It’s All About Relationships

Driving to my school this morning to help out at an Open House event for prospective fifth grade families, I felt a sense of calm and peace wash over me like glaze on a doughnut.  I was moved to philosophical thought, as I finally had a chance to meaningfully reflect on my teaching.  After an amazing, yet rich and full fall trimester in the fifth grade, I haven’t had much me-time.  I’ve been straight out, pedal-to-the-metal busy planning, teaching, grading, supporting and helping my students, and meeting with families, not to mention all of my responsibilities as a father and husband.  So, this morning, as I made my way south to the wonderful Beech Hill School, I had the opportunity to think poetically about the last three months at my new school…


Like a smooth stone shaped by the current, rolling along a river’s bed,

I’ve been changed and transformed by my school and students over the past few months:

I’ve taken risks and tried new things I never thought possible,

like mindful yoga and a student-driven newscast;

I empowered my students to own their learning,

as if they were the teachers and I the student;

I embraced failure and made it a positive part of our classroom vernacular,

one must fail for learning to be manifested;

My students challenged me to push them forward in new directions,

like ships changing course to avoid icebergs;

I employed new strategies to promote social awareness in the classroom,

we are a family, and families take care of each other, I preached;

I tried new, innovative ways to engage my students in the process of learning,

like Forest Fridays, student choice, a class pet, and bonus points.

 

I thought about the struggles I faced as well,

the challenges that kept me busily searching for possible solutions,

like the Goonies searching for One-Eyed Willy’s lost treasure.

Even after only a short time at my new school, I’ve grown in many ways,

like mountains being formed through tectonic plate movement.

My peaks eroded through the winds of change and new challenges

while my deep valleys began filling in with new information debris.

 

I am a semi-polished piece of granite, floating in the river

that is the Beech Hill School, learning and growing in a

never ending cycle of compassion and commitment.

I can only imagine what the next few months have in store for me.


As I pondered all of my moments of wonder, scenes of serenity, and snapshots of challenge, I started dwelling on what truly matters.  Although, as educators, we are constantly bombarded by articles and blog entries on new pedagogical approaches to teaching and advances in technology, what I began to realize on my early morning trek was that all that fancy stuff, all those bows on the presents of teaching, are meaningless without the gift of relationships inside.  High tech gadgets like interactive whiteboards and hands-on projects are ineffective and useless if we haven’t formed strong bonds and positive relationships with our students.  If our students don’t feel supported, cared for, or safe at school, then their brains will be unable to learn in any sort of meaningful and genuine manner.  Tiny problems that are easily solved because of the strong relationships we have with our students will quickly snowball into giant issues if we do not work to create strong and effective relationships with our students.

Just last week, a student in my class struggled to showcase his learning and reflect in a meaningful way in the ePortfolio he was working to prepare for his student-led conference.  I provided him space to attempt to solve his problem on his own.  While he didn’t openly admit that he was unable to solve his dilemma independently, he sent me a frustrated email that told me he needed help.  Because I have come to understand this student over the past few months and have a great rapport with him, I read through the veneer of anger.  The morning after I received his email, I had a great chat with him about his struggles.  I then worked with him during free periods in our daily schedule to help him display how he has grown and changed since early September.  I re-framed questions, worked with him to put his ideas and thoughts into complete sentences, and helped him transform his thinking onto his laptop.  When all was said and done, he seemed happier and proud of what he had accomplished.  He realized, that when he asks for help, he is able to accomplish the task at hand.

Because I have a strong relationship with this student, I knew that his angry email was a cry for help.  Forming meaningful relationships with our students allows for all of the other puzzle pieces of teaching to fall into place.  When our students feel cared for and understood, they are able to engage in project-based learning and get the most out of interactive learning tools.  Genuine learning happens when our students are able to work from the new, modern portions of their brains responsible for problem-solving and emotion.  My peaceful moments of reflection this morning allowed me to see that all of the awesomeness that happened in my fifth grade classroom this year was as a direct result of the relationships I formed with my students.  Great teachers are great at connecting with their students in just the right ways.

It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to plan the best, most effective, hands-on units possible, when all that really matters is how we interact with our students.  If we know, understand, and care about our students, everything we do plan will be exactly what our students need to help them grow and learn.  Unit planning for me comes down to my students.  What do they need to be successful?  How can I best challenge my students?  What type of project will motivate them to want to know more?  When I start with my students first, I find that the path to growth and learning is always right around the corner.  At the Beech Hill School, we always put our students first, which is why our students love coming to school each and every day.  I even had four amazing students show up today to help out with the Fifth Grade Open House event.  They value their learning and our class community so much that they are willing to give up their free time on a Sunday to help others see the power in being a Beech Hill School student.  If that doesn’t speak to the power of relationships, then I don’t know what does.

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Having Fun in the Fifth Grade

My year in the fifth grade was filled with trauma and struggles.  I remember almost nothing positive from my experience in the classroom that year.  I was picked on mercilessly for being different.  I had no friends because of the constant harassment.  I almost always felt alone.  I struggled with great sadness the entire time I was in the fifth grade.  My grandfather passed away that same year.  He and I were very close.  It was a difficult and trying time for me.  While I’m sure some positive things happened that year, because I was racked with such sorrow, I don’t recall anything good happening to me that year in the fifth grade.

To ensure that none of my students ever have such a year in the fifth grade at my school, I’ve created a program filled with hands-on, engaging experiences in tandem with a strong social-emotional learning component.  I want my students to feel like a part of something more than just a class or a grade.  I work hard to foster a sense of community unity within the class.  We work together to solve problems and complete activities.  The Marble Jar positive reinforcement strategy I employ helps the students to see the power in working as one unit.  They hold each other accountable and remind themselves to always be doing the right thing.  It’s pretty cool to see this in action.  It’s like I have eight co-teachers in the classroom with me at all times.  If my students carry baggage to school with them, I want them to be able to unpack it with us in the classroom.  My goal is for all of my students to feel safe and cared for, so that meaningful, fun, and engaging learning can take place.  This approach seems to be working, as my students love coming to school on a daily basis.  Many even beg their parents to bring them to school early so that they can hang out with their peers, create something grand in the Maker Space, or interact with our class hamster.

