important that objects fit into the container with no overflow.  In addition, there should not be too much extra space left over in the container, or else it was a “waste of space.”  After completing labels for each container, the children then had the job to figure out where the containers should go on the shelves.  They quickly agreed that all of the food containers should go together, “because if you’re playing grocery story or restaurant, all of the food is right there for you.”  Because most of the containers were fairly small, they managed to fit in our repurposed puppet theater, now actually making use of the existing shelves!  Larger containers that held the cooking equipment, utensils, and place settings fit comfortable in another area of the dramatic play center.  The students also decided to put the stuffed animals on the shelves.  When they did not fit in one area, they decided to split them up purposefully.  Sea animals went together in the larger shelf unit, “because they’re bigger and they fit better there,” while the smaller land animals took up residence in the smaller shelf unit.

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The new, organized dramatic play center has now been open for about a month and the children are doing a terrific job of maintaining the many, diverse categories within it!

Ezra Jack Keats Author Study

As a child, I adored the Ezra Jack Keats book, Jennie’s Hat.  I loved the details of the flowered hats of the ladies going to church, and was absolutely delighted with the masterpiece the birds created for Jennie.

As a 1st grade and kindergarten teacher, I always waited patiently for the first snowy day of the school year to read The Snowy Day with my students.  Every year, the students are enamored with the sweet story, making many connections to the character of Peter and sharing their own pastimes for cold, snowy days.

For the past few years in kindergarten, we’ve conducted an author study about the Australian writer, Mem Fox, at the beginning of the year.  Through her books, such as Koala Lou, Where is the Green Sheep, and Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild, students recognize patterns in the words, notice the connection between the pictures and the words, and share their favorite parts.

This year, we shifted our author study to December and focused on the works of Ezra Jack Keats.  As we read aloud many of his books, including Peter’s Chair, Goggles, Pet Show, and Hi, Cat!, my students noticed big ideas about Keats’ writing.  We collected these ideas in an anchor chart.

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The students were particularly interested in the “Peter” books (Whistle for Willie, The Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, Hi, Cat!, Goggles) and managed formulate a timeline of these books based upon the events detailed in the story.  For example, they explained that The Snow Day must be the first book, since Peter does not have a baby sister yet.  They decided that Whistle for Willie came next because Peter “looked a little bit bigger and older.”

During this study, the students wrote stories about things that happened to them.  Some took ideas straight from Mr. Keats, choosing to write about playing in the snow or having a snowball fight.  Others thought about special moments with family members: going to a ballet recital with mom, watching the Packers game with dad, or building a castle with a younger brother.

To illustrate these stories, we took inspiration from Mr. Keats’ artistic style.  We talked about how Ezra Jack Keats used the process of collage in many of his books to create his illustrations.  With this in mind, the children selected one moment from their narratives to collage, carefully choosing a background color, deciding on the shapes of their people, and including important details and objects.

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Have you conducted author studies in your primary classrooms?  Who are some of your favorite authors to study?

Thanking our School Community Helpers

This year before the winter break, students around my school worked on service projects with their buddy classes.  Projects ranged from writing letters to local elders, creating holiday cards for neighborhood nonprofits, and making plans for social action projects.

My kindergarten team carefully considered how the kindergarten students could participate and actively engage in a service project with their 4th grade buddies.  A few years ago when I worked with @dorakio in 1st grade, we made thank you cards and baked cookies for all of the people that helped us on the 1st grade team.  These individuals included the other 1st grade homeroom teachers, multigrade teachers, administrators, nurses, and facilities staff.

Since our kindergarten students just finished their environmental print and concept book study, we thought that sorting and categorizing the individuals in our school into helper groups would be a meaningful and engaging next step for them.  We decided to focus on 4 categories of school helpers: recess staff, facilities staff, security staff, and food services staff.

My co-teacher and I decided to bring our students down to the first floor of our school building so that they could see all of the school staff photos in the stairwell.

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The students were excited to notice their many teachers featured on the wall.  We started to guide their notices by asking, “Who are the people who help you in school?  Who are the people who help you stay safe, learn, and have fun?”  Soon, students were excitedly exclaiming, “The nurses!  They help us when we get hurt.” and “I see the recess teachers.  They help us on the roof.”  Thanks to our communications department and technology staff, we were able to print out individual photos of the two groups we were going to thank: the facilities department and the recess teachers.

For the next few days, the children sorted these headshots into the two categories and then brainstormed ideas of how the facilities staff and the recess teachers help us learn, stay safe, and play in school.  I will insert their brainstorm posters here after the break.  As a class, we used these ideas to help us draft thank you letters.  This shared writing exercise was also a great way to discuss the structure of a letter.  Many students knew that we had to start with, “Dear _______,” and that we had to sign our names at the end.  Here are their two versions for our school helpers:

 

Recess Teachers

Dear ____________, 
Thank you for being with us and keeping us safe on the roof.  Thank you for getting us to the nurse if we’re hurt.  Thank you for helping us have fun.  Thank you for letting us play and have fun.  Thank you for zippering our jackets.  Thank you for reminding us to wear our jackets when it’s cold out.  Thank you for reminding us of the golden rule.  
We love you.  
Love,
The KC Community

Facilities Staff
Dear_________, 
Thank you for doing your best to help us clean our classrooms, the bathrooms and the 5th floor offices.  Thank you for cleaning the hallways. Thank you for cleaning our spaces.  Thank you for cleaning up the germs so we don’t get sick.  Thank you for cleaning our school and keeping our school nice and clean for people to work and learn.  Thank you for cleaning up the messes so we don’t slip.  Thank you for cleaning up spills.  Thank you for fixing things when they break.  
We love you.  
Love,
The KC Community 
When our 4th grade buddies came, they reread the cards to the kindergarten students.  Together, they added illustrations and colorful details to the cards.
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The children were delighted to go out on “delivery trips” to give the cards to our school helpers.  We also worked with the 4th grade buddies to plant a paperwhite bulb arrangement for the facilities staff.  Each of the children also had the opportunity to plant a paperwhite bulb for themselves to take home and take care of during the winter vacation.
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Happy holidays to you and your family and friends!

Purple Potatoes!

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a Responsive Classroom workshop in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It was an incredible week learning all about the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning, which seamlessly integrates the domains of engaging academics, effective management, and a positive community.  I connected with fantastic educators and administrators from the Minneapolis area and took on the role of resident expert of New York City and the East Coast.

Over the course of the week, we learned many songs and energizers to designed to refresh and refocus the learning of our K-2 students.  One song I especially loved was “Purple Soup:”

We’re making a purple soup,

Whip, whip, whip, whip

We’re making a purple soup,

Shoobie doobie doo!

With purple potatoes,

And purple tomatoes,

And we want you!

It’s a delightfully catchy tune that my kindergarten students adore!  One person (me) starts in the middle, with everyone singing around the circle.  On the “We want you” part, the person points to another individual to join the center of the circle.  Then, the song repeats.  Eventually, everyone is in the center, enthusiastically stirring their bowl or pot of soup.  At the end, the students have the opportunity to “taste” their concoction.  This song was also great for talking about the sound of the letter P at the beginning, middle, and end of many of the words in the song!

Last Monday, as my co-teacher and I served lunch to our kindergarteners, we were both inspired by the heaps of mashed potatoes we were spooning onto the plates.  Why not make purple potatoes with the students?  It was clear we were meant to make a potato dish this week after my mother sent me a crock-pot mashed potato recipe on Pinterest later that same day.  Thank you so much to to Tiffany over at Creme de la Crumb for this scrumptious recipe!  I will definitely be making this again!

We originally thought to purchase purple Peruvian potatoes, but the grocery stores near school did not have them in stock.  So, we picked up an adorable bag of small “confetti” potatoes, along with sour cream, milk, and food coloring.  The children enjoyed naming all of the colors they saw.

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We added them to the crock pot to cook for a few hours.

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After a morning of locating patterns around the school, we were ready for the last touches.  I pulled out my handy dandy hand mixer to blend in some milk and sour cream to combine all of the potatoes together.

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Based on their earlier experiences with color mixing, my students shared that we could add red AND blue food coloring to make the color purple.  I’ve never used food coloring with potatoes before, so I was hoping the colors would combine nicely, and not leave me with a dingy shade of brown.

I was not disappointed.

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The students’ eyes widened as they watched the colors mix together.  They smiled as they whispered excitedly to each other, “It’s REALLY purple!”  We planned the cooking experience so that lunch was immediately after we did the final mixing.  This way, the students had the option to immediately try and taste the potatoes during lunch.

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A little Play-Doh-esque in color, but boy, were these tasty.  I know my students will definitely recall this multisensory experience for the letter P.  It was also another wonderful opportunity for them to see me using a specific informational text (a recipe) and following the steps in order to reach a delicious conclusion.

Patterns in our Learning Spaces: Launching the Investigation

Fall in Kindergarten has been extra exciting with our integrated mathematics and literacy unit on environmental print.  The students have been eagerly pointing out and reading the many labels placed throughout the classroom.  They feel a sense of pride when they are able to help out by putting the glue sticks away, looking carefully at the labeled trays to place them in the correct spot.

Last week, my co-teacher and I kicked off our investigation of patterns in the learning spaces around our school.  Ultimately, we want the students to notice patterns in their school environment, such as dance teachers teach in the dance studio, the librarians work in the library, the science teacher works in the science room, and so on.  Although there might be connections between materials in the various learning spaces, such as pencils used for drawing and sketching in the homeroom classroom, art studio, and science room,we also want the students to realize that each learning space has specific learning materials.  The music room will have egg shakers and bells for musical accompaniment, while the wellness (gym) class will have balls for throwing, catching, and kicking.

Before all of this though, my co-teacher and I thought it was important for the students to become experts in their most familiar territory: the kindergarten classroom.  We wanted them to consider two important questions in the launch of the investigation: “What materials do you notice around our classroom that we can use for learning?” and “What can we tell people about these objects?”  The last question was especially crucial, since we wanted to the children to come to the understanding that sharing information about quantity would eventually help us see relationships and patterns between the objects in our classroom learning space and the objects in other kindergarten learning spaces.  We hoped it would come up organically in our conversation that day.

After talking as a whole group about some examples of learning materials in our classroom, we sent the students off in pairs to find 3 materials to share with the group.  We watched and listened as the children walked carefully around the classroom, whispering excitedly to one another as they found a learning material to share with the class.

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The students took turns sharing the learning materials they discovered in the classroom space as I charted them on the easel.  Many children made the “connection” sign quietly as ideas were shared, showing that they also found those materials important.

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Because the students were still so engaged with the task, my co-teacher and I made the split decision to start the conversation about the connections between our classroom materials and materials used in other spaces.  As we read over the list, students raised their hand to share another space where they might use pencils (art studio), the SmartWall (music and dance), and books (the library).  They even pointed out that each learning space also has specific and special materials.  While we have book baggies to store our independent reading books in the classroom, the music room does not have this item.  However, the music room has instruments instead.

The idea of quantity still had not come up in our discussion yet, and we were approaching “antsy-kindergarteners on the rug” territory.  My co-teacher and I decided to give out one more conversation task to see if some magic could happen.  “So,” I began, “If we’re going to teach people about the learning materials in our classroom, what might we tell them?  A student said that our tables are an important classroom material.  What could we tell people about the tables?”  We quickly assigned turn-and-talk partners and the children chatted animatedly with each other.

As we circulated around, we smiled as we heard several partnerships share, “We could count the tables and tell them how many we have,” and “If we counted the tables, we could tell people how many people fit at the tables.” A-ha moment!  The children already identified quantity as an important element to share with others!  In addition, they highlighted the importance of sharing the table rules, explaining the materials one could use at the table, and detailing the lunch routines at the table.  With this seed of figuring out “how many” finally and firmly planted, we unveiled the next-time work to our kindergarten investigators.  They would be in charge of counting the collections of learning materials in our class and making labels to represent their inventory!  The smiles and silent cheers of excitement were the perfect ending to our math time.   Now, the students are eager to begin their inventory work this week in the classroom.  We cannot wait to see how they work independently and collaboratively to take inventory in our classroom!