While I am a new teacher at the Beech Hill School (BHS) this year, it certainly didn’t take me long to learn how lucky I am to be working at such a special and wonderful school. We are a community of learners, problem solvers, and friends here at BHS. We support and take care of each other, regardless of our roles. Teachers aren’t just educators; we are leaders, role models, caregivers, and students. Our students are more than just pupils in classrooms as well; they are helpers, teachers, and doers. As the fifth grade teacher at BHS, I often wonder who is learning more on a daily basis, me or my students.
Although you can’t ever really understand a school unless you visit, I feel compelled to at least attempt to paint you all a picture of the magical school we have created in the small town of Hopkinton, New Hampshire. I hope this entry helps to shed some light on the magnificent things one micro-school is doing to make education about the students. Today’s entry will provide readers with a special look at a day in the life of a fifth grader at the Beech Hill School. Each section will include two parts: An overview from my perspective as their teacher followed by a realistic, but slightly imagined glimpse of life through the lens of various fifth grade students. Enjoy, and please feel free to post comments or questions about this entry.
That Magical Time Before School Officially Begins
As the sun slowly peeked out from behind the mountains near our small school, students began to fill the halls and classrooms after 7:30 Wednesday morning. The fifth grade students made their way into our classroom, early like always. You see, my students love being at school. They enjoy time with their friends, creating things in our Maker Space, experimenting with Makey Makeys, and playing with our class hamster. One student even told his parents he wished he had school on Saturdays.
The students enjoyed their time together in the classroom before our day officially began, playing games and having fun. I love being a part of this celebration of community and learning each morning in the fifth grade classroom. It provides me the unique opportunity to interact and bond with my students in different ways. Once the sound of bells resonated in the air though, we knew that our day was about to formally commence.
Walking into school this morning, I was filled with excitement and curiosity. We are starting our big physics project in Science class today, and I can’t wait to start making a pinball machine. I wonder how big it will need to be. Who will be my partner? Ahh, I thought as I entered our classroom. Although Mr. Holt was working on setting up the board with today’s agenda, he stopped to greet me with a smile and an energetic “Good morning!” I really like how happy and excited he is in the morning. It helps me wake up and feel ready to go for the day. As his magical teaching cape seemed to float behind him in the air while he whizzed around the room like a real-life superhero, I put my stuff into my cubby and went to check on Beans, our class pet. He’s so cute in the morning, nestled in his pink igloo-like structure. I lured him out with a yogurt treat. He loves those things. I played with him on the Maker Space table. When my friends arrived, they joined me. We created a little obstacle course for Beans to navigate through. It was so much fun. When the clang of the bell rang out, I quickly put Beans back into his cage and walked downstairs with my friends.
Each day at the Beech Hill School begins in our multi-purpose room with something our headmaster calls Community. It’s like a giant Morning Meeting of sorts. The teacher in charge leads the school community, grades five to eight, though a short but mindful meditation we refer to as a Moment of Intention. That teacher then guides us through an activity. Today’s focus was on current events. The students shared some news stories they had read or heard about recently. We discussed the death of former President George H. W. Bush, the Alaskan earthquake, and so much more. The other teachers and students then had the opportunity to share further announcements. We only had a few brief announcements for this portion of the meeting. A student then reminded us all what day it was as we applauded and headed upstairs to our respective classrooms. What a delightful way to start our day as a whole school.
I quickly found an empty chair and stood behind my seat. I talked to my friend until Mr. Aruda raised his hand to start Community. I really like Community because it’s a great time to learn about any changes to our schedule as well as what else is going on in the school. I think it’s so cool that we do this altogether as a school. I often sit next to an eighth grader, even though I’m a fifth grader, and she always says, “hi” to me. That’s pretty neat. Although it’s sometimes hard for me to sit still during the Moment of Intention, I really like having quiet time to think about my goals for the day.