Some epic highlights from this past week in the fifth grade…

  • On Tuesday, the students posted the second episode of their News Five video to our Google Classroom page for everyone in the class to enjoy.  It is absolutely amazing and rivals most news shows on television these days.  This side project grew from a comment a student made after we viewed a short news-like video in Science class.  One of my students said, “Hey, we should make a fifth grade class news video like this for the whole school to see.”  I loved the idea so much that the following week, I provided the students a whole day to work on making the first episode.  The students did all of the work.  They planned the stories, wrote them, recorded it on one of their iPads, and laid it all out on iMovie.  I just observed the process and made sure they were safe throughout.  It was so much fun watching them work.  They were like little producers.  Two weeks ago they worked on the second episode of the newscast.  Based on the feedback we received on the first episode, I worked with them to plan out the story topics and then write the stories to be sure that we raised the bar of the newsworthiness of the segments included in the video.  The students did everything else.  They had so much fun recording this segment.  They worked together to be sure that each story was as close to perfect as possible.  This episode included interviews with other students, another video, a behind-the-scenes segment, and props.  It was amazing.

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  • On Thursday morning, as part of our SEL curriculum, a local Yoga instructor came in and led our students through a mindful Yoga session.  She comes in to work with us once a month.  This was her second time working with us.  The students love doing Yoga, and it helps them begin the day on a positive, peaceful note.  Serenity filled the classroom Thursday after our Yoga session, like warm, melted chocolate erupting from a chocolate fountain.

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  • On Friday morning, we enjoyed a fun but cold Forest Friday session in the woods near our school.  The focus was on weather-proofing their shelters and starting to make a proper fire pit.  The students cooperated well with their partner to accomplish the task at hand.  They stayed focused on their shelters and fire pits for a whole hour.  It was amazing.  I was so impressed with their perseverance and dedication.  They had so much fun being outside and finding unique and innovative ways to make their shelter rain and snow proof.  This weekly activity is something all of the students look forward to.  They enjoy going outside and getting their hands dirty.  Those students who struggle, at times, to focus in the classroom, thrive outside.  It’s great to provide the students with options in terms of showcasing their learning.

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And those were just some of the highlights from last week.  I could have gone on and on about the fun and engaging experiences with which the students were provided, but I’ll close this entry here.  The fifth grade program at my school is one of learning, compassion, care, engagement, community, and fun.  All of these facets are a part of everything we do in the fifth grade, from our Morning Meeting to our final closing of the day.  It’s all about helping the students broaden their perspective, feel safe, build positive memories, and have fun learning the skills and content they will need to be successful in sixth grade and beyond.  I want my students to look back on their experience in the fifth grade with fond memories.

The Power in Taking Risks and Trying New Activities to More Effectively Engage Our Students

Let’s take a walk down memory lane to begin today’s entry…  You are in your fourth grade classroom, working to finish a vocabulary test.  If only you had studied your words a bit longer.  What does feasible mean, you wonder.  As soon as you hand in your piece of yellow, lined paper, the teacher utters those magic words, and excitement erupts from you and your classmates as though it is the end of the school day.  “Okay girls and boys, everyone put your head down on your desk because it’s time to play Heads Up, Seven Up,” she says with a smile.  You then quickly fold your arms and slam them down onto your desk in the form of a nest.  You then place your head into your arm nest and wait for the teacher to tap the heads of seven students.  Please be me, you desperately hope.  Then your heart is gripped by the dark hands of sadness as you realize that you weren’t chosen.  Oh well, you think, at least you have a chance to be chosen by one of the “it” students.  You quickly put your thumb up, as your hand rests on the edge of your desk.  While you try hard to be good and obey the rules of the game, you can’t help but peek a bit.  You stealthily move your head off the edge of your desk, just a bit so that you can glance at the shoes of the “it” students.  Then, you feel that feeling you’ve been waiting all game to feel.  Someone taps your thumb.  A giddiness washes over you like that time you chose the blue finger puppet monster at the dentist’s office.  You wait for the teacher to give the next cue.  “Heads up, seven up.”  You then stand up, scanning the seven people standing at the front of the room.  Which one tapped me, you wonder.  Then you remember that you had seen white sneakers near your desk right before you were tapped.  You stare at the line of shoes.  But everyone’s wearing white sneakers, you soon realize.  Oh well.  It’s your turn to guess.  Steven, you say.  Wrong.  It was Nick.  Does it really matter though.  You just got to play a really sweet game instead of having to complete more worksheets. Everyone’s a winner, you think to yourself as the lunch bell rings.

Ahh, the good ol’ days of elementary school and “Heads Up, Seven Up.”  Who didn’t like that game.  It was so fun.  It’s one of the most treasured memories from my years at the Hanover Street School.  I don’t remember what I learned in those five years, but I do remember the experiences.  I recall the field trips and the fun games we played.  As a teacher, I am constantly trying to devise new, innovative ways to engage my students in the learning process.  How can I find a fun way to help them learn new information?  How can I make learning interesting and exciting for my students?  On Tuesday afternoon, as I made my way home, I thought long and hard about those two questions.  How could I help my students remember the three components of digital citizenship that we covered in class over the past two weeks?  Could we play a game?  Jeopardy?  Perhaps, but my students love to move around and be active.  What game would combine jeopardy with a sport like baseball.  Then it hit me like a ton of Acme bricks.  And that is how Holt Ball was born.  Like “Heads Up, Seven Up,” it’s a simple game.  Two teams of students work to answer review questions correctly.  If the team that is up to bat answers 75% of their questions correctly, they move onto a round of live Holt Ball.  Baseball rules apply to live Holt Ball rounds. During the question rounds, an out is awarded to the team if the student does not answer his or her question correctly on their own, without help.  They may take an out and seek help from their team members. Points are awarded for correct answers without help as well as runs scored during Holt Ball rounds.

We played Holt Ball in class on Wednesday.  After explaining the rules, choosing teams, and having the students choose their team names, the fun began.  The students had a blast.  It allowed them to have fun, be active, and review the concepts of digital citizenship that they were assessed on in class today.  It allowed me to clarify any confusion that existed.  I helped those students who struggled to answer their question correctly by explaining the concept in a way they hadn’t thought about before.  This interactive and exciting game got my students moving, talking, playing, and reviewing concepts for today’s big assessment.

Going into Wednesday’s game of Holt Ball, I was a bit worried that the rules would be too confusing or that they just wouldn’t want to be up and active.  I was nervous to try this activity.  What if it failed?  What if the students didn’t like it?  What if they did like it?  What if it worked?  Like I tell my students, “If you say you can, then you will succeed, and if you say can’t, then you won’t be successful.”  I took my own advice and decided to give it a try.  Failure is part of the learning process, and so, if it did fail, much learning could come from the experience.

