Welcome Back Everyone!

Here we go again, people!

It’s time for another school year.  (For those that work at a year-round school, you might have long since settled into your classrooms.  Hope it’s going well.) As I mentioned before, I have taken on a new role this year as an instructional coach.  I’m currently on Day 6 and have attended a total of 5 trainings.  I’d say it’s going rather well!  (I’ll speak on the trainings at a later date because I got some really juicy tidbits to share.)  Anyway, even though I don’t have my own classroom, I will still be posting things I have done in the past.  You know, those things that I always said I would blog about…and didn’t.

The most important thing a teacher can do during the first days of school is to build a positive and supportive classroom culture.  The students need to feel safe in order to take academic risks throughout the year.  If the students are not comfortable, collaborative conversations cannot occur and learning will not reaching its optimum potential.  We all know that learning is social.  So if the social environment is not there, students will not achieve their full greatness.

One of my brilliant professors taught me a motto which I have since stolen and slapped on a poster.  He would say, “Everyone participates, everyone learns.  You either do it with us or in front of us.”  He would make us repeat that each day.  So when students felt like not participating in an activity (I like to incorporate dance moves, songs, cheers, etc.), that would be their choice.  But I would remind them that their only other option was to do it ‘in front of us’.  I have yet to have a student come to the front.

Below are some pictures that I will briefly explain.  The “FAIL” poster was always a hit.  Students glanced at it with scary eyes until I explained that failure was welcomed and encouraged in this class.  When we fail, we learn and try again.  Each day I had a different activity for the students to try to practice this concept (i.e. house of cards, math challenges, domino buildings, any fun thing found on my pinterest board).

First Attempt In Learning--create a culture where it's ok to fail!
First Attempt In Learning–create a culture where it’s ok to fail!
Changed around my bk rec. wall because st were struggling with the genres. Needed to bring clarity.
Changed around my bk rec. wall because st were struggling with the genres. Needed to bring clarity.

Above was my revised book recommendation wall. Originally, I had the books only sorted by fictional and informational text.  But because my “40 Book Challenge” required readings of different genres, I needed to categorize the recommendations for the students.

I always took pictures of my kids on the first day of school and made about 6 copies per student.  You’ll notice in my classroom that I have their faces on everything.  I like that personal touch, more so than name tags.  Personal preference.  The Raining Compliments was a way to teach the students how to give and receive meaningful compliments.  One of my classroom jobs was a compliment coordinator.  This person would let me know when each student had at least one compliment in their bag.  Only then would students be able to collect their compliments during dismissal.

Take a pic of kids. Staple each face to a bag to leave throughout the school year.  Teach students how to give quality compliment and st. collect them when everyone has at least one in the bag.
Take a pic of kids. Staple each face to a bag to leave throughout the school year. Teach students how to give quality compliment and st. collect them when everyone has at least one in the bag.
St. filled out a form when they read a book they wanted to rec.  Super easy and st. used as a resource when they didn't know what their next book choice should be.  Power of the Peers!
St. filled out a form when they read a book they wanted to rec. Super easy and st. used as a resource when they didn’t know what their next book choice should be. Power of the Peers!

I know, I know.  Multiplication Jail might be considered too negative.  It depends on the relationship you have with your students.  This is always when I used to give timed math tests (operational drills).  I stopped that practice a couple years ago.  Strain your Brain was simply a fun, critical thinking challenge (usually math) that students tried to solve each week.

Keeping track of fast facts results and weekly brain challenge.
Keeping track of fast facts results and weekly brain challenge.

Love this science challenge of the week.  Again, it was a student’s job.  The less I have to remember, the better for all.  The visual for monitoring the writing process really helped me keep track of where everyone was and who needed help.

Take pics of your students. Slap a magnet on the back and voila!  The students move their head to mark which stage of the writing process they are in.  A perfect visual for both st. and tchrs.
Take pics of your students. Slap a magnet on the back and voila! The students move their head to mark which stage of the writing process they are in. A perfect visual for both st. and tchrs.
Beth Newingham we love you!  After we read any story, I printed out a small image of cover and we placed it in app. spot.  We could then refer to past reads throughout the year.
Beth Newingham we love you! After we read any story, I printed out a small image of cover and we placed it in app. spot. We could then refer to past reads throughout the year.

