Welcome to a new school year!

We are beginning our 2nd year using a Forest School model in our K-2 classroom!

What is Forest School?  Every Forest School or Forest Kindergarten will look slightly different, but they all have some things in common.  Forest School means children spend significant and repeated amounts of time in a natural setting engaging in active free play and exploration.  Learning experiences emerge from their discoveries and questions.  Trained teachers come alongside children as facilitators, acting as “a guide on the side” rather than “a sage on the stage.”

Our class spends mornings mostly indoors in a regular classroom where we take care of subjects like math, reading, writing, and phonics.  Sciences are included in the morning, but spring from outdoor discoveries as much as possible.  Content learning show up in our reading and writing as well as some math here and there.  Bible is sometimes indoors and sometimes outdoors.  We spend a significant part of every afternoon enjoying nature play in the forest, usually 1.5 to 2 hours.

For Seventh-Day Adventists, Ellen White’s advice on early childhood and the importance of nature in education is well known.

The Forest model is backed by research and has been shown to increase academic performance in later years as well as helping children develop skills that will remain with them long after they leave the forest.  Here is a sampling of the benefits of Forest School:img_2562img_2557img_2558

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We’ve Gone Forest!

Welcome to our new and improved classroom–the forest!  This year (2017-2018) we are spending part of every day in the woods–rain or shine!

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Ever heard of Forest Kindergarten?  I am now a certified Master Forest Kindergarten Teacher, thanks to some wonderful courses offered through Southern Adventist University.  I received my training under Dr. Jean Lomino of Wauhatchie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It was a career-changing experience to watch a Forest Kindergarten in action and to learn how to facilitate one myself.

Since our classroom includes kindergarten through second grade, we are calling it Forest School rather than Forest Kindergarten, but the same philosophy and methods apply.

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Eventually I will update all sections of this website to reflect current schedule and practices.  We still spend time in the classroom doing the same things as last year–math, phonics, reading and the rest–but we make time to play outdoors.  Some of our outdoor time includes planned academic activities or small group work, but for the most part our forest time is for children to try out their own ideas, to solve problems, to take reasonable risks, and to negotiate social situations.  Adults are standing by as needed, but we try to stay in the background so children can learn through play.

Here is an excellent article on play and children:

https://www.mother.ly/child/how-unstructured-play-is-actually-so-important-for-brain-development#close

For an enlightening message about the importance of play, watch this:

Fractions Week

This was Fractions Week, and this kind of thing is why we love math!

Fractions are an “extra” around here, at least in our primary classroom.  The curriculum doesn’t do much with them, but we don’t want to miss out!

Early in the year we begin taking “attendance” on the board.  How many students are in our class?  How many does it take to make one whole class?  (I write that down, leaving the numerator blank.)  How many students are here today?  (I add that.)  Do we have a whole class? Do we have a fraction of a class?  Given enough times, they begin to pick up what the numerals in a fraction mean.  Now we are ready to play fraction games.

On day one I teach them to play a couple of games, demonstrating with a student while they watch.  The next day I teach two more, and we try them out if there is time.

By now everyone knows how to play.  We have two or three days of rotations.  Each game is at a station, and they play for about 10-15 minutes before moving to the next game. The next day we pick up where we left off until everyone has played every game at least once.

For the rest of the year, they can play the games independently during math center time, while I work with students.  They think they are just playing, but not so!  They are actually building valuable hands-on experience.

Here are the most popular games:

Skyscrapers

Uses two sets of Fraction Stax (or other bar-shaped fraction model) plus a die marked 1/2, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, and I think 1/5.  Object of the game is to be the first to build 4 skyscrapers.  Both players start with the black “one whole” as a free skycraper.  Take turns rolling the die and placing pieces on the bars.  You cannot mix colors.  Very soon all the orange 1/2 pieces will be used up, (Oh no! Now what?!) and you will be forced to use equivalent fractions. Hah!  Scheming teacher wins!  🙂

I teach them how to remove an orange piece and use it to compare to other combined pieces until they find a match. (Again, no mixing colors!  If they try to combine two different colors to make half, I redirect them to use pieces the same color as each other.)  Now they begin a new tower, with a different color.

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The picture above isn’t quite true to a real game.  A real game will have most bars partially full and 4 complete ones when the game is over.

With time,  they become familiar with the value of 1/12 pieces  and other smaller fractions (with larger denominators!) to make 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4.

They are enthusiastic because the Fraction Stax are inherently engaging and because I’m talking it up:  “You’re building a city!”

 

Candy Factory

This game is similar to Skyscrapers except that they are making candy in a factory.  They use a different die and can mix colors.  They do not find equivalent fractions.  This uses two sets of fraction circles.

Both players get two rings, or candy molds. (The decimals and percentages marked on them are ignored; these are technically used in later grades but they keep our “candy” circles together nicely!)  If there are 3 players they use one”candy mold”.  Students keep adding pieces, rearranging them at will, until they complete two circles.

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In this case, since they can mix colors, they learn that a 1/6 piece can be used with a 1/3 piece to complete a circle that is half full.  They gain experience that builds general understanding about fractions and how they can be combined.

Again, the game format makes this fun, but fraction circles are engaging and educational on their own.

 

Last Rods Standing

This one uses Cuisenaire Rods, but you could use anything that can be easily set up and knocked down.

It is less a game and more an independent activity.

Each student sets up a number of rods, not more than 10 or 12.  They then flick another, different small object at their line-up and record the fraction.  I think next time I’ll make it a bowling game and have them record how many they knock down rather than what is left standing.

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Pizza

This is probably the most popular game.  It would be great to make a pizza parlor with menus, etc. for them to play with, but it seems I never have time to hunt everything up.  Anyway, the students all enjoy just playing with these, and inevitably they do fill out orders for each other.  I have pizzas that lie on the table, but for some reason these magnetic ones are the most popular.

The beauty of this kind of play is that learning is a process of natural discovery.  As I was actually taking the picture below, one student said, “Hey, two of these makes one of these!” and reached for a 1/3 piece to compare to the 1/6 pieces he had in front of him.  Beautiful stuff!

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Sometimes, for other fractions stations, I have them build arm bands with pipe cleaners and two colors of beads, matching them to fraction flash cards.  Fractions models can also be made with things like cubes, frog counters, etc.
Yesterday we divided slices of veggie turkey  into equal parts before eating.  That was such a hit, I think we will do it again another day, with a different food!

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEM, STREAM and other fun projects

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Science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math.  Is it possible to cluster all those around one project?  Yes!  Here is one project we visited last Friday.

 

We read the book 21 Elephants and Still Standing by April Jones Prince.  It is a true story about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and how P.T. Barnum marched his elephants across town and across the bridge to prove it’s strength to naysayers.  The students were entranced by it.

Then we made our own bridges, using gum drops and toothpicks.  They tested their designs by placing Chunky Monkey on the bridge to discover if the bridge could hold him.(Okay, toy elephants would have been better, but we use what we have!)

The room was abuzz with purpose.

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There were some floppy bridges at first, but that only meant starting again.  They did a bit of research, looking at support systems pictured in our books about bridges.  Then back to the drawing board they went.  Most enjoyed the success of seeing Chunky Monkey sitting pert on their structures!

This was an easy way to dig into learning on a Friday afternoon.  We spent about an hour on it, but we could have used more time for students who were finishing up their second or third design.  Students who succeeded early in holding up Chunky Monkey took on the challenge of making their bridges longer by crossing the basket lengthwise.  This proved to be difficult!  Other students, after a successful Chunky Monkey test, simply added height and beauty to their bridge.