Smashups are not just for tech tools!

Restaurant/Rory’s Story Cube Smashup

If you have ever been to a restaurant that has a piece of white butcher paper covering the tables with crayons?  It’s a nice way to pass the time as you wait for your food, especially for kids.

I’ve been planning back to school activities and I thought it would be fun to cover the tables in my classroom with white butcher paper one morning and put out crayons. The students could draw anything. I want opportunities that allow me to see their interests. Kids tend to draw things they love. I can walk around and ask them about their pictures and get to know them better.

I also like open-ended experiences that focus on collaboration and creativity.  When I thought of covering the tables with paper, for some reason Rory’s Story Cubes came to my mind.

Rory’s Story Cubes are a fun set of dice with pictures. You roll the dice and then have to create a story by connecting all the random pictures on top of the dice. These usually create fun stories and it’s interesting to see how a person makes all the pictures work to create one story.

Here is an example of a roll using Rory’s Story Cubes:

So this is where the smashup begins!  The students will not know that they are going to have to create a story about  their pictures so it will automatically create random pictures. After you allow students time to draw pictures, tell them that their group needs to create a story from the pictures on their paper.  I have a set of Rory’s Story Cubes so I plan on modeling how to tie all the pictures together.Many students  have not played with them. If you don’t have a set of cubes, you can use the picture above to model the activity.

Things I am thinking about:

I’m wondering if I should make a grid on the paper and tell them they can draw an object in each box. This might make it easier to tell the story and be more like playing Rory’s Story Cubes.   

What do you think? Do you think kids will like it?

Game Makers- Part 3: Creating & Making the Games

If missed the previous posts in this series, click here: Post 1 & Post 2

Now that we have learned about graphic design and also how a professional game company designs games, it was our turn to create games to help the kindergarten classroom. The kindergarten teacher gave us a wish list of skills for the games. Students were paired up according to their interest in a particular skill.  Students first planned a game independently and then met with the partner to compare ideas to make one game design for the team.












Each pair met with me to discuss the game design and to plan for the dimensions of the cards or game boards. Once the dimensions were set, I met with pairs to teach them how to measure cards. Some students wanted square cards while others wanted rectangles and all wanted different sizes. The hardest part was to teach them how to measure- example:  3 by 2 cards on a piece of cardstock. Once the paper was cut, the students worked on coloring the cards and searching for pictures online if needed. The same process was followed to make the game boards.  All games had to fit in a gallon size plastic bag to make it easy for the kindergarten teacher to store them.

Students made many mistakes with measuring but they did not give up. Students had lots of time to practice measuring accurately which is one of our math standards.

After making the cards and boards (depending on the design), the teams worked on writing clear directions to play their games.  Directions are VERY hard to write. There were many revisions for clarity, grammar and spelling.  After the final draft was completed, it was time to take the game to the laminator. The students loved cutting out their games and seeing the final product. Then we invited the kindergarten class to our room to play the games! The games were a success!


Here’s a closer look at the individual games, the game directions and the games in action.

Game Makers PBL- part 2

If you missed part 1, click HERE.

After exploring commercially bought games and making a list of what we knew and what we needed to know, we needed to find experts that could help us design our games. One of my classroom parents is a graphic designer! He designs websites, magazines, logos, and flyers for various companies. He came to our classroom to share about design.



He taught us the importance of color and how to draw attention to different parts of a design.  Did you know that companies choose the colors for their companies to make you feel a certain way?



Then he shared about magazine layouts. The placement of titles and pictures is important.  We learned a lot about graphic design. 

Later that same week, we talked to a game designer from the game company Gamewright. He Skyped with our class and answered ALL of our questions. We had over 20 questions to help us design our games for our kindergarten friends.

skypewith gamewright


Now that we found out all our “need to know” questions, it was time to start design a game! (part 3)

Game Makers PBL- part 1






I am still fairly new to project-based learning but have loved the ones I have done with my classes the past 2 years. I had this idea for one a few years ago when a kindergarten teacher friend of mine was talking about making games or activities for her students. I thought it would be great if my 2nd graders could create learning games for her class.  However, our schedules did not work out until this year. I was so excited for my 2nd graders to become game designers!

