First Grade Enrichment Reading: The Case of the Pilfered Hippopotamus — Clue Boards

Week Two of the Case of the Pilfered Hippopotamus is upon us!  During class, I told the kids the facts of the case.  We met our main characters (and suspects) — five friends named Sam, Brandon, Tessa, Julia and Alex.  These friends formed the Stuffed Animal Adventure Club (DUN DUN DUN!) (<—- ask your child about this, unless they’re in room 9, 11, or 12, in which case, ask them Friday when they get home [room 12’s field trip prevented us from meeting today, but I’ll catch them tomorrow]).  The friends got together for a playdate and to build a clubhouse.  After awhile, they wanted to do something else but could not agree on what.  They decided to take a nap, and when they awoke, they found that someone had played with Danny the stuffed hippo while they slept, leaving him soaking wet.

After we discussed the facts, I gave the kids a fact sheet and a graphic organizer that we will use throughout the unit.  They spent some of our class time filling out their Clue Board.


Over the next few weeks, we will perform a series of tests to determine the culprit.  We’ll look closely at clothing fibers, examine footprints and fingerprints, use pH paper to test juice, and examine a mystery brown stain.  Each test will provide another piece in the puzzle and lead us closer to the solution to the mystery.

During this unit, the kids are working on logical and sequential thinking, making inferences, using evidence to support an argument, and not jumping to conclusions unsupported by the text.  They don’t really know they’re working on these things, of course.  They just think they’re sleuthing out a solution to a mystery.  I won’t tell them if you don’t!

**NOTE:  If you’d like to make your kid giggle, just say “cookie, pie, pie, cookies, cookies.”  Perhaps they can even explain why that’s funny…

First Grade Enrichment Math: Collaborative Problem Solving

This week in first grade enrichment math, we did some collaborative problem solving. I divided the kids into groups of three or four.  Each group received a question and three clues that could be used to answer the question.  All clues were necessary to solve the problem.  After they read the information, the students worked together (or on their own, it was their choice) to find an answer.  These were multi-step problems and they proved tricky for the kids.  Some kids broke off from their groups to follow their own path to the answers.  Others felt better talking through strategies with one or two other people.



The rule was that a group could not move to the next problem until all members of the group agreed upon a common answer.  More than once, a group did not agree, and some students had not written any of their calculations down.  This was tricky, because there was no way to look for potential errors when none of the work was in writing.  We had to meticulously check the math of the other group members to determine if it was indeed correct.



This was, for me, one of those great classroom experiences that stick with you.  The kids worked hard.  They were, at times, frustrated, but they worked through their frustration.  They talked to each other about their thinking.  They defended their choice of strategy.  It was kind of magical.

It was also one of those experiences where there is not that much to show for it.  The kids brought their papers home on Wednesday, but many of them didn’t look overly impressive.  Now that you know what went into the assignment, though, ask your children about it.  See if they’ll explain what strategy they used and why, and if they’ll tell you how that worked out.  Were they right?  How did the other group members go about it?  What could they do differently next time?

Second Grade Enrichment Language Arts: Artifact Battleship

This week in second grade enrichment language arts, we talked about gridding. We discussed how an archaeological dig destroys a site, and how keeping records during a dig is so important.  I showed the kids a sample site grid and we talked about how grids help archaeologists remember exactly where items were found.  The kids remembered that context is super important, and that knowing which items were found together makes a huge difference.

To practice working with a grid, we played Artifact Battleship.  Each student “buried” a spear, pottery, jewels, coins, and bones.  They then played against a partner to try to excavate their opponent’s items, calling out coordinates to find out if that spot was a “hit” or a “miss.”


If you’re interested in playing at home (hey, it could happen!), you can find the board here:  Artifact Battleship.  And you can check out a quick clip of Edan and Valeria playing Artifact Battleship here.

First Grade Reading: Crime Scene Analysis

IMG_8127When I picked up the first graders yesterday for reading group, I let them know that my cloffice contained a crime scene. I told them that their job was to be the detectives, observe the crime scene, and record everything they observed so that we could figure out the solution to the mystery.  I reminded them that it’s important to record everything because it’s impossible to tell at first glance which things might be clues.

I gave very little details about the mystery. When we meet next week, we will go into much greater depth about what exactly happened.

The kids diligently began to make maps of the crime scene.


They recorded and labeled each item they saw, as best as they could in the tight space (it is a cloffice, after all!) and within the time they had.


There was quite a bit of discussion about the clues.  How many sets of foot prints were there?  Why were there two empty juiceboxes but only one straw?  What did it all mean?
img_1851img_1853I sent the maps and lists home because most of the kids did not have time to write down everything at the crime scene (and later they might not be able to interpret their own maps). I wanted them to create the lists while everything was fresh in their minds.

Starting next week, we’ll be learning all about the facts of the mystery, and then performing various tests to solve the crime.

First Grade Enrichment Reading: It’s a Mystery

I met with all of the first grade reading groups this week.  Students with STAR Reading scores at the 98th percentile and above are included in first grade enrichment reading groups. If your first grader is in an enrichment reading group, s/he came home today with a letter from me.

