Promoting Problem Solving in the Classroom

Helping students learn how to overcome adversity can be challenging.  I find it difficult, at times, to overcome the problems with which I’m faced on a daily basis.  How can I create an interactive lesson on grammar?  How do I change a tire on my car?  Problem solving is a tough skill to teach people in general, let alone fifth graders.  What’s the best way to help students learn the art of solving problems?  Experiences in failure.  Yes, that’s right, I said, let students fail.

I told my students on day one that I want them to fail this year, as that is when the real learning happens.  When people stumble, make a mistake, or fail, they have a choice to make.  They can find a new way to solve their problem or give up.  I want my students to see the power in perseverance and problem solving.  I empower my students to change their perspective, try something new, or take a break when faced with adversity.  The best way to learn to solve problems is through practice.  As a teacher, I find creative ways to help my students encounter problems throughout each and every day.  This way, they have multiple chances to mess up, make mistakes, fail, and then learn.  I use these opportunities as teachable moments.  What do you do now?

A prime example of this strategy in action happened today during Science class.  The students are in the midst of a final project for our unit on physics.  They need to create a pinball machine that applies the concepts of kinetic and potential energy, simple machines, and speed and velocity.  They can only use materials they have access to in our classroom.  As we have lots of “stuff” in our Maker Space, the possibilities are almost endless.

After planning out their designs and creating a blueprint of their pinball machines, they continued working on constructing them in class today.  After the students, working in pairs, set a goal for the period, they got right to work.  At first, the room was filled with activity.  The students were measuring, sawing, re-sawing, remeasuring, taping, gluing, and trying to get the bases of their pinball machines assembled.  Things went swimmingly for the first 45 minutes.  Then, the students started to hit some walls as they encountered problems.  How do you attach the legs of a pinball machine to the machine itself?  How do you make a base wide enough?  How do you attach two pieces of wood together to create legs?

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I observed the students as they started bumping into these problems.  While they became frustrated, they never gave up.  They searched for new ways to solve their problems.  One group that was trying to widen their pinball table, connected two pieces of wood together by attaching wooden shingles with nails to the back of the two pieces.  Very creative.  Another group struggled to attach their legs to their pinball machine base with screws, and so they found another way to transform their base into an inclined plane.  They attached a piece of wood to the back.  It was so fun to watch my students face adversity in class today, and then persevere through it to find new solutions to their problems.  I praised the students as they generated new ways to solve the dilemmas with which they were faced.  Providing students opportunities to fail, learn from their mistakes, and then find new solutions to their problems is how genuine learning and growth happens in and out of the classroom.

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The Intricate Puzzle of Teaching and Learning

You stare at a table covered with hundreds of colorful and tiny puzzle pieces.  While you have almost finished putting together the outside border, you’re still missing a few pieces.  You look and look for what seems like an eternity, to no avail.  The pieces you are searching for seem to look like every other piece.  Your vision is blurred looking at all those small, intricate pieces.  Frustration grows within you like magma slowly bubbling up within a volcanic tube.  You want to complete the border before moving onto your next task, but you just can’t seem to find the pieces you are looking for.  A small part of you wants to wipe the puzzle pieces off of the table and walk away, but giving up or walking away are not things you do.  So, you persevere.  You imagine the scattered puzzle pieces are like pebbles in a river bed.  You know that specks of gold must be mixed in with the quartz and granite.  You carefully scan each piece again, but this time, you are more focused.  You’re on a mission.  You have a clear goal in sight.  Suddenly, as your laser focus peers downward at the puzzle pieces, you find one of the pieces you are looking for.  Then another, and another, until you have found just what you are looking for.  After hours of concentration and madness, satisfaction washes over you like snow blanketing an evergreen tree in the forest.  You did it.  After failing for so long, you met your goal.  You put your mind to the task at hand and got it done.  You feel amazing, powerful, and so proud of yourself.  You realize now that you really can do anything you set you mind to, and that feels really awesome.

Like the puzzle builder, my fifth grade students and I had similar experiences in the classroom this week.  Prior to our Thanksgiving Break, my students conducted their student-led conferences with their parents.  They talked all about their growth as fifth graders.  They shared their hardships and highlights, and even explored their goals for the coming weeks.  These conferences were amazing.  My students clearly know themselves as learners, thinkers, and problem solvers.  Then, we had a week of vacation, filled with many days during which the students probably were not thinking about their math goals or progress in the classroom.  Will they remember what they talked about in their conferences when they return to school, I wondered.

To set them up for success, I had my students revisit their goals upon returning to school from the Thanksgiving holiday, much like the puzzle builder begins by putting together the border of the puzzle first.  I wanted my students to begin the week on a solid foundation.  While the first few days back proved challenging for all of us, as we struggled to fall back into a routine, we persevered and kept at it.  A few students struggled to use compassion when reminding their peers of the rules of our classroom.  Others were feeling a bit under the weather.  Some were under much stress as they prepared to star in big, dramatic productions this weekend.  When I noticed that my students were faced with adversity, I addressed it then and there.  During our Morning Meeting, we talked about how to handle stress using deep breathing, guided meditation, and much more.  We also discussed how to talk to peers in effective and kind ways.  I helped them over their hurdles that seemed to be blocking them from working towards their goals.  I helped them refocus and see the puzzle pieces in front of them.  By the end of the week, every student had finished their metaphorical border by working towards their goals.  Many of the students even met some of their long-term goals.  It was quite amazing.  Despite the struggles they faced earlier in the week, they kept their eyes on the prize and applied the strategies they had mentioned in their student-led conferences over a week ago.  They had made much progress in such a short time.  Amazing!