Driving Question: 


yellow 3

Another teacher in our district joined me in planning this pbl. Although this pbl would touch on multiple skills, we chose the following as our focus.

Learning Outcomes/Targets:

  • Write an informative text that clearly gives directions on how to play a game
  • Accurately partition rectangles, squares, and circles into equal parts
  • Choose the correct measurement tool and  accurately measure to create a certain size object
  • Collaborate with others to complete a task

How we kicked off the pbl:

The kindergarten teacher came into our classroom and asked for our help. She said she needed games to help her students and wondered if we could help. Of course, my class was up for that challenge. She brought a list of kindergarten skills and the students asked her a few questions about the skills. The students were excited but we had to learn about game design.


Time to Explore!

I brought several games and placed them on each table. Each group sat down and looked at the parts of each game.  Then we created a list of what we knew about games.






Part 2: Next post-

Now it was time to consult experts and create a list of what we needed to know. Click here to read part 2!

You can follow our journey here or on our class twitter page  @missmacsowls.



So what happened during the zoo map question quest activity?

Last week, I blogged about an idea. You can see that post here.

So…how did it go?

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.28.11 PM

It was AMAZING! Now, don’t let me mislead you. We had one hiccup and had to stop a few times to change guidelines as we went but my 2nd graders blew me away.

We do lots of pair and group work so we did not have to go over group expectations. My kids have also been using Google Drive since September and they have worked on shared Google Docs for awhile. However, they have not experienced 5 different groups working on one doc. Let’s go ahead and talk about the first hiccup.

Hiccup: The students had a hard time navigating in and around the boxes.

They were SO excited they started before I really expected them to so a little chaos ensued. Excited chaos but chaos. There were lots of “Someone is erasing our answers!” and “Why are we typing in the directions?”

Solutions: We should have had a “test” for each group so everyone could find the cursor for their group. The second solution is to make only one group is in a box at a time.

We all had to put our hands in the air so no one was on the keyboards and they came up with the solution. It worked and we had only few problems with this issue after the solution was agreed upon.

Click here to see the final Google Doc of the activity. Each group had an assigned color. This helped me see group answers. I could read it by color to see group work or I could just read each box to see how the class did overall.

Even with the chaos, the activity went better than I imagined. It surprised me!


Here is what went right:

1. Engagement- The kids were so engaged in this activity. They worked on the questions for over an hour.They liked the harder questions and kept working until they could answer them.

2. Cooperation- They worked together, not only in teams, but as a whole class. They encouraged one another and praised each other for answering a question well.

3. Critical Thinking- The questions were designed to have some recall, some inference and some open-ended questions. This activity challenged the kids to think beyond the first logical answer. If one group “took” a group’s answer, the group had to come up with another one.  Worksheets are limited. Even if you have an open-ended one, students do not see answers of others. Teachers usually get the same answers- the first ones that pop into their heads.

4. Effort- I noticed that the groups were more precise about spelling and writing mistakes. I think this was due to the fact that they had to record answers that everyone could read and understand. They took this seriously. It was by far their best self-editing project EVER. I didn’t have to make any corrections.

5. Skills covered-The students had to use many skills to complete this task: recall, inference, map skills, calendar skills, drawing conclusions, elapsed time, collaboration, and communication.

6. Authentic Learning-Kids visit museums, zoos, aquariums, and amusement parks. Most of these places provide maps. It is a skill they will use outside of school. They need to know how and where to find information. They also need to know that they can find this information on the map, in an insert, or on the back of the map.

I will do an activity like this again. I might add questions that would require the students to visit the location’s website. Websites are updated frequently. This would include other technology skills as well.

I was worried it might be a disaster and it could have been.I learned from the hiccups we had. We might encounter a different hiccup or two next time and we will learn from those as well.  That’s what it’s all about. Learning.