Fast forward to today’s assessment.  Every student exceeded the three objectives being assessed.  They didn’t just know the information, they were able to apply it with gusto.  Even those students who struggle with assessments demonstrated a strong understanding of the concepts covered.  I was blown away.  What happened today?  Was it playing Holt Ball yesterday?  Did that game pack more power than I thought?  Was it more than just an enjoyable game?  Was Holt Ball what helped my students master the content covered?  Or was it something else?  Did they enjoy this unit on digital citizenship, and so, therefore the material was stickier than other concepts from units that weren’t as engaging?  Or was it something else entirely?  I’m going with Holt Ball.  Yeah, it had to be the review game that pushed them all over the edge of understanding.

Taking risks and trying new activities or lessons in the classroom allows me to find new and exciting ways to engage my students in the process of learning.  If I hadn’t tried playing Holt Ball in my class yesterday, would my students have performed as well as they had on today’s assessment?  I’ll never know, but the scientist in me thinks that perhaps they may not have done as well on today’s test if we hadn’t had fun playing an amazing game named after its creator.  As teachers, we need to continuously be thinking, reflecting, and learning so that we can find new and innovative ways to build excitement in the classroom.  By playing Holt Ball with my students yesterday, I provided them with an experience that they will most likely carry with them for years to come, as I did with Heads Up, Seven Up.

Playing the Devil’s Advocate: Challenging Students to Broaden their Perspective

English 101 was supposed to be an easy Freshmen class at my college, unless you had Professor Cunningham.  Then, it became one of the most difficult classes on your schedule.  Of course, as luck would have it, I had the pleasure of taking the easiest English class with the hardest professor on campus.  He demanded excellence at every turn.  Despite working on my first essay for his class for numerous hours, I received a C-.  Yes, that wasn’t a typo, C-.  I had never earned below a B- in any of my high school classes.  What was going on? I thought.  Prior to handing back that first essay to my class, he laid into us.  “Your high school teachers taught you nothing.  You are the worst writers I’ve ever had the displeasure of working with.  My grandson, who is in kindergarten writes better than any of you.  You have much work to do this semester if you want to be successful,” he screamed at us.  He yelled at my class at least once, every period.  He was intimidating and intense.  He was the person who broke me of saying “like, uh, ah,” and “um” all the time.  While I feared him and dreaded going to his class, he forced me to become a better, stronger writer and speaker.  After successfully completing his class, I was a far better writer than I’d ever hoped I would be.  He challenged me to become a better writer each day.  For that, I am eternally grateful; however, I do wish the nightmares would stop.

Over the years as a teacher, I’ve learned to harness the effective and appropriate parts of Professor Cunningham’s approach to teaching, so as to help challenge my students to be the best version of themselves possible.  I want my students to learn how to expand their perspective and see the world through multiple lenses.  I want my students to push themselves to complete quality work because they want to do so.  I want my students to hold themselves to high expectations.  I want my students to see the value in learning and growing.  To do this, I have high expectations for my students.  I expect that they send me properly formatted emails.  I expect that they proofread and edit their work prior to turning it into be graded.  I expect that my students help their peers to understand difficult concepts.  I expect that my students read at least four books during every trimester.  I expect that my students use proper keyboarding skills when typing on a computer.  I expect that my students raise their hand to ask a question during class.  I expect that my students are kind and compassionate community members.  I expect that my students practice mindfulness techniques to free their minds of distractions in order to be completely present in the moment.  I expect that my fifth grade students stay focused during lessons.  I expect my students to ask difficult questions.  I expect much of my students, because if I don’t, then they will do the same of me and themselves.  I want them to constantly strive to grow and develop as students and people.  While I don’t yell, scream, and belittle my students like Professor Cunningham did, I do challenge them to complete only their best work on a daily basis.

One way I help my students learn to broaden their perspective in Social Studies class is to play the Devil’s Advocate during current events discussions.  Each Friday afternoon, we spend about 30 minutes discussing a relevant and controversial current event from the world.  After introducing and briefly explaining the topic or event, I then open the floor to the students.  After each comment, I respond with a question to poke holes in their thinking.  I want them to be able to challenge themselves to think critically as they alter their perspective.  This past Friday, we discussed the Migrant Caravan issue taking place as we speak.  We watched a short news clip on the issue so that the students would have a basic understanding of the topic.  I then posed a question to the students, “What should America’s response to this issue be?”  The first student responded, “We should let them in, provided they have proper identification.”  My response was, “These poor people from Central America will likely not have any sort of identification on their person.  So then what?”  The student paused for a moment and said, “Well, we could then do a brain scan on them to determine any mental deficiencies or give them a lie detector test.  Those who pass one or both of the tests would then be allowed safe passage into our country.”  I then poked back with, “Do you know how much the machines for brain scans cost?  Who’s going to pay the bill for that?”  I let her process this information before moving onto the next student.  For every statement, I countered with the opposite side.  Another student said, “We should only let them into the country if they can prove that they are going to have a positive influence on our nation.”  I then reminded the class that sometimes people lie to gain access to a country in order to commit acts of terrorism.  “What if a person lies about their intentions and we let them in?  What if they then commit a horrible act of terrorism?”  After this back and forth, I explained to the students that my role is to challenge their thinking.  “I am playing the Devil’s Advocate to help you broaden your perspective and think more critically about issues.  In order to successfully debate serious issues like current events, you need to be able to examine an issue from all sides.  I’m not picking sides in this discussion by probing your thinking, I’m helping you to see the other side of your take on the issue.”  After my short dissertation, the conversation continued fruitfully for the remainder of the period.

My students love discussing current events because I challenge their thinking.  I create a back and forth debate with the class on serious issues impacting our world.  I choose controversial topics that spark conversation.  I want them to care about what is happening around the world so that they will want to make a difference in the world.  I want them to see the value in exercising their civic responsibility to vote.  I want my students to see problems in the world and then create viable solutions to them.  I challenge my students to be change makers in our world.  They are the future of our country, and so I must equip them with the skills they will need to be successful, think critically and creatively, and make the world a better place.  By pushing my students to think about their perspective and broaden it, I am helping them to become better versions of themselves.  I am helping them to gain empathy and compassion about people and topics they knew nothing about before beginning the year in my fifth grade class.  I challenge them so that they will hold themselves to high standards and expectations.  When the bar is set high, students find a way to leap over through perseverance and much struggle.  They work hard to be successful and mature so much because of the experience and journey.  When the bar is set low for students, they easily hop right over it.  Because they aren’t challenged to work hard and think critically, they aren’t able to learn as much as they could.  In my class, the bar is high because I care about my students and want them to do the same.