Like those die-hard puzzle makers with the patience of watchmakers, my students and I persevered through our challenges to accomplish our goals this week.  Although I was worried that my students would forget all of the wonderful things they had said during their student-led conferences about what they needed to do to continue to grow and develop as fifth graders, my students reminded me that they are exceptional girls and boys capable of greatness.  A few students who struggled to stay focused during math class prior to the holiday break, put forth amazing effort to stay on task and finish their work in a timely fashion this week.  Two students who love to help remind their peers of our class norms but struggled to do so in appropriate and nice ways at the beginning of the week, showed great growth and were able to be kind classmates by the close of the week.  A few students who had difficulty staying focus and on task back in mid-November, worked with a renewed sense of focus and concentration this week.  All of my students showed great progress and growth in the fifth grade throughout the week.

But how?  How did all of these amazing things happen?  We were not in school for a whole week, and therefore, they were most likely not thinking about the goals they mentioned during their conferences.  How were they able to all return from break and apply the strategies and meet the goals they mentioned to their families during their student-led conferences?  Was it that I had them review their goals on their ePortfolio at the start of the week?  Did this help set them up for success?  Was it their natural perseverance that helped them be so successful this week?  Or was it the student-led conferences themselves?  Because they know themselves as learners and students so well, was that what enabled them to have such a transformative week in the fifth grade?  Is ownership and self-responsibility the cause of the amazing things that happened in the fifth grade this week?  Students who have been unable to solve problems on their own all year, were doing so this week.  Students who struggled to finish pages in their math workbooks prior to Thanksgiving were solving complex math equations in science to calculate the speed of a marble this week.  What’s that all about?

While I’m no psychologist or fancy scientist, my Spidey teaching instincts tell me that my fifth graders had such a phenomenal week in the classroom because they do know themselves as learners so well and are intrinsically motivated to meet their goals.  They want to improve and grow.  They want to have more focus.  They want to improve upon their grades.  They want to do better, and so they did this week.  While I was unsure of how things were going at the mid-point of this week, I kept reframing my thinking and found new ways to help better support my students and propel them forward.  I was like the puzzle builder, frustrated at points, but then worked through my struggles to accomplish my goal.  And it was so worth it to see my students ace their spelling test, generate creative cultural myths, and finish chapters in their math book this week.  Wow, is just about all I could say as I walked out of my brilliant little school on Friday afternoon.  The pieces of our complex classroom puzzle all came together this week.  Reason 2,175 why I love being a teacher.

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.

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.

Student-Centered Learning: How Does it Impact Student Engagement in the Classroom?

I read an interesting article last week about the landmark book The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells us about the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik.  The article summarizes the metaphor the author uses to suggest how children should be raised in modern society.  While the article is geared towards parents, I do wonder if the same concept could apply to education as well.  Should we be trying to build students that do what we think as educators is best, or should we be cultivating a positive classroom culture that promotes teamwork, reflection, mindfulness, critical thinking, compassion, problem solving, and creativity so that students can develop and bloom into their own person?  As we are no longer preparing students to go out into a world of industry that is driven by factories in which all people need to be doing the same thing and following the same directions, logic leads me to believe that we should not be trying to craft students to fit into a particular mold.  Instead, schools and teachers should be helping students to find themselves while providing them opportunities to learn the useful and necessary skills they will need to be effective global citizens.  Teachers should be empowering students and handing the reigns of control over to them.  Students need to learn how to solve problems and think for themselves.  If schools employ a curriculum that forces students to follow a prescribed set of directions to complete a required task, how will students learn to be responsible citizens in our world?  Schools need to realize that times have changed.  We are no longer preparing students for factory life.  We are preparing students to think critically about the world around them in order to solve problems in creative and compassionate ways.  Schools that have evolved over time are the ones that are most helping students and our world.  Because I teach at a school that sees the power in creating learning opportunities for students in order to help them thrive and blossom into all sorts of beautiful, free-thinking organisms, I am able to implement a meaningful curriculum that focuses on inspiring students.