Oh, that’s right, it’s World Wide Wednesday. Today, students talked about news from around the world. One student talked about how he heard a story this morning about aliens landing on Earth. Mr. Aruda hadn’t heard this story and so he couldn’t tell us anymore about it. I don’t think it was a real story because I haven’t seen any aliens, or have I? Sometimes I wonder if my teacher Mr. Holt is from another planet because he wears a cape, slippers, and tells lots of funny dad jokes. Wow, I kind of got distracted by that story. Luckily though, I was able to hear Mrs. Fries’ announcement about volunteering on Saturday at the Gingerbread House Making event. I want to help out. That sounds like a lot of fun, and maybe I’ll get to eat some candy too. I’ll check with her before I go up to class to tell her I can help out. I need to make sure I tell my parents about that. Meeting is over. Time to go.
As the fifth grade students crossed the threshold of our classroom, those who had not checked their Daily Effort Grade feedback from the day before on our Google Classroom page did so while everyone else got comfortable on a yoga mat. Yes, we do have tables and chairs in the fifth grade, but as today marked our December yoga session, we needed yoga mats to begin our morning. Local yoga instructor and mother to a current BHS student joins us in the fifth grade, once a month for a mindful yoga session. She leads the students through numerous stretching and yoga poses to provide them with the opportunity to become centered and present. It’s a part of our mindfulness curriculum that spans the entire year. The students love our yoga sessions and other mindful activities that began most of our days in the fifth grade.
While our mindful activities are usually a part of our class Morning Meeting, our monthly yoga sessions take place immediately following the all-school community meeting. So, today did begin a bit differently than most other days. Following our closing ohm and namaste, we worked as a team of fifth grade ants to put the classroom back together again. I then reviewed today’s agenda, which is written on the whiteboard daily. Following our Morning Meeting, on most days, we move right into our first academic subject of the day, and today was no outlier in that regard.
Yoga, yes! I love Yoga. I totally forgot we had it today. Luckily I already checked my Daily Effort Grade last night, so I could pick my Yoga mat first. I wonder what Mrs. Garside is going to have us do today. Stretching? I like that. I am so flexible but it’s fun to stretch anyway. I like Yoga because it helps me get all my energy and wiggles out before we start learning. Mr. Holt has the lights off so we can be mindful too. I like thinking about just the present moment. Sometimes it’s hard, but I try and I think I’m getting better at it. I like the Ohm thing we do. It’s so cool that we all make the same sound for as long as possible. Today we did it for like 15 seconds. That was a long time. Namaste, Mrs. Garside. Now I’m ready for Math.
A typical math class, if there really is such a thing, generally consists of some sort of opening activity, be it the Date Game or Khan Academy time, followed by a work period, during which time the students work on their assigned workbook pages in their math books. We use the Beast Academy program in the fifth grade. The students are enjoying the fun and challenging nature of the curriculum.
Today, however, was a very special day in math class. As this week is host to the global Hour of Code event, today marked our opportunity to participate in this special happening. The students each chose an online activity to complete as an introduction to the world of computer programming. Some students chose to learn how coding in Minecraft works while others created a fancy dance involving animals. The students were so engaged in this activity, that we had a working snack. They loved it! Several students asked if they could complete more activities during their free time or for homework. You know something special is happening when they ask questions like that. Amazing!
At first I was like, “What is this Hour of Code stuff all about? Do I have to write Morse Code for a whole hour? That sounds hard and boring.” But then, Mr. Holt showed us the website and I was like, “OMG! I get to make a computer game. This is so cool.” It was so much fun. I want to do Hour of Code every day. I chose the dancing activity and so I got to make unicorns dance. It was really difficult, but I persevered and solved my problems. One of my classmates helped me out with the fifth level. When I was finished, I was so happy and proud of myself. I made unicorns dance while eating my snack. What could be better than that? Learning about how computer programming and coding works was so much fun. I can’t wait to try another one tonight.
After an extended play and snack period following math class, we then moved into Science. Our current focus in Science is physics. The students have been learning all about speed and velocity, potential and kinetic energy, and simple machines. Today, we reviewed what the students had learned about simple machines. Their retention was impeccable. I love retrieval activities like this one, as neuroscience research tells us that learning strategies are only useful when coupled with the practice of memory retrieval skills.