Preparing Students to Effectively and Maturely Converse with Others Through Real-World Practice

In this techno-verse in which we live, it seems as though people have forgotten how to make eye contact.  As we are all so glued to our tiny little devices, our necks seem to be stuck in a downward state.  We’re missing the amazing things that are happening all around us.  I can’t tell you how many people I see walking around, staring at their phones as if they possess some sort of magical key to the universe.  People get into car accidents, fall down holes, and die at an alarming rate due to these tiny little devices that seem to be controlling humanity.  Why?  Are we afraid of missing out?  What can be so important that we would risk our lives to see or hear it?  While the answer should be, nothing, sadly, it seems as though any ping, vibration, ding, or other irritating noise is more important than keeping our eyes on the road, looking up, or making eye contact with others.  This is a problem.  We are becoming a society of lazy individuals who are more concerned about capturing the perfect selfie than caring about others and making the world a better, more meaningful and thoughtfully communicative world.  While the media makes it seem as though plastic straws and global warming will be our downfall, I worry that Armageddon is already upon us in the form of apathy and selfishness.  Change needs to happen quickly.  We need to stop looking down and start looking up.  We need to revel in the beautiful hues of the sunset and those lingering looks into the eyes of our partner.  We need to put down our phones and talk to the other people that are all around us.  Yes, you are not alone.  There are other people here on Earth with you.

Enter educational institutions like the one at which I teach, the Beech Hill School.  In this crazy world in which we live, it’s nice to know that there are places where our children can go to learn how to slow down, look up, engage in meaningful conversations, care about others, and enjoy all that life has to offer.  Every Friday in my fifth grade class, we leave the confines of the school building and spend over an hour in the forest, exploring, learning about, and enjoying the natural beauty of the forest located right outside the doors of our school.  Yesterday, we spent an entire hour learning how to start a fire without matches or any other sort of instant fire making objects.  The students had only flint, steel, magnesium, and whatever naturally occurring objects they could easily gather in the forest.  They were hooked and engaged the entire time.  Some students whittled marshmallow roasting sticks, while others helped tend the fire.  It was amazing.  We were talking to each other, looking around, and learning much about ourselves and the magnificent world around us.  No one was looking down at their phone or other small tech gadget because what was going on around us was so much more interesting and wonderful.  Who doesn’t like to start a fire or learn how to identify edible flora?  Schools like mine help students learn that there is so much more to life than looking down and being sucked into a mass of metal, plastic, and forgotten hopes and dreams.

Recently, my students completed a project that provided them with the opportunity to look up and share their learning with others.  I believe that as teachers, we need to not only educate our students, but give them meaningful and relevant skills that will allow them to be successful in all facets of their lives.  Public speaking is a skill that many high school students around our nation seem to be lacking.  They don’t know how to or feel comfortable talking to adults or other people.  While not every job or future occupation these students may get into will involve the need to converse with others, everybody should know how to speak to other humans in a mature and appropriate way.  Even introverts will need to be able to talk to others at various points throughout their lives.  I feel that it is our responsibility as effective educators to provide our students with the necessary public speaking skills and opportunity to practice using them in a real-world context.  Rather than sprinkling class presentations into the curriculum, teachers need to give students the opportunity to practice the skills they are learning in purposeful, real ways.  Students need to learn how to answer questions other adults, aside from their parents and teachers, pose to them.  They need to know how to begin a conversation, greet people, and then close the talk with a salutation in ways that they will need to apply these skills outside of schools and later in their lives.  More than ever, it is crucial that our students learn how to look up, make eye contact, and convey their point to others in a mature way without uttering ah, like, or um.

In Social Studies, we’ve been learning about our community.  We went on three field experiences to learn all that we could about the history of the town in which our school is located.  We went on a walking tour of Main Street that was led by the director of our local historical society.  We then visited the workshop of a local spoon maker whose family has lived in the Hopkinton area for generations.  Our final trip was to the historical society to learn about the indigenous people who once lived on the land that we now call home.  The final project had the students choose a topic or fact that they learned about throughout our unit, create a visual representation of some sort, and then present their findings in an exposition of sorts at our local historical society.  This past Thursday, the students shared their learning with local community members as well as their families, inside the historic building that is home to the history of this beautiful area.  The students did a fantastic job speaking to our visitors.  They made eye contact while they spoke.  They held themselves in a very mature manner as they explained all about their topic and what they learned during our unit.  The students were able to field the many questions that were thrown at them.  They had neatly organized digital presentations, free of spelling and grammar mistakes, that showcased the big ideas they learned regarding the topic they had chosen.  They spoke with confidence and ease, as though they were proposing a new plan to a room full of business executives.  It was awesome.  My students are ready to take on the world.

While most people these days seem to be preoccupied by their digital devices and unaware of the wonderful things happening right in front of and all around them, students at my school, and many other wonderful schools around the world, are learning the value in being mindful, experiencing life in all it’s grandeur, and looking up.  They are happy and enjoy coming to our schools because they are actively involved in their education and learning.  They are doing, creating, making, researching, talking, failing, exploring, and meaningfully experiencing the world around them as they develop and grow into mature global citizens who are sure to have a big and positive impact on our world in the very near future.

The Value in Purposefully Teaching Academic Skills in the Classroom

When I was a wee, young lad, my father gave me a Rubik’s Cube as a gift.  I thought it was so cool.  All those colors and moves.  Amazing.  I spent several hours trying to figure out how it worked, how to solve it.  Now, keep in mind, I grew up in the 1980s, prior to the influx of all of this wonderful technology that allows kids to learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube in under 10 seconds.  I had no resources.  I tried different moves and configuration of moves, to no avail.  Nothing seemed to work.  So, I just gave up.  I was not working in any sort of purposeful or effective manner, as I had no help available to me back then.  I needed a lesson, book, guide, video, or tutor to help me learn the algorithms required to solve the Cube.

Fast forward many, many years to 2016.  After having read an interesting article about the value in teaching students how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, I took it upon myself to finally learn how to solve the mysterious Cube.  I spent many weeks during that summer trying to tame the beast in the Cube.  I made a plan of attack and started off on my journey.  I watched multiple videos on Youtube, many times each.  I printed out a solution guide from the Rubik’s Cube Website.  I practiced, tried, failed, and tried again.  I memorized the first few steps, but still needed to look at the solution guide for the final few moves.  After many weeks, I was able to accomplish the goal I set for myself many long years ago.  I solved the Rubik’s Cube.  It felt so great to do something that once seemed impossible to me.  The key to my success was purposeful preparation and execution of an appropriate plan.  I made use of my resources to ensure my success.