IMG_6550Pictures on the writing wall too!  I wrote out the steps of the writing process depending on text type so the students could reference it as needed.

P.S.  Love the “Please excuse our bare board.  Our writing is under construction.” sign.  I always felt guilty with a bare board, but this sign liberated me.

 

Questions critical readers need to ponder when reading news, history, etc. Thanks Teaching Channel!
Questions critical readers need to ponder when reading news, history, etc. Thanks Teaching Channel!
Added my own flare to this quality SIOP strategy to mark the text.
Added my own flare to this quality SIOP strategy to mark the text.
Kids LOVED the reading cave!  Also had a couch and cozy chairs in the room.  So easy to please!
Kids LOVED the reading cave! Also had a couch and cozy chairs in the room. So easy to please!

I’m Baaaaack in Action!

I’m Baaaaack in Action!

My apologies to all for the lack of content and update on this blog.  I had some minor, ok major, things going on in life and I just couldn’t keep up.  I am happy to announce that I will be back in action committed to sharing thoughts, ideas, lessons, content, etc. on this blog.  And I can’t wait to connect with other educators and/or just plain thoughtful people that can help me grow.

First, a little “me” update.  I AM NO LONGER IN THE CLASSROOM!  What??!!  I know.  It’s like I’m experiencing a sort-of-career-identity-crisis. It’s summertime and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself or where to begin preparing for this new role.  (Perhaps, someone out there can offer words of advice.)  I have accepted a position as an English Language Arts Instructional Coach for the district.  What does that exactly mean, you ask…?  Not quite sure yet.  Job description is a work in progress as this is a pilot program.  But from what I understand, I will basically be a teacher’s support system, a partner to aide in enhancing their greatness!  Nothing evaluative about it.  I truly hope to be an asset to teachers and relieve some of the constant stress they feel as they work tirelessly in the trenches.

Fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted.  Successes and failures to come, I’m sure.

Moving on from that topic, over the next couple of months my goal is to post lessons and projects from my last couple of school years.  You know, the lessons that I learned a ton from that I made a mental note to post right away.  And then I never did. Ya! Those ones.

I couldn’t help myself, but share some photos of my final Open House.

Sniff.  It was a great ride, and who knows? I may return.

Shoebox State Floats! Shoebox state floats!  Voting time!

Loved, loved, loved how these shoebox state floats turn out as their final product.
Loved, loved, loved how these shoebox state floats turn out as their final product.
Follow me for upcoming posts about all Open House projects!
Follow me for upcoming posts about all Open House projects!

Love me some Open House! IMG_6405 IMG_6418 IMG_6421

Follow me for upcoming blogs and free sharing on all Open House lessons/projects!
Follow me for upcoming blogs and free sharing on all Open House lessons/projects!
Saved all the EQs we worked on throughout the year.  Follow me for upcoming post on all EQs and lessons!
Saved all the EQs we worked on throughout the year. Follow me for upcoming post on all EQs and lessons!
Free 40 Book Challenge--and I'll upload the Reading Ribbon final project FREE soon!
Free 40 Book Challenge–and I’ll upload the Reading Ribbon final project FREE soon!
Follow me to see lesson on which event would have pushed your students over the edge! So fun.
Follow me to see lesson on which event would have pushed your students over the edge! So fun.
Follow me for all free sharing on projects and lessons!
Follow me for all free sharing on projects and lessons!

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I love this job-follow me for all free lessons and projects shared for Open House.
I love this job-follow me for all free lessons and projects shared for Open House.
Used mentor texts during our slavery unit to identify quality sentences, then analyzed each of them.
Used mentor texts during our slavery unit to identify quality sentences, then analyzed each of them.
Such a good lesson having students read quotes then determine who said it.  POV project
Such a good lesson having students read quotes then determine who said it. POV project
Follow me for free lesson shares!  Text connections
Follow me for free lesson shares! Text connections
Keeping it relevant for our kids!
Keeping it relevant for our kids!

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Contacting Parents…Help!

The beginning of the year is full of many things, but the one thing that comes to mind for me is PAPERWORK!  All of those emergency cards, contact information for mom/dad/legal guardian, email addresses, phone numbers, allergies, things the teacher should know, students’ likes and dislikes, etc.

