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? 


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Building a Growth Mindset

Building and fostering a "Growth Mindset" doesn't happen overnight.  The year began with several activities to help inspire the idea that "intelligence can be developed" and that "you can learn anything through hard work and effort!"

On the first day of school we watched this video created by the Kahn Academy titled "You Can Learn Anything!"

The video really resonated with many students because they could directly relate to it. Students posted their thoughts on a sticky note which were displayed in the classroom.

Take a minute to watch the Khan Academy video to see what positive message you take away from it.

The following video was shared at another time.  From this video we talked about the idea of  "Training Our Brain" to accomplish things we want to learn. This happened to coincide with International Dot Day so we completed an activity where we drew on a dot something we wanted to learn.

For the first school assembly we decided to share some words that will help change your mindset.  It was inspired by this TeachersPayTeachers bulletin board by Pinkadots Elementary. For the lesson students were given the Fixed mindset statements (I give Up; I'm not Good at this; This is too hard, etc) and asked to replace them with positive statements (I'll try my best; I'll keep working on this; With some effort I'll get this; etc).  Then students carouselled around the room and added more statements to each others' posters.

The final step in this process was to select some phrases that would be added to some homemade speech bubbles, which would then be presented to the school during the assembly.  Students worked hard and did a fabulous job presenting.

Training your brain doesn't happen overnight so we will continue the process of working towards a "Growth Mindset" throughout the year!  The ultimate goal is about 'Learning' and how we can do that best!


Here are some other resources about Mindsets:

Feel like sharing your thoughts on Mindset?  Please leave a comment below!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

YOU Made a Difference

Grade 4 Class of 2006-2007
As teachers we often wonder if we "make a difference" in the lives of our students.  (In reality and in our hearts we know that somewhere in our career, we MUST have positively impacted someone.)

But, I wonder do our students ever WONDER if they have made a difference in OUR life?  I'm not so sure they think too long about it as they progress to the next level.

Today some of my former students graduate and I'd like to share the story of why this ENTIRE class made a difference in MY life!

In July 2006 I heard those three words no one ever should hear: "You have Cancer!" I immediately thought of my young family and then started thinking about my 4th grade class.  Starting off the year was not going to be a possibility as I had to undergo some aggressive chemotherapy treatments.  The teary call made to my principal was one I'll always remember because I assured him that I WOULD BE returning as soon as my doctors gave me the okay (sometime in January or February).  

 Throughout the next few months I received countless notes and cards from "my" students. (My students: these kiddos knew me only through their siblings or through school assemblies or interactions in the hallways.) Yet they still acted as if I were their teacher! They told me about their likes, their dislikes and their goals and dreams.   On my occasional visits to the classroom (where I would receive "elbow" hugs) their faces would light up with stories of what they were learning and always, always the question "when are you coming back?" These children embraced me without really even knowing me.  Their desire for me to return to "them" is what kept me motivated, positive and above all else, STRONG!

I DID indeed return to them (cancer free!) in late February where I was given a rousing round of applause and a tee-shirt that I still have to this day!  Walking into the classroom on that first day back, to those students who had such faith in me, I felt like I had known them all along!!

Written by Kyle in Grade 5
The story doesn't end their as it never does! The following year when the students were in Grade 5 I asked them to write some acrostic poems for some Cancer Survivors for the Relay for Life.  The poems they wrote were placed inside the Survivor's Tent at the local Relay.  After reading the poems, many tear-filled survivors commented about the inspiration and the positiveness that emanated from these young students!

Over the years, these students have remained dear to my heart as I heard they participated in the School Competition of the National Geography Bee; or the Middle School play, or became volunteers at After School programs for Kids; or scored many goals for the hockey team; or helped out with the Film Festival; moved or went off to a different school! 

Because of your faith, your encouragement, your desire to have me back in the classroom, your notes and gifts - because of YOU,  I BEAT Cancer!  You have MADE A DIFFERENCE in my life and I THANK YOU as you graduate on this beautiful day! I'm sure you'll continue to make a difference in the lives of many others!
WHS Graduation June 2015
As a final note:  I know the students wrote to me, made cards, presented me with gifts through the tutelage of my substitute that year.  Nancy Farris, none of that would have happened without you!  Your inspiration and your insistence that I visit the classroom (whether I was ready or not) absolutely helped me get through that tough part of my life!  I THANK YOU as YOU continue to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in my life!

So if you know or see:  Nancy F., Rachel, Allison, Kendall, Patrick, Oscar, Nick, Kyle, Jonathan, Angela, Chris, Andie, Madison, Meagan, Megan W, Mike, Stephanie, Lucy, Ashley, Emilee, Lolita, John, Joe, Kody, Dan, or Helen please tell them how they have made a difference in YOUR life!


Friday, April 24, 2015

Stem in the Classroom - Part 2

After our initial experience with Building a Sail Car (read about it here) my students (and I) were HOOKED with these building challenges! I knew I had to capitalize on their enthusiasm and determination and continue this type of learning!