From day one in my fifth grade classroom, I’ve tried to focus on how I teach.  Rather than seeing myself as a carpenter, I’ve put forth much energy to be more of a guide or gardener.  Instead of telling my students what they need to do to show mastery of a particular concept, skill, or objective, I provide them with options or ask for their input.  I’m trying to foster a sense of autonomy and responsibility among the students in my class.  My goal is for them to see what is important and valuable, and then begin steering the classroom ship in that direction.  Although this manner of teaching does seem to make the most sense to me based on the reality in which we live, it’s not easy to break myself of old habits.  In college, I was trained to think that my role as a teacher is to ensure that my students do what I say according to the rules of how to do it.  As a young and naive educator and college student, I accepted what my professors told me.  They know what is best, I thought.  Years later, I realized that what I once thought was the right way to teach was in fact not at all accurate.  So, I’ve been doing much research on teaching and learning over the past few years.  I’ve changed my teaching style to adapt to what I’ve discovered along the way.  It’s challenging for me to think that I should not be the one in charge of the learning in the class.  I have to give up control, I thought.  But I am a control freak and need everything to go just so.  How can I possibly give up control and expect that everything will be okay?  It’s not about control, it’s about managing my expectations.  If I want students to leave my classroom being curious, responsible, self-sufficient, creative, compassionate, and mindful young people, than I need to change the way I think about teaching and living in general.  So, I’ve been doing that.  This year, in particular, I’ve been very thoughtful and purposeful in everything I say and do in the classroom.  I want to inspire my students to learn and grow as individuals and fifth grade family members. I want what I do in the classroom to be about them, which is why I’m trying to create a student-centered approach to learning in the classroom.

  • In my last entry I wrote about a brilliant idea one of my students had for a writing project.  So, I ran with it and implemented it in the classroom this week.  After explaining the project and task to them, I allowed the students to brainstorm the story idea, characters, and chapter assignments.  I observed from the side as they got into a great discussion.  They bounced ideas off of one another and came up with a very unique story idea in which seven superhero children travel to the Atlantic ocean to help pick up trash that the super villain Squid Man has been dumping into the ocean.  They had so much fun coming up with ideas and choosing roles.  I didn’t intervene once.  While it seemed chaotic at first, with many students talking at once, one student interjected and said, “It’s really hard to hear each other’s ideas when we are all talking at once.  Why don’t we have one person call on people who are raising their hands?”  A student raised her hand to be the leader and the rest of the conversation went swimmingly.  It was so awesome.  If I had jumped in and tried to control the situation like part of me wanted to do, I would have prevented opportunities for growth and learning from taking place.
  • After completing a scientific investigation together as a class to model and teach the steps of the scientific method, I wanted to provide the students with a different investigation in which they could practice and apply what they learned.  While I had plenty of ideas in mind, my only stipulation was that they had to use corn starch and at least one other material to create an investigation.  Some students chose glue or clay, while others chose water of some sort.  It was so cool to observe them all taking risks, trying new things, and learning about themselves as science students.  They seemed to have so much more fun than groups of students I’ve worked with in the past that did not have the freedom to choose their materials or type of investigation.  My fifth graders were excited and engaged.  It was amazing!
  • During the first week of classes, we watched a news-like video in Math to help the students begin to see that Math is about a mindset and not how one is born.  After watching the video, a student raised her hand and said, “We should do a news video like that and present it to the whole school during Community.”  I loved the idea so much, as did the other students in the class, that we are going to do just that tomorrow.  The students spent last week gathering pictures, interviews, and video footage of the school and other students during their free time.  Tomorrow we will spend the day putting the video together.  The students will assign roles, record the newscast, and then lay it out on the computer.  I can’t wait to see what the students create.  They are so creative.  I was however, at first, hesitant to try something like this as it meant that I would not be in control.  What if it doesn’t go right?  What if the students make mistakes?  What if…  The list could go on and on.  Just like with the story project, I need to allow the students to solve their own problems and take responsibility for their learning outcomes.  If it doesn’t work out or fails, even better.  That way, the students will have the ability to think critically, problem solve, and try something new.

These examples simply highlight a few of the ways I’ve tried to create a student-centered classroom in the fifth grade this year.  I’m super excited and happy with how things are going thus far.  I can’t wait to see how the future unfolds.  For me, it’s all about trying new things as a way of empowering my students and helping them to learn real-world skills that will allow them to transform and bloom into effective global citizens.

My Curricular Journey

Once upon a time…  No scrap that; it’s too unoriginal and boring.  What about this?  In a land far, far away there lived…  That’s been done before too.  How can I begin this short little story in an engaging and new way?  How can I start a story that will set up the rest of this entry in a unique way?  I want readers to be inspired by my first sentence so much that they just can’t wait to read the last one too, and all the other ones in between as well, I hope.  I’m searching for the perfect sentence.  It’s like a quest.  Yes, I’m on a quest to find the perfect way to start this story.  But wait a minute, does the perfect sentence really exist?  Can anything really be perfect in every way?  Okay, good point.  So, instead, I’ll go on an adventure to find a really great sentence for my story.  I feel like that is possible.  I can easily find a really great sentence.  But where?  In my closet?  In the ocean?  In my pocket?  Where might I find this amazing sentence?  What if it has yet to be written?  How will I find something that doesn’t yet exist?  Perhaps I should just create it.  That’s it!  I’ll design the right sentence for my story.  I can do that, I think.  Okay, here goes nothing…

Some said he was special, while others said he was just ordinary.  To his tribe, he would become the anointed one.  (OMG, how great is that opening?  I want to run to the precipice of the highest mountain and scream at the top of my lungs, YESSSSSSS!  I feel like my brain just earned a bonus point.  I love it!  It seems unique and engaging.  It’s interesting.  If I was a reader, I’d be clamoring for more right now.  I did it, I did it.  I came up with an epic opening.  Okay, now on with the rest of my short little story.)

