Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Full STEAM Ahead: Reflecting in This Year

As we get closer to the end of our journey in fifth grade I began to reflect on our year. I happened to come across the photo above that made me laugh because it is exactly how I feel. Even today, with a few days left I still feel this way. We have to complete our Rube Goldberg Machines and just started our Revolution Musical. Students have worked so hard on their STEAM lessons this year. Their inventions that arrived are so impressive! Some should patent them. It is amazing what their inventive minds created! I cannot wait to share the finished product with you all! The skills students gained during these activities will resonate with them long after they leave me. They worked in collaborative teams, discovered design process thinking, and presented work to an authentic audience. Our students should be so PROUD of their work as these learning experiences will certainly help others! I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for giving me their best self each and ever day. I could not have had all those tabs open without them!

As I get ready to close those tabs we will be packing down our classroom, celebrating our success, and giving our final presentations of the year. Please reflect on the student who walked into our room in September. I promised you all it would be a completely different kid by the time he or she walked out. I hope you all agree that is the case. Our students have grown so much this year and I was thrilled to be part of that!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Greeting Students Builds a Classroom Community: What Does Your Handshake Say About You?

I happened to be watching a news story that eventually went viral. It started with a handshake. Each morning in a kindergarten class in TX there is a class greeter. This student is there to welcome his or her classmates into the room with a handshake, fist bump, high five, and some hugs. This is something so simple yet has a huge impact on the classroom culture. I decided to greet each of my students last Monday morning with a handshake like I did at our open house in August.

I awaited each child, and as they went to enter the room I stuck my hand out and said, “Good morning.” Many were confused by this greeting but happily shook my hand. I had to remind students to look me in the eye, have a firm grip, and respond to my comment. Often times out in the real world the handshake is the first thing we notice about someone. Forbes came out with a great article about 7 things your handshake says about you. I am sure we have all met one of the seven examples, but which one makes a good impression on you? My father always taught me to stand tall, look the person in the eye, and use a firm grip. I am glad he did!

Over the course of the week as I greeted each student I began to notice subtle changes. First, the students were ready to work by 8:30 AM when usually I have to prod kids along to finish morning work. Second, they had more smiles on their faces in the morning. I have also begun to observe more of the perfect handshake in 22 students than a week ago! This morning I happened to be talking to a colleague in the hallway when the students arrived. I turned around to see half my class waiting by the door. Not one student had entered the room. They were waiting to greet me with a handshake.  

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Homework Policy that Sparked a Movement

My district has been sharing school policy updates with us this year and recently the homework policy was revised. I quickly opened up the revised document, excited to read it. I was hoping it met the needs of today’s student and was thrilled to see the focus on family time, explaining students and parents have the right to decide their time after school. I then flipped to the guidelines and immediately realized students and parents needed to see what the expectations were for them.

Emailing the links to the parents was the initial step I took. Then I copied the guidelines for individual students and posted the policy on our SMARTboard. We read through the policy together and broke into small working groups to go over the guidelines. Students were tasked with highlighting things they felt were interesting, items they agreed with, and ideas they disagreed with as they read. These notes would be used during a class discussion and an email we decided to send to our school committee.

Students were empowered to share their thinking with our local officials, who volunteer their time to serve our schools. They examined the middle and elementary school guidelines and had a lot to say about them! During a shared writing experience we crafted the email, making sure all voices were heard (including the parent volunteer in the room).

Dear School Committee,

Today we read the homework policy. Then we looked at the requirements for the homework for middle and elementary school. We got highlighters and highlighted things we found interesting. We read it in small groups. We also compared it to our own experiences.