As a teacher, I employ this same practice with my students.  When I teach a particular skill or ask the students to complete a task, project, or activity, I make sure to model the skill or show the students how to utilize the skill in an effective and meaningful manner.  If I want my students to take notes from a text, I need to make sure that I teach them how to do so and not simply expect that they have learned how to do so in the past.  I need to teach the skill before having them practice applying it.  I need to be mindful of teaching with a purpose so that my students can taste effective success.

This past week, my students completed the final project for our introductory Science unit on the Scientific Method.  After weeks or learning the various steps of how to DO science, they were provided with the opportunity to highlight their learning.  The students chose a problem impacting our school community, brainstormed solutions to the problem, generated an investigation to test their solution, conducted their experiment, crafted a lab report to document their process, and then created a presentation board to showcase their learning.  It was a lengthy project that included multiple mini-lessons on the Scientific Method, lab report writing, and making an effective presentation board.  The outcome was phenomenal.  Because the students learned how to utilize the many skills I expected them to apply on the project prior to completing it, they all had well organized posters with detailed information on their scientific processes.  The students were rehearsed when they spoke to members of the school community about their project and findings.  They had props and samples from their investigations to show their learning.  I felt like I was observing a high school science fair on Friday morning as my students presented what they had learned regarding their self-selected topics.

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Several teachers and school administrators shared with me how incredibly impressed they were with my students.  “They all did great work.  They talked about what they had learned with confidence and ease.  Their posters were well done and effectively organized.  They did amazing work that rivaled what some eighth graders had done in the past,” they said to me after visiting with each of the students.  Following the big event, I couldn’t stop praising my students for their great effort, hard work, dedication, and ability to effectively apply the skills learned.  They knocked it out of the park like Jackie Bradley Jr. did against the Houston Astros last Tuesday night.

I do wonder if I would have observed the same outcome from my students had I not spent class time showing the students how to create an effective poster, modelling how to conduct a scientific investigation, and practicing how to appropriately present what was learned to others.  Would their posters have been neatly organized had I not conducted a mini-lesson on effective poster making?  Would my students have sounded as mature and confident had I not discussed the importance of removing the words or sounds ‘um, like, ahh, and err’ from their vocabulary?  Having a foundation of knowledge and skills on which to build, practice, and apply is crucial to success in and out of the classroom.  Great athletes aren’t born doing great things, they have to work at it over and over again.  Doctors, scientists, and authors don’t just fall into their professions, they have to practice and be trained in purposeful and meaningful ways.  I didn’t learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube without a purposeful plan, much support, and correct practice.  As teachers, we need to help our students apply the academic and social skills learned in the classroom accurately so that they can grow and develop into wonderful young adults.

Lessons Learned in the Fifth Grade: How the Word ‘Good’ Became Chili-Peppers

Fifth grade was a difficult year for me as a student.  I struggled with social issues, academic difficulties, and much more.  I don’t remember having much fun when I was in the fifth grade because of all of the other stuff that I was dealing with at the time.  While I’m sure my teacher did her best to create a positive learning environment for me and my peers, I just can’t recall any specific memories from that year in school.  The brain, sadly, is really good at focusing on the negative and washing away the positive, as we are wired to survive in the wild and always be prepared for worst-case scenarios.  This does make remembering the wonderful things that happen to us much more difficult, but not impossible.  We simply need to be more mindful and cognizant of how our brain interprets the world so that we can celebrate the many amazing things that happen in our lives on a daily basis.

As a fifth grade teacher, I make it a daily goal to bring joy and happiness into my classroom.  I celebrate the big and little victories with my students.  I work to form strong bonds and relationships with my students so that they know they have an advocate and mentor who cares about them.  I laugh at myself and point out my mistakes on a regular basis in the classroom, to help the students see that no one is infallible.  I play fun music to begin each morning as the students enter the classroom.  I embrace the silly to remind my students that age is just a number.  I wear a teaching cape to help the students see that its not a me versus them situation in the classroom; we are a classroom community working together towards common goals of growth, failure, learning, compassion, kindness, and fun.  I strive to make my classroom a safe and positive place for my students, so that no matter what they may be dealing with outside of the confines of our classroom, they are able to experience happiness and fun while at school.

Throughout my journey teaching fifth grade this year, I’ve often wondered who is having more fun and learning more, me or my students?  I walk out of my classroom every day with a huge smile on my face and memories of wonderful experiences dancing in my head like clumsy ballerinas.  This week has been an especially educational and fun week for me, as I’m learning to be much more mindful and present in each and every moment.  You see, at the start of the school year, I made the mistake of creating a short list of outlaw words.  I thought that I was doing the students a favor by helping to point out the value in utilizing precise language.  Well, that would be all good and dandy, if I could do the same.  It turns out that the word ‘good’ is ingrained within my language centers like a horrible tattoo professing love to someone who is no longer in your life.  I say ‘good’ morning to people, I notice ‘good’ behavior, and I often answer questions about my health status as ‘good.’  Now, as I work hard to be a role model for my students, I’ve been trying to rid myself of this wretched word since September.  Do you know how hard it is to stop using such a common word?  It’s wicked hard.  However, with the help of my students, reminding me, in mostly silly and appropriate ways, when I say the g-word, I’m learning to eliminate broad and imprecise words from my vocabulary.  It’s no easy task, but I’m working on it, one day at a time.

Yesterday, was an especially difficult day for me and the g-word.  It seemed like I used it in almost every sentence as I wrapped up our day together.  “It’s good to work hard and be aware of expectations.  Good work today, girls and boys.”  I couldn’t seem to escape the atrocious g-word.  It haunted me like those MC Hammer pants I wore in middle school.  Were they ever really cool?  My students kept raising their hands or making gestures to point out when I used that outlawed word.  It was quite hilarious in fact.  It got to the point where I had to create a substitute word on the fly for the g-word.  Quick thinking lead me to choose the word ‘chili-peppers.’  What was I thinking about in the moment, you are probably asking yourself right now.  I wish I had an answer for you.  For some bizarre reason, chili-peppers popped into my head.  It’s strange really, I don’t like chili-peppers or spicy food in general, and I certainly can’t stand the music of  the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I’m not exactly sure how I came up with that replacement word, but I did.  I introduced it to the students yesterday and explained how that would be my substitute for the g-word as I worked to purge it from my vocabulary.  This morning, as I was about to utter the g-word aloud, I remembered my new word.  “Chili-peppers morning to you all,” I said.  The students laughed, I think, because, for a moment, they had forgotten what I had mentioned yesterday.  So, for the rest of the day, whenever I said the g-word or was about to say it, I subbed in ‘chili-peppers.’  It made for a fun day of laughter in the fifth grade classroom.