This boy was more than just special, you see.  Although he didn’t realize it yet, he had great power buried deep within him.  It was written in the stars that he would grow to become a most powerful man and leader within the tribe.  However, he wasn’t quite there yet.  This boy faced numerous challenges from the earliest years of his life.  The river on which his life traveled meandered more than most during his early years.  Struggles pounded his shores like a great storm ravaging a countryside.  While many a men would have perished under such pressure, this boy persevered.  He was a survivor, but not without scars to mark his journey.

This wavy, white-capped trek left him unable to experience life like many others.  So, as he grew, these challenges shaped him in dangerous ways.  His true self became buried deep within him, as he was afraid of what others would think if they found out who and what he truly was.  Because he lied to himself and others for many years, he became a bit of an outcast in the tribe.  While fate knew what he would become, others saw a wasted, troubled life.  Something had to happen for this boy to transform into the great man the tribe so desperately needed.

Rather than push him away, the chieftains devised a plan to bring him back into the fold of the community.  They decided to send him on a quest to find his true self and uncover the power within.

So, this boy ventured out into the wilderness for several weeks.  While at first he seemed lost and unsure of his goal, he never gave up.  He kept searching, despite the many obstacles in his way.  On one evening, a wild animal, large in stature, approached the boys as he slept.  Startled, he awoke, unable to move at first.  Then, like magic, he knew what to do, and the wild beast seemed to simply disappear.  As the boy ventured further into the unknown wilderness, his mind began to uncover the buried secrets of his past.  As he faced these memories head-on, he found himself becoming more powerful.  Instead of only being able to walk a few miles during the first portion of his quest, by the end, he was walking many miles in a day.  His soul was growing stronger as well.  He began to accept himself for who he truly is.  While life dealt him a tricky hand of cards, he wasn’t going to let that spoil the whole game of life, oh no.  He was going to make the most of his future.

After seven weeks away from the tribe, the boy miraculously found his way back home.  He wasn’t the same boy who had left, the tribe soon realized.  He had grown into his powers and become a leader.  For once he faced his inner demons, he was able to see his true self and accept that he was different.  This trying quest in the wilderness had changed him in many ways; most importantly, however, it afforded him the opportunity to see that he is a kind and capable individual who has the power to change the world.


Much like the boy in the story, I too went through a transformation this summer.  What I thought was once too difficult to tackle, became a challenge I gleefully accepted.  Knowing that I had to prepare the curriculum for my new fifth grade class was a daunting task, and one that I put off for many weeks.  I left this unbearable mission for August, hoping that it would magically get accomplished on its own, without any effort from me.  But alas, I live in Hanover and not Narnia or Hogwarts.  Magic doesn’t exist in the same way here on Earth.  In order for something to get done, I need to do it.  So, like the boy in my story, I faced the wild beast that was my curriculum, and through dedication and hard work, slayed it.

Although I had an inkling of what I wanted my first unit to look like, until I sat down to map it all out, it was just an abstract idea.  The hard work was in putting the puzzle pieces together.

I knew that I wanted my first, integrated fifth grade unit to focus on community.  But how?  What about community did I want to cover?  The class community?  The school community?  The town?  As I was starting at a new school, in a new town, I had not the foggiest notion of Hopkinton’s history or community.  So, I went on my own adventure this summer to learn a bit about the Hopkinton community.  I began by visiting the town’s historical society museum and speaking with the director.  She was especially helpful.  Together, we crafted some amazing field experiences that I believe will tie the unit together.

  • Our first idea was a Walking Tour of Main Street.  The director would lead my students on a tour of Main Street, explaining the different houses that line the very old road.  She would also describe the history of the town to the students during this excursion.  This will be a great way for the students to gain a foundational understanding of the town and its history.
  • Our second field experience for the unit will be a visit to the town museum to learn about the history of the indigenous people who lived in the Hopkinton area.  The students will also learn and practice the art of basket weaving.  This adventure will not only teach the students more about our town’s history but also be a great springboard into our second unit on the indigenous people of New Hampshire.
  • Our third excursion will be a visit to the art museum housed in the historical society building.  I’m hoping that the director can organize a workshop with one of the local artists exhibiting their work.  This will be a great way to help the students understand the current state of our town while also appreciating the talented citizens that live among us.
  • Our final field experience will be a visit to the workshop of a local spoon maker, during which he will show the students how a spoon is made before providing them an opportunity to make a simple spoon of their own.  This hands-on trip will help the students learn a new task while also understanding more about the wonderful people who live in Hopkinton.

I am super excited about these field experiences.  I believe that they will help to bring history alive for my students.  They will also help them become more invested in the town in which the school is located.  Our first trip is scheduled for Thursday, September 13.

As our theme for the year is community, this first formal unit on our community will help lay the foundation for the year ahead.  This unit will tie together the social studies, science, and language arts curricula for the start of the year.

  • The social studies aspect of the unit will focus on the history of the town of Hopkinton.
  • The science portion of the unit will focus more on the school community, as the students will conduct investigations regarding an aspect of the school that they would like to change.  This will involve more of an environmental approach such as energy consumption, food waste, water use, etc.
  • The language arts piece of the unit will have the students craft a historical fiction story based on a piece of Hopkinton’s history that interests them in some way.