Middle School Feedback

Assuming summer work is given, students thought it was unfair that you must finish it because some people go on very busy trips and don’t have time to. Another student felt there should be a little school work, but she would rather be able to enjoy the time off. Another student said summer reading should be suggested. If summer reading is given it should be one book you have to read that you answer questions about (no essay). Different people should get different types of books though. A child chimed in that it was unfair that kids should be told what to read because they should be reading for pleasure and not something that is forced. A parent suggested asking kids to read a certain amount of pages. She also suggested students be given the assignment to create anything that shows the theme of the story. You could paint, draw, compose music, write an essay, blog post, etc. Sky's the limit. She said it would be more difficult to grade but then asked what the purpose of summer reading is- is it to make sure the child is reading or to get a grade? A child suggested picking a genre and getting the book approved before leaving for the summer.

It was mentioned that it is fair that students have two days for every day missed to make up work.

A student liked how it was limited to 1.5 hours of homework for all the courses. This gives you enough time to get work done and get to other things.

Another felt it was good that the summer work would have instructions with who to ask for help.

A student did not think it was fair to have 1.5 hours to do homework. He inquired as to what if students needed more time. Ms. Freedman explained that this time was a guideline and that students certainly do not need to finish all their work but try their best within that time frame.

A parent asked a question at this juncture (she was volunteering). She noted homework is up to 15% of a grade. If a child works 1.5 hours and does not finish how will this impact the grade as it is not clear. What is the provision for that in the guidelines?

It is fair that teachers are not required to give homework over family vacation.

Elementary School Feedback
From the parent: As a parent in the introduction it says there is no study that shows there is a benefit to homework in the elementary grade yet she found that in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade that her kids had more homework than in later grades especially with those packets. (They are now talking about rainbow words and ABC order) In addition to that they were also signed 15-20 min of IXL a night.

They liked how homework was not assigned on weekends and vacations and encourage that never to be changed. However they wanted you to know that there are teachers who do that (I am not one of them).

They said the 30 minutes seemed fair for upper elementary.

The parent suggested covering yourself for all grades that you might want to include an exception to the amount of time for special projects as she does not count that as part of the 30 minutes because of the time it takes. It also takes working on weekends. Are teachers no longer going to be giving special projects or do they understand it is part of the time allotted?

Students would like more choice to their work. This is not something for a policy but something maybe teachers should be discussing.


Ms. Freedman and her secret agents

The letter received a response from a member of the committee that sparked students to act! They wanted to reach out to more people. I asked students what they wanted to do. They discussed as a group and came to the decision to email their thoughts to the principals at the two elementary schools and middle school. They also wanted to share their thinking with our student council, so our class representative wrote a letter to our principal inviting him in for a conversation with her and our other class reps. Lastly, a student suggested doing a Flipgrid to share our thinking globally. They had some strong thoughts on homework and summer reading.

Students need experiences that inspire, enagage, and empower them to share their voices and make change. They benefit from authentic learning opportunities that teach ways to accomplish this. I highly suggest looking at your school policies and sharing ones with students that impact them. I am thrilled my students know to read policies and guidelines. They are aware no one can take their recess away (Health and Wellness policy), how to use technology responsible (Responsible Use Policy), and that they do not need to work more than 30 minutes a night, excluding reading, doing homework per the new guidelines set forth. I decided to blog about it, contributing to their movement! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Red Rover Red Rover Who Would You Call Over?

While students are inside playing Fortnite or other games they are missing out on the great outdoors. Today I took my class outside and decided to play Red Rover. I lined them up and organized them on the field across from each other. I spoke to one of the teams about what we were doing, and every single one of them had never played Red Rover. I teach 5th grade. How do you make it to 5th grade and never play Red Rover?
I remember my recess in elementary school. We played 4-Square, Kickball, and Red Rover. We ran around the playground, and I know someone got married under the slide with a tin foil ring. It was a time of innocence.
After explaining the rules of Red Rover along with a small behavior reminder I had my students play. I saw twenty-two students working as a team on that field today. They cheered for each other, supported one another, and laughed. I saw students strategizing where to go, who to call, and doing their best to hold hands so no one broke through.
They told me this was the best game ever and asked if they could play it at recess. Reflecting back on some of the photos I took I saw pure joy in each of their faces. Kids need time to learn how to play recess games that are constructive. They need moments to be a kid and just have fun. Imagine playing Red Rover at work. Who would you call over? I think we all need some more time outside to play. Let the wind whip through our hair. And allow every day to have some joy in it!
Image may contain: one or more people, tree, grass, outdoor and nature

