Monday, February 13, 2017

Engagement & Perseverance

           Why is it that some problems are more engaging than others? You know the kind I'm talking about...the kind where kids WANT to work through Recess..the kind where the kids CONTINUE to solve it while you're trying to 'move on'...the kind that has kids ASKING for more...the kind that has kids TALKING about it with their classmates. 
          The other day I stumbled upon one of these types of problems.  I subscribe to Marilyn Burns Math Blog as she is a math guru and seems to have wonderful ideas and practical resources regarding math. The actual post was titled "When Should or Shouldn't We Give Answers?" In the post she shares the "1 to 10 Card Investigation" (Read her original post about it here.) I was actually intrigued by the problem.  
          So during math class, I mentioned the post to my students.  I happened to say that I DID NOT know the answer to the Card Investigation myself.  This seemed to be a challenge they wanted to take on so I showed them Marilyn's video about how to set up the cards. When my homeroom students returned before lunch, their classmates mentioned the challenge to them.  I shared the video once again (quickly) before we headed to the cafeteria. I had no idea how it would take off.  The kids were abuzz about this problem.  (One student even made her own set of 1-10 from index cards!) 
Helping a classmate
          Upon returning from lunch many students started heading to the math center to find the playing cards. Some students paired up but many worked alone.  We didn't have much time as the class was headed to Phys. Ed.  But when they came back they REALLY wanted to try.  How could I say no? It's a math puzzle after all! So I let them work on it for about 15 minutes. The "awwwws" were audible when I told them they'd have to put their cards away so we could continue with our science (which is usually their fav!).
           To my surprise, students went home that evening and worked on the problem (without direction from me to do so).  A few came in with the problem solved while others were "soooo" close to the solution.  Really, the only direction I gave them was that they should be keeping track of their trials (as Marilyn Burns suggested). Again, the students wanted to work on this problem throughout the day.  Students who were successful got the extension activity that Marilyn had suggested.  

Recording each trial
           The students ALL agreed that the problem was difficult.  No one gave up! It was so fun to watch the smiles on the faces of those who figured it out.  It was heartwarming to see classmates helping each other solve without giving the solution away.  It was most amazing to hear students ask for extension after extension. (Several students are working on putting 4 cards under - this will make sense if you read the problem).  This was "perseverance" at it's best! This alone could have been the lesson!
            All of this is wonderful, but it makes me ask the question again, "Why is it some problems are more engaging than others?"  I asked my students why they loved this problem.  Some of the responses included "It's fun!" "It's challenging." "I like cards!" Could it be that they felt comfortable with the using smaller numbers? Or was it because they thought it was a "trick?" Or was it simply they like using the cards? 
             I would love to hear your ideas on what types of problems 'hook' your students and I'd love to learn how we find more of these types of problems that help our students learn?  

Saturday, February 27, 2016

When a Student Moves Away

Do you remember when your friend moved away in grade school?  Or maybe YOU were the one that moved away during those elementary school years.  I can still remember the names of my classmates that moved away: Linda, MaryBeth, Martha and that was many decades ago. Do you remember how you felt...sad, confused, hurt, nervous, heartbroken or a combination of these? 

Well, yesterday our class had to say good bye to one of our own.  Not only was this hard on the student who was leaving, but for many of the classmates. 

Fortunately, the school knew in advance that the child was leaving which gave us the opportunity to make some preparations for his departure.  (When Martha left we had no idea - she just wasn't in school the next day!) Informing the class ahead of time (when the student was out of the room) and answering their questions made a difference in how students would deal with the change.  Speaking privately to the student moving allowed him to share his thoughts and feelings.  A deep sense of loss was shared by many.

Luckily, we live in a day where technology can help us stay connected.  (When Linda moved away we lost touch until we recently found each other on Facebook).  Now we have so many ways to contact with those that move.  Hopefully, this student's new class will be willing to Skype with us. 