Throughout the unit, the students will learn how to appropriately discuss serious issues impacting others, write about facts they learn, analyze information, interpret what they read, question the world around them in meaningful ways, help others, and appropriately share information in a real-world context.  This integrated unit will create the perfect patchwork quilt the students will need as we delve into the more challenging topics during the colder months.

While everything about this unit is sure to be engaging and fun, what I’m most excited about regarding this new unit is the culminating, final project.  For the first phase of the project, the students will choose an aspect of Hopkinton’s history that intrigued them.  They will then create a visual display highlighting what they learned.  For the final phase of the project, the students will present their visual display and prepared speech for all community members to see at a special exhibit at the Historical Society building.  Talk about real-world practice.  Not only will the students be practicing their public speaking skills, but they will also be teaching the town’s citizens all about the unique and diverse history of the town in which they live.  It will be a great way for the students to connect with the Hopkinton community members and for the townsfolk to see what is going on at our small little school nestled in the woods.  This is sure to be a fantastic experience for all involved.  I can’t wait.

So, as you can see, my summer journey was filled with adventure and learning, much like the boy in my story.  Creating a new curriculum and set of units is very challenging and time consuming.  I spent a lot of time this summer just thinking about topics I want to cover.  My goal is to create a unit that will engage and interest my students in such a way that they are curious and want to learn more.  I want to empower them to ask questions, as they think critically about the world around them.  I want them to learn about themselves throughout this wild journey as well.  As the boy in my story learned, we’ve all got great power living within us.  Sometimes, we just need a little prodding to extract it.

How Will I Grow as an Educator this Summer?

Anger is an emotion I rarely experience.  Frustration and madness, sure, but not anger.  I just don’t find myself getting angry that often.  However, in the last two years, or ever since our sitting president took office, I find myself being brought to the verge of anger on a more regular basis while reading news stories and current events about happenings in our world.  Things just aren’t like they used to be, oh no.  Humans are going a little bonkers.  But this kind of angry is good, because it means that I am paying attention to the world around me.  As some person once said, “If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention.”  I watch and observe what is happening in our country and abroad because I care.  I vote, I watch, and I try to make a difference if I’m not liking what I’m noticing.  So, sometimes I do get angry when I’m reading stories on the news app on my phone.  The crazy things that are happening boggle my mind.  It’s as if we are living in a reality television program.

Yesterday, I read a story online that made me a bit angry.  Surprisingly enough though, it wasn’t about the political side of things.  No, it was about something even more near and dear to my heart: Music.  This author had the audacity to proclaim that rock music is officially dead.  What is he talking about, I said aloud to myself while reading this absurd piece.  One of my all-time favorite genres of music is rock.  I listen to rock music on the radio almost daily.  Bands are crafting new rock tunes all the time.  Rock music will never die.  Especially with what’s going on in our world, people need rock music.  Rock is the genre for the counter-culture movements happening globally.  Rock has always provided those invested and knowledgeable angry people with a safe haven, an outlet will you.  Rock music saved my life when I was growing up.  Things were a bit difficult for me as a teen, but fortunately, I had my rock cassette tapes and CDS to comfort me and provide me with an escape when things got too challenging.  I remember listening to Guns N’ Roses’ masterpiece Use Your Illusions I and II so frequently that the tapes eventually broke.  Axl Rose’s lyrics helped me through some tough times.  Then came Pearl Jam’s Ten.  Epic is the only way to describe this album.  Black was my favorite tune from that disc.  Amazing.  As hardcore, metal, punk, and rock evolved in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the landscape of rock music changed as well.  Bands like Coheed and Cambria and Thursday blended genres together and took listeners on a completely new musical journey.  Other bands grew out of this new movement and rock music flourished through the beginning of the 21st century.  New bands and old ones are still crafting and constructing new rock music all of the time.  The author of that ridiculous article clearly has no idea what rock music really is.  You see, in the article, he only referenced bands like Avenged Seven-fold and the Foo Fighters.  While I do like both of those bands, they aren’t the only rock bands around, and they certainly don’t encapsulate the genre.  So, to make this rant come to an end so that I can get on with my blog, this article is completely false and rock music is alive and well, and will always be that way.

Unlike that fictitious article I just referenced, my summer plans are shaping up to totally rock and roll as I prepare for my first year of teaching fifth grade at my new school.  I’m so excited.  I get to set up a new classroom, meet new people, create new curriculum, challenge new students, and be a part of what is sure to be an amazing learning community.  YES!  So, to prepare for all of this awesomeness, I need a plan of action.  So, this summer, I’m going to keep the pedal pushed all the way down to the rocking metal as I work to prepare for the upcoming school year.