We didn’t waste a moment and started right in on our first unit — mysteries.  To begin, I presented the students with a mystery:  Someone stole all of the Smarties from Mrs. Green’s Smarty Pants.  Who could it be?  Billy has a lot of candy wrappers under his chair, so Mrs. Green thinks it might be him.  But Billy was in library (or P.E., I told the story slightly differently each time) at the time of the crime.  It can’t be him!  Riley says she saw someone still the Smarties and it wasn’t Billy; it was Mr. Spindle!***

***Please note that we eventually discovered that Mr. Spindle had indeed stolen the Smarties, but only to borrow them for a specific purpose and with the intent to replace them immediately.

We discussed our Smarties mystery while I introduced some mystery vocabulary we will need during this unit.  Most of the words were familiar to the students.  The only one none of them had never heard before was “red herring.”  A couple students insisted that a red herring is a bird.  A red herring is actually a fish that has been strongly cured or heavily smoked, turning it red.  In the context of mysteries, a red herring is a false clue, something that leads the detective to an incorrect conclusion (like the candy wrappers under Billy’s desk in our mystery).

Why is a pickled fish used to embody this concept?  According to wikipedia, “Conventional wisdom has long supposed it to be the use of a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern linguistic research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a hare, and was never an actual practice of hunters. The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and literary device.”

I confess that I never truly understood this term until I looked it up when I first started teaching this unit.  Just one of the reasons why working with kids is the best job there is.  I never know what I don’t know until I’m in a room with ten first graders who are full of questions.  (You realize that that last part was redundant, right?  All first graders are full of questions.  The challenge is to make sure you’re full of answers, or that you know where to help find them.)

The kids each took home a  Case Report homework sheet and a mystery book (I know they are reading books that are longer and more difficult than this, but I wanted it to be simple and straightforward for purposes of filling out the Case Report).  Books and homework are due back next Thursday, October 6th.

First Grade Enrichment Math: Calculator Words

This trimester, First Grade Enrichment Math will meet each week on Wednesdays.  First grade students with a preponderance of STAR Math scores at the 98th percentile and above have been invited to join an enrichment math group.  Currently, we only have one STAR Math score, so membership in an enrichment group is based on that score.  Enrichment math groups change each trimester depending on assessment information.

If your child is in an Enrichment Math group this trimester, s/he brought home a letter from me.  Please know that, as I mentioned in my letter, inclusion in an enrichment group is not the same as a gifted identification.  Enrichment groups are flexible and depend on achievement information.  As student needs and scores change, so do the groups.  Your child may come one session and not the next.  This is normal!  Formal gifted identifications include much more information and do not take place until the end of second grade.

We will have enrichment math homework most (but not all) weeks.  You’ll know it comes from me because it will have your child’s name and the due date written at the top in green pen.

We started out working on calculator skills, doing math problems on our calculators and then turning the answers into words.  We talked about what letter each number on the calculator looked like when we turned the calculator upside down, and then got to work forming words.

There’s something kids find ridiculously amusing about silly words formed using numbers.  While we worked on our calculator story in class, they were gleefully shouting out the answers as they worked through the problems.

Homework is a calculator crossword.  I demonstrated how to do the work in class, but it can be tricky.  This is further complicated by the fact that modern calculators don’t square off the numbers like old school calculators do.  Add to that the fact that turning your iPhone calculator upside down doesn’t work because the screen adjusts, and you’ve got yourself a problem.  There are a couple of easy solutions.  The first is a trip to Target to pick up a small, simple, old school calculator.  Alternatively, there’s an app for that — Calculator Words for your iPhone or iPad has a squared off, old school-style display.  It’s not a simple fix, though, as Calculator Words reverses the orientation. So you need to do the math on another calculator, find the answer, and then type it into the Calculator Words calculator.  I wish I could loan every student a calculator, but I don’t have enough to go around!

I’m looking forward to working with these first graders!

Second Grade Enrichment Humanities: Can You Dig It?

We had our first class meeting for Second Grade Humanities today.  If your child will be participating in small group humanities this time around, you should have received a “welcome” email from me today.  This first session, we will be studying archaeology using a unit called Can You Dig It?  Today’s lesson was about chronology and it was entitled “The Time of Your Life.”

We began with a general discussion of archaeology, talking about how it is an examination of the past using artifacts to learn about people, culture, etc.  We discussed how important chronology is in archaeology.  We looked at a timeline of Ben Franklin’s life and identified the parts of a timeline.  We decided that making a timeline is pretty easy if you know when things happened.  Unfortunately, when archaeologists dig up artifacts, they don’t come with ID tags telling the year in which they were used.

Next, I showed the students a mixed-up timeline of my life.  They worked together to put the events in order.  Ask them about, and I bet they’ll tell you that they did an excellent job (which is true!).

Then, I gave each student six strips of paper.  On each strip, they wrote one event in their lifetime and drew an artifact to correspond with that event.  They then mixed up all of the strips.




A sample set of strips (I bet this child’s parents know to whom these strips belong!).

Next, the students switched desks and tried to put their partner’s strips in order.  Sometimes, this was easy — especially if they knew the person well and knew where to place strips like “my brother was born.”  Sometimes, it was more difficult.  Especially when certain people tried to be difficult on purpose, coming up with hard-to-place events like “I saw my first parade.”

I think it helped the kids have a sense of the challenge involved in developing a chronology when at an archaeological dig.  At least, I hope it did.  Next week, we’ll be talking about CONTEXT.  After that, we’ll do a little activity designed to show what happens when archaeologists don’t pay careful attention to these factors.  (Hint:  they tend to mess up and get everything all wrong)