Sunday, May 7, 2017


Fourth Grade Friends
Fourth grade is one of those pivotal years when it comes to friendships! Some students have been friends for many years, meeting each other in preschool or kindergarten.  Others are making new friends each year in their new classroom.   Whatever the case may be, there's always a lot happening with friendships on the playground, in the lunchroom and during class time.

While the students are at recess,  I'll take a moment to go outside or watch through the window to get a better sense of which students are playing together.  When students come to me about something that has happened outside, knowing a little bit about their friendships helps them maneuver this part of the school day.

As a class we have been focusing on "kindness" this year. Mostly, we have been focusing on the topic through reading books. Some have included Have You Filled A Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud; Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson; Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson & The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jennifer Wojtowicz.  Our class has even participated in two Twitter chats (#4thbookchat) around the last 2 books.  While these books are speak to the theme of 'kindness' they also touch upon 'friendship'.

Qualities of a Good Friend
Recently, the students had a guidance lesson around the topic of Friendship.  The lesson got interrupted and so it wasn't quite finished.  In an effort to wrap up the lesson, I asked the students to share some information about qualities they thought friends possess and to provide evidence of those qualities. Here's a sampling of what these sweet 10 year olds had to say about friendship.  Qualities that were most stated were Loyal, Trustworthy & Caring.

Even more amazing were their responses to the open ended question of "What else can you say about friendship".  Here is what these 4th graders had to say:
  • "Friendship is one of the most important things in your life and you should stay in touch and hang out"; 
  • "If you didn't have friends you would be lonely and not have fun."
  • "Friendship means that your friends don’t make fun of you if you are not great at something or even if you don’t know how to do something. "
  • "In a friendship you should always include others because that's the nicest thing you can do."
  • "Friends help you no matter what!"
  • "Having friends makes you want to be more social and make more friends."
  • "If you are not selfish you will have a better time keeping your friends."
  • "Make good choices with the friends you have. Maybe once or twice you will have a fight but that is normal."
    Lifelong Friends
  • "Friendship is hard to earn but easy to lose!"
While in elementary school we continue to help students navigate the fine are of making and keeping friends, it's nice to know that these students have some definite ideas about mutual trust and understanding. It just goes to show that these kiddos have a strong foundation to build upon.

What do you do to promote "good friendships"?


PBS: Parenting: Raising Girls: Understanding Elementary School Friendships
Parenting Science: How to Help Kids Make Friends
Health Line: 10 Top Friendship Games & Activities
Today's Parent: How to Help your Child Make Friends
Understood: 7 Ways the Teacher Can Help Your Child Make Friends

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Digital Breakouts

MedfieldDLD Promo
A few weeks back I attended a conference in a neighboring district, #MedfieldDLD (Medfield Digital Learning Day!) It was a day filled with lots of great conversations & lots of learning.  Sessions I attended included: Hyperdocs; NEW Google Sites for Digital Portfolios; Homework: Shifting the Perspective and BreakoutEDU.  While I plan to incorporate ideas from all of these in my classroom somehow I was able to start immediately with the help of this BreakoutEDU slidedeck that Kerry Cowell presented.

Kerry's Box
BreakOuts are a game where "players use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles in order to open a locked box." Literally, the box is locked with several different types of locks! (Number locks, key locks, word lock & direction locks)  Kerry's Breakout was related to the "Back to the Future" theme of the day and very challenging. As we worked through the clues, my team and I felt what it would be like for the students to solve such a puzzle since we had no idea of the answers.  It took some creative thinking and collaboration.  (On the BreakoutEDU site there are plenty of games of all levels for you to consider for your class.) 

Since I didn't have a box or locks I decided I would try the  DIGITAL BREAKOUTS site that Kerry shared during her presentation.  The next day I decided to have my students participate in our first Digital Breakout, "Open the Pool. " Pretty much all I did was explain the premise to the kids and then we started looking for clues.  They were hooked!!! Since that time we have participated in 4 others. 

Partnering Up!
It takes about 20 - 40 minutes for the ones we have tried (hardest has been a level 5). I have broken it up over a several days (10 minutes each day). In this way it gets the students excited and their minds in the mood to think the rest of the day!  To place the students in teams before the breakout, I created some grouping statements (around the topic of the breakout). Students had to find their partners without my help. Here's an example of the ones I used for the National Park Digital Breakout.  (This is almost as interesting as the breakout as the students think and work to find their partners!)

Once a breakout is completed there is a little sign or even a little prize.  But the point is not to get the prize, but rather it's the idea to "get to" the prize (if that makes sense).  I have created little stickers to give out at the end of the Breakouts for students to collect, which makes them happy! (But not necessary - their fist pumping shows it was worthwhile!)

One suggestion I'd make, while mostly I tell the students I don't have the answers, I do TRY the breakout before having them complete it so I can give out "ONE" hint.  There is one clue I don't know the answer to in the current breakout. Students take that as an extra challenge to get it before me! 

I can't say enough about the thinking that takes place and the teamwork needed to work through the Digital Breakout. I can't say enough about how much the students LOVE it.  When someone says, "can I do this at home" you know you're on to something!
Let me know if you decide to try one! Good luck!

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