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)

Enrichment Services for Grades K-2

Hello Everyone and welcome back to school!

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know me already, but just in case — my name is Beth Green and I am the Enrichment Coordinator for grades K-2 at Mount Daniel and Thomas Jefferson.  This is my fifth year in this position and I love what I do in a way that perhaps only happens to people who begin their careers doing something they don’t love.  (Hence the reason I sometimes refer to myself as a “recovering lawyer.”)

The first few weeks of school are usually all about scheduling when it comes to enrichment services.  Students and classes have to be grouped together, lesson times have to be chosen, assessments have to be given.  It’s a process with a lot of moving pieces and I appreciate your patience while we work everything out.

Remember, kindergarten, first, and second graders may be eligible to receive enrichment services, but they do not have formal gifted identifications.  Enrichment services depend on the students’ needs and assessment information and are subject to change.  This is normal!  Your child may come one session and not the next.  Reading and Math groups shuffle a bit each trimester at Mount Daniel, and humanities and math groups at TJ also change with each new Tiger Pause session.  Formal gifted identifications don’t occur until the end of second grade.

In terms of criteria, Reading groups for kindergarten are based on DRA levels, which we don’t usually have until November.  Kindergarten Math groups are based on assessments given at the beginning of October and March.  Kindergarten enrichment groups begin after these assessments are completed.

First grade Math and Reading groups are based on STAR Math and STAR Reading scores, which need to be at or above the 98th percentile.  As of yesterday, all first grade classes have completed these assessments, and first grade enrichment groups will begin next week.

Second grade services are provided in two different ways.  Students with at least three of their most recent four STAR Reading or STAR Math scores at the 96th percentile or above qualify to receive enrichment services during Tiger Pause.  For second graders, Tiger Pause is the first 40 minutes of the day M/Tu/Th/Fr.  Tiger Pause services are provided by grade level teachers, and I will be pushing into Tiger Pause Enrichment Language Arts once each week and Tiger Pause Enrichment Math once each week.

In addition to Tiger Pause, students with at least three of their most recent STAR Reading and/or STAR Math scores at the 98th percentile or above qualify to receive small group pull out enrichment services for Language Arts and/or Math.  These services are provided by the Enrichment Coordinator (that’s me), once each week for 40 minutes.

Second grade enrichment services are provided in three approximately twelve-week sessions.  The first session of Tiger Pause will begin the first week of October. Small group enrichment began this week (Math on Tuesdays, Language Arts on Fridays).

I have already begun whole class thinking skills lessons with kindergarten and first grade students at Mount Daniel.  I meet with each class every other week. This helps me become acquainted with all of the students and their abilities, interests, and strengths.

Questions?  Comments?  Email me at greenb [at] fccps [dot] org.

I know this is going to be a fabulous year!


Second Grade Enrichment Math: The Million Marks March

If your child is in a second grade enrichment math group with me this session, you should have received a welcome email from me this morning.  We began our new enrichment math session with a little introduction about the origins of math.

We talked about primitive math and discussed how even tally marks, which use the cross hatch lines to organize them into groups of five, are an improvement over the earliest marks.  I asked the kids how long they thought it would take to make a million tally marks.  The answers ranged from “15 minutes” to “5 centuries.”  So we endeavored to come up with a better estimate.

First, I timed the kids writing marks for five minutes.  There was a lot of moaning. This is tedious work!


We then found the average number of tally marks they could make in five minutes.  In every class, the average was about the same — 500 tally marks in five minutes.  I asked the kids, given this average, how many minutes it would take to make a million tally marks.   They divided 1,000,000 and concluded that there are 2,000 groups of 500 in a million.  Since 2,000 times 5 is 10,000, it should take 10,000 minutes to make a million tally marks.

We went on to calculate how many hours that would be, and then how many days.  Ask your child how we did it, and what we found as our final answer.  (Hopefully they’ll say “about seven days” because that’s what we came up with).  We talked about all of the things we WOULDN’T be doing if we were making tally marks for seven straight days (eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, going to school…).

I then issued the following challenge: there are twelve weeks in this enrichment session. Any student who wishes may attempt to make one million tally marks during that time. I will take anyone who can accomplish the task and two of their friends out for ice cream. Tally mark pages must each be labeled with the student’s name and must include a subtotal in the top right corner. As I told the kids, I have never had a student actually succeed at this challenge. They didn’t seem deterred.

There definitely seem to be some students who are determined to take the challenge. If you think this is one of my dumber ideas and that there really isn’t any point, I get it — making tally marks isn’t really increasing brain power. But a million is A LOT. And most kids don’t get how big it really is. Any minute spent on the tedious task of making tally marks in the (likely fruitless) attempt to make a million brings a student one minute closer to having a real sense of what this number means. It also can’t help but foster appreciation for our number system and how much more efficiently we can work now.

I came across this article yesterday (How Thinking About Infinity Changes Kids’ Brains on Math) as I was preparing this lesson, and I felt justified!   As the author says, “the imprint left on the brain is not just a memory of [these kinds of constructivist experiences]. It is a better-formed, broadly applicable intuition for numbers.”

With that said, I can’t say enough times that this is 100% optional. If your child is not interested in the Million Marks March, please don’t force him or her to make tally marks! That sounds like torture. We have plenty of other torturous work to do this session that’s not optional (wink wink).