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Making Our Own Traditions and Sparking Student Curiosity

 Today I am proud of my 22 students for taking a risk and choosing a new end of the year tradition for our 5th grade class. Building bridges is traditionally the culminating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) activity for our students. Many come into 5th grade knowing and expecting they are going to build bridges at the end of the year. I have taught bridge concepts, delving into the different trusses and engineering vocabulary used when constructing a bridge. I would watch students work in small teams to create a bridge made out of Popsicle sticks and glue. Last year students learned using too much glue is a catalyst for failure of bridge construction. I began to feel deflated because there was no deep level learning that occurred. Rather it was an expected activity that made a memory.

In thinking about how to best meet the needs of my current students I knew deep in my heart bridge building would be fun for them, but there would be no spark ignited that causes students to want to learn more about something. My students get excited to create something BIG! They want to solve problems and persevere through challenges. I knew whatever we did the end of the year had to give them time to explore, tinker, collaborate, communicate, and think. The more I thought about it, the bridge building was just an example of students consuming information and creating something with teacher given guidelines. So I decided to come up with a way for students to create and design where they were in charge of their learning, and I facilitated.

It hit me like lightning. Our class could spend the end of the year working on Rube Goldberg machines. It was a giant AHA moment I should have had many years ago. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist, like many students in my current class, who inspired a movement! The learning of physics concepts and engineering come alive in the construction of these machines. Using materials in our school science lab, students will start with a goal in mind and using backwards design figure out how to make it happen. We will talk about energy transfer, chain reactions, Newton’s Laws of motion, and simple machines.

I was excited about the possible shift in the end of the year tradition but wanted it to be the students’ choice. Today we spent some time talking about the bridge unit and tradition. I took a risk and explained to our class that I had an idea that would take us down a different path. Eyes got huge. I felt I truly understood them as learners and wanted to come up with an end of the year STEAM activity that would engage and empower them long after they left our classroom. I told them I wanted us to consider designing Rube Goldberg machines instead of bridges. This is something I would not be able to teach them how to design rather a problem they need to solve. Students would be the constructors of knowledge involved in active learning. Students who knew what this was immediately began jumping out of their seats while others questioned what on earth I was talking about.

So I showed them this

And after it was over I asked by a show of hands who wanted to make Rube Goldberg machines instead of bridges. Not only did every child’s hand go into the air some shot two hands and two feet into the air. Not one student raised his or her hand when I asked about making bridges. This is when I realized that it is okay to change tradition if it is going to ignite a student’s curiosity and passion for learning. Sometimes tradition does not meet the needs of the students sitting in front of you. Who knows what we will do next year? This year the power of student voice rules over tradition. They have spoken and chosen their STEAM activity, and I am sure it will be one they never forget.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Beyond the Number

This morning I greeted many agents at 7:30. I was ready to greet  them. We began testing promptly at 8:30 and some agents worked right until buses were dismissed. In the fall when you get your child's score back I need you to remember that the number does not define your child. Take a look at their growth percentile and see how much progress he or she has made. Your child is not just that number either but that is a much better number to look at.

Today I watched almost every agent work their hardest I have ever seen them work. I observed most students making graphic organizers for 2 open responses. I watched as students tirelessly checked their work over before handing it in. 

So your children are hard working students who try their best. Your children have empathy for others as those that finished early were respectful of others who were still working. They showed the value of strength and true friendship today that will hopefully last long after they leave their agent head quarters.

I am so proud of our students. So ask your agent how it went today and remind him or her of the amazing traits they all have that make our classroom a better place to be in. And when you get that score back in the fall . . . no matter what it is . . . remember your child is not defined by that number. They rose above any number today!

I will see the students tomorrow to do it all over again!