On the last day we were able to present the child with some gifts.  Students each made a page for a book.  "A Day In Our School Without Our Friend is Like..."  an Xbox without games; a banana split without bananas or ice cream; a hotdog without the dog; the stars on a lonely night.  Along with these were sentiments of how and why the student would be missed and a picture of the page's author.  A school tee-shirt was signed by all the classmates and some other small gifts were shared.
It's never easy to say good-bye but as educators we can help all involved cope with the change.  Here are some resources that might be of assistance.

7 Great Children's Books About Moving 
Education World - Student Mobility: Helping Children Cope with a Moving Experience
We Are Teachers: 5 Ways to Say Goodbye to a Moving Student


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Student Self-Selected Book Clubs

When it comes to reading, what's better than sinking your teeth into a good book?  For me, and for many others, it would be sharing our thoughts and ideas about that good book. Well, it's no different for 10 year olds!

This year I have seen the empowerment of  "shared" reading with my students via a "book club."  Over the years students in my class have participated in "Literature Circles" mostly with success.  Somehow though, the groups seem to be driven by me (with specific roles for each participant) or by the choices of books that are available in bulk.
A few weeks back a student approached me for a book recommendation during our Media time.  I led her to a personal favorite, "Stone Fox"  by John Reynolds Gardiner.  When another student overheard, I suggested they read together.  A third student overheard the conversation and wanted to join in. Fortunately, I have several copies of that wonderful book. 

This idea of reading together sparked the interest of another group of three students.  Quickly, scanning my classroom library I tried to find some books that might appeal to them.  I came  up with several I thought might interest them (of course these books were partly chosen because I had more than one copy.) As we were pouring over the library we came to the book, "Chasing Lincoln's Killers" by James Swanson. That was it! The boys were beside themselves as they anticipated reading this book together.  The problem - I only had one copy.  Not to worry, we scoured all the classes in the school.  Unfortunately, we came up with only one other. But we couldn't find a third book.

However, the next day the boys came up to me bristling with excitement.  One of the boys had gone to the local book store and purchased his OWN copy of the book (with his own money!) so they could read it all together!   Amazing!

But here's the really amazing part!  The boys collaborated with each other (without my intervention) deciding which how many pages they would read or when they would complete each chapter.  They used any free time in class to (voluntarily) read together and discuss what was happening.

And the discussions...just priceless!  Each student taking turns, sharing their predictions, their understandings, their questions with one another.  They were looking at maps and doing extra research.  They were learning new vocabulary and helping each other with unfamiliar words. They were recording important information in a Google Doc.

However, the best part was when they invited me to read along with them! They wanted me to learn about what they were reading.  Each time we sat down together, they would catch me up on what they had learned - showing true understanding.  All of this because they shared an interest in the story!  

Hoping this wonderful love of 'group reading' will continue.  It has inspired other students in the classroom to read together.  It's great to see the collaboration and shared interests.

Literature Circle Resources:

Read Write Think:  Lesson Plan: Literature Circles w/ Primary Students Using Self Selected Reading
Education World:  Literature Circles Build Excitement for Books
PBS: Book Clubs for Kids
Great Kids: It's not just for Oprah: Book Clubs for Kids

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Leading a Thankful Revolution

Thank You notes to Donors of WalkKits
A few years ago @coolcatteacher Vicki Davis, published a blog post titled,  Why Teachers Should Help Lead a Thankful Revolution.  Basically it was about helping children 'build thankfulness as a habit.'  This idea reminds me of Angela Maeirs' "You Matter" campaign.  Both of these inspired me to start a "Thankful Revolution" with my students.  But for some reason, it never really expanded beyond what I was already doing in my classroom. 

My students still carry on the tradition of sending hand-written thank you's to veterans for Veteran's Day and again during the Holidays.  The students have also mailed a note of thanks to a family member during Thanksgiving and then for gift during the the holidays.  Again, these are not new to to our class repertoire (and you can read about previous posts here: Veterans Thank Yous and Thank Yous with a Twist. ) We have expanded writing Thank Yous to donors who provide different resources to our classroom (like Donors Choose or from Donors of the Walking Classroom). While these ideas continue to be meaningful, in the back of my mind I keep thinking that I need to make the "Thankful Revolution" more of a daily ritual or habit.