This whole experience was just what I needed to be more mindful and focused on the words erupting from my mouth on a daily basis.  I explained this issue to my students this morning, “Because I get so excited while teaching, my brain is usually 2-3 sentences ahead of my voice.  Having you keep me focused on not saying a particular word is forcing me to slow my thought processes down and really think about every word I’m saying.”  I love that I have the opportunity to grow and learn on a daily basis.  It’s amazing.  However, my highlight of the day came during the final few minutes of our Closing Meeting.  A student raised his hand to share, and said, “Starting tomorrow, when one of the other students asks you how you are doing, just say ‘chili-peppers.'”  The class burst out in laughter.  It was perfect.  We are embracing the silliness as a way of growing, having fun, and making positive memories.  It doesn’t get much better than this.  So, on that note, I wish you all a chili-peppers day.

Modeling the Behavior I Promote in the Classroom

Sometimes I can be a bit stubborn and stuck in my ways.  Only a bit though.  I’m usually quite flexible in my thinking and acting.  However, for the past several years, I’ve refused to get a flu shot.  My reasoning?  Well, let’s just say that I like to question the world around us and have been known to concoct and buy into conspiracy theories.  I got it in my head that the government was using flu shots as a way of digitally tagging citizens.  I wondered if the flu shot contained tracking devices that would allow “Big Brother” to always know our location.  That freaked me out a little and so I boycotted flu shots.  Well, as I matured and became a father, my line of thinking began to change.  I started to realize that even if my cockamamie conspiracy theories were based in truth, staying healthy and keeping my family healthy is way more important than how much the government knows about me.  Plus, this past March, I got the flu because I hadn’t received my flu shot.  So, this flu season, I’m taking every precaution to protect myself, my family, and my students.  This morning, I got my flu shot.  I’m showing the world that I can do what is best for the whole rather than just worry about my self-interests.  I do now suddenly feel like I’m being watched.  Perhaps George Orwell was correct in his prediction of the future in his classic novel.  Or maybe I just need to practice mindfulness and be present in knowing that I am being a role model for others in taking care of myself.

As a child, I often felt like my parents and other adults in my life possessed a “do as I say and not as I do” mentality.  My mother would tell me not to do something and then I would see her do this same thing later on.  It all felt very hypocritical.  It was difficult for me to determine my moral compass, as it felt like everyone else’s was broken.  Now that I am an adult, I see the importance in practicing what I preach and being a role model for my son and my students.  If I want my students to learn the value in certain choices, I need to be a model and make those same choices.  Respect is not something that is given away all willy-nilly like, it has to be earned.  If I want my students to learn to respect their peers, then I need to show them that I can earn their respect.  I need to hold myself to the highest possible standards in and out of the classroom.  If I want my students to learn to turn their work in on time, then I need to return graded work to them in a timely manner.  I feel as though mutual reciprocity is crucial in fostering positive relationships in the classroom.  Being a role model plays an important part in my teaching and life, as I don’t want others to think of me as a hypocrite.  Do as I do and as I say, is my motto.

Meta cognition and reflection is a valuable tool I utilize in the classroom to help my students to grow and develop as people and students.  I have them set weekly goals and reflect on them frequently.  Through this process, the students are able to identify their areas in need of growth and continue to challenge themselves regarding their strengths.  While I spent much time explaining the purpose and rationale of why we do this and the benefits that come from it, I wonder how seriously some of my students take this weekly activity.  So, after a month of time together in the classroom, I felt it prudent to model this behavior.

This past Thursday, instead of having the students reflect on their goals and providing them feedback on their progress in the fifth grade, I had the students reflect on my progress as their teacher and provide me with feedback on what I am doing well and what I still need to work on.  As this kind of activity does open the door to vulnerability, it’s crucial to helping the students learn to do this for themselves.  I need to show them that no one is perfect, and that everyone can improve in some way.  To do this, I had the students send me an email regarding both the pluses and minuses of my teaching.  What do I do well as a teacher?  What can I work on to make their experience in the fifth grade even better?  After explaining this task to the students, several hands went up.  “What if we have no suggestions for improvement?  Can we just tell you that we are happy with everything?” the students asked.  I then posed a scenario to the class: “What if when you asked for feedback on your writing, I told you that everything was great?  Would you ever be able to improve as a writer?”  This seemed to help them wrap their brains around the value of reflection before providing feedback to others.

This weekend, I reviewed the feedback with which my students provided me.  While there was an overwhelming sense of happiness and excitement regarding my teaching and the fifth grade program I’ve created, I did receive a few solid nuggets of feedback that I will work on incorporating into my teaching this week.

  • “I feel like sometimes you stretch instructions to do whatever we’re supposed to be doing a little too long,” wrote one student.  This makes sense to me, as I do sometimes try to over simplify things.  Instead of explaining an activity or task in detail, I will work to only describe the nucleus of what I am asking of them.  This way, if my students are confused about the expectation, they will need to make use of their critical thinking skills to solve their problems.  While I will still make myself available to answer questions the students have while they work, I will make sure that they exhaust their problem solving tools before I field any questions about the directions for a task.  This way, more genuine learning can take place if they are solving problems, generating questions, and working through their struggles on their own.  This is great feedback.
  • “Just remember, if you tell us to not do something or do something, then you should follow your own directions,” wrote another student.  This one aligns nicely with my desire to be a role model.  This student was referring to, in particular, how I ask them not to use broad terms like “good” to describe something or answer a question.  I find that I sometimes slip up on this one and do use the G word to describe or explain something to the students.  I need to be more present and mindful when speaking with the students.  This is an area I will constantly need to work on.  However, when I do mess up in this realm, I am quick to correct my mistake and apologize for misspeaking.  Good suggestion.

Moving forward, these are two areas I will focus on in the classroom, as I want my students to see that I value their feedback and ideas.  We are one big, happy fifth grade community working together to grow and improve in every way possible.  I love it!


While I do so enjoy embracing the positive, I’ll close this entry with some delightful excerpts from the messages my students sent me on Thursday.