  • I need to set up and organize my new classroom.  I’m happy to know that my new school will be ordering new whiteboard desks and rocking chairs for my classroom.  Those will help the students stay focused, attentive, and engaged throughout the day.  I get to figure out how I’m going to set things up.  My new classroom has so many windows that look out onto rolling fields and scenes of nature.  I can’t wait to try some new ways of putting things together in my new classroom.  I hope to get started on this process in early July, which is great because I have a ton of stuff in storage right now to move over from my old classroom.
  • I need to determine which math book or series I will be going with for the fifth grade program.  The school currently uses the Big Ideas Learning math series for grades six through eight.  While I want to maintain consistency for the fifth grade, I’m not sure this book series would be best for the group of students I will be working with this fall.  Some of my new students have noted that math is a bit of a struggle for them.  So, my goal is to choose a math curriculum that will engage my students in meaningful ways so that they are excited to learn new math concepts and strengthen their foundation regarding computational skills.  The founder of my new school suggested I look at this new program called Beast Academy.  Wow, was about all I could say when I checked it out.  It is a math graphic novel that uses monsters to teach math concepts.  It’s rigorous and challenging, but tackles the topics in new and creative ways.  I think this would be a great curriculum to use.  Now, I just need to talk things over with my new headmaster to find out what he thinks would be best.  Of course, I will support whatever he chooses, but I’m hoping that he will allow me to try out the Beast Academy program for next year.  Fingers crossed.
  • I need to complete my first science and social studies units on community and the scientific method.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve got a plan for this process.  I’m excited to try new things and dig into some cool ideas and learning.  I have already begun this process, as it requires much behind the scenes work.  I’m sure that this portion of my summer work will last the longest.
  • I need to determine what my daily schedule will be for the fifth grade program.  Sometime in the coming weeks, I will sit down with my new headmaster to hash out the daily schedule in terms of time.  When will specials be?  What time is lunch?  Things like that.  Once I have this finalized, I can then begin the planning for things like Morning Meeting, Passion Projects, and outdoor discovery time.  This will be one of the first things I can check off of my summer list, as I need this to fall into place before I can really dig into the daily planning of my class.
  • My summer reading goal is small right now as I only have one book on it.  I also want to read some young adult books that I might use during Reader’s Workshop lessons in the fall.  I haven’t decided on those titles yet.  The only book I have so far is Quiet by Susan Cain.  I just started it yesterday and am loving it.  As an introvert, I can totally relate to a lot of what she mentions in the novel.  The world seems to favor extroverts, but its the synergy of people working together that really makes the world work.  We need to embrace the introverts in our work places and schools and allow them to develop their skills in appropriate ways.  We can’t try to make introverted people into extroverts, as it will only cause future problems.  I’m excited to learn some tips and tricks on how to best support the introverts that I will inevitably have in my classroom this year.  I’m hoping to finish this book within a couple of weeks.  Then I will gather the young adult books I want tackle next.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now.  I’m sure that other things will crop up along the way, as they always do.  That’s just part of the process of developing new things and preparing for a new school year.  The fun is in the middle.  So, now I will embark upon my summer journey of rocking hard as I ready things for the next academic year.  Oh, and I’ll be listening to plenty of rock music.  Rock on!

How’d I Do: My End of the Year Goal Reflection

As I left my classroom this afternoon following the last, formal academic day at my school, sadness filled my heart while the song “It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men popped into my head.  I looked out onto my school’s namesake Mount Cardigan and tears started to fill my eyes.  15 years is a long time to be at one school.  Memories have been washing over me recently like ocean water on a beach of sand.  I remember my first year at Cardigan, right out of college.  I was a wreck.  It was awful.  I couldn’t control the students and was teaching courses I knew very little about.  Things got better though as I grew a bit wiser.  Much has changed about me and the school at which I’ve worked at for the past several years.  Cardigan has changed me, and hopefully I’ve left my mark on this fine educational institution.  While I’m moving onto a new school for the next academic year, I will bring much of what I’ve learned in my time here, to my new school.

As I hop and skip down memory lane in my final days here on the Point, it’s prudent that I reflect on my progress as an educator this year.  Did I meet my professional goals?  Did I grow as a teacher?  How’d I do in the classroom?

It was an awesome year in the sixth grade.  My students made much progress both socially and academically, due in part to the strong program my co-teacher and I created this year.  We helped the boys work through communication and coexistence issues while also helping them to develop as readers, writers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers.

I tried a few new things this year that I felt went very well…

  • The mindfulness curriculum that my co-teacher and I developed and implemented during the fall term and throughout the year seemed to really help focus the students mentally and socially.  While by the end of the year, they did joke a bit with each other about it.  “Make sure you are mindful now boys,” they would say to one another, which is great because it means that they got it, they see the power in living in the present moment, staying calm, and avoiding external and internal distractions.
  • I created a unit on Figurative Language for my Humanities class that I used during the spring term.  During the past several years, I’ve used the same unit on the Middle East region during the final academic term of the year.  While I’ve enjoyed this unit and feel as though the students do get a lot out of it, I always wondered if I was properly preparing them to think critically about literature.  In the past, I have focused mostly on basic reading and writing strategies and skills, and have found that some of my students do not feel prepared for the rigors of seventh grade English class.  As the expectations are ratcheted up quite a bit, the students are expected to know how to analyze literature.  So, I changed my final unit of the year so that I could help my students be and feel more prepared for life in the seventh grade.  It was so much fun, and probably my most favorite unit of the year.  Every piece of Humanities class fit together so perfectly during this unit, from our Idiom of the Day bellringers to our class read aloud and poetry activities.  It was awesome.  The students had a blast learning how to make their writing more colorful and creative while also learning how to interpret figurative language used in works of literature.
  • Our big field trip of the year to Chewonki in Maine was a huge success.  While the boys seemed to not enjoy it in the moment, as it was hard and asked them to step way outside of their comfort zone, they are already beginning to see the great benefits and fun that came from this great experience.  This was a completely new trip for the sixth grade, but I was ready for a change as we had been going to the same place in Cape Cod for nine years.  Chewonki was that change, and boy was it a great change at that.