And the majority of it exists simply so we know the best way to contact the parents throughout the year. Really, that’s all we’re looking for.  Can we text you?  Email you?  Call you?  Or should we just send a note home?  Which do you prefer?  Help us out, parents!  Can you please write your email address and/or phone numbers a little more clearly so that I do not enter it incorrectly in my contacts (like I inevitably do every year)?  It’s all so overwhelming….,but if done correctly, saves so much time throughout the year.

Well, because I work at a year round school, my “beginning of the year” is now two months behind me–thank goodness!  I thought I might share some of the beginning of the year forms that I use in hopes of lessening the burden for some of you out there just beginning your school year.

This student information sheet is sent home the first day of school.  I have condensed all crucial info. to one sheet of paper.  The parent contact log is then copied on the backside to be used as needed throughout the year.
This student information sheet is sent home the first day of school. I have condensed all crucial info. to one sheet of paper. The parent contact log is then copied on the backside to be used as needed throughout the year.

 

This log is copied on the back of my student information sheet.  I keep all of these in one binder so that any time I contact a parent, it's easily documented.
This log is copied on the back of my student information sheet. I keep all of these in one binder so that any time I contact a parent, it’s easily documented.

These two forms are copied back to back and given to the students on the first day of school. Parents complete only the student information sheet, as the parent contact log is used as needed throughout the year. I hole-punch these forms and keep them in one small binder. This way I can easily access a parent’s contact information and quickly turn over the paper to document the date, time, and reason for the contact. Not only is it handy, but I feel it’s important to document everything as an educator. You never know when you might need it.

A simple sheet created to obtain parents' phone numbers and permission to TEXT THEM!!! Yay 21st century!
A simple sheet created to obtain parents’ phone numbers and permission to TEXT THEM!!! Yay 21st century!

This sheet was created to move myself and colleagues into the 21st century. Parents are asked if it is ok to text them and to provide the best number to do so. It’s been amazing! You would not believe the power you hold when a student knows that you can text their parent(s) right before their eyes. And now that I have a google voice number— (I’ll discuss that at in future post), the possibilities are endless. I have had such positive feedback from the parents and I feel that my parent/teacher communication has become more effective.

 

I finally made something to send home when I can't read the email address parents write on their contact forms!  Success!
I finally made something to send home when I can’t read the email address parents write on their contact forms! Success!

And finally, this form was created for all the email addresses that I CANNOT READ! It never fails. Every year, I take the time to input all my parents’ email addresses into one group contact. (This way I can send out email blasts to everyone at one time.) Well, every year I enter addresses incorrectly because I cannot read certain email addresses. Is that the letter “i” or the number one…? I mean, really, no matter how many time you write, “Print neatly please.”

Anyway, after I send out my test email. The parents’ email addresses that come back “failed to deliver” receive one of these notices. It’s the first year that I was able to correct all my mistakes! Whoooohoooo!

Student Information Sheet

Parent Contact Log

Technology Contact Sheet

Incorrect Email Alert

Book Club Begins!

After being in school for a month, the time has come.

Mrs. Cortez’s Book Club will officially begin next week.  If you have ever thought of starting a book club with your students, just do it.  Don’t hesitate.  You will not be sorry.

I have been running a book club for the past 5 years with my 5th graders.  Now that I have two periods, it might get a little crazy, but that’s ok.  The pay off is too rewarding.  I have the kids meet once a week before school.  I select the first book which in the past has been Matilda, but since 4th graders read it last year, I changed it to Firegirl (an amazing book).  The students then nominate and vote on the rest of the books we read for the year.  *If a movie is made of the book, we usually schedule a time after school to watch it and compare it with the book.  It’s awesome to hear the students say that the book is better than the movie, because that’s usually the case.

Book Club Notice-- Can't wait for next week.
Book Club Notice– Can’t wait for next week.

The students bring a mug for hot chocolate and we make a treat rotation schedule for doughnuts. I used to provide the hot chocolate, but that became too costly so now I ask the parents for donations. I pick up the slack when needed. And then…we just talk about the book. No assignments, no tests, no stress. Just a good book shared with good people. Amazing.

Until next time…

Click below to see the letter I send home to parents.  Hope it helps so you don’t have to start from scratch.