Here are a few more pictures from the activity:




Zoo Map Question Quest


I want to work with my class on reading infographics. We are also wrapping up our “What’s New at the Zoo?” project and going on a field trip to the zoo. ( You can check out our class twitter page for more info @missmacsowls.)  I recently went to the zoo and saved the maps we were given.  I wasn’t sure how I wanted to use them in a lesson but put them aside until the week before our field trip. THEN I got a random idea.  We use GoogleDrive in our room. The students know how to collaborate with each other and how to use a Google doc. SO could I create a Google doc that would encourage collaboration, work on tech skills, prepare for the zoo trip, AND work on reading infographics?  I hope I came up with an idea that will work and will also be engaging.

I created a Zoo Map Question Quest!  I am trying it out this week.  I wrote questions that involved recall and inference. Some have one answer but most have several possible answers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.23.43 PM

The general premise: The class is given the quest and work together to complete it. They will work in groups to answer the questions. Each group will be given a zoo map, an iPad, a keyboard, and a font color. They can answer the questions in any order. There are a few recall questions with only one correct answer. If the group thinks the answer is correct, they will type the word “agree” under the answer.

To answer the questions, the students will need to read not only the map but the information on all parts of the brochure and also the map insert of events for 2015.  The quest will take more than one session. 🙂

What do you think? Do you think it will work? Will this be beneficial for my 2nd graders?  I would love input about this activity.

I will post after the week is over and report what happened.

New at the Zoo: A Survey

Please help my class. We have been collecting data at our school but we would love to collect more outside of our building.

We researched 19 animals that are currently not at our local zoo, The Birmingham Zoo.  After completing research, students used facts from their research to write persuasive letters to their groups explaining why their animal would be best as the group’s animal.  Each member of the group voted on an animal but could not vote on their own animal. Once the animal was chosen, the members of the group worked together to create a presentation for the Birmingham Zoo using the app Explain Everything.Below you can view the persuasive presentation from each group.

Please watch each presentation. Each presentation is between 30 seconds and 1 minute long. After viewing all of the presentations, click the link below them to vote.

Thank you very much!

Miss Mac’s 2nd grade class








White-lipped Deer:

whitelipped deer



Canadian Lynx:










So now that you have heard the presentations, which animal would you like to see at the zoo?

Click the link below to vote:


**All pictures were free to use or share. ( google advanced image search)

Doubting Myself: Morning Work

I had a conversation the other day with someone about the use of  “morning work.” After hearing them share about using it and how much it was helping the students, I realized I was bothered.  First I thought it was because I’m not a fan of run-off morning work. But it kept bugging me.  So I kept thinking about it.  Why was it bothering me so much?  Then I realized what it was. When I hear teachers using something and how much they feel it benefits their students and I don’t use it,  it makes me doubt my belief about it.

Here are the things that were running through my head without realizing it:

  • What if it is really good for my students and I am keeping them from it?
  • I know it doesn’t meet the needs of all my students but would it really hurt them?
  • I like my students to come in and start reading or writing something that interests them but could that 2 sided worksheet be beneficial to them since it reviews skills every day?

So I called a colleague and friend who also happens to be a former parent. I had her son a couple of years ago and I just wanted to talk it out with her.  She in turn asked me some questions which helped me a lot.

  • Was there anything on that sheet that you don’t cover another way?
  • What type of environment do you want your kids to walk into each morning?
  • Are there questions/problems on the sheet that you could use but in another way that matches your philosophy of education?
  • What do you think most teachers use that sheet for?
  • And then a statement or two: Your students are happy and excited to learn when they are with you and successful after they leave you. Your parents and students are happy with what you do. Don’t doubt what you do and believe.

These reaffirmed what I believe:

  • I want my students to come in every day knowing they will learn but have fun doing it.
  • I am HUGE advocate for choice in learning. We have standards to teach but there are many ways to get there and kids should have options to show their learning.
  • I build review in naturally throughout the day/week/year where it makes sense and is needed.
  • Morning work aims for the average kid. The high kids don’t need it, the low kids can’t do it without some help and the average kids can do it with very little attention from the teacher. So why would I need to use it?
  • I don’t like morning work because it is very fragmented. It picks random skills even if it is organized and the skills are set in isolation and not in a natural context for the skill. I doubt kids will be remember it let alone apply it to a new situation.
  • I have to think there are better ways to spend our time in the morning. I like to help kids with individual projects or needs in the morning. We start out excited, happy and relaxed.