  • “You are extremely fun and awesome. We have the most fun class out of any of the other classes, I bet. I really appreciate the hamster and all the field trips.”
  • “I like your personality! Funny, but serious and how you love jokes! I think that this is the (ALMOST) perfect personality for teaching.”
  • “I like how you are always positive thinking and I like how you are always so funny.”
  • “I like how fun you are and all of your different kinds of suspenders.  I like how you don’t make us do homework on the weekend.”
  • “I think you are one of the best teachers in the world. I like your personality and the marble jar technique.”
  • “You are doing nothing wrong.  I like the maker space and how you let us vote.”
  • “I like the way you interact with us in your excited manner and very many other things.”

A Crucial Key to Student Engagement in the Classroom: Ownership

I remember that day as if it were yesterday…  Driving to work one cold autumn morning, I turned on the heat, and that’s when I noticed the problem.  I couldn’t have the heat on in the car and drive above 40 miles per hour.  If I did, the car shook something awful.  I felt like I was on an amusement park ride that was about to burst into flames or fly off the central rod.  So, after that nightmarish, slow ride to work, I realized that it was time for a change.  The next day, my wife and I purchased our first car as a married couple.  It was a tiny, gray Hyundai Accent.  It was amazing.  I could turn on the heat and drive 65 miles an hour.  Perhaps this special feeling that I have inside about the magical car stemmed from the fact that it was the first big thing my wife and I purchased together.  Or maybe it was because, on numerous occasions, it saved my life.  I hit a large deer, square on, one evening, coming home from work.  The antlers could have easily pierced the windshield and killed me.  This beast was massive and I probably should have been greatly injured, but I wasn’t.  My tiny car of steel saved my life.  Ahh, the memories.

Ownership is a big part of independence and responsibility.  I didn’t truly feel like a grown adult until I purchased my first car.  Up to that point, my parents had provided everything for me.  Even though I didn’t live with them for a year before getting married, they did a lot for me in that time.  Not until I bought that car did I feel like I was free and able to make my own decisions.  It was pretty awesome, signing my name on the dotted line, knowing that I would be paying for that car for the rest of my life.  Owning something and being able to make your own decisions is a really powerful feeling.  This sense of empowerment applies to the classroom as well.

Throughout my many years of speaking with teachers and attending conferences on education, I’ve heard the many problems teachers are faced with on a daily basis:

  • “I just can’t get my students to work and stay focused on the task at hand.  They just don’t seem engaged.”
  • “How do I get my students to do their work?”
  • My students are not motivated.  They don’t seem to want to do anything.  Is it because they can’t do the work or won’t do the work?

Student engagement or buy-in is not something that happens over night.  Many books have been written on the topic.  Some professionals say that novelty can help.  Try something new and students will jump on board.  But, will that engagement continue throughout the year, or will the teacher always have to try new things to motivate their students?  Is there a more reliable, sure-fire way of hooking students and getting them to care about their learning and education?  How can teachers engage their students in the learning process?

Think back to the first time you really felt independent and responsible, that first time you were able to make a decision on your own without anyone else telling you what to do or how to do it.  How did it feel?  Probably really empowering and amazing, like how I felt when my wife and I bought our first car.  So, let’s bring this same feeling of awesomeness into our classrooms.  Let’s help our students feel empowered, as if they are in control of their destiny and future.  Let’s help our students own their learning and education.

Engaging students doesn’t have to be some sort of magical feat or complex algorithm.  It’s all about ownership.  When students feel like they have a voice in the learning process, they will feel empowered.  This empowerment leads to engagement.  When students feel like they are in charge and in control of what is happening in the classroom, they put forth great effort to do quality work and showcase their epic learning.  Rather than just going through the boring motions of doing what they are told, when students are able to demonstrate their learning in creative, innovative, and original ways, they become invested.  They no longer just rush through a task that they chose to complete.  Oh no, they dig in and do it well.  It’s quite amazing to observe students in a student-centered classroom.  It’s as if you are watching engineers and scientists working in an office or factory.  The talk is focused on the work at hand and everyone is working towards a common goal.  They cooperate and help one another.  It’s almost unbelievable.

I was fortunate enough to bare witness to this magical happening in my classroom yesterday.  As I have worked to create a student-centered learning environment for my students, ownership is a huge piece of this.  Rather than assigning tasks, projects, or work, I have the students choose how they want to show me what they’ve learned.  They get to pick the vehicle with which they travel in to showcase their journey towards mastery.  It’s quite amazing to witness them work in such an engaged manner.

Yesterday, the students worked on revising their self-chosen chapter of the graphic novel the class brainstormed and devised themselves.  It is their assignment.  They own the topic, characters, and theme of the story.  This is all of their work.  On Wednesday, they provided each other with much specific and meaningful feedback on how to make their chapters and overall story stronger and better.  In class on Thursday, the students worked to utilize that feedback to improve upon their chapters.

  • As a few students completed revising and self-editing their chapters quite quickly, they then worked together to provide each other with even more feedback on their writing.  They asked each other probing questions like, “Does this ending work?  Does this sentence work?  Do I need to add more detail here?”  They worked as if their goal was to make each other’s writing even better.  It was like watching a group of dedicated writers working together.
  • One student said, “I’m going to really change my chapter so that it’s better.  It’s going to be awesome when I’m done.”  The students were completely invested and focused on the task at hand.  Every student was engaged in the revision process.
  • Two students chose to rewrite their chapter, as they were unhappy with how they had turned out.  They weren’t proud of what they had written.  They wanted their work to be better.  These two students worked diligently to craft new chapters of which they could be proud and that showcased what they have learned about the craft of prose writing in Language Arts class.  These two students who chose to redo their pieces are not the strongest writers in the class.  In fact, they both really struggle with writing and getting their ideas out onto the paper or screen.  Despite this hardship, they chose to scrap what they had and start over.  I was a bit shocked by their choice, but even more surprised by how engaged and focused they seemed yesterday during the revision work period.  I had never seen these two students work so hard and diligently before.  They were pecking away at their computer keys as if they were chickens grabbing for corn on the floor.  And throughout the entire time, they seemed excited.  They were happy with what they were producing.
  • Students also reached out to me for feedback.  They wanted me to give them advice or suggestions for how they could make their writing even better.  When I did offer them feedback, they took it willingly and with a bit of enthusiasm.  “Oh yeah, you’re right.  I’ll fix that.  Thanks.”  What, I thought to myself.  Who are these students?  They care about the work they are doing and want to make it even better.  The interesting thing is, aside from the first day we began this project a few weeks ago, I haven’t reminded them about how they will be graded or assessed.  They aren’t working for a grade.  They are working so hard because it’s their work.  This is their graphic novel story.  As a class, they created the characters and story.  If it fails, they all fail.  If it works, they are all successful.  They are working together for a common goal.  It’s quite amazing.  They want to grow as writers so that their story can be the best graphic novel ever.