I also met my two professional goals that I set way back in October of last year…

  • I want to gather data on how rubrics and project introductions help promote or reduce the amount of creativity students are able to put into their work so that I can begin to understand how to best introduce a new task or assignment to my students.
    • After much work on this topic throughout the year, I’ve realized that my original hypothesis is correct and that rubrics are futile tools that simply steal creativity and critical thinking opportunities from students.  The only group that I found in my research that gets any use out of a rubric is the ESL students, as rubrics tend to use simple English language that is manageable for them to process easily and quickly.  Mission accomplished.
  • I want to incorporate ideas and skills covered during our Mindfulness Unit in Team Time and our Brain Unit from PEAKS class into my Humanities class.
    • While I didn’t necessarily do this as much as I would have liked to have done it and, perhaps, as meaningfully, I do feel as though I did accomplish this goal.  We incorporated mindfulness activities into our study skills class at least once a week during the spring term.  We had the students complete a guided meditation that we led before having them share how others have helped them or how they have helped others in the class.  These activities helped to focus the students while allowing them to develop compassion and gratitude.  I also made use of the big ideas behind mindfulness, including growth mindset, perspective, and open-mindedness, in my Humanities class throughout the year.  Every part of our curriculum came down to helping them broaden their perspective as a way to be more kind, compassionate, and thoughtful, and I reminded them of that often in class.  Although I wish I could have met with the students at the start of the academic day daily, our schedule didn’t allow for that.  Had it though, I would have conducted a Class Meeting that contained a mindfulness activity as well as some student sharing.  My goal is to make use of this type of Morning Meeting on a daily basis in my classroom at my new school starting in August.

Thinking back on the year as a whole, it felt very productive, and I feel as though I did a great job helping my students to grow and develop as students and people.  Yes, it is hard to say goodbye to my current school, but I’m doing so on good and positive terms.  It’s time for me to move on and start a new adventure.  I now have much to do this summer to prepare for the next academic year at my new school.  I can’t wait to start jumping into things in a few short weeks.  For now though, I will live in the present moment and make the most of the time I have left at my current school.  Until the summer when I will inevitably be reflecting on life at my new school, I’m out.

How Can We Most Effectively Engage ALL of Our Students in the Learning Process?

Engagement seems to be a catch phrase in the education world these days.  How can we most effectively engage our students in the classroom?  Numerous books have been written on the subject, while teaching conferences around the world have engagement as their theme.  Why does does it seem that all of a sudden we now need to care about student engagement as part of the learning process?  Why now?  This seems like a common sense strategy that great teachers should have always been using.  The most meaningful learning happens when students are engaged in what they are learning about.  So then, why does it seem that my email inbox is constantly inundated with email blasts about new books and articles written on how to effectively engage students in the classroom?  Why isn’t this idea and topic covered in colleges or teacher preparation programs around the country?  Why does it seem that student engagement is the new hot topic or trend in teaching?

While engagement has always been a concern for teachers, because times and our society have changed so much in the past two decades, what we as educators learned or know about how to engage students in the classroom has changed and evolved.  Our world has changed.  Technology has changed.  Engaging students now isn’t anything like it was when I was a student.  The children of today are different.  Their attention spans have grown incrementally smaller in size due to technology, movies, television, and video games.  Engaging the students of today is much different than it was when I was a student in school.  I used to be able to focus and pay attention to teacher-directed instruction for thirty minutes to an hour when I was in sixth grade.  Now, our students struggle to stay focused or on task for more than ten minutes.  Student engagement is a whole new beast because of all of these changes that have taken place.  Staying current with and abreast of research and information on how to effectively engage students in the classroom is crucial for teachers.  We need to know how to best support and challenge all of our students in this “Brave New World” in which we live.

The issue that I often struggle with in the classroom is engaging all of my students, all of the time.  How can I best support the ELLs in my classroom while also challenging the more advanced students?  Sure, differentiation works well for this, but if I’m teaching a mini-lesson for the entire class on a topic, how can I most effectively reach and engage all of my students?

Today in my Humanities class, I introduced the concept of Epic Poetry.  I began the lesson with a class discussion regarding what the students think they know about this form of poetry.  Several students made some great hypotheses based on simply interpreting the word epic.  A few of the boys even drew connections from the previous forms of poetry studied to epic poetry.  That was pretty neat.  We then read and discussed excerpts from two great epic poems of long ago.  This was when the issue of student engagement popped up.