To make the concept of simple machines and work tangible for the students, they completed a class challenge. Working together, the students had to make or find examples of each of the six simple machines, in the classroom. I was impressed by their cooperation, planning, and effort. They communicated effectively, crafted a plan, and then executed that plan. Each student had a role in making the machines. The students then shared their machines as I had them explain how each worked. Talk about DOING science. The students had a blast working together to solve the problem.
After reviewing simple machines, I then introduced the final unit project to the class. As our projects and assignments are posted to our Google Classroom page, I projected this final project onto our large classroom monitor. I explained the various steps of the project so that the students could wrap their curious minds around the problem they needed to solve. I then fielded all of the questions the students had about the project. This question time is a great opportunity for me to clarify information and clear up any confusion the students may have.
My goal in creating projects and explaining information to the students is to keep it vague and simple, as I want them to think critically about the information. Rather than spell out every aspect of the task or project, I like when the students can fill in the blanks with answers or questions. For example, in our current physics project, the students have to design, blueprint, and then build either a catapult or a pinball machine. In my explanation, I did not detail the kind of pinball machine they could build. All I said was, “You are only able to use materials in the classroom, and are not able to bring in anything from home.” One of the students asked if they could use things like the Makey Makey or paper circuits in their pinball machines. My response was an overwhelmingly positive, “Oh yeah!” While I was hoping they would think big, I didn’t want to control or limit their problem solving capabilities by force feeding them all of the information. I wanted to promote curiosity, creativity, and questions. I want my students to wonder about the world around them. As they had many questions, this final activity took us to the end of our Science class. The highlight of this project introduction for me was when all of the students asked if they could begin the project instead of moving onto the next school commitment. They are so excited about this project, that they wanted to keep on working. I love it! Student engagement is alive and well in the fifth grade.
Next to Math, Science is my favorite subject in the fifth grade. I love that we get to do lots of fun projects. I can’t wait to choose my partner and start building our machine. I kind of want to make a pinball machine, but I want to see what my partner wants to do first. If we do decide to make a pinball machine, I have so many ideas. I want to use a Makey Makey to light up the playing board and I want to try to find a way to keep score. Should we make the flippers out of wood or PVC pipes? We’ll have to figure that out. Also, how can we reduce friction and increase the speed of the marble as it rolls on the track since cardboard can be bumpy in places? Maybe my partner will have an idea on how to solve this problem. I’m so excited to get started with this project. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s Science class.
We at BHS believe in student exploration and risk taking. We want our students to have numerous experiences and opportunities to try new things. The elective program that takes place every day, with the exception of Friday, is a chance for the students to do something a little different. At the start of each trimester, they choose two new electives to partake in. Some of the offerings for the winter trimester are Outdoor Games, National History Day, and School Newspaper. The students enjoy this break from the norm, during which time they are also able to interact with the other students at the school.
I do dance for my elective on Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s super fun. We are learning all kinds of dance moves. I’m pretty good at it. The teacher is a lot of fun and helps us learn the moves. Next week she said we’re going to learn break dancing. That sounds fun and a little scary. I hope I don’t break anything, like a bone.
Following the elective period, the students have a block of 20 minutes that they can use in almost any way that they wish. While some students choose to play games with their peers during this time, others enjoy going outside to climb a tree, finding a quiet spot to read, or working on school work. It’s that one time of the day that is not scheduled for the students. It’s like a giant recess period.
I love Free Period because I can do whatever I want. Today, I used Mr. Holt’s computer to play on the website Elf Yourself. It was so much fun. I made an elf from my picture and my friend’s picture. We were dancing in these cool holiday scenes. It was awesome! Mr. Holt was trying to copy the dances. It was so funny. I wish Free Period was a little longer on days like today.
After recess comes lunch. The students can choose to eat anywhere in our giant multipurpose room. I usually sit with some of my students. We have great conversations and enjoy the fun time together. Immediately following lunch, the students participate in the Jobs Program. Each student has an assigned job to help clean and tidy the entire school. The eighth graders are the leaders and overseers of each job location. The jobs include sweeping, vacuuming, and wiping. Jobs rotate on a monthly basis. This program provides the students with the opportunity to show responsibility and take ownership in maintaining a clean and safe school.