If you use morning work, I don’t think it’s evil. It just doesn’t fit me or my classroom.  I used to use it a lot.  I quit because I could tell you who was going to make 100, who would miss a few and who would need me to help them redo it the next day before I ever gave it. The “review” wasn’t helping many of my kids.  It  may have given me a few minutes to get attendance done but if they are engaged in their own books/project, I get the few minutes I need to complete that task. Everyone has to make so many decisions about their teaching and their classroom. Just make it based on what you believe. 🙂


It’s just funny how hearing one person’s success can make you doubt your core beliefs.  I didn’t think it would be so easy to make me doubt myself.

Easy Place Value Activity

As I said in the previous post, I attended a great math training in my district.  Another great activity the presenters shared was made with craft sticks.  It is  super easy to make and it can be adapted to meet the different needs of students in your room.

Materials needed:

Up to 10 craft sticks per student and different colored permanent markers

Here is a picture of the stick when it is finished. One side has one dot in the middle. The other side has 10 dots split into 5 and 5.


math craft sticks

This is how you can start the activity. Then you can adapt it in different ways to practice multiple math skills.

I started my 2nd graders with 5 sticks each. The students hold the 5 sticks in their fist, place their fist on the table and release the sticks.  Then without flipping any of them over, they count how many dots landed face up.  I walked around to see if any had trouble counting by 10s and 1’s.  They write down their number and share their number with the group. The one with the highest number wins that round.  You can change it to the one with the highest or lowest wins.  They continue playing for four rounds. Then a new game starts.

Extensions I have tried:

  • The group can write down the numbers for 1 round and organize them from least to greatest or least to greatest.
  • Students can stop after 2 rounds, add their two numbers to find the total.
  • The groups can add up each round to see how many dots the entire group had in one drop of the sticks. They can check their answer by using the sticks to verify their answer.
  • You can add more sticks to students who need higher numbers and remove sticks for those that need smaller numbers.
  • It is a great way to see if students can count by 5’s, 10’s and 1’s. If students do well counting with 10’s and 1’s then ask them if they can count them by 5’s and 1’s.
  • Ask students how they know they have more than another student.  This will help them practice comparison.
  • You can have students record 2 rounds and then use greater than, less than and equal signs to compare the 2 totals.

There are so many more ways you can use this activity. The best thing is the kids love it.

Here is a very short video of one group combining all of their craft sticks to find the group’s total. In each group of 4, there was a captain who was in charge of staying “sticks up/sticks down/release” and also recorded the group’s total. After each game the captain changed so everyone had a chance to record but everyone in the group was responsible for verifying the answer each time.


Answer in written form

Finding the total

Verifying with the sticks

These take very little time to make and can be used for so many math concepts. 🙂

Have fun!


**I would give you this advice.  Get a plastic bag for each group. Choose 4 different colors and make sets of sticks for 4 students. Then place these in a plastic bag.  This will help students sort the sticks after each release. 🙂

Disclaimer: I googled this activity when I left the workshop and while I found several teachers who were playing it, no one seemed to know who created it. 🙂  It seems to be an activity that just gets passed on by word of mouth. 🙂  So I will join in with sharing it because it is a GREAT activity.





Stand Up and Be Counted

The power of counting collections

I recently attended 3 days of district professional development on math.  I learned tons but I want to write about one activity that I reached all my students and also provided valuable insights into my students’ mathematical understanding.

We read this article on Counting Collections. After reading this article, I was intrigued and wanted to try it with my students. Most elementary classrooms have  materials on hand to do a counting collection activity.  I went through all my math manipulatives and also pulled out school supplies that I had in the cabinet.  I used the following materials: dominoes, counting bears, interlocking cubes, 2 sided-counters, paperclips, game tokens, beads, pattern blocks,  and craft sticks.  I had several different types of game tokens and beads. I had 12 different collections. They were going to work in  pairs and I wanted all pairs to have many collections to choose from.