As I work to engage all of my students, all of the time, I try to call on students who seem disengaged, distracted, or bored in class when something needs to be read aloud.  So, I called on two students, who seemed to not be paying attention during our mini-lesson on Epic Poetry today, to read a stanza from one of the epic poems we studied.  As these two students happen to be ELLs, they faced great adversity when reading the lines aloud as they were filled with large vocabulary words and strange names from ancient Greece.  It took the boys several minutes to get through each stanza, as they had to sound out almost every word and stumbled over every other word.  I heard a sigh from one of the other students in the class during this time.  He was clearly frustrated that this process of reading the poem aloud was taking so long.  While my goal was to keep everyone focused by helping to redirect distracted or disengaged students, I ended up creating an atmosphere of disengagement in the classroom.  How can I best engage all of my students without taking away or distracting from anyone?  During a lesson like this, what’s the best way to help keep everyone focused, engaged, and involved in the learning process?

  • As I was mindful and living in the moment, I was able to react to what was happening this morning.  To help remedy the situation, I read the second poem aloud so that I could emphasize word choice, flow, and meter.  This choice refocused those students who seemed a bit distracted when their peers were reading the poem aloud.
  • What if I had the students read the poems independently, making written observations.  This way, those students who read and comprehend at faster rates could move onto our class Things to Do When Done list while waiting for their peers to finish.  Also, it would allow me to individually support and help those struggling readers in the class.  We could have them come back together as a class to discuss their noticings and observations.  Perhaps this method would have been more fruitful.
  • What if the students had read the two poems together with their table partner, engaging in a conversation about what they noticed and wondered?  Would that have been a more effective way to introduce the epic form of poetry to the students?
  • What if I had read both poems aloud to the class?  While that would have helped that one disengaged student who sighed during class, would it have kept my disengaged ELLs focused?

As the students will be analyzing two poems tomorrow in class, I will try having them work with a partner to read and analyze each poem on their own first, before discussing them altogether as a class.  I hope that this approach will foster more engagement from the students.  We can spend the class discussion focusing on analyzing the poems and not reading them together in a way that might create disengagement.  I feel good about this new idea, but I still wonder, is it the most effective way to engage all of my students?  As of late, I have been interested in the concept of student motivation and I feel as though student engagement is directly connected to it.  I’m hoping to glean some data from tomorrow’s lesson that will help me find new ways to motivate and engage all of my students in the learning process.

Why Students Just Don’t Understand the Big Things in Life

Growing up, I took many things for granted.  I wasted food because I could, without realizing how many people go without food on a daily basis.  I assumed that money was available whenever and wherever, and so I generally wasted lots of it.  I struggled to appreciate how fortunate I was to have parents who cared for me and kept me safe, food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head.  Not until I was older, did I fully understand how lucky I actually was.  While I wish that I could go back in time and better appreciate my life as it happened, I do now realize that this lack of understanding and compassion wasn’t due to anything I did wrong or as a result of something my parents did incorrectly.  This is a common problem amongst children and teens, as their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed.  They can’t analyze life and empathize with others the same way someone who has a fully developed prefrontal cortex does.  It’s just not possible.  Sure, we can help young folks understand what is happening in their brains so that they may understand why they do what they do, but will it really make a huge difference?

My co-teacher and I just got back from a four-day field trip with our class of sixth graders to an amazing place in Wiscasset, Maine.  The boys learned how to erect a tent, build a fire, chop wood, sleep and survive in the wilderness, work together, solve problems, cook meals over an open flame, and deal with changes in the weather.  It was so awesome!  Despite a little rain, the week was great.  The boys were forced to step outside of their comfort zone, take risks, and try new things.  This was incredibly challenging for many of our students.  While my co-teacher and I loved this trip, many of our students greatly disliked it.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable to go four days without showering.  Yes, it’s hard to sleep when your pillow and sleeping bag are wet from the rain.  Yes, it’s tough when you don’t like the people you are forced to share a tent with.  Yes, life is hard and not always fair.  We can’t always get what we want.  And that’s exactly the reason why my co-teacher and I found this trip to be so beneficial: It was hard.

This trip forced the boys to do things that made them uncomfortable.  Whether they realize it or not, they have all grown from this trip.  This adventure that we went on together changed all of them in some way.  Although they will probably not see or understand the true value of this trip for weeks, months, or years to come, they will one day see why we embarked on this wonderful mission together.  They will one day see how important this trip was to their overall development as people.  They know how to overcome adversity now because of this trip.  They know how to deal with difficult peers now due to having had this experience.  Despite what their brain is able to process right now, they all got a lot from our amazing field trip to Maine this week.  While we wish that our students could see now what my co-teacher and I see, we do know that many great memories and vital experiences took place during the past four days for our boys.

The words from one of my all-time favorite films comes to mind as I reflect on this transformational experience that I just went through with my students…

“And I can feel anything but gratitude for every moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about do you? But don’t worry you will someday.”  American Beauty

It’s totally understandable that my students can’t fully appreciate what a fantastic experience they were all just a part of, as their brains are not fully developed yet.  They can’t do the higher level thinking and analyzing that would allow them to understand and appreciate how the challenges they overcame will help them later on in their lives, and that’s okay.  I get it.  I was them once.  I didn’t understand why my parents made me do certain things back then.  I couldn’t fathom why I had to sit through special ceremonies or go on family vacations because my brain wasn’t ready to understand.  Like me, my students aren’t ready to see what really happened to them this week on our field trip to Chewonki, but they will one day, as Lester Burnham reminds us in Sam Mendes’ masterpiece.