Book Club Notice

 

Book Club-- hot chocolate!
Book Club– hot chocolate!
Gotta love doughnuts with a good book!
Gotta love doughnuts with a good book!

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to a new school year!  I know many of you are just now getting into “school mode”, but those of us that teach at year round schools have been at it since the beginning of June.

This year I am still teaching 5th grade, but a HUGE change has occurred.  I am now team teaching with an amazing colleague so that I can focus my instruction on my great loves:  social studies and language arts.  Whoohoo for me!  We are five weeks in and so far, I’m loving it.  I already can’t imagine going back to planning lessons for ALL subjects.  No thank you.

Anyway, my first post is just going to share a couple of fun “intro” activities I did with my students this year.  (I’ll share more in my next post.)

The first activity of the 1st day was our “Welcome to 5th grade” Survival Guides.  My previous class made a survival guide for each incoming student.  I placed on guide on each student’s desk and we did a Round Robin read.  I let each student read a guide for 2 minutes (they weren’t that long) and then yelled “Pass!” so they passed the guide to the person on their left.  Another 2 minutes, then “pass”….until everyone had read multiple survival guides.  I then had the groups share their thoughts about 5th grade with their team.  As they discussed, I placed a small piece of chart paper on each teams’ desks.  They had to come up with one prediction statement about their 5th grade year.  Some needed sentence frames so I posted them.  For example, “I predict 5th grade will be _____ because ______.”  Or “After reading these survival guides, I predict 5th grade ________.”

I prefer to do activities like this as opposed to handing out a packet of rules/routines and reading through it.  This way, the students can actually get a feel of how the class will operate and my rules/routines are demonstrated in action.  No need for long lectures.

Click on this link to see the survival guide– End of Year Project

1st day of school and reading the survival guides made for them by my previous class.
1st day of school and reading the survival guides made for them by my previous class.
Reading the "How to survive 5th grade" guide my previous students made
Reading the “How to survive 5th grade” guide my previous students made

Next, the students were to create “Hands and Feet Art”.  This activity is done for two reasons:  it’s an ice breaker for students to work closely with a partner and it the results are always hilarious.  I love being able to post the final products for Parent Information Night.  (I’ll post photos soon.)

Getting to know each other through Hands and Feet Art!
Getting to know each other through Hands and Feet Art!

 

Tracing each other's feet and hands to create their self-portrait.
Tracing each other’s feet and hands to create their self-portrait.

The last activity was the “House of Cards Challenge”.  I have a poster in my classroom that says….”It’s okay to F.A.I.L. First Attempt in Learning”.  I like to give the kids a challenge that I know they will not be able to figure out or succeed in their first try. I use this as a way to let my students know that it is OKAY TO FAIL!! What is most important in any task is our attitude, our plan of attack, and our perseverance.

So the first challenge of the year was to use a deck of cards to build the tallest structure. That was it. No other rules except they had to work with their partner. The results are always entertaining. We did this the first day and again on day 2 and 3. The kids, of course, got better and better. I even assigned a follow up for homework: they had to find a strategy of how to build a house of cards, whether that was online or asking a family member. They loved it! And they got better!

 

Happy beginning of the year everyone— Until next time…

House of Cards Challenge!!
House of Cards Challenge!!
You got it!! House of Card Challenge-- Easy Ice breaker activity
You got it!! House of Card Challenge– Easy Ice breaker activity
Working together- Easy ice breaker activity...building a house of cards
Working together- Easy ice breaker activity…building a house of cards

SIFTing Poems

 

 

SIFT Bookmark for Analyzing Literature--I used it for my poetry unit.  Awesome!
SIFT Bookmark for Analyzing Literature–I used it for my poetry unit. Awesome!

I hope all of you lovely teachers are taking advantage of the free and wonderful videos of The Teaching Channel. If you haven’t gone to the website already, you MUST use this incredible resource.

While searching the site one day, I came across a lesson called Using the SIFT Method to Analyze Literature.    I really liked how this method, or use of this acronym, broke down the components required to analyze literature.  It seemed to help the students keep focus and uncover the deeper, more abstract meanings of a text.  I thought this would work perfectly for my upcoming poetry unit.  (I will be sharing this unit at a later date…I loved it!)