I like that we get to eat wherever we want for lunch period. I like to sit with some of the older students. We joke around while we eat our lunch. It’s super fun. It’s a short period, but enough time for me to gobble up my sandwich and chips.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, during the first half of the academic year, the students utilize the online program Duolingo to learn, review, and practice using a new language of their choice. They can choose any language they are interested in learning more about. Some of the students have chosen French, German, Greek, and Spanish. The students enjoy this interactive and challenging program and seem to be learning numerous new vocabulary terms and how to apply them in the new language. This activity usually goes for about thirty minutes in length. In January, the students will transition into Spanish for their Language offering, as this is the required language class they will be taking in sixth through eighth grades. Our amazing headmaster is the instructor for this class and uses a combination of teacher-directed lessons, student-practice, and online tutorials to help the students learn the Spanish language.
I like working on Duolingo everyday to keep my streak alive. It’s a fun way to learn a new language. I take notes on the new words I’m learning so that I can use them in a historical fiction story I’m writing during my free time. It’s about WWI. Learning new phrases and words in German allows me to use them in my story so that it sounds more realistic. I can’t wait to learn even more words in Duolingo so that I can incorporate them into my story.
The fifth grade Language Arts class combines writing, reading, spelling, grammar, and fun into one amazing package. As we are currently in the midst of a great interdisciplinary Humanities project, the students are working on researching a Native American tribe in order to craft an original historical fiction story based on what they learned. As the students received a brief introduction into the culture and history of the Abenaki tribe when we learned about the history of the town of Hopkinton, NH, the students are excited to learn more. They are very much engaged in this project.
On Wednesday, we began class with an opening activity that we complete weekly called Word of the Day. I asked the students to hypothesize what they believe the word circumvent means. A few volunteers shared their thoughts on the meaning of the word based on the prefix circ-, which I found most enjoyable. I love that my students are applying the knowledge learned in class earlier this year to solve a current problem. Amazing! While no student fully grasped the understanding of the word, I shared the word’s definition with the class before asking for them to determine its part of speech. This one they got on the first try. Love it! A few weeks ago, I taught a mini-lesson to the students on grammar and parts of speech. I used engaging, interesting, and silly stories to teach the major parts of speech to the students. Neuroscience research tells us that we remember nuggets of knowledge when they are wrapped in stories, and it seems that it worked in this situation. Thank you science!
Following this brief opening activity, I asked the students on what stage of the Humanities project they were currently working. I wanted to have the students practice the skill of memory retrieval once again. They all remembered where they had left off last week. I then reminded them of the expectations while working, put on some instrumental mindfulness music, and let them get right to work. The students worked so well. Almost every student finished the research phase of the project in class. Two students started working on their story. Stellar! They were all so focused on the task at hand. When they had questions, they turned to their table partner for assistance before using their Stop and Go card to request assistance from the teacher. After 45 minutes of intense work, we transitioned into the final classroom portion of our day.
I started the year not really liking to write since my other teachers had made it seem so boring. Last year I had to write a report about the first Thanksgiving, and I don’t even really like history. But this year, Mr. Holt makes it super fun. We get to choose our topic and how we write. Like for example, this project. Yeah, we have to research a Native American tribe, but even that is super cool. Then, we get to create our own historical fiction story. I’m going to make mine about one of the wars the Apache tribe was involved in. This kind of writing is fun because we get to choose how we do it. I love that freedom. I’m starting to really like writing now.
At the end of each day, the students work as a community to record the nightly homework in their planners, pack their belongings to go home, and clean the classroom. It’s really quite amazing, as this whole process usually takes place in under 10 minutes. Tonight’s homework: Finish the Research phase of the Humanities Project. Those students who finished this task in class could continue to work on their stories for homework instead. As the students wrote the homework in their planners, a student grabbed the red stamper we use to denote when someone has verified that the students have correctly filled out their planner for the day. For the first few months of the year, that person was me; however, as the students are learning and wanting more responsibility, I have passed the torch onto them. They take turns being the stamper person. It’s quite cool to see them remind their peers to spell things correctly or add dates to their planner. They work hard to hold each other accountable in respectful and compassionate ways.
