Saturday, October 31, 2015

Count On It

It started, like everything else, during Creation.
We counted the days Hashem spent making the world. And we began to actively count things all around the room.
We counted pairs in games.
 We counted animals for Noach's teva.
 We counted stars in the sky for Avraham's promise.

 We counted money.

 Number Puzzles

 Numerals and counting
We count ourselves often, playing many number games.

This is just a part of early numeracy where we are focusing.
We are currently working on:

  • Counting
  • one-on-one correspondence
  • How many?
  • More / less
  • Recognizing numerals

Some of our classroom techniques:
  • Promote the concept of one-to-one correspondence through kinesthetic learning – Letting the child combine the assignment of each number word with the physical act of either moving, touching with a finger, or at least pointing at the object it represents.
  • Provide activities that allow the child to easily see and physically deal with objects.
  • Use comparison words
  • Provide plenty of materials with numerals alongside the number written out and corresponding objects that add up to the number
  • Invite the children to group or sort objects and materials during art, science or other activities and routines
  • Sing songs and fingerplays that include numbers
  • Use numbers as you talk with children about what they are doing
  • Recite the sequence of counting words up to the required number and in the correct order.

Please practice numbers with your kids whenever you can. Counting steps, cars on the way to shul, identifying numerals all around you. Those little brains are constantly working; give them something worthwhile to process!

The Making of Our Havdala Candles

At the upcoming Havdala program, the students will be taking home Havdala candles we are making in class. My students make many impressive projects and their work is valued, but people (including the students) are generally unaware of how much valuable and varied learning is involved in each of their classroom experiences. We are not "just making stuff" or even "creating masterpieces." We are learning.
The value of learning through art in the classroom is not new. Friedrich Froebel, the father of kindergarten, believed that young children should be involved in both making their own art and enjoying the art of others. To Froebel, art activities were important, not because they allowed teachers to recognize children with unusual abilities, but because they encouraged each child's "full and all-sided development" (Froebel, 1826).

Here I will outline the process we took in candle making and some of the learning involved in each step.
We started discussing havdala candles after Yitzy made a play-dough one.
First we explored a varied of havdala candles. We compared color, size, texture, and shape. Taking time to compare and contrast verbally works on skills of assessment and understanding of our world.

This led to a discussion about the difference between wax and beeswax. Drawing on previously acquired knowledge, the students marveled that the little hexagons were made by the bees we learned about before Rosh Hashana. Drawing from and building on previously acquired knowledge is the foundation for all learning.

As we discussed wax, the children were intrigued by its smell and texture (five sense and learning). "It is like a crayon," they remarked (again, the drawing on and building). "Yah, like a crayon!" came a chorus of agreements. I explained how right they were and decided we would make candles from crayons. Until this point I was tentatively planning for us to roll beeswax candles, but emergent curriculum means the experiences in the class reflect the interest and expressions of the students.

Step one: Preparing the crayons.
I searched the school for the "yucky" crayons and found a good stash along with thousands of new crayons. During free play, one of the optional activities was pulling the paper off of crayons. The students were pretty excited about this because 'making crayons naked' is usually discouraged. Pulling the paper off is a great fine motor development activity and many students enthusiastically took part.

The activity was rewarding for many, but very time consuming. The next day I put the crayons in warm water first. "The crayons had a bath! And now I can take off their clothes!" laughed Ariela. 

Step 2: Sort crayons
The crayons needed to be grouped by color so that the candles didn't all turn brown. Students each a chose a different color and got to work finding theirs. This actions of comparing colors led to many interesting discussions of learning, like is teal blue or green and how peach isn't really anyone's skin color (at least in our class). To connect back to our senses, I asked how we can check the colors. "Without eyes." they chorused. "Right, try closing your eyes and sorting," I suggested. They giggled at their fruitless attempts.

Step 3: Wicks
Racheli found a stash of wicks in the supply room and prepared two wicks for each child. I explained the difference between a crayon, a Shabbat candle, and a Havdala candle was just wicks. Crayons don't have one, Shabbat candles only have one, and Havdala candles have two or more. The students seemed fascinated by this newly acquired information (there is value in good old frontal teaching too- although I explained it in an impromptu puppet show).

Step 4: Filling the molds
We are using coffee cups as molds. Each child was instructed to choose a color from the sorted crayons and get 10. This directive tested two skills we are focusing on in class. 1)following directions 2) counting with focus on one-to-one correspondence. Numeracy has been a focus over the last few weeks, with many activities to reinforce early numeracy. see here  The students who are good at one seemed to lack in the other, but with some assistance and redirecting, everyone got their crayons.