Hopefully, you can check out this video to determine whether the SIFT method can work for you and your students.

*I copied this bookmark on to construction paper to keep it a little more sturdy.  My students continuously referred to it throughout the unit of poetry.*

Grab your partner and READ!

This year is the first year we have begun teaching novel units.  Our fifth grade team (who is awesome, by the way) fundraised money and went on donorschoose.org to buy a total of ….SIX class sets of novels!  So excited!  The titles include the following:

Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.44.52 PM Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.45.42 PM Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.46.57 PM Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.45.12 PM Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.46.30 PM Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.46.02 PM

 

My first novel was The Sign of the Beaver.  I was a little nervous about teaching a novel unit simply because I had never done it before.  (I’m a little bit of an over-thinker.  I don’t like to do things until I’ve fully researched the best ideas and figured out the most effective way to implement the lesson.)  Then, a wonderful colleague of mine said, “Just do it–at least then you’ll figure out what worked and what doesn’t.”  She was so right.

The students absolutely LOVED this book and totally got into it.  We did character analysis throughout the whole story: how the characters evolved, their triumphs, trials, feelings, etc.  Even before I started the novel units, I always have read aloud to my students.  Each day after lunch the students are read to, a chapter at a time from a book of my choosing.  I kept this routine, but just read aloud from The Sign of the Beaver.  Some of the students just listened while many others liked to follow along in their own book.

I have a “narrative/fiction” blocked out in my lesson plans each day.  During this time, we switched it up.  The students read independently, with their assigned reading groups, and more often with their assigned reading partners.  Sometimes, although not too often, we read whole group.  I usually displayed their “Reading Task” or “Reading Challenge” on the front board and they went to work.  (I use those titles to make it sound more interesting 🙂  )

Novel Units- reading assignment
Novel Units- reading assignment
Reading Task for the day!
Reading Task for the day!
Kids working with reading partners-novel unit
Kids working with reading partners-novel unit
Reading with their partners. Working hard!
Reading with their partners. Working hard!
Focused on their reading task!
Focused on their reading task!
Reading on the couch is desired spot.
Reading on the couch is desired spot.

In the beginning, it was a little rough. I suggest modeling–A LOT! Students need multiple opportunities to practice articulating their thoughts in words and in writing. I set my expectations very high, and I’m glad I did. The work that the students are producing now shows miles of improvement since the beginning of the year.
That type of growth makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You see, I’ve always known these kids were brilliant. Now, they are able to show work and express ideas that will prove it to everyone. Amazing!

Below is our final project. We were discussing character traits and trying to describe each character’s personality throughout the entire novel. The students noticed as they learned more about each character, their thoughts about their personality changed. As a final assessment, I assigned the students a character from the story–Matt or Attean. They did not get to choose. First, students had to choose 3 words to describe their character. Once they choose the words, they had to go back in the text and write the evidence to support that claim. I wanted the students to choose the strongest examples from the text. Next, the students had to draw their character based on the descriptions in the book. For example, it would be unacceptable to draw Attean with curly or blond hair because the author gives clear details about his appearance.

The projects are awesome and are now hanging in our classroom!

Sign of the Beaver Characterization Project
Sign of the Beaver Characterization Project
Students chose 3 words to describe character.  Then had to pull out textual evidence to support that claim--page numbers and all!
Students chose 3 words to describe character. Then had to pull out textual evidence to support that claim–page numbers and all!
Pulling out textual evidence to support their claim.  I love it!  (Index cards..super simple)
Pulling out textual evidence to support their claim. I love it! (Index cards..super simple)
Characterization projects..so simple.  Virtually no prep
Characterization projects..so simple. Virtually no prep

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Writing Rubrics…ugh

I think we can all agree that grading our students’ writing assignments is a daunting task. In the past, I’ve put it off for so long that grading it at all seems worthless because, in order to be useful, the feedback needs to be immediate–we all know that. So why is this task so difficult?

In my experience, I moved from teaching first grade to teaching fifth grade. That’s quite a jump, as far as writing expectations and standards. My team did not have an agreed upon rubric. Everyone used the tool that they saw fit, whether that be a simple checklist, different rubrics, a point system, and/or (my personal favorite) “I know this is an B paper”. Personally, I like things to be a little bit more consistent to ensure I’m being as fair as possible to my students.