It all comes down to ownership.  If I had assigned this project or task to the students, I wonder how focused and committed to it they would be.  Would they have worked as diligently as they had in class yesterday if they didn’t really care about the topic of the story?  Because the students suggested this idea for our first writing project of the year and were able to control every part of the task, they are 100% invested and engaged in this project.  They care about it because it is theirs.  They own it.  My students feel like I did when I bought my first car, free and in charge.  So, to teachers looking for ways to engage their students, I say, consider ownership.  Allow your students to choose how they demonstrate their learning, what they read about, and the topic for projects.  Pass the reigns of learning over to the students.  Let them drive the boat for a while, and you will find that your students will want to work, stay focused, and be engaged.  One of the keys to student engagement in the classroom is ownership.

My Amazing Week in the Fifth Grade

Despite the numerous, depressing headlines that filled our screens and newspapers this week, it’s refreshing to be able to reflect on the remarkable and wonderful week I experienced with my fifth grade class.  I am so lucky to be working with such an amazing group of students and educators.  Each new day is infused with wonderful gifts of thought and action.  It’s as if I’m working in a brilliant snow globe of awesomeness that is shaken on a daily basis.  I love watching the snowflakes of creativity, kindness, and compassion fall all around me.


I thought I would start today’s entry with a short little poem I’ve been working on…

 

I’m from a school that embraces

creativity and compassion, like the Tootsie Roll

center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.

“Can we make crafts to raise money

for Hurricane Florence victims?”

my fifth graders inquired the other day.

 

I’m from a school that challenges students

to think for themselves and be who they are.

I’m from a school where students thrive

and aren’t afraid to take risks.

“We should make a class newscast

like the video we just watched,”

A student suggested a few weeks ago.

This past Tuesday, the entire school viewed

that video my students made,

with awe and respect.

 

I’m from a school filled with kindness

and smiles, as if every moment is special.

I’m from a school where different is the new normal

and students never want to leave.

“He wished he could go to school

on the weekends,” a parent of one of

my students recently shared with me.

 

I’m from a school that seems almost

magical, like Narnia or Fablehaven.

I’m still waiting for the students to

show their wings and fly off towards

the horizon.

 

I’m from a school that is now a part me.

Just the other day,

I noticed that my blood appeared

maroon and gold.  This wonderful

place is changing me,

and I could not be happier.


With so many amazing things that happened in my classroom this week, it’s hard to pick just one to focus on for this entry.  So, instead of spending hours trying to determine which event to explore in detail, I’ll just list them all.

  • After being unable to acquire the materials needed to care for a turtle in the classroom, I decided to find a class pet that would be a bit more student and budget friendly.  While the students did vote on having a turtle as our class pet during the first week of school, I had to share the unfortunate news with them a week later, that we would be unable to make that dream come to fruition.  However, prior to sharing this news with the students, I applied for and received a grant for a hamster from the Pets in the Classroom Program.  Thank you Pet Smart and the wonderful folks at this amazing program that helps teachers find the resources to bring pets into their classrooms.  When I broke the news about the turtle to the students, I also had happy news to share with them.  I was surprised how excited they were about this change from the intended plan.  They seemed more enthusiastic about a hamster than they did the turtle they originally chose as the class pet.  This past week, the hamster joined our classroom family.  The students could not have been more thrilled.  They wanted to hold him, feed him, care for him, and play with him.  It was amazing, watching the students interact with the hamster, which they decided to name Beans.  While I still have no idea what the name has to do with hamsters, the majority of the students voted on that as his name.  If they are happy, than I am happy.  Frankly though, I really wanted Mr. Fancy Pants.  Oh well.  As the Rolling Stones reminded us all of years ago, “You can’t always get what you want.”  Regardless, Beans has brought much happiness and excitement into the classroom.  Fortunately, he is very sociable with us humans and doesn’t mind being held.  This new addition to our classroom is so much more than a real-world learning experience.  Beans is teaching the students to be mindful of how loudly they talk when they are near his cage and the importance of being careful when interacting with living things.  Talk about teachable moments.  Thank you Beans, for all that you have brought to our wonderful class.
  • Prior to Hurricane Florence making landfall in the US not too long ago, I pitched an idea to the students.  “I feel like we should do something to help those being impacted by this storm.  What can we do to support those communities?”  The students were full of wonderful ideas.  While nothing has completely taken off yet, they have begun to take an interest in helping others.  One student brought in a jar that we are using to collect money, while another student is gathering cans to redeem for money.  Another student brought in materials to make handcrafts, that we intend to sell for charity.  During a Science work period last Wednesday, those students who had finished conducting their investigations, worked with a student who taught them how to knit.  It was very cool to watch them all practice this difficult skill.  One student was all smiles as he began to figure out how to knit.  While I posed the original challenge to the students, I am allowing them to own the outcome.  I want them to learn responsibility, compassion, and dedication.  I want them to see that helping others can be rewarding in so many ways.  I can’t wait to see what my young philanthropists come up with in the coming weeks.
  • For our final science assessment, the students have to generate a unique investigation that allows them to test an original solution to a problem impacting our school community.  They will then conduct the experiment and document their findings in the form of a lab report and digital presentation.  While this seemed like a daunting task at first, the students grabbed the bull by the horns, or to use our mascot in the metaphor, they grabbed the beaver by his tail, and ran with it.  One student is trying to find an easy way to reduce the amount of water used by flushing toilets.  So, she put a brick in each of the toilet tanks in our school.  Some of the older students at the school were mystified by what she was doing.  I love it.  It’s getting others thinking.  Isn’t that what science is all about?  Another student is trying to find a way to cut down on mud flows and erosion near the school’s parking lot.  He’s in the process of planting some flora samples now.  Another student is trying out an environmentally friendly way to reduce the amount of poison ivy that lines the nearby forested areas.  Other students are trying to find ways to reduce the school’s use of electricity.  It’s so cool watching them work and gather data.  They are thinking and acting like scientists.  Amazing!

And that was just the highlights from this past week.  I don’t have nearly enough time to document and reflect on every little amazing thing that happened in the fifth grade last week.  Let’s just say, my words could never do justice to the magic that happens in the fifth grade at my school on a weekly basis.  Awesome really only covers the tip of the iceberg.  So yeah, I’m a very lucky educator who is able to work at such a special school with wonderful students and teachers.  Every day truly is the best day of my life, as each new day provides me with a new present.