Once the first stage of our daily wrap-up routine was completed and the students were gathered in a circle at the front the the classroom, our formal Closing Meeting began. I began the meeting by providing them with an overview of what we had accomplished today. I added some constructive feedback for them all to take in as well. I then teased them all with a little preview of what’s to come for tomorrow. They are super excited to continue working on the Physics Project.
The second part of our Closing Meeting involves the students sharing an A. I call this part A Cubed. The students share either an Aspiration they have for tomorrow, an Apology they owe to a classmate, teacher, or the class as a whole, or an Appreciation. This kind and thoughtful activity allows for honest communication and bonding to happen. This portion of our day is part of our Social Emotional Curriculum. Today, a student shared how she appreciated that everyone worked together to earn a handful of marbles, while another student aspires to start working on his pinball machine in class tomorrow. To close each day’s meeting, we make use of a system the students learned on a field trip to the Sargent Center in Hancock, NH. The students put their hands in the middle of our circle together, say their assigned number after I call for a “Roll Call,” and then, in unison, answer the question I pose “Who are we?” with a loud “Carson Kids.” So cool! The students love this part of our meeting and really get into it.
I really like the Closing Meeting portion of our day because it gives us students a chance to work together to accomplish a task. We all have some role in cleaning, packing, or preparing for what’s next. I like to collect name tags and rocks from the desks and put them on Mr. Holt’s table. Sometimes I also help to clean the Maker Space if it’s messy. After we’re all ready, we get to find out fun stuff that we’re doing during the next day in class. I can’t wait to begin working on my pinball machine in science tomorrow. My favorite part of the Closing Meeting though, is the end. I love when we do the roll call we learned at the Sargent Center. Even though not every student came with us on the trip, we all participate in this counting and chant. It’s so cool! Now onto Cup Stacking.
On any day but Wednesday, the Closing Meeting would end our day in the fifth grade together. But, Wednesdays are a bit different here at BHS. Each Wednesday, the fifth grade participates in the school-wide Physical Education class. Currently, the students are working on competitive cup stacking. As a school, we recently participated in the international Cup Stacking event that broke the world record. Amazing! Today, the students practiced stacking cups as fast as possible. Some of the older students at the school worked with the fifth graders as trainers. It was so cool to watch eighth graders teach fifth graders the complex process of cup stacking. The students had a blast moving cups to and fro on the table.
I really like Cup Stacking because I’m quite good at it. Mrs. Fries even said I’m the fastest one in the fifth grade right now. So, today, I practiced at getting even faster. An eighth grader worked with me and gave me some helpful hints and tricks that I hadn’t heard about before. Those really helped. I think I want to get timed next week to see how much faster I’ve become.
As school ends at 3:10 each afternoon, most of the students rolled out at the end of today’s cup stacking activity. Some of the students, who stay as a part of our Extended Day Program, hung out in the fifth grade classroom playing games, doing work, receiving extra help from me, or just chatting with their friends. It’s a very low key and fun time for those students who do stay, and a relaxing and perfect way to close such an epic and rich day in the fifth grade at the Beech Hill School.
Since both my parents work, I get to stay at school even longer every day. I usually get picked up around 5:00 p.m. I use my extra free time to do my homework or ask Mr. Holt any questions I might have. Yesterday, he helped me understand how to use dialogue in my writing. I was really confused when we learned about it last week, but then he explained it to me in a really simple way and I got it. That felt really good. Today, I played on the Hour of Code website to try another activity. I finished another dancing exercise. That was so much fun.
And that, my wonderful readers is what it’s like to be a fifth grader at my amazing school. It’s pretty awesome if you ask me; however, I am probably biased as I am the fifth grade teacher and love guiding students on magical journeys of learning. I hope this small snippet of life in my school helped to shed some light on the miraculous nature of BHS. Please feel free to post comments or questions about this entry, my school, or my approach to teaching. I love feedback of all types, as that is how I grow and develop as a teacher and person. Thanks for sticking with this verbose entry and I wish you all a wonderful day filled with much adventure and wonder.