I’m happy to report that after trying countless different rubrics, this one has been working well for me. I have incorporated the Six Traits of Writing along with our district adopted writing program. Both students and parents have told me they liked the break down and explanation and, to be honest, so do I. I know grading writing is subjective, but teachers should try to keep it as consistent as possible. This is the key to helping our students’ writing improve.

This is the front side of the rubric and the chart of six traits is copied on the back.  I begin the year using a full page rubric.
This is the front side of the rubric and the chart of six traits is copied on the back. I begin the year using a full page rubric.
Six traits of writing rubric tweeked to my liking and fitted to one paper.
Six traits of writing rubric tweeked to my liking and fitted to one paper.
This is the rubric I switch to mid-year once I feel my students and parents are familiar with the different traits.  It saves paper.
This is the rubric I switch to mid-year once I feel my students and parents are familiar with the different traits. It saves paper.

Happy writing everyone!!

Playdoh Math

Fractions with playdoh!
Fractions with playdoh!

Everyone knows that kids LOVE when they get to create something, mold something, touch something, etc. I decided to spend more time “diving” into the concept of fractions. What is a fraction? Can the students draw it? Can they represent the value/meaning in a different way, other then simply writing the numbers (which is essentially a symbol to communicate a certain amount/value)?

I keep 3 miniature cans of playdoh in each tub of supplies at every group. When they work with the playdoh, they always work with their strategically assigned shoulder parters. (I haven’t spent the money yet to have each kid have their own playdoh.) In this first lesson, I simply wanted them to show me 1/4. I explained that inside each playdoh can was one whole “unit” of playdoh. I wanted them to show me 1/4 of that whole. Some of the kids got it right away and took that whole amount of playdoh, flattened it into a workable shape i.e. square, rectangle, circle, and divided it equally into four parts. Awesome!

Some other students did not do it correctly at first, which I LOVE because it creates a perfect teaching opportunity for me and lends itself to an authentic discussion. One strategy I witnessed was students that ripped some playdoh off the “whole” and then divided that chunk into 4 parts. What I had to explain to them was that they just divided a part of a whole into fourths (basically ripped off 1/2 the playdoh, and then divided that 1/2 into 1/4 which was not accurate). Another strategy I saw was students did not divide the whole into equal parts, which is a crucial concept to master about fractions.

Showing fractions with playdoh
Showing fractions with playdoh
Fractions with playdoh.  Led nicely  into equivalent fraction discussion.
Fractions with playdoh. Led nicely into equivalent fraction discussion.

The second playdoh math lesson was a little different. I wanted the students to be able to show me in pictures (playdoh molds) what an equation represented. I thought this would be super easy because I began with an addition sentence: 7 + 3 = 10. The directions were to show me this equation, this value using your playdoh. I didn’t want them to use any numbers (symbols). Only a few students laid out 7 units of playdoh and 3 other units of playdoh on their desk to show 10 units in all.

Showing math relationships with playdoh....very interesting.
Showing math relationships with playdoh….very interesting.
Using playdoh to demonstrate relationships between the operations.
Using playdoh to demonstrate relationships between the operations.
Show what you know....with playdoh.
Show what you know….with playdoh.

The other students did some things that I found so interesting! As you can see from the picture, this group laid out the units of playdoh, but then molded an addition and equal sign and added the 10 units also. When I asked the students to count the units or pieces of playdoh on their desks, they counted the 7 + 3 + 10 for a total of 20. They realized their error.

So interesting what the kids struggled with...
So interesting what the kids struggled with…

This last picture shows a struggle that MANY of my students had! I walked over and couldn’t help, but laugh. I told these students that they weren’t showing me what this addition sentence meant in pictures. They simply just molded the symbols, or numbers! The students asked me repeatedly if they could just mold the numbers because they couldn’t see it any other way. I had to prompt multiple times to finally get them to orally explain the sentence using a story as an example, and then they figured out how to “show” what the addition sentence meant.

It was very eye opening for me and, I can’t lie, really fun!

These kids could NOT understand how to show this equation with the playdoh!  They could not see this pictorially.
These kids could NOT understand how to show this equation with the playdoh! They could not see this pictorially.