In early December I attended a workshop on the Responsive Classroom. "Responsive Classroom is a research-based approach to teaching that focuses on the strong link between academic success and social-emotional skills. We believe that a high-quality education for every child is built on the foundation of a safe and joyful learning community." It is a hope that by incorporating some of the RC strategies, such as the Morning Meeting, we will begin the journey towards becoming more appreciative for one another with the idea of moving this beyond our classmates.

Each morning after the Pledge, (Yes We Still Say the Pledege of Allegiance), we go around the room, look a classmate in the eye, say their name and extend a pleasant greeting. The greeting is returned in the same way.  We end our day in this manner as well.  At first it was awkward with giggles and quick responses.  Now that we have been doing this for a couple weeks the students are more comfortable and giving better eye contact. This was a step toward extending simple courtesies to one another.

Thank You for the Gift!
Going forward we are going to broaden the "Thankful Revolution" to those times when a student shares his/her work.  After sharing or receiving feedback the students will 'thank one another' something like this:  "Thank you Katelyn for explaining your math ideas." "Your welcome, Jake."  Using a person's name is more powerful and sincere when saying thank you.

Other plans to Lead a Thankful Revolution in our Classroom will include:
  • Handwritten Notes: to a classmate or other school member for helping out in some way 
  • Acknowledge Absence: When a student is absent a classmate will welcome the student back.  (A student will also keep track papers making sure the absent student returns to a neat desk. The absent student will respond with a thank you!)
  • Public Praise:  Students will publicly thank a classmate or school member.  This could be done using a Pic Collage, a Sticky Note on Padlet (see below), a video,
  • Peer Applause: Time will be given once a week for students to give specific "Peer Applause" to a classmate for a job well done!  (We do this at every other staff meeting - it's nice to receive positive feedback from a peer for something.)
  • Small Token of Appreciation: Students will be encouraged to leave a small surprise for a classmate who has been especially kind to them: the gift could be a sticky note with a smiley face, a drawing, a homemade trinket (origami, bookmark, tissue flower, etc)

Once we have become comfortable and familiar with thanking a classmate, it is my hope to extend this beyond the walls of our classroom and our school.

Please share your ideas in the comments below on how the idea of a "Thankful Revolution" can be expanded!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lessons on the Go - The Walking Classroom

"I feel pumped up now!" shared Domenic after our first official Walking Classroom  (TWC) lesson.  Other student comments included: "I'm more awake now - sometimes I'm tired when I come to school." and "I think this is going to be great - we get to go outside and learn!"

Last year I saw a tweet about the "Walking Classroom" program and I knew I HAD to use this with my classroom.  The premise: get kids moving and learning - the perfect combination.

I had to find a way to get the WalkKits (WalkKit is a device-like an mp3 player-that is preloaded with podcasts specifically geared towards 4th grade) into the hands (and ears) of my class.  So I applied for a GO! Grant but my proposal was not accepted. Knowing that this program would have many benefits to my class I reached out to TWC to see what else I might try.  They suggested applying for a donation through their site. My application was reviewed and our class was put on a waiting list (waiting for a donor). A few weeks later an email arrived saying we would be receiving a class set of WalkKits.  My class and I were beyond thrilled.

On the day the WalkKits arrived a resounding cheer reverberated throughout our hallway. Students knew they soon would be outside and learning.   After permission slips were signed, we took our first walk WITHOUT the WalkKits. This allowed us to check out our route and practice walking as a class.  The following day we began with our first podcast.  Listening to walking safety tips and learning about different question types, the students will be ready for their next "Lessons on the Go!"

Thank you to Laura Fenn, Executive Director of The Walking Classroom, for her idea and wonderful podcasts! And Thank You to the generous (anonymous) donor for providing us with a class set of WalkKits!  We can't wait to share what we learn!

What are some other ways we can make learning more active for students?