What I didn’t realize was how much this activity would show me. I expected most of the pairs to automatically count the objects by tens. I thought some might even count by 20’s.  As I walked around observing students, many pairs counted by ones. BY ONES!!!  I did have pairs organize in fives and tens but not as many as I thought I would have.  I was also amazed that some groups decided to organize by other attributes such as color. So they would have piles of 8, 11, 4, 6, 15. When I asked them how many they had counted so far, they realized it was difficult to add them but continued with this strategy. I also saw strong math students struggle keeping up counting by 2’s past 32. They were GREAT until around 30 but then they would skip numbers. They would say, “30, 32, 36, 38….time passed…40, 42”  It was worse when they counted over 100.

I think kids need to count real objects more often. Students count a lot in kindergarten but then many move on.  I found that many students were great until their collection went over 100. Then everything fell apart.  This is caused from everyone stopping the count at 100 every time.  How many times do we count to 100 by 2’s, 5’s, & 10’s but never go past it?  Kids shout “100!” when they reach it because they think it ends it all. 🙂

If you would like to try a counting collection, I would make these suggestions:

  • Read the article about counting collections.
  • Gather lots of different collections so students have choices.
  • Provide paper for students to record their work.
  • Make a simple form to write observations. I had a form but needed a LOT more to record notes.
  • DO NOT SUGGEST A WAY TO COUNT. In other words, do not say “What if you counted by tens?”  You can ask “Could you try another way to count the objects?” But then walk away!  Let them struggle a bit and think of a way to make the counting easier. You can ask them to walk around the room and ask other groups how they are counting if they are really stuck.
  • Make large collections that will require more than one math session or counting time.  One important part of the task is being able to organize what they have counted, record what they have counted and also what is left to count.  I had plastic storage bags and sharpies out if they needed them. (The funny thing was many just made 2 bags: counted and uncounted but they didn’t record the number in each. The next day, they had to start ALL over but they didn’t make that mistake the next day.)

What do look for:

  • How do they organize the counted and uncounted objects?
  • Do they have a strategy to count? Did they make a plan?
  • How are they counting? Is it random? Did they choose to count by 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s?  If they counted by 10’s how did they get to ten? Counting by 1’s, or 2’s to make 10?
  • When you come by and ask them to count for you, can they each count the collection? I noticed some pairs had one student who could count the collection but the other student could not. When they finished counting, I asked them to rearrange with a different number (easier) to verify the total. This gave support to the one who struggled and stretched the other student to work with a different strategy.
  • If they are counting by 1’s, interrupt them with questions about other things. Then ask them how many they have. Most of the time, they will forget because it is a not an organized plan and is a poor strategy for such a large number. Once you do that a few times, I ask “I am so sorry. I keep interrupting you. Could you organize these in a way so that if I come by, you can find your count again quickly?”  They usually move to more efficient strategies.
  • When they find a total, ask them to record how they counted and to show their count in some way.  Then ask them to verify the total by counting in a different way.  When I asked them if they would get a different answer, some said “Yes,” but most said, “It will look different but it will be the same number.”
  • Just take time to sit and listen to them count.  They will amaze you and you will also find gaps in their understanding.  Many students struggled over 100, then again over 200.  Most did well counting by 10’s but when they had to verify the total by counting by a different number, I discovered areas we needed to work on.  I don’t think we do enough of just sitting and listening to our students.  You need to ask lots of questions. 🙂
  • Some questions: How are you counting your collection? Why did you choose that strategy? How many do you have now? Looking at how many you have left, what do you think the total will be? Do you think it will be over ____?  How are you going to show what you have done so far on your paper? Can you make it clear to anyone how you counted your collection?

Here are some pictures from our first counting collection activity.  My students LOVED it. One day we had inside recess and I gave them tons of choices. They ALL chose counting collections. I was amazed. 🙂













Check out this article about counting circles in middle school. It is another math routine involving counting.  It just shows that counting is powerful and important at any level!