However, changes had to be made to make sure it was a true and balanced learning experience.  This means starting with a REAL plan.  It just so happened that I stumbled across (while actively searching for appropriate & challenging STEM-type activities) this great resource geared for students in grades 4-8: Bridges: An Integrated Stem Teaching Guide provided by Elmer's in cooperation with STEMfest The Works.    It provided a lot of the structure I needed to proceed: Objectives, Discussion Questions, Research Activities & Hands On Activities.

Activate Prior Knowledge: To begin, I read the story: Bridges Are to Cross by Philemon Sturges with stunning illustrations by Giles Laroche.  This quick but engaging book shared different types of bridges (from ones that carry llamas loaded with firewood to covered bridges that are located in a neighboring state!).  Students were quick to share stories and make connections: "I've been to a bridge like that when my family went skiing in New Hampshire!" "My dad's been to the London Bridge!" "I know that bridge is in California - I've seen it in movies!"

Students also read selected passages from "": Building a Bridge (fiction) and it's paired reading text: Building a Better Mousetrap.  Because these were geared for fifth grade, the students used the "Partner Reading Strategy."

Share the Challenge: After reading the book I told the students that they would be building bridges in the classroom!  Lots of excitement, fist pumps & oh yeahs went around the room.  Many assumed we would be using craft sticks.  I waited until after the research to share the news that they would be building PAPER bridges!

Research: Students were asked to discover the different types of bridges.  They were given a handout with 4 different pictures and were asked to identify the type as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each!  Students were given the mnemonic: BATS to further interest them. (Beam, Arch, Truss, Suspension).  I found several websites that provided great information for the students. Some of the students found even better resources and shared with the class! Talk about student leaders!! (This wouldn't be possible without our recently "donated" Chromebooks to help out! If you'd like to help us further please visit my Donor's Choose page - we appreciate any/all donations on our newest project - it makes a difference EVERYDAY especially in activities such as these!!)

The Challenge: The first challenge in the Elmer's Guide is 'Building a Paper Bridge' that can hold 100 pennies! The parameters included using only 2 pieces of paper, no tape only glue (after all this was promoted by Elmer's!) and certain dimensions for width and span. Impossible you say? Students thought so too! 


Planning:  Before building could start, students had to PLAN their designs.  Reminding them about the Sail Car Challenge I mentioned how many said they wished they took more time to planI also mentioned that they would be getting 4 pieces of paper which meant that they REALLY had to plan carefully as resources would be limited.  Sharing the "Engineering Design Process" with the students helped them formulate, plan, create, improve upon and redesign if necessary.  Students used this graphic organizer.  One student even made 'secret' Blueprints!! Students were instructed to record their design changes.  (This is where I need help to make it easier for them to do this. I think a journal next time would make it easier.)

The Activity:  The day finally arrived and students began discussing, designing and building. A gentle reminder that only 2 pieces of paper could be used.  Rulers were gathered and measuring began. The bridges' piers were set in place.  More discussion, more measuring...."I think we should make an arch bridge because it's stronger." "How can we make this paper stronger?" "Don't forget it has to be 3 inches wide." "Let's ask if we can use tape!"  After about 20 minutes we had to stop to attend music.  Students wanted to leave things set up and try again after.  We spend about another 20 minutes after music and still hadn't finished. I've learned you can't RUSH these things.   We decided we would pick up again the next day and try again.

Post Activity: After day 2 one student successfully completed the challenge as her bridge held 102 pennies! Unfortunately, students didn't finish before we went on vacation.  So this activity will be resumed.  Students will complete a reflection (using Google Forms) and we'll gather as a group to talk about why the designs worked/didn't work. We'll again go back to our research and discuss the different types of bridges. We will also discuss ways to improve upon the Design Process.  More research will be conducted and other challenges to complete.  The other challenges include: the Bridge Tower Challenge, The Truss Bridge Challenge & the Toothpick Bridge Challenge.  Hopefully, the students will continue to be excited about these different challenges and learning opportunities.

While this activity was frustrating for some (as they wanted desperately to complete this challenge) I saw some wonderful learning happening.  Students from different groups helping each other with their designs - sharing what they thought would work or why the design might not work.  Referring to research websites and using great vocabulary while discussing the bridge in relation to the weight of the pennies.  Lots of measuring was happening during the challenge.  Students working on "attending to precision and persevering in problem solving" (these are 2 of the Standards of Mathematical Practices we've been working on in math!).  So many areas of the curriculum accessed in this one challenge! You gotta love it! WE DO!

Challenge for YOU: What ideas or suggestions could you make to help students record their design changes?

Resources Used:
Easy Science for Kids - Bridge Facts
PBS: Building Big - Bridge Basics
PBS: Building Big - The Bridge Challenge (Interactive)
KidsKonnect - Bridge Facts & Information
eHow: Advantages & Disadvantages of Types of Bridges
IKNS Bridges: A Wikispace - Strengths & Weaknesses