Next they had to break them in little pieces and fill the cup around the wick. The task required different muscles in fine motor development than the peeling task.
Step 5: Adding the heat

The students, one at a time, placed their cup on a hot plate. They were warned of the heat and acted with appropriate caution (why the lesson on following instructions is always important). They socialized on this over lunch, shared their knowledge of safety around heat sources and stories of mishaps.
"What do you think will happen to the crayons?" I asked. (Encouraging hypothesizing and scientific contemplation).
"They will turn into candles," Chaya said gleefully.
"Yes, but how?"
"The hot will make them change their shape," Yochanan accurately predicted. I sent them one at a time to observe and marvel at the chemical reaction of wax and heat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sand, Stars, and Senses

This week's parsha, Lech Lecha, includes Hashem's promises to make Avraham's descends like the stars and like the sand. 
We are exploring these two elements in connection with our 5 senses (a topic of emergent interest in the class).
During free play, students enjoyed digging through sand and finding stars inside. 
Sometimes they used their sense of sight.

 Sometimes they used their sense of touch.
 They always had fun.

We had a discussion about using our senses to observe the stars and sand.
"I can see the stars, but we can't touch them," Yitzy pointed out.
"Because they are in space," Elisha added.
"True. But even if stars were close, we still wouldn't touch them because they are made of fire," I share.
"Like the sun!" Yochanan added. 
"It would be too hot to touch them then. I touched a pot that was hot and burned my hand and it wasn't even fire and it hurt," Chana shared. 

We moved on to sand by passing around sandpaper and noting how it felt.
"It feels sticky," Lainey observed.
"I think it is smooth," Moshe Yehuda remarked.
"It is bumpy," Ariela noted.
They debated their observations of touch. 
 Next we tried our other sense with a cup of sand. We tried smelling it, but no one could detect much scent. 
We enjoyed listening to the sound of it shaking in the cup. 
Although some students expressed interest in tasting the sand, I suggested we taste out sandwiches later at lunch instead. 

We also tried to estimate how many grains of sand there were in the cup, in connect with Hashem's promise. Guesses ranged from 3 to a million. 

Since we couldn't be sure of that number, students each had a plate of sand where they could practice writing numbers. 

 Or shapes
 Or letters.
 Or focus on the wonderful sensory experience. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Float or drown/sink?

Parashat Noach provides countless wonderful learning opportunities. 
While the story of Noah unfolded before the children, Michali was eager to tell her classmates about her Sunday swimming lessons. This led to a discussion about everyone's water adventures. 
Judah told a scary story of falling in the pool and "almost drowning." Everyone listened and asked lots of questions.
"I throw toys in the pool and they drown and people get them back," Yitzy shared. 
"Who drowns?" I asked.
"The toys," Yitzy explained. We needed a new vocabulary word.
"When something falls to the bottom of water, what is it called?" I queried the class.
"Fall down," Laney suggested.
"Drown," many kids responded together. 
"Somethings stay on the top of the water. This is called floating." I began. The students seemed to know this and eagerly shared their progress in swimming lessons. 
"But when things, like bath toys, fall to the bottom of water, it isn't called drowning." The students looked confused. "Things that fall to the bottom of the bath sink." The students looked much more confused and I realized how thoroughly absurd the English can be. "It is the same sound as the word 'sink' you wash your hands in, but it means something different..." 
After more discussion, I think the students understood the new vocabulary word.
Then is was time to test it out. We sensory table was full of water. I filled a tray with miscellaneous items from around the room.
Each child chose an item and hypothesized (I was going to focus on this vocab word, but 'sink' is a more important word.) if it would float or sink.
I was impressed that when I asked when the item was made from, almost every child was able to identify it wood, glass, and plastic with ease. 
It was a really fun experiment!

 Some things float and some sink. Noah and his family were safely floating on the tevah (ark).

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Berry Fun

There was a new toy on the playground today, a gift from Hashem; a tree bursting with beauitful red berries.
"They are poisonous! You can't eat them!" Judah yelled.
"I know. But I can still touch them," Yochanan replied.
"Don't eat them!" Yitzy yelled, coming outside and seeing his friend at the tree.
"I know!" Yochanan replied, frustrated at the repeated message. "But we can still play with them."
"Yes! Let's make poisonous pretend food!" They grabbed some berries and ran off to play.

Michal was riveted by the berries. She wanted to touch them over and over. She tried to stand on a bike to get more, but was directed to the safer option of a chair to pick them.  Ori and the Tiny Tots cheered her on as she gathered more and more. 

 The Tiny Tots were also mesmerized by the shiny red balls on the tree.

 Everyone wanted the sensory experience of touching and popping the berries.
 And everyone worked together to